Jan. 16, 2008 -- Talking to your children about sex can be embarrassing,
awkward, and uncomfortable. Just the thought of having this talk is enough to
make many parents blush. But not having it may be setting your children up for
serious problems down the road -- including teen pregnancy and sexually
transmitted diseases -- say leading psychoanalysts at the annual meeting of the
American Psychoanalytic Association in New York City.
"Many people aren't talking to their kids about sex. Or they feel very
conflicted about talking to their kids about sex and they have their own
personal conflicts which get into the mix," explains psychoanalyst Gail
Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian
Hospital/Weill Cornell School of Medicine.
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"Parents still struggle for ways to talk about this all-important
material, but they really have no choice because it is so prevalent," she
says. "The current media is very glorifying of sexualized material, and
today's children have Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears as role
models," she says.
To make sure your children get the right message about sex and sexuality,
follow these tips:
Tip No. 1: Start Young and Go Slow
"When children are aged 3 to 5 they will start talking about body parts
and babies," says New York City psychoanalyst Leon Hoffman, MD, the
director of the Pacella Parent Child Center. Now is a good time to start having
the conversation. "Answer their questions and don't elaborate with more
details then they are ready to hear."
Tip No. 2: Never Use Pet Names for Body Parts
"Parents refer to a sexual organ as 'down there' or 'that place' and
that leaves children with confusion, and they grow into women who need help
with sexual dysfunction," Saltz says. Or "a child may go to a doctor or
nurse and say 'I have a problem with my woo-woo,' and no one knows what she is
talking about and they laugh." To avoid this, use the correct terminology
and explain what it is and what it does. "Say 'this is your vulva or vagina
or penis' from the get-go."
Tip No. 3: View Current Events as an Opportunity
Whether it's the success of Juno, a movie about teen pregnancy, or
the pregnancy of 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, star of the TV show Zoey
101, Saltz says to "view these as an opportunity to discuss something
that may now feel more personally relevant to your children. If your child asks
why Zoey [the character played by Spears] is saying good-bye, talk [to them]
about being responsible, the facts about intercourse, and the ways in which it
changes you and your life," she says.
Tip No. 4: Don't Use Yourself as the Example
When you are explaining sexual intercourse between partners, don't use
yourself as an example, Hoffman says. Instead, "use generic examples as
most children don't want to hear about mommy and daddy in that