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Sex Ed for Your Kids: One Talk Won’t Do

Parents Must Move Past the Awkwardness, Repeatedly Talk to Their Children About Sex Topics, Study Shows

Study Results: Repetition Key in Sex Ed

Repetition was good, the researchers found. "We found that kids whose sexual communication with their parents involved more repetition felt closer to their parents, better able to communicate with them in general and about sex in particular, and they perceived their discussions about sex happened more easily and with more openness in comparison to kids whose communication involved less repetition," Martino tells WebMD.

The greater the number of topics that were discussed, the more openness teens said they felt during these talks.

At the start of the study, the average number of topics that teens had discussed was seven of the 22.

"On average we found that parents and teens had 10 repeat discussions over the course of the year," Martino says. That is, they revisited a topic previously discussed that often. Regarding breadth of topics, the average number of new topics discussed during the study was reported as three, on average.

Sex Ed: The Role of Repetition and "Breadth"

"We think that having these repeated discussions is so important because it helps kids to better understand the information," Martino says. "It helps them to get a clear sense of what their parents' values are, and it boosts parent and child feelings of comfort in talking about sex."

Revisiting a topic allows children to ask clarifying questions, he says, and allows parents to talk about topics in a more age-appropriate way as a child matures. Some abstract topics become less so as the child gets older, he adds.

Second Opinion

The study reinforces what is seen anecdotally, says Vanessa Cullins, MD, MPH, MBA, vice president for medical affairs for Planned Parenthood of America, New York, who reviewed the study results for WebMD.

What is new about the study, she says, is the importance of the repetition and variety of topics.

The study, she says, "reinforces what Planned Parenthood has always believed in, and that is that parents should be the primary educators in a child's life, and that the best way to keep teens healthy and safe is to have open, honest communication [about sexual matters]."

As parents, she says, "you just can't deal with the subject of sex infrequently or every blue moon." It should be a frequent part of household conversation, she says.

Sex Ed Advice for Parents

Lack of preparation is one cause of discomfort for parents when asked questions about sex by their kids, Martino says. Prepare yourself for the expected questions ahead of time, he suggests. Anticipate you'll be asked questions sooner than you think -- maybe even when your children are still toddlers.

"It's OK to admit you feel uncomfortable," he says. It's also OK, he says, to gather more information on a topic and get back to your kids.

One way to ease into talks about sex, Martino says, is to look for what he calls "teachable moments." If something is in the news that is sexually related, or something happened at school that lends itself to discussion, take advantage, he says.

Take advantage, too, of prepared materials that may help you, Cullins says. Many Planned Parenthood affiliates in the U.S. offer special programs that help parents talk to their kids about sex, she says.

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