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The Sex Talk

How are your kids learning about sex?

How to Communicate With Your Kids About Sex

Start by considering what kind of example you set by your own behavior (television viewing and reading habits, for instance) and how you talk about sex. "Children learn sexuality from birth by observing and listening to everyday occurrences," Rodriguez says.

Begin your discussions early. "If you've never brought up sexuality topics with your kids by the time they're 10 or 11, they'll get the idea it's taboo," says Leslie Kantor, MPH, vice president of education for Planned Parenthood of New York City.

Experts also advise taking advantage of "teachable moments" -- such as television programs, billboards, news events, or a neighbor's or a pet's pregnancy -- that can serve as opportunities to initiate discussions. Always be aware of the question behind the question, the unspoken "Am I normal?" Reassure your kids that they are normal and that many other young people have asked the same questions.

You and your child can take advantage of information resources together. A few examples: Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Talking About Sex kit includes a videotape and booklets (1-800-669-0156; or http://www.plannedparenthood.org/store). SIECUS has a bibliography for parents and children. Talking With Kids About Tough Issues, a national campaign by Children Now and the Kaiser Family Foundation, also has resources.

Get Emotional

When you do talk to your kids, don't just focus on the mechanics of sex or on the unhealthy aspects, such as unwanted pregnancy. Children also need to know about the emotional aspects and what constitutes a healthy, caring relationship.

"Sex education is more than just talking about the nuts and bolts," Melby says. "It's also about setting up a moral framework and communicating positive values regarding topics like dating, marriage, and parenthood."

Sharon Cohen is senior editor of Shape and Fit Pregnancy magazines.

For More Information From Web MD

Waiting for the Right Time: Teen Abstinence -- Tamara Kreinin -- 11/13/02

Talking with Your Teen -- David Elkind, PhD -- 8/20/03

The Role of the Media and TV in Adolescent Sexuality Education and Pregnancy Prevention -- Kate Langrall-Folb -- 05/23/2000

Young Adults: Relationships and Health with Drew Pinsky, MD

Age-Appropriate Sexuality Education: What to Tell Your Children and When with Barbara Huberman

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