Ease Up on the Stork
by Dr. Marty Klein
Whether they've been asking questions or not, it's time to talk with your kids about sexuality. That means talking about gender, reproduction, bodies, feelings, changes, and, of course, sex — with self or with a partner.
Regardless of their age, they're ready. Are you?
When talking to your kids about sexuality, your goal should be far more ambitious than preventing premarital sex or pregnancy. Besides, it will be more difficult to get those messages across without first establishing values and ongoing communication.
Talking to your kids about sexuality prepares them for future relationships, and arms them with accurate information. It also allows you to help shape their sexual values and decision-making, encouraging them to think clearly about sexuality.
It's not always easy, but it's always worth it. Here are four ways to approach your kids about sex:
1. Show you're askable.
Never punish them for asking questions. It's fine to say, "I don't know" or "That's personal, I don't like talking about that." But angrily demanding, "Why do you want to know?" or declaring: "Only a bad girl asks questions like that," sends a message that sexual concerns are unacceptable to you.
2. Teach that sex is OK.
Teaching kids to fear sex or its consequences creates adults who fear sex or its consequences. Besides, instilling guilt and shame in kids doesn't reliably discourage behavior you disapprove of. On the other hand, teaching young people to treat sex with respect, and that their bodies are precious, encourages them to behave responsibly.
3. Teach values.
Don't hesitate to share the principles by which you live — kids want that. Just make sure that you label them as values rather than fact. Talk about what you believe or what makes you feel good. Of course, this requires that you talk about sex as a normal part of life, perhaps the most important message of all.
4. Teach decision-making skills.
Regardless of their age, what kids need most of all is decision-making skills. This is especially true when they're dealing with peer pressure, feeling they're in love or have been using alcohol. When you aren't there to tell them what to do, they need to know how to make healthy choices for themselves.
Marty Klein, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage counselor and sex therapist in Palo Alto, Calif. He has written for national magazines and appeared on many TV shows, including Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael and Jenny Jones. You can read more about his books, tapes and appearances on his Web site, www.SexEd.org.
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