When Should You Talk to Your Child About Sex? Now

It was 16 years ago that Salt-N-Pepa encouraged listeners to talk about sex and now some of those are trying to figure out how to do just that – with their children. Marilyn A. Maxwell, a medical doctor and professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, recently contributed to the book “Questions Kids Ask About Sex: Honest Answers for Every Age.” She says its never too early to start.

“Parents should be the primary source of what parents want kids to know,” Maxwell says. “It’s not only talking about sex. It’s being there and developing a relationship. As you go along, maybe you’re watching a TV show or movie together and a sexual situation comes up, discuss that.”

Maxwell, who has discussed teens and sexuality on the Today Show, joined with a team of physicians to write the book, which was edited by The Medical Institute for Sexual Health, a nonprofit organization that communicates values and medical information to children and their families about the health risks associated with premarital sex.

The book was designed to give clear answers to questions about sex in easily understandable language while promoting abstinence until marriage.

“It’s an area of great need,” Maxwell says. “We didn’t believe there’s anything out there exactly like this book.”

Although the idea of talk to their children about sex can be uncomfortable, Maxwell says its actually easier if they start when the children are young.

“The talk comes all along at age appropriate stages,” she says. “I liken it to the situation with adopted kids. There should never be a time when they don’t remember they are chosen.”

However, this doesn’t mean parents should go overboard with full details. When a child asks a question, it might be necessary to clarify what it is they’re really after.

“When your 4-year old asks where did I come from, he may be asking a number of things,” Maxwell says. “Occasionally he may want to know the city where he was born. Certainly many preschoolers who ask ‘Where did I come from?’ are wondering how they were made – and have a vague idea of the truth. But before plunging into a long explanation of pregnancy and childbirth, it’s best to ask your child, ‘What do you mean?'”

Once the child does want to know about reproduction, it is key to begin by using correct language instead of nicknames to describe body Maxwell says to answer the child’s questions in a concise and matter-of-fact way. Parents should avoid leading the discussion, and instead leave it up to their child to ask follow-up questions to guide how much information he or she is ready to absorb.

Maxwell says that it is during these discussions that parents should also find an opportunity to share their values with their child. She said it possible for teens to avoid the temptation to become sexually active, particularly if parents let them know how they expect them to act.

“Parents need to let the child know their values and what they expect from the child,” Maxwell says. “You don’t have to lower the bar. There’s a gold standard. Let your child know what your standards are and they’ll be more likely to attain them.”

Maxwell involvement with The Medical Institute for Sexual Health began a decade ago. It was at that time she began to see an increasing prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and non-marital pregnancy in the teens visiting her practice.

“Younger kids are sexually active. The numbers having vaginal intercourse have gone down over the years, and we’ve found if we can delay the onset of sexual activity, that’s beneficial. A 15-year-old girl is more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease than a woman in her 20s or 30s,” she says. “Kids who feel connected to their families are less likely to engage in early sexual intercourse, which can have serious physical and psychological consequences.”

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