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Talking About Sex with Your Children

Sexual HealthNov 15, 05

It’s never too early to talk to your child about sex, says a contributing author of a new book.

“Parents should be the primary source of what parents want kids to know,” says Marilyn Maxwell, M.D., professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

“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.”

Dr. Maxwell is a member of a team of physicians who collaborated on “Questions Kids Ask About Sex: Honest Answers for Every Age,” which was just published by Revell.

The book is 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. It gives clear answers to questions about sex in easily understandable language while promoting abstinence until marriage.

“It’s an area of great need. We didn’t believe there’s anything out there exactly like this book,” says Dr. Maxwell, who recently discussed teens and sexuality on the Today Show.

Talking to your child about sex can be uncomfortable, she acknowledges, but easier if you start when your child is young.

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

Dr. Maxwell said parents should begin by using correct language instead of nicknames to describe body parts and should listen carefully to what the child really is asking before giving an answer.

“When your 4-year old asks where did I come from, he may be asking a number of things. 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 you know what your child is really asking, Dr. Maxwell says to answer the question in a concise and matter-of-fact way. Leave it up to your child to ask follow-up questions to guide how much information he or she is ready to absorb.

Don’t be afraid to share your values with your child as you discuss sex, Dr. Maxwell adds. It’s not inevitable that a teen will become sexually active, particularly if you let her know how you expect her to act.

“Parents need to let the child know their values and what they expect from the child,” she said. “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.”

Dr. Maxwell said she became involved with The Medical Institute for Sexual Health a decade ago, when she saw in her teen practice the increasing prevelance of sexually transmitted diseases and non-marital pregnancy.

“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 is more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease than a person who in his or her 20s,” 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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