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How To Talk To Your Children About Sex

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You know you have to talk to your children about sex at some point, but when is it really the right time? What should you say? These are good questions for Carol Weston, who's written several books on girls and teens, including “Girl Talk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You.”

DENISE: Hi there I'm Denise Richardson and this is howdini.com. What we're talking about right now is children and sex--when to have that conversation with your youngsters. Couldn't have a better guest than Carol Weston. She's the Girl's Life advice columnist since 1994 and she's also the author of many books including Girltalk. So when and how does a parent decide that I have to talk to Johnny or Mary about sex.

CAROL: I think if you've waited a really long time and your kids are now suddenly eleven and twelve and it's never come up you better, you better start talking because the media is talking to your kids loud and clear. But it's easier if you just answer their questions as they arise and sometimes little kids say how do babies happen, and you can say Mommy and Daddy make love. Or parents make love and that can buy you a couple of years. Kids don't always want all of the details. They just want their questions answered.

DENISE: What about sex education in school? Because I think parents opt out of that conversation because they think they'll learn it in school.

CAROL: Sex ed in schools is a great idea, but it doesn't always do the job. We know that too many teenagers, one million per year nearly, are getting pregnant, and 95% of Americans have sex before they get married. So, just saying to a kid, don't have sex until you get married, nowadays with late marriages won't work. So you can't just sit back and know that it's getting taken care of at school.

DENISE: They're doing contraception or they're doing abstinence, and therein lies a little bit of a problem, which it's an opportunity for the parent to step in.

CAROL: Absolutely I think the parents' message has to be: sex too soon is a disaster. You don't want to have sex too soon. You might think that everyone's doing it, but believe me everybody is not doing it. So have somebody, even if it's Mom or Dad, slow down it's going to be okay. Don't be in a hurry. Especially for girls don't feel pressured.

DENISE: But they are pressured. They're pressured by their peers. We're hearing of nine year olds having oral sex.

CAROL: Any nine year old who's having any kind of sex is a girl who's being coerced and is a victim. A nine year old is not happily performing oral sex on somebody. So really, again, the parents have to say, wow that's a troubled girl, if they hear a story like that. Or if you're watching TV with your kid and there's something a little racy you can say to maybe an older teen, where's the birth control, or what's the rush? I can't believe she made that decision. You can't say, are your friends having sex? Or are you having sex? But, you can talk about characters on TV and if you do it in the right way so that you're allowed to sit on the sofa next to your teenager or child and not get kicked out, then you can keep on ongoing dialogue. It's not 'the talk,' it's the ongoing conversation.

DENISE: In that conversation, does Dad talk to the boys and Mom talk to the girls?

CAROL: Ideally, but not everyone's got the Mom and Dad at home. Sometimes if you realize wow I just can't do this, then you assign Aunt Mary, who's really cool, or your neighbor or your neighbor's mom. But you can also say wow, this is an awkward conversation, but here we go. Sometimes girls write me because, at my column at Girl's Life, and say I want to talk to my mom and dad about sex and I don't know how. And I tell them, say I know this is awkward, but I have a lot of questions. If--whether the parents or the child starts the conversation in saying I know this is awkward, but--you're already halfway there because you can go ahead and talk about it.

DENISE: What's extraordinary, because you're talking about the 21st century, there are so many parents now who still find any approach to that awkward, and they prefer not to have it.

CAROL: Well then they at least better talk about birth control. You know they don't have to be giving their kids sex tips. That's probably a bad idea, but eventually you want your child to be a sexual human being. You want grandkids right? So what we need to do is be a little less scared of the whole subject. That doesn't mean the parents have to talk about the nuts and bolts.

DENISE: So stay present in the conversation.

CAROL: Stay present. If they ask you, you know, what is this condom? You might be able to say oh it's a condom. You know adult men use. If you're talking to an eight year old you don't have to do a whole information dump about sexual experience. Do little by little. Answers their questions and that's often all they need.

DENISE: Carol Weston thank you very much for being with us.

CAROL: Thank you.

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