3 year-old boy, overheard when talking to his dad:

“My penis! When I pull on it, I can make it longer and longer.” Yes, this is real. Today, Dec 7, 2009. You heard it here first. This is my glamorous life.

Instant proof that curiosity about the body and sex is a normal part of your child’s development. Truth is, by 3 most children are showing keen interest in their own and others’ bodies, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital health educator, Heather Cooper. It’s the answering and talking about sex where we seem to get into trouble.

In January, a study in Pediatrics will be published with some sobering statistics; timing of parent and child communication about sexuality is off. Greater than 40% of children have intercourse before any discussion about sexually transmitted disease, condom use, choosing birth control or learning how to refuse their partner in a sexual act.

“A lack of information about sex makes your child more open to danger, not less,” says Cooper.

I agree. So let’s talk about sex. Really, let’s talk about how to talk about sex.

  • It’s never too early to talk about sex with your children.
  • Give age appropriate descriptions about sexuality or sex when your child asks you questions or asks for explanations.
  • Tips on talking about sex are all over the Internet. Find a site that resonates with you and then trust your instincts.
  • If you’re thinking about sex or what you heard about sex after a particular event, show, or comment, your child are likely thinking of sex, too! Speak up and share your thoughts with them.
  • If you don’t know what to say, look at Advocates for Youth

When young children ask you about sex, explain it in detail but remember to use proper terminology.

I think you should talk about the woo-woo, but don’t call it that. You should talk about the thingy-thing, but don’t call it that either.  Spell it out for your children. Not like, “Peee-Eeeee-Nnnnn-I-Ssss.” Rather, something like, “when adults have sex the man puts his penis into the woman’s vagina.” I won’t dive deeper into this pit I am creating for myself. I figure you might know how this all works, especially if you’re a parent…

  • Don’t expect your child to know what sex is. Start basic.
  • Remind children that oral sex is sex, too. Oral sex will put your child at risk for STDs.
  • Risky sexual behaviors (not using a condom, having sex with strangers) are associated with alcohol use in teenagers. Tell you kids this so they know that drinking alcohol may put them at higher risk.
  • Talk about sex or concerns you or your child has about sex with your pediatrician. Don’t assume the doctor will bring it up. Unite forces. Bring sex out into the open so it’s not as uncomfortable to talk about it as it may feel.

Don’t fret if you feel behind. No need for a pit in your stomach. Authors of the Pediatrics study note that “talking about sex is not an all-or-nothing event.” You can talk about sex when the moment arises, when questions come up, when you both hear about a 16 year old getting pregnant, when there is a new baby in the family or when you hear about HIV on TV. There will be many moments to pounce on this. Talking about sex can start early, be visited frequently and then re-visited for years to come. If you allow sex to exit the list of taboo topics, you free the air.

The Pediatrics study found that about half of the parents had not talked with their sons about how to use a condom or choose birth control before the son had engaged in intercourse. Two thirds of boys had not even discussed how to use a condom! Nearly half of the girls in the study had not discussed the effectiveness of birth control.

Talk to your children about sexuality, sex, and body changes. Consequences of not doing so are severe. You do the math.

  • For girls 15 to 19, most pregnancies are unintended.
  • One in 4 sexually active adolescents acquire an STD.
  • Only a little over ½ of adolescents report using a condom the last time they had intercourse

I’m off to talk to my 13 month old. Wish me luck.