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Follow these 6 tips for honest discussions about sex

You want to make sure your kids get accurate, appropriate answers to their questions about sex. But with so much information available to them on their phones, tablets and laptops, how can you take control of the conversation?

And how can you make “the talk” comfortable for both of you?

We’ve gathered tips from our expert, Dr. Brytanie Marshall, pediatric and adolescent gynecologist, to help you educate your children before they learn about the birds and the bees from someone else.

Talking to your kid about sex: Honesty is the best policy

While it’s normal to feel awkward and anxious about talking with your child about sex, it’s important to be honest. It’s also important to keep the conversation open and ongoing.

“Having an open, honest and ongoing discussion about sex is the best way to educate your child long-term,” explains Dr. Marshall. “Your honest conversations may also keep them from taking part in risky behavior, like unprotected sex.”

You may also be wondering, “when should I have ‘the talk’ with my child?” Instead of thinking of it as one big “talk,” Dr. Marshall suggests weaving it into everyday conversations, adding in more information as your child matures.

“This can start as teaching your child the anatomically correct name for their genitals when they’re a toddler to teaching boundaries and consent around respecting others’ personal space,” adds Dr. Marshall.

Here are 6 tips for talking to your kid about sex

Still not sure how to approach the topic of sex with your child? Follow these six tips from Dr. Marshall:

1. Don’t wait

The bottom line is, if you don’t teach your kids about sex, someone else will. Whether it’s older kids or a few searches on the internet, your children will find answers — and it might be sooner than you think.

Age-appropriate discussions should start early, before your kids’ bodies begin to change.

2. Avoid too many “don’ts”

It’s easier to explain what you don’t want your kids to do — such as don’t get pregnant or don’t get a sexually transmitted disease (or STD) — than what you do want them to do. However, your conversations shouldn’t scare them away from sex. Your goal should be to convey the seriousness of the topic but also touch on what a positive sexual relationship looks like.

“You should not only explain the basics of sex and define what sex encompasses, you should also include your values about sex and intimate relationships,” says Dr. Marshall.

3. Explain their rights

Sexual education should include discussions on consent. Teach your child that they have the right to say “no” and shouldn’t be pressured into sex. They also have the right to say “no” to any unwanted touch.

4. Use TV and pop culture

If talking openly about sex makes your palms sweaty, you can use current events, TV and pop culture to help you out.

“Something is bound to come up in a TV show or movie you’re watching, or an event that makes its way through the news and social media,” says Dr. Marshall. “These are great hooks into having a discussion about what happened — whether it’s a positive event or a negative event — and how it relates to your own child’s understanding of sex and sexual maturity.”

5. Listen more than you talk

Talking about sex can be challenging for both you and your children — and you can admit that. But you should stress that you’re available to answer questions whenever your kids have them.

Questions might trickle in over time. And if your kids can’t approach you about a question they have, they’ll look for an answer elsewhere.

Be a good listener, but make sure you get clarification before answering questions. Your kids may not know as much as you think about a particular topic.

6. Become a myth buster

Even if you do your best to start the conversation early, your child will likely still see or hear things related to sex. This is where you can step in and set the record straight.

“Be prepared to answer your child’s questions honestly and dispel any myths they might hear from classmates and friends or on social media,” adds Dr. Marshall.

Overall, you want to give your child the tools to evaluate risks and make good decisions. “Having this open and honest dialog with your child over time will help them do just that,” says Dr. Marshall.

Next steps:

Meet Dr. Brytanie Marshall
Get more tips: 4 ways to keep your kid safe online
When is it time for my daughter’s first gynecologist visit?

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