Small Talk About Sex

What you should say to your kids and when to say it.

Small Talk, p.1

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Photodisc Green

"How can I teach my daughter to have a healthy attitude toward sex but prevent her from having any?" That question from a father led Justin Richardson, M.D., and Mark A. Schuster, M.D., Ph.D., to write the new book Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child's Sexual Development From Birth to the Teens.

"We felt he was voicing the dilemma of today's parents," says Dr. Richardson, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia and Cornell universities. "Parents want to be cooler about sex than their parents were but don't know how." Packing their book with the latest studies and information about children's sexual development, Drs. Richardson and Schuster, an associate professor of pediatrics and of public health at the University of California at Los Angeles and a researcher at RAND, a Santa Monica think tank, argue that the best way to help kids develop a healthy attitude toward sex is to talk with them early and often. In an interview with Child, they explained how to start the conversation -- and keep it going.

Why is it so important to begin talking about sex when your children are babies, and what should you say to them?

Dr. Schuster: From the time children are infants, they are creating mental maps of their bodies. They are touching their genitals, and if their parents never talk about these body parts or only giggle about them using cutesy nicknames, we are concerned that it could start a bad pattern in which sex is never discussed. So we tell parents: When you're teaching your baby the names of his body parts, teach him the proper names for his genitals.

We suggest talking about sex from the day you take your child home from the hospital. It's a lot easier to teach your 1-year-old what his scrotum is than to start talking about it to an 8-year-old.

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