Talking to your children about sex is an important part of parenting. Each year about one million teenage girls become pregnant and three million teens get a sexually transmitted disease in the United States.
Research indicates that 46 percent of high school children have had sexual intercourse, and nearly half of sexually active teens did not use protection during their last sexual encounter.
Children are exposed to sexual messages all the time through television, radio, the Internet, even malls. But these aren't the only sources of information you want for your children -- children need to feel comfortable enough to ask questions, and parents should respond to the needs and curiosity level of their children.
Sometimes less is more. Some children will be happy with a simple short answer; others will need details. Use your best judgment, proper terminology, and words they are comfortable with. Be prepared -- get some books on the topic to help you.
Regarding older children, they need to know the importance of understanding responsibilities. Unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases (some fatal), and the emotional feelings and involvement that accompany sex can have life-changing consequences.
Influenced by their peers and the media, children may believe that everyone is having sex. Reports suggest that preteens are experimenting with oral sex, but don't describe themselves as being sexually active. It is your responsibility to enlighten them -- and to explain why postponing sex may be best.
Talk to your children about the distinction of lust, love, and sex. Tell them that they don't have to have sex to prove they love someone.
Here are some tips for discussing sex with your child or teen:
• Encourage questions.
• Avoid shock and criticism.
• Use age-appropriate words and your child's level of knowledge and understanding.
• Share experiences when appropriate, and your values and expectations.
• Use accurate sources of information.
Meline Kevorkian, Ed.D, is the Associate Dean of Master's Programs at Nova Southeastern University and author of Six Secrets for Parents to Help Their Kids Achieve in School, available at www.rowmaneducation.com.