The Sex Talk: Study Offers Tips for Talking to Kids

Filed under: Sex

the sex talk

There are effective and various ways for parents to talk to their kids about sex. Credit: Getty Images

You want to talk about sex? Fine.

Never have it. Ever. OK, maybe after you get married. Your mother wants grandkids. But don't go nuts. Try to confine yourself to leap years.

There you go. Case closed. Glad we can have these little talks. If you want to talk again, September looks good for me. Check back with me then.

OK, class, what did the parent in this scenario do wrong? According to a study just published in the journal Pediatrics, just about everything.

Researchers looked at the effectiveness of various ways parents talk to their kids about sex.

They advise talking to kids early and often. Don't spread out the conversations. And use anatomically correct terms. You should also tell kids the truth and not lecture or judge them.

Radical concepts, all.

Note the tinge of sarcasm there. It's because even though these ideas seem like common sense, a surprising number of 21st century parents still approach the sex talk like Victorian school marms.

That's why the study is important, Dr. Aletha Akers, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, tells MSNBC. There remains a lot of ambiguity about what works -- and what doesn't -- when it comes to discussing the birds and the bees.

The study looked at parents who had gone through certain intervention programs and found they emerged with superior communication skills. They have better conversations with their kids and were comfortable talking about sexual issues.

"It appears the interventions are effective at improving parent's ability to communicate, specifically things like frequency of communication and comfort for communicating," Akers tells MSNBC.

Terri Fisher, a psychologist at Ohio State University who has studied how parents tell their children about sex, tells the network this is a "a first attempt to make sense of a messy area of research."

She particularly likes the advice of parents talking to their kids about sex early and often.

"If they have regular and open and nonjudgmental conversations at various ages, when kids are adolescents and have some serious questions, they're going to be much more likely to ask the parent," Fisher tells MSNBC.

She also agrees that parents should use anatomically correct terms. When parents use slang terms, she tells the network, "it gives a message that there is something about this part of the body that is shameful or bad or different from every other body part. Many little children think that 'penis' is a bad word."

Fisher adds parents also should tell the truth -- both to their kids and themselves.

"Don't make up some fantastical tale about where babies come from," she says. However, honesty also applies parents. They shouldn't kid themselves, Fisher tells MSNBC.

"Telling an adolescent not to have sex is not likely to be an effective approach," Fisher says. "Parents tend not to be very good at knowing whether their own adolescent kids have engaged in any sexual activity or not."

Parents, she adds, "can share their own values without condemning people who don't share their values."

The moral of the story is that talking to kids frankly and frequently is important, Fisher tells MSNBC. However, it is not all important.

"Parent-child communication about sex is important, but often its effects are overstated," Fisher tells the network. "Talking to one's teenagers about sex is not necessarily going to discourage those teenagers from having sex, but it does make it more likely that if those teenagers end up having sex, they will do so in a more responsible way."

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.