Our oldest son, Michael, had just turned 10; I began to recognize that his school-based sex education was on the horizon. I mentioned this to my husband, Mike.

"I think it’s time we started talking with Michael about sex." We both agreed that we wanted our three boys to get the facts from us, not from their friends or teachers.

Mike sat down with Michael a few weeks later and started discussing how Michael’s body would soon be maturing. Mid-sentence, Michael interrupted, "Dad, I am not ready for this conversation!"

Even if your child doesn’t feel ready, his or her biological clock is ticking toward a hormone avalanche. The longer you wait to talk with your child about sex, the more likely it is that his friends and the media will "spill the beans" before you do. So when and what should you teach your child? Consider these key principles:

Teaching about sex is developmental

Although the day arrives to begin teaching kids the specifics about sexual hormones, menstruation, erections and other facts, sex education actually starts early in parenting: "Mommy, do you have a penis?"

"How do babies get out of a mom’s tummy?"

Young children learn about modesty, appropriate touching and male-female affection. Think of the introduction to adolescent sexuality as simply building on the groundwork you have already laid.

Sex education is a journey, not an event

Experts agree that teaching children about sex should involve not just having "the talk," but opening a dialogue as well. You want to create an atmosphere in which he or she feels comfortable asking questions about morality, body changes, peer pressure and temptation. This means initiating conversations about sex, being available to answer questions and looking for teachable moments.

Why reinvent the wheel?

Take advantage of the many books and audio materials that present sexuality from a developmental and Christian perspective, such as the God’s Design for Sex book series. Reading or listening to these resources with your child can be less intimidating than trying to come up with all the right words and questions. After breaking the ice with a great resource, your conversation can be fuelled by your child’s reaction and curiosity.

Take courage and forge ahead! In this cultural landscape, few tasks are more important than training kids to embrace God’s design for sexuality.

Dr. Juli Slattery is clinical psychologist, author, speaker and broadcast media professional. She is also president of Authentic Intimacy, a non-profit ministry aimed at helping women have better marriages. Dr. Slattery's books include No More Headaches, Pulling Back the Shades, Beyond the Masquerade and 25 Questions You're Afraid to Ask About Love, Sex, and Intimacy. She and her husband, Mike, have three sons.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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