Several truths all parents need to remember: If you communicate early and effectively with your child about sex and sexuality, it is likely you will have the following results.

  • Your child will delay sexual intercourse.
  • Your child will be less likely to experience a teen pregnancy.
  • Your child will be less likely to contract a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Your child will be less likely to experience sexual violence.

In short, your child will be less likely to engage in sexual risk behaviors as a teenager. So, become an approachable parent for your child on all matters that are sexual and the odds that your child will develop a healthy sexuality will increase considerably. It really is that simple. You will be more effective than any sex education program ever could be, and you will win the battle with your child's peers and the media to become the number one source of sexual information and guidance in your child's life.

The key here, however, is to make sure that you become approachable early in your child's life. When I speak to elementary school parents I warn them that close to one in four kids in middle school has already had sexual intercourse. You sure don't want your thirteen year old to start to think for the first time about how far to go when she or he's already sitting on that bench with that gorgeous boy or girl who has a hand on her mid-thigh and is kissing him or her passionately. You're going to think, "Darn, I should already have had some discussion with him/her about that."

The golden rule that I advise parents to follow is: ten is the new sixteen. That is, everything you thought a sixteen year old needs to know about sex and sexuality, your ten year old now needs to know. And I mean everything! The list is extensive, but I highlight some of the more important issues below.  So, by the time your child is in fifth grade you should have had a number of discussions about:

  • Sexual intercourse, vaginal, oral, and anal; what it is, when to have it, who to have it with, under what circumstances and within what context.
  • Kissing, tongue kissing, feeling up and feeling down.
  • Sexual violence, bullying, harassment, online chatting and networking.
  • Sexual feelings; what they are, how they make you feel, how to manage them.
  • How to make sexual decisions and manage peer pressure.
  • The value of having love, trust, and respect in a relationship prior to having intercourse and how to evaluate when one has them.
  • Homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism; respect, tolerance, and an appreciation for differing sexualities.
  • All of the biological changes of puberty.
  • Condoms; what they are, how to use them, and where to get them.
  • Masturbation and hand-jobs.
  • Gender roles

You can also see that if you want to be able to do all this by age ten, it is very important to have started your initial conversations pertaining to sexuality much earlier. When parents start their first formal discussions with their child at three and four years of age, they are able to scaffold their conversations. That is, just as a builder raises his scaffolding as he builds each story of a building, parents are able to build on the information and guidance they've provided in previous discussions.

Remember to balance your talks, sex can be very beneficial and it can also be very devastating and ruin one's life. So be sex positive but also clearly identify how sex can be dangerous. Be sure to share your values on the topics you discuss, and don't be afraid to clearly articulate what you think is healthy and unhealthy sexual behavior. Just make sure you have evaluated objectively your stand on things and realize when your views might wander towards possible discrimination. Always try and be authentic in your approach by utilizing real life situations and teachable moments to help clarify important concepts.

Explain to your child as you move along how she can tell you anything, that you love her, respect her, and always want her to be smart and safe. That it is for these reasons you will have discussions with her or him about sex and sexuality. Believe me, when you have regular and ongoing discussions with your child that are dignified, empathetic, and oozing with love, and have done this all by age ten, you will have established yourself as an approachable parent.




About the Author

Fred Kaeser Ed.D.

Fred Kaeser, Ed.D., is the former director of health for the NYC Department of Education. He is the author of What Your Child Needs To Know About Sex (And When).

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