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Sex Talk
It is important to talk to your kids about sex and to start early. Even at pre-school age.

A Grade 7 student falls from his skateboard and injures his penis. Rather than tell his parents, he remains quiet for days until an infection sets in.

Finally, he confides in children's sex educator Meg Hickling, who happens to be speaking to his class.

When the Vancouverite asks why he never told his parents about his injury, he breaks down. He couldn't tell his mom, he says, because he only knew "rude" words to describe the injured area—slang he picked up from peers.

And there was no way he could tell his dad, who had never talked to him about his body. "Silence can send a powerful message that you're not allowed to talk to your parents—even if you're hurt, says Hickling, the author of The New Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It (Northstone Publishing, 2005).

If you're a parent, you may have agonized about how and when to talk to your children about their sexual health. Maybe you're embarrassed and unsure if talk of sex fits into your faithful, church-going family. Perhaps you're nervous that you won't approach the topic correctly. Whatever your worries, Hickling says it's important that you get comfortable with sexuality. Studies show that kids who feel they can chat with their parents about sex are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviour.

Need some guidance? Consider these tips for tackling the facts of life:

1.Emphasize that faith and sexuality are intertwined. Rev. Sylvia Schmidt, a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada pastor, says sexuality and faith go hand-in-hand.

"Sexuality is all about relationships. It's about values. It's about God. It's all connected. Your sexuality is who you are as a person, and God created you as a wonderful person," says Rev. Schmidt, noting that the Bible even contains tales of sex. "It's everywhere because it's part of our lives."

Hickling agrees these discussions open the door to teaching kids about faith and family values. "When you talk about conception and love between a man and a woman, you can start saying, 'When you get married, then you can have sex and have a baby.'"

How do you spark a God-focused discussion of sex with your teenage kids who are old enough to make their own decisions? Rev. Schmidt, a Vancouver-based intercultural communications consultant, says that while parents should make their teens aware of the consequences of sex—such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases—they should also emphasize that sex is a sacred, godly creation.

"Sex is a wonderful gift of God, and it's not confined to one act. God has made you man or woman, and to explore what that means takes your whole life," says Rev. Schmidt, adding that if teens view sex between two people as a holy union, they are more likely to respect and value it.

2. Start early. Hickling, a mother to three grown children, advises parents talk to kids about sex early—in their preschool years. If you do so, sex won't be a taboo issue, and your children will feel comfortable coming to you with questions and concerns. "The lovely thing is that you may feel a little shy, but you can grow into (the subject of sex) with your child," she says.

3. Find age-appropriate literature. Rev. Schmidt recalls having lots of children's books about the body when she was raising her three kids with her husband, also a retired pastor. Her kids' favourite: a cartoon-style book with diagrams of the body. "Other kids would come over to our house and say, 'where's your body book?' They all wanted to read it too."

Hickling also encourages parents to use anatomically correct terms for body parts. Doing so, she says, will help your kids know that their bodies are nothing to be ashamed of.

4. Don't separate the boys from the girls. Hickling says they should learn about sex together. "There's nothing special about girls or boys that the other gender shouldn't know about."

5. Welcome discussions any time, anywhere. The goal for parents, says Rev. Schmidt, is to create an open and inviting atmosphere. Her kids often asked questions about sex during car rides or at mealtime. "Strangely enough, that was a lively topic at our dinner table," she says.

Both Rev. Schmidt and Hickling say parents shouldn't limit the kinds of questions their kids ask. The key, they say, is keeping the answers appropriate for their age and comprehension level.

And if they catch you off guard? Don't panic. "Be grateful that they are trusting you to give them this important information," says Hickling.

Shamona Harnett is a Winnipeg-based freelance journalist.

Originally published in Canada Lutheran, June 2008.




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