From interview with Dr. Lane Powell, Assistant Chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Texas Tech University
It's okay to feel uncomfortable, nervous, upset or frightened about discussing sex with your children. It is NOT okay to let these feelings stop you. Studies show that teens whose parents discuss sex with them tend to delay their first intercourse experience. They are even more likely to use birth control than youngsters whose parents avoid "The Talk." Information about sexuality is vital for young people to make responsible decisions to avoid unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Talking with your children about sex is an important job. Admit that you are uncomfortable and don't be discouraged if, at first, conversations about sex are awkward or difficult for both you and your child.
It's okay to not know that answer to a question: you don't have to be an expert or specialist in sex education. It is more important to convey to your children that you are an "askable" parent; that you CAN be approached with questions.
How you handle the situation is more important than what you answer. You may not always know the answer or feel comfortable with the discussion. The message to the child needs to be "I'm glad that you asked me," even if you then refer the child to a book or other source (e.g. doctor, counselor) for more information.
Answer questions when the child asks. A child is never too young to be given an answer of some kind. Try to explain in a manner that the child will understand, but if the child doesn't fully understand your answer, it doesn't matter. The child does not have to completely understand. Responding lets the child know that asking questions is okay, and that he/she can ask again. In fact, expect to repeat things as children may block or forget facts. Children need reassurance that is sex is "tough stuff" to understand so they can feel comfortable in repeating questions.
Avoid over/under-answering questions. Keep it casual. Avoid long lectures. A long speech suggests that you are speaking AT, rather than discussing WITH your child. Take questions at face value and resist jumping to conclusions. After you have responded to the question, ask "What's aroused interest?"
If your Child isn't asking questions by age six, then YOU BEGIN by seeking out "teachable moments" - a pregnant friend, a neighbor with a new baby, a television program or commercial, a book - to open up the discussion of sexuality issues. The child may not know the questions to ask or may not know that it is okay to ask. Remember that the children may ask questions not only with words, but with behaviors ("peeking," "playing doctor," etc.)
If your child assumes a glazed look, changes the subject, or walks off during a discussion, don't push the subject. Simply say, "Let's talk about it another time." If you force the topic, your child will sense your tension and may feel pressured.
Always tell the child accurate information and use correct terms for body parts and functions. If you have been making up stories in the past ("the stork brought you") then stop and admit that this is not true. Tell the child that in the past you did not think he/she was old enough to know the true facts about what your child wants to know at the time. It's easier if you have used correct terms and told the truth from the very beginning, but if you haven't, START NOW!
You have the right, and the obligation, to include your values about sexuality - to tell your children how you feel. You can make clear your standards and why you feel as you do. For example, explain the circumstances in which you consider sexual relations to be appropriate. Share your sexual value with your children. Explore your child's values through discussion. You have a right to your own feelings and to share these feelings, but you also need to listen to the child. Regardless of what values are taught in the home, young people will contemplate many attitudes and opinions before deciding on their own sexual values. Be patient and keep talking and listening to each other!
If you want or need support or help in talking to and educating your children about sex, reach out to sources in your community. You can turn to professionals for help. Check you public library and local bookstore for any information which you may need. There are many books and pamphlets for parents to assist in their role with their child's sex education, as well as reading materials for children.
Regardless of the age of your children, the time to start talking with them about sex is NOW. Don't wait.
Information obtained from Planned Parenthood of Shasta-Diablo.