I was leading a discussion in my Marriage, Family and Intimate Relationships course the other day on the hows and the whys of parents discussing sex with their children. I was dismayed when a man who has an eleven year old daughter said that it's not necessary for parents to discuss sex with their children, because they'll learn everything that they need to know in school. I'd like to make a case for why it's important for parents to have these discussions with their kids.
First, not all schools have a comprehensive sex education program. Some schools only teach about biological functioning, leaving out all information about intercourse, birth control/contraception, and human sexual motivations. Additionally, some teachers are uncomfortable presenting this material, so they gloss over it. Worse yet, some teachers are sex negative, and promote sex negative ideas, such as sex is only for straight people, gay men and lesbian women are sexual deviants, sex for pleasure is unacceptable, and having sex means you're virtually guaranteed to contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Second, when children do not have access to accurate information, they often rely on their friends for sex education, and I don't know about you, but I heard some crazy things about sex from my friends when I was a child. When I was ten, one of my friends told me that a condom is something that a boy puts on his penis to make it bigger! I'm sad to say that I believed this for many years.
Third, if you care about your children's sexual values, it's important that you share yours with your children. If you want your children to only have sex with people with whom they share mutual respect and affection, tell them so! If you want your children to be responsible about sex--using condoms and/or other birth control methods-- make this clear to them and give them access to contraception.
If you feel uncomfortable discussing sex with your children, know that this is normal, but part of parenting is teaching your children about life, and sex is a part of life. If your child balks at these discussions, he or she is responding to your discomfort, and that’s okay, but it's important to persevere. There are a number of good books on the market that can give you good fodder for how and when to discuss sex with your child. You can also read these books with your child. I recommend It’s so Amazing! by Robie Harris (http://www.amazon.com/Its-So-Amazing-Families-Library/dp/0763613215/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_til?tag=wwwdrmichel04-20&linkCode=w00&creativeASIN=0763613215).
Another thing to remember is that if a child is old enough to ask questions, he or she is old enough to receive honest answers. You needn't give more information that what the child asks, though. If, for example, a small child asks how a baby gets in a mommy's belly you can simply say that a daddy plants a seed in the mommy's belly and it grows into a baby. If the child persists, and asks how the seed got there, then your child is old enough to know about intercourse. You can simply say that a daddy puts his penis inside a mommy's vagina and seeds come out. By the way, it's important to use anatomically correct names when discussing sex with children. It's a disservice to children to use silly name for genitals, such as dingle or wee-wee or hoo-ha. If children aren't given proper names for these parts, they may be terribly confused about sex. When I was a child and my mother told me that a baby comes out of your bottom, I wasn't sure if that meant that I'd grow up and poop out a baby someday.
Do your children the favor of being a parent who is a trustworthy source of information, who lets them know you care about them growing up to be sexually responsible, sex positive, and sexually well adjusted adults. I can only hope my student will reconsider being this for his daughter. She deserves to know her dad cares.