It is your role to teach your children about sex and sexuality — and kids learn early on what a sexual relationship looks like from images on television to the way you are with your own sexuality.

For a child to develop a healthy sexuality, the consensus today among researchers and experts is that there should not be one "Big Talk" about sex, but ongoing talks from the time a young child shows awareness of it and verbalizes the awareness. Accurate, reliable information about sex reduces risky behaviors and parents who can talk with their children about sex can positively influence their kids' sexual behaviors.

WHEN & HOW

— Little Kids —

The process of talking about sex should begin when your child is able to talk. It's important that children understand the proper names for genitals when they become curious. Use terms like "penis," "vagina," "bottom" and "nipples." Be casual and natural about it. Between the ages of 2 and 5 you can start talking about touching bodies and boundaries — the initial conversations about consent. Children develop an intuitive understanding of consent that should not be broken; you should teach lessons around sharing, tickling, wrestling and having a say over your own body. But in regards to sex itself, initial talks come in the form of surprising questions. Be ready.

YOUR CHILD MAY ASK: "Where do babies come from?"
YOU CAN SAY: "Two grown-ups get their bodies together and share the sperm and the egg to make a child." (or something to that effect. Be careful not to lie.)

YOUR CHILD MAY ASK: "Why do you have hair down there?"
YOU CAN SAY: "Our bodies change as we get older."

— Big Kids—

If you've been having ongoing, free-flowing conversations with your little kids, by the time they're older, you simply keep the conversations going as they happen in your day-to-day life.

YOUR CHILD MAY ASK: "What does having sex mean?"
YOU CAN SAY: "Sex is a way that grown-ups show love for each other. It's also how people make babies."

YOUR CHILD MAY ASK: "How does the baby come out?"
YOU CAN SAY: "When the baby is ready to be born, mommy's body will push the baby out through her vagina."

YOUR CHILD MAY ASK: "Why does my penis get hard?"
YOU CAN SAY: "That's what penises do. It's OK. It will get soft again."

YOUR CHILD MAY ASK: "Why was Daddy on top of you like that?" (after accidentally seeing you having sex)
YOU CAN SAY: "Daddy and I were showing each other love. Sex is meant to be an enjoyable experience between grown-ups. That's why Mommy and Daddy keep their bedroom door shut sometimes."

— Teens—

If you've had ongoing, free-flowing conversations with your kids as they've grown, it pays off in the teen years. They'll have plenty of questions but need you to get the conversations going since they have gotten older and more "aware."  Your teen's body is changing with puberty, and he knows what it's like to be aroused. You must be open to discussing serious subject matter. Meanwhile, if you've been mum on the topic so far, it's time to sit down and talk to your teen.

Various factors including peep pressure, curiosity and sexual arousal can steer a teenager into sexual activity. That's why teenagers need real conversations related to consent, date rape, sexual assault, homosexuality and more. Be prepared to ask questions and listen rather than share information.  It's OK to say something like, "I feel strongly that having sex when you're a teenager is not in your best interest. That said, I want you to have information so that you know how to protect yourself from unplanned pregnancy and diseases."

Go into your teen's room from time to time and sit down on the edge of the bed and just talk. It will be awkward. But worse would be apathy: NOT showing that you care and want him to be safe.

QUESTIONS YOU MAY ASK: "What does it mean to 'hook up' among your friends?" "Are your friends sexually active?" "How many of your friends are sexually active?" "Have any of your friends been kissed?" "Do you know how babies are made?" "Do you know how to protect yourself from pregnancy?"

During these tough questions and answers, resist the urge to lecture or flee. Stay relaxed and breathe. Keep asking questions related to your child's responses such as, "Are you worried about his behavior?" "What do you think about that?" "How does it make you feel to know that your friend is having sex?"

Don't stay around too long because awkward conversations are, well, awkward. Know when to leave. And finish by saying, "I love you, and it's my job to keep you safe. I want you to know you can always come to me and I will be honest and open with you."

THE WAY YOU ARE MATTERS

The way you handle yourself with your kids when discussing tough stuff is important.

• Stay calm
• Keep an open mind
• Don't lecture
• Thank your child for coming to you with questions
• Always take a moment to remind your child you care deeply about his well-being

The American Psychological Association says the following attributes will help you:

• Think about what you want to say: It's OK to practice in your head (and with another adult) what you want to say. A little advanced planning will make discussions easier — that way you won't have to talk off the top of your head.

• Keep talks age-appropriate:  There's no reason to talk over your child's comprehension. Use terms your child can understand

• Find the right moment: Best time to talk will be when your child can be the center of your attention and there aren't a lot of distractions. Consider taking a walk or just hanging out in his room.

• Know that sometimes there's no "right" moment: Be aware that tough subjects will come up on the fly sometimes, catching you off guard. Try not to fly off the handle, answer as easily as you can and make a mental note that you want to make more time to address the subject with your child.

• If you don't know what to say, take time: It's always OK to pause and say, "Let me give this some thought and we'll talk about this some more."

• One subject at a time: Try to create an environment where your child will welcome your talks. If you keep conversations easy going and friendly without judgment, you create an open environment where he'll feel free to talk.

• Keep your talk real but brief: Kids don't want you to talk on and on. They get things quickly and will accept what you say. 

• Find out what your child already knows: For example, your parent friends know that an older kid was found trying to sell marijuana to middle schoolers. Ask your child, "What have you heard about this?" Then listen more than talk.

• Share your feelings: Your kids see you're human when you share your feelings. Be a role model with your emotions.

• Be truthful: Lay out the facts as best you know without graphic details.

FURTHER READING

Little Kids

"It's Not the Stork"

"What Makes a Baby?"

It's So Amazing!

Big Kids

Where Did I Come From?

It's Perfectly Normal

Boy's Body Book

The Ultimate Girls' Body Book

Teens

S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties

Consent: The New Rules of Sex Education: Every Teen's Guide to Healthy Sexual Relationships

Redeemed Sexuality: A Guide to Sexuality for Christian Singles, Campus Students, Teens and Parents

Parents

10 Tips on How NOT to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

The ABCs of Purity: How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids

National Sexual Health Standards