Tips for Family-Based Sexuality Education

Jessica Bowen Bazyl, MPH, MCHES

Jessica is King’s coordinator from Teen Talk Sexuality Education, the organization with which King has contracted for Sex Education.

Like it or not, your child is already being exposed to sexual messages from television
and movies, other children, advertising, music and music videos, etc. Many of these
sources may not give accurate information or include the values around sex that are
important to your family. By remaining silent on sex and other topics (pregnancy,
anatomy, self-respect, body image, etc.), parents deny their children their family’s
values. Here are some tips to help guide you:

Sexuality education is not one “big talk.” It’s an ongoing discussion with your
child(ren) that starts with simple concepts and gains complexity and detail as the
child ages. Start as early as you can, but remember, it’s never too late to bring up
a discussion.

Educate yourself! There are many resources, such as books for children, books for
parents, trainings, websites, and telephone hotlines that can help. Visit your local
library or bookstore with your child and pick out books together.

Use “teachable moments.” When see a pregnant or parenting teenager, or you’re
watching TV or a movie that includes a sexual topic, use it as an excuse to start a
conversation. “What did you think about…?”

Learn from your own sexuality education. What was your experience growing
up? How would you like your own child’s sexuality education to be different?

It’s OK to be nervous. Explain to your child “I know it’s difficult sometimes talking
about these things, but they’re important. I love you and I care about you. I want
to make sure you are getting your questions answered and you know that you can
always come to me with any questions or problems you might be having.” For the
first few conversations, try talking in the car or while making dinner, so that you
don’t have to make eye contact. Later on, when you’re more comfortable, you’ll
be able to speak more directly.

Clarify your child’s questions. Make sure you understand your child’s question
before answering. The classic example is a young child who asks “where did I
come from?” The parent gives a long explanation of pregnancy and birth, and the
child looks puzzled. The child says, “Well, Timmy said he came from Michigan.
Where am I from?” Once you’ve confirmed the question, determine if it’s asking
for facts, asking about values (what’s right or wrong, and why), or asking “am I

Talk to other parents for their advice. If friends have talked to their children
about sex, what worked for them? What did they find difficult? Learn from their

Steps in Answering Questions

ENCOURAGE “That’s a really important question.” “I’m glad you
asked that.” “That’s a very smart question, I’m glad you’re thinking
about these things.” If you need some time to think about the
question or it’s a very awkward time (in the middle of a dinner party!
), say “I want to make sure we have time to talk about this, so let’s
talk about it on the car ride home (or at bedtime tonight).” Stalling or
postponing an answer is o.k. if you follow through quickly.

›CONFIRM what the question really is. “I think what you’re asking
is…..Do I have that right?”

›DETERMINE – is this a question about FACTS, about VALUES (what
you think is right or wrong, and why) or an AM I NORMAL? question.
Fact questions need simple, straight-forward, often medical answers.
For value questions, be sure to share WHY you believe what you do.
“Am I normal” questions are looking for reassurance.

›ANSWER as best you can. If you don’t know an answer, say “I’m not
sure, let’s look that up together.” Follow through quickly by looking
at a website or a book together as soon as possible.

›AVOID anger, judgment, and assumptions. Work on your poker face!
Your words may not be angry or judgmental, but your expression may
send the message that you don’t like the question! If a child asks
about sex, it does NOT mean that they are sexually active. Of course,
it doesn’t mean that they AREN’T. Avoid jumping to conclusions or
becoming accusatory. If your child senses your anger, they may not
come to you later when they really need help.

› CONFIRM that you answered the question – “Does that make sense?”
“Did that answer your question?”

›ENCOURAGE “I’m really glad we talked about that.” “I always want
you to come to me in the future, whenever you have questions, okay?


Books for Preteens

The Care & Keeping of You, Valorie Lee Schaefer
What’s Happening to Me? Peter Mayle
It’s Perfectly Normal,  Robie H. Harris
What’s Going on Down There?  Karen Gravelle
The Period Book, Karen Gravelle
It’s So Amazing, Robie H. Harris
A Child is Born, Lennart Nilsson

Websites for Parents, Preteens, and Teenagers

Palo Alto Medical Foundation

Sex, Etc. (by Rutgers University)

Planned Parenthood

Children’s Hospital Boston for Girls

Children’s Hospital Boston for Boy

Go Ask Alice (by Columbia University)

Lavender Youth Recreation & Information Center or 1-800-246-PRIDE

RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) or 1-800-656-HOPE

National Suicide Hotline 1-800-SUICIDE or the
California Youth Crisis Line 1-800-843-5200