Talking about Sex: 10 Bases to Cover

The news is good: According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of sexually active U.S. high school students has declined over the past 10 years, as have certain risky sexual behaviors. Talking to your teen openly and honestly about sex, being sure to cover everything from oral sex to STDs, is one way to ensure your child's health and well-being. Here's how:

1. Admit that sexuality is positive. (Perhaps the hardest thing to admit to a child on the brink of lust and love.) If you cast sex as negative, as in "Don't do it!" then your child will simply tune you out.

2. Don't give boys short shrift. Broaching sexuality is easier with girls, because you can start with menstruation. With boys, talking about wet dreams and ejaculation is far more disquieting. It's hardly surprising then, that surveys show girls get far more information about their bodies and sexual urges than boys.

3. Define sexual behavior as a romantic progression. Explain that sexual attraction begins with a smile and proceeds along a path from kissing, to touching and onto intercourse. Remember first base (kissing), second base (petting above the waist), third base (petting below the waist)? Ask if kids still use this home run lingo. A step-by-step approach ensures that a child can stop at any time. Make that point.

4. Girls and boys require different instructions. Take the issue of consent, for example. Girls need to learn to say no firmly looking a boy straight in the face. Sometimes girls look away or say nothing; this can be misinterpreted by a boy who continues making sexual advances. Boys need to be warned of the danger of assuming consent. He may be liable for charges of date rape or sexual abuse.

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