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October 25, 2014

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When is it time for ‘The Talk’?

Sex education experts say the best way parents can handle “The Sex Talk” with their children is to avoid confining it to just one discussion.

“It really needs to be an ongoing conversation,” said Melva Thompson-Robinson, a professor at UNLV’s School of Community Health Sciences.

Remember, there’s a lot at stake. Nevada’s teen pregnancy rate has fallen in recent years, but it is the nation’s fourth-highest, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And adolescents ages 15 to 24 account for almost half of the nearly 20 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases reported nationwide each year, according to the U.S. Office of Adolescent Health.

Research shows that teenagers who talk to their parents about sex, relationships, birth control and pregnancy begin having sex at a later age, have sex less frequently, and use condoms and birth control more often, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What’s the best way to start the conversation? Here are a few guidelines.

Start early: Children as young as 3 or 4 should know the terms penis and vagina. They also should be taught to tell an adult if someone touches them without permission or in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, Thompson-Robinson said.

Clarify your values: If you feel strongly that sex should be reserved for marriage, tell your children so. But refrain from fear- or judgment-based messages, Thompson-Robinson said.

When children are 8 or 9 years old, begin talking to them about what healthy relationships are like. Also explain that some people are attracted to people of the same sex.

Conversation starters: Launching points can include life events — such as discovering a family member is pregnant or learning a neighbor is gay — or books, TV and movies.

The Office of Adolescent Health recommends asking children, “What do you think about that?” Follow up with, “Let me share what I think” but don’t lecture.

Keep it short: If a child comes to you with a specific question, answer it. But don’t overwhelm him or her with too much information at once.

Be honest: If talking about sex makes you nervous, say so. It can break the ice.

Be accurate: Teach your children about puberty and the changes their bodies will undergo as they get older. Be specific about what those changes are — for example, changes in body hair, breast development and menstruation.

Be useful: As children get older, the information you give them should get more specific.

Planned Parenthood recommends talking to teenagers about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Encourage abstinence but be prepared to show children how to use a condom.

Also, teach negotiation skills, Thompson-Robinson recommended. Sometimes, teens just need a script to help steer them away from having sex when a partner is pushing for it.

“Just saying ‘no’ is not enough,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We as adults have a hard enough time saying no, so expecting our children to say no is not necessarily realistic. Teach them how to say, ‘Let’s do something else right now, and maybe we’ll go back to that later.’ ”

Keep your composure: Listen and ask open-ended questions. Losing your temper could close the door to future conversations.

And know that what you say matters. Nearly 4 in 10 teens report that parents influenced their decisions about sex, according to the Office of Adolescent Health.

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