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Talking To Kids About Sex Is Daunting. This Author Makes The Case To Start Early

Alan Diaz
In this photo taken Sept. 10, 2010, sex education teacher Shayna Knowles gestures during class at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Lake Worth, Fla.

It's hard to talk to kids about sex.

But the U.S. consistently has among the highest teen pregnancy and STD infection rates in the developed world.

Bonnie J. Rough has had "The Talk" with her kids — and she knows how hard it is, and how important. She's the author of "Beyond Birds and Bees." 

She recently talked with KERA's Krys Boyd on Think about the need for comprehensive sex education, even when it's uncomfortable.

Interview Highlights

On teaching young children about sex

You need to build up to it, but the thing is I don’t feel like here in the U.S. educators and parents have had a really good example for what that looks like. What do the building blocks for sexuality education look like for kids, starting at home and starting in school? Especially kindergarten and those elementary years. I should say preschool, too. There are so many great social lessons that children can start learning and mastering in preschool, such as communication, consent, understanding one’s own boundaries, getting the idea that other’s people’s boundaries are different and that we’re obligated to respect them. Those lessons, when they start early, help create a balanced character around sexuality and also a really good, solid self-esteem.

On normalizing conversations about sex

We have this kind of warped representation of sexuality in our popular culture. We have a lot of objectification and treating male and female bodies like they need to look certain ways in order to be appealing and that having sex appeal is the "end all." That message is so out there and so normalized that I think early on parents and kids actually can learn to not be struck by it.

"There are so many great social lessons that children can start learning and mastering in preschool."

So where it should be and can be a great conversation starter to talk about “I wonder why the cheerleaders dress that way,” instead I think we’re just really used to it. But what’s missing in that superficial, surface-level representation of sexuality is an everyday, normalized conversation about the more relationship-based side of sex. We say, “Oh, those are nice pictures or not nice pictures.” We say yes or no to certain behaviors that children or teenagers want to do with their bodies. But we rarely have that conversation that says, “You know, let’s talk about this. Why would we say yes? Why would we say no? Is there more to it?”

On having several conversations versus “The Talk”

The real beauty of that is that it takes the pressure off of us as parents and caregivers to get it right the first time or get it right the second time — or the third or the fifth. It’s just like anything else. I love to talk about the way we’re always trying to educate our kids about things like healthy nutrition. You might mention trying to have a little more protein one day. And a different day you might remind your children about hydration.

Every single one of those things kind of comes up and fades away and needs to come up again. There’s lots and lots of repetition. Or even something like remembering to use sunscreen or put your hat on before you go out all day in the sun. Those things, you don’t just say them once. Those are messages about human health that we have to keep repeating for our kids.

Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity.