It may be hard to remember exactly what you learned in your first sex education class, but it's nearly impossible to forget how brutally awkward those classes made you feel. For the majority of students, those "Introduction to Sex" lessons were and still are coed and very uncomfortable. How is a girl supposed to feel totally normal talking about tampons while the boy she has a crush on squints his nose in disgust? And how are boys going to act manly in front of the girl they like while learning in detail why they can no longer control certain parts of their body? It's nearly impossible to retain anything from sex education classes without humor and jokes clouding the messages, most of it resulting from the general discomfort of learning such personal stuff around classmates.
On average, schools start introducing sex ed into their curricula anywhere between fifth and eighth grade. While that may seem early to some, remember that hand-me-down clothes aren't the only things being passed down from the older kids. Most children and teens will tell you that they first heard about sex from another student, a neighbor or a friend -- usually from someone who's older by at least a year. But this kind of sex talk tends to come in the form of "telephone," you know, that game where you start with one message, and by the time it gets whispered into the last person's ears, it's completely off track from the original point. For example, some parents (who wished to remain anonymous) at the public Beverly Hills School with grades K-8 said their son recently asked them whether kissing a girl could get her pregnant. He's a first-grade student at one of the best public schools in the country, and he's already worried about pregnancy.
That's a perfect example of why sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman recommends that parents set the facts straight before kids and their overly active imaginations create their own reality of how sex works. Berman isn't suggesting to go deep into the "birds and bees" chat with a first-grader, but she does encourage setting up a comfortable environment where your children (at any age) can feel safe to ask any questions they might have about the changes they're experiencing with their own bodies, about the opposite sex and, of course, about sex in general.
Telling your children something like "you can always ask Mommy and Daddy about anything, and we will never be mad at you or tease you" will go a long way with them. As they get older and cross into the preteen and teenage years, this will encourage them to come forward with bigger questions, such as when they should first have sex, how can they expect to feel about it and how to be safe while doing so. Of course, as parents, you never want your children to grow up, let alone be intimate with someone else before you feel they are ready. But think about your own youth. There was absolutely no way that your parents were going to stop you from finding a way to do something if you really wanted to do it. So rather than try to scare your children from having sex by threatening punishment (or, even worse, looking the other way and avoiding the talk in hopes that they will avoid sex, too), why not arm them with knowledge so that they feel empowered with making decisions that are best for them?
If you're not sure how or when to start "the talk," you can wait for their sex ed class to start and then ask the teacher for a copy of the agenda so that you can supplement what they're already learning in school. That will give you more structure moving forward with the conversation. If you're not able to have these types of conversations with your children at all, you could ask a relative or friend whom you trust to sit down with them instead. The goal is to provide all of the support you can so that you have prepared and empowered them with all the information they need.