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When your children ask about sex:
Be available to answer questions honestly and without embarrassment. Don’t overwhelm them with information; just answer specific questions with specific, clear answers.

Make sure your answers are appropriate to their age - comprehension level. They won’t understand information that they’re not developmentally ready to absorb yet.

Younger children tend to be interested in the facts of procreation and birth; older children tend to be interested in emotions, particularly love, and understanding sexual technique and human sexual response.  

I know my child is curious about sex, but she/he hasn’t asked me any questions. I’m concerned about them getting false information, or picking up negative beliefs about sexuality. How can I help?

Giving your child a well written, age-appropriate book is worth its weight in gold. Make sure it is visually descriptive and accurate. Good clear pictures help, too, especially with young children. The San Francisco Sex Information website www.sfsi.org recommends some good books for younger children. For older children in or nearing their adolescence, S.E.X. by Scarleteen founder and author Heather Corinna is excellent.

Then be ready to answer questions that may arise from this material. Remember: your child will be responding to your emotions and attitude as much as any factual information you give them.

From Sex For One:
Exploring our bodies to feel pleasure and comfort is instinctual during childhood, but many of us could use a touch of guidance to reach our fully realized sexual capacity. How we masturbate is the foundation of our sexual process and identity, and we can endow our children with information that will help them to become comfortable and adept. Many of the missteps that give rise to sexual dysfunction and misery can be averted through early education and advice.

Here are four important tactics that you can utilize to help your child find the right path: 

* Communicate a positive sense about the body and its functions, including sexual and  sensual expression. 

* Give them accurate, age appropriate information about sexual anatomy and functioning. 

* When age appropriate, provide them with information about building and prolonging sexual energy.  Many pre-orgasmic women, and men who suffer from premature ejaculation, would not suffer from these obstructive patterns if they learned this secret.

* Be available to answer questions honestly in an age-appropriate fashion, if and when they arise. 

Be very careful to respect children's privacy and boundaries; a good book or pamphlet is a non-invasive way to approach this subject.  

Gender Neutral Parenting

We can allow our children to be themselves, happy and complete, or we can mold them into something that denies aspects of themselves and fragments their wholeness: a gender stereotype.

Gender stereotyping is very deep in our culture. There are even prenatal differences in the way we treat a developing embryo once we know its sex. And how free of gender stereotypes, how whole and happy we let our children be, often depends upon the degree to which we suffer from gender stereotyping ourselves.

Endowing our children with freedom from gender bias involves a process of self-examination and mindfulness about our attitudes, behaviors and expectations for them, and for ourselves. We have to ask ourselves if our responses and expectations to their being is based on gender bias in any and every way. Am I bothered by traits manifesting in my child that I associate with the "other" sex? Do I not want my son playing with dolls? Do I hold my daughters' intelligence down? Do I touch my daughter more gently, allow my son more freedom?


The development of a child is subtle and constant, and they absorb signals on all levels like a sponge. Make the effort not to warp their potential while they grow: open your mind and treasure the gift of your child for just who they are.

Q & A with Sex Educator Shain Stodt

Sexual Development Begins At Conception

Q. I was raised in a conservative, highly religious family. My parents did not talk about sex, but managed to convey that it is a bad thing. I must have spoken to my mother when I got my period, but I can’t remember it.

My sister was the rebellious, sexy one, and she hasn’t spoken with my parents in years. She tells me that they called her a whore for going out with boys and were “crazy freaks” about sex. I don’t have any recall of any of it. I do know I never dated until I went away to college, and then my dates were very awkward. I was afraid to touch anyone – I had never been touched! Never hugged or comforted or kissed as a child. Learning to show affection was excruciating.

I’ve got two babies now, twins, who are four months old. A girl, and a boy. I don’t want them to grow up feeling constrained and conflicted; I want them to be comfortable with their sexuality. God forbid they should have to go through what I did.

Can you tell me when children’s sexuality starts developing, and at what age it is appropriate to talk to them about sex?

A. Our sexuality begins developing from the moment we are conceived, and continues developing through different stages for the rest of our lives. In a sense, our children are always asking questions and receiving input and information about sexuality on a non-verbal level, long before we ‘talk’ to them about sex.

The smallest infant perceives emotion and instruction through touch, sound, and a thousand sensory cues. This includes information on how the world around them reacts to them, their naked body and its natural functions, their gender, and their sexuality. They sense how mom feels about nursing them, how people feel about caring for them, touching them, and changing them. All of this feeds into their sexual development.

Being comfortable about your own body and sexuality, and accepting of theirs as it unfolds, will communicate a strong positive foundation of sexually affirmative beliefs to them.

Children may begin verbally asking about sex from kinder- garden age up, their interest passing through phases: younger children want increasingly more facts about reproduction, older children become more interested in relationships; emotional dynamics and sexual technique.

Be open, truthful and honest when you answer questions, but don’t over-inform. Children won’t process more information that they’re not ready for. A five year old can grasp only some rudimentary concepts about conception and an explanation on the physiological ins and outs of reproduction will be wasted. A seven year old will probably not understand a talk about contraception and responsibility. A twelve year old is usually more interested in learning about kissing and what boundaries to have when making out then sexual technique; a fifteen year old is very interested in sexual technique. It’s time for the talk about contraception and responsibility, if they haven’t broached the subject already.

Speaking about broaching the subject; if your child is shy or you sense that they’re interested in sex but aren’t approaching you with questions, a very good tact for opening the door to communication is to give them some excellent, age-appropriate books. San Francisco Sex Information has great online suggestions. And Scarleteen founder Heather Corinna has a great book for teenagers, which is available through the Scarleteen website.



My Child Walked In On My Partner And I Having Sex. What Should I Do?

Q. My child walked in on my partner and I having sex, and I'm not sure how to handle it.

A. Children accept sex as part of the natural continuum of life, unless they are told differently. 

Communicate to them that what you are doing is loving and positive, and it’s completely okay that they walked in on you while you were making love (but to knock on the door next time it is closed so that nobody will be startled). 

 Young children who really don’t understand adult sex may be concerned that their parents are fighting, or that someone is being physically hurt. They may also feel left out of this close and loving sharing between adult parents/partners; it depends on what they see, and how they interpret it.

 Be sensitive and responsive to their emotions, and warmly reassure them that you are not fighting or expressing anger and no one is being hurt. Let them know that you love them and want to be with them very much, but sex is a private thing just between partners. Children have their own privacy needs, and will understand this if it’s explained lovingly.  

Then spend some extra time with them, later.



Q. My upbringing was very negative about sex. Basically I was told that it was slutty to have sexual feelings and vulgar to talk about sex openly. I married a man with a similar background and we had a pretty unfulfilling sex life, to say the least.  

We also have a son and conveyed our sexual attitude and values to him in no uncertain terms. He definitely learned not to talk about sex – or any intimate issues – with either of us at an early age, and frankly, his silence made us more comfortable. 

I divorced my husband two years ago. Partially through my own growth and partially because of a wonderful relationship, my feelings about sexuality have become infinitely more positive. I hardly recognize the person that I was. And I am terribly concerned about the impact twelve years of negative conditioning has had on my son. Have I ruined his life? What can I do be assure that he doesn’t suffer what I did. 

A. First of all, I’m very glad that you are feeling better about life and sex! Welcome to a happier and richer world. 

If you think you’ve given your son a negative impression of sexuality, you probably have.  

The brain is our most powerful sex organ, reigning over our emotions and our self-concept. Individual personal growth and its sexual component will unfold naturally and beautifully or become stunted and repressed depending on the social, and particularly the familial, messages we receive during our formative years. Because of this, it is vital that parents help instill in children a positive sense of the body and all its functions. Encouraging them to feel positively about natural sexual feelings is a part of that. 

Your son is at a cognitive level where a forthright conversation could be very beneficial. Being sensitive to his privacy and boundaries, tell him honestly that you have grown and learned from life experience that you were guided by misinformation and warped values about sexuality that made you unhappy, and that you regret passing them onto him because you don’t want his life to be unhappy as yours was.  Explain that you repeated the erroneous conditioning of your own childhood with him and tell him that you now know better, and, without being overly personal, give him concrete examples of your misconceptions, comparing them to the truth you have learned. Be very careful to not give too much information –he needs to feel the truth of your words, but it’s not appropriate to give him the details of you sex life. More like:  

 “I felt embarrassed about the human body, but now see that it is natural and terrific; everyone has a unique one!” “I know I may have led you to believe otherwise, but sex really is one of the positive parts of life, and I am finally here if you have any questions.  

“Also, I’d like to give you this book, S.E.X. by Heather Corinna, because she does a good job of laying out important information about sex and youth, and it will give you a lot of resource material. And here are some websites to check out:



“Remember I’m here to talk if you have more questions when you’re done looking at this stuff.” 

Children respond well to the truth and appreciate adults owning their mistakes. Without making him self-conscious, you may have to be quietly mindful about your son’s welfare in this regard for some time. Take advantage of opportunities to heal. You have a great chance to regain his trust and impart the tools that will ultimately help him learn to make responsible and informed decisions about sexual engagement and safety, and to cultivate the ability to sustain tender, nurturing and respectful relationships. This is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child. 


My Children Have Been Sold On Phony Media Values. How Can I get Through To Them?

Q. I'm incredibly frustrated with a world in which my children are growing up believing that they need to compare themselves to the media images that are blitzing them everywhere! 

My daughters all think they're too fat to be attractive, even though they look beautiful and healthy to me, and my son thinks he should be a muscular “stud”. I see them feeling compelled by their peer groups to take sexual risks that they are not ready to take, and I continually worry about pregnancy, STDs, and my children's belief that they don't measure up to being "cool people". They really don't seem to grasp the uncool consequences of random sex, diet pills, and a narcissistic lifestyle. 

I hear them with their friends and they seem to think it’s a desirable life goal to be celebrity, and that if they can just achieve fame and thinness, they will be worthy of the golden cornucopia of success and happiness. What hope is there for young people who are barraged by these deluded goals and images everywhere in magazines, television, movies, the Internet, etc.? 

A. "The only place love is free and sex is safe is in the media."

                                                                  -Thomas Hearn Jr., Wake Forest University

I agree. Young peoples’ vulnerabilities are exploited perniciously by industry for gain. When our youth looks to peers, celebrities and mass culture for role models, as they inevitably do, they are inundated with carefully studied, calculated media campaigns that manipulate them into adopting unrealistic, unhealthy body images and sexual expectations. 

What the media and the industries they represent don’t say is “Love yourself. Cherish your uniqueness and adore every detail of your special body. Know that you’re beautiful just as you are. Find your own path, trust in your soul.” If they did, the fashion and celluloid industries would collapse overnight. 

What they also don’t do is provide valuable role models or deal with life realistically. When is the last time you heard someone on television say: “We’re going to use a condom and a spermicide, Mr. Romantic TV Actor. I have no intention of wrecking my life with AIDS or an unwanted pregnancy to have so-called hot, spur of the moment sex. That’s pure stupidity”.  

Or “I didn’t have an orgasm. I don’t come just from penetration and need more clitoral stimulation and oral sex to get there. You did – why shouldn’t I?” 

Or “I have issues with my sexual partner. I don’t like their genital odor or swallowing their sperm. How can I communicate this concern to them in a way that brings about a positive result and does not hurt their feelings?” 

Or “I’m really interested in that guy. How will he react to the fact that I have Herpes? I hope he’ll want to work out a relationship with me, because I’m so drawn to him sexually. What are the safer-sex options I can present him with?” 

Nor do they ever portray the ambivalences and fears they create with their misrepresentations. When is the last time you saw someone one television say “Hey, I don’t look anything like the popular body model. My breasts don’t pop up; their long and cylinder - shaped. I have full hips and strong, curving thighs. My hair is fuzzy, not long and silky. My labia are long and lumpy. I guess I don’t rate. I’ll need to do speed to get thin enough, have my lips and hips surgically sheared off, put artificial objects in my breasts that will cause me to loose sensitivity to touch and risk cancer, burn my nappy hair to the roots, and have clitoral reduction surgery so that I can fit in and be loved.” 

If they did, our kids would see the miserable impact of all the phony hype on real people’s self- images and esteem, and wise up. 

So here are some things you can do to help out: 

First and foremost, let them know that you love them for who they are, as they are, and you don’t want them to try to look or act like anybody else. 

Look into how you may be buying into negative values and stereotypes in your own life. Young people are tremendously sensitive to double standards and hypocrisy. If you are buying in, you may want to examine this with them. You can learn together about how media and social conditioning works on personal self- concept and image. 

Talk about media hype, and what it does to people. Offer examples of other, healthier role models than they usually see in the mass media, and tell them why you think these models are real, and worthy of emulation. Don’t preach: share your own feelings and experiences. 

And last but far from least, see that they get good sources of information about sex, body image  and relationships!


My Son Was Ostracized In School For Being Gay

A. My son was ostracized and targeted for abuse because he is gay. He is a gentle, sensitive boy who wasn’t interested in competitive sports and didn’t fit the stereotype of “male”. Names like “fag” and ‘queer-boy” were spit in his direction on a daily basis. The teachers knew and didn’t do anything to stop it; some of them tacitly encouraged it. 

I didn’t know what was wrong; only that he seemed very troubled, withdrawn, and that he hated school, though he used to love it. Finally he came home with a broken wrist and bloody nose. I found him in the bathroom, traumatized. When I confronted the school authorities, they suggested the situation would get better if my son would learn be act in a more “manly” fashion and improve his facility at sports. They also implied that I should put him in counseling for his “tendencies”. 

It finally hit home. I was beyond heartbroken, beyond furious. My son is a beautiful person who never hurt anyone - and he’s the one who should change his behavior? 

The worst part is that he felt ashamed to speak to me about the horrible harassment he suffered. Homophobia was so damn prevalent in our church and community that he bought into it, into the belief that he deserved punishment. And I never spoke up against it, never criticized the prejudiced beliefs or identified the ugly bigoted undercurrents our whole social culture was founded on. Because I thought: well, it’s not really effecting my family, so what does it matter? My son paid the price for my silence. 

Because we live in an isolated community without other educational choices and I can’t afford to move us yet, we’ve opted to home school. Our taxes pay for these schools that don’t deserve our money until they represent a just and enlightened approach to education and human values, but my son is not safe or honored in their halls.

He’s joined a whole network of positive LGBT youth groups on his computer, is back on track academically, and is much happier. I work with several groups who teach tolerance and seek to improve the educational and social environment for all people; I now get that not to act, to be passive about prejudice, is to enable it. 

Juliette Henri 

A. Juliet, it makes the crucial difference that you have woken up to your son’s plight and ARE SUPPORTING HIM. As a mother I would be sure to stay tuned into the recovery of his self-esteem, which has been damaged and may be fragile for a while. 

It is also great that your son is doing everything he can to reach out and connect with the LGBTQQI (and Allies) community –it is very important that he be around people who accept and affirm him for himself. Some students who have been subjected to prejudice like your son has have found it empowering and constructive to contact LAMBAlegal, the ACLUor other advocate groups to either bring legal action against the school, or to initiate awareness programs. If he wants to investigate this course, here are some contacts to startmwith:

LAMBDALegal, www.lambdalegal.org, 212-809-8585 American Civil Liberties Unionwww.aclu.org

Or perhaps he simply needs the space to heal, separate from any further involvement with the school. That’s up to him. It’s not a decision he needs to make until he’s ready.

Thanks for being a terrific mom!



My Daughter Is Retarded And Sexually Interested 

Q. My daughter is medium - level mentally retarded. At eighteen, she is sexually interested, but I know that she doesn’t understand the emotional or physiological consequences of sex and pregnancy. Consequences are hard for her to grasp.

It’s very painful to me because she doesn’t understand adult complexities and needs, but on a real level she feels them. She has a loving nature and has begun talking about having a baby as if it would be “cute”, as she puts it.

I’ve tried to explain birth control to her but she doesn’t really understand and I’m afraid she is going to become pregnant.

As much as I would love a grandchild I have come to accept that it is not a reflection on her beautiful heart/ soul to recognize that she cannot take care of child, and I do not advocate anyone having a baby who cannot take care of them. I am certainly not in a position to raise her child and continue caring for her. I worry already about what will happen to her when I’m gone.

Since she cannot be relied upon to protect herself, I wish I could have her sterilized. I know that is not a politically correct thing to say in some circles, but those circles don’t deal with the realities of a retarded child. Unfortunately because of these political concerns doctors are reluctant to sterilize. Do you know of any alternatives?

A. I sympathize with you. This is a tough situation. An option may be a ten-year IUD. It’s not a permanent solution, but it can provide a long stretch of protected time for her and peace of mind for you.

Look at the Copper-T IUD in our Birth Control section, and if this seems like a viable possibility, call Planned Parenthood or another supportive women’s reproductive health service and explain the situation with your daughter to them. (They may have some good ideas, too). They can meet with you and your daughter and with your help, explain to her how it works.

Being a mother means doing the difficult, the right thing for your child. Which you are.



Should I Circumcise My Son?    

Q. It seems to be fairly common practice to circumcise infant boys in hospitals nowadays. I'm pregnant with my first son and I want to know how circumcision will affect him. My sons' father was circumcised and he believes that this has had a positive effect on his hygiene and capacity to feel pleasure. He also thinks circumcision is aesthetically preferable. I am concerned that this kind of surgery could be emotionally traumatic, and I want to know what's best for my son. 

A. I agree that what is best for your son is what is most important.

It is not necessary to circumcise your son for him to have good personal hygiene. He simply needs to be taught to gently and thoroughly clean under his foreskin on a regular basis to remove any Smegma buildup. And while he cleans under his foreskin, he can also proactively check his whole genital area for changes which can alert him to signs of infection or illness. It's an excellent life-long habit to cultivate! 

The foreskins' purpose is protective. It helps prevent the penile gland from rubbing against external materials that might irritate it. This function also helps preserve sensitivity, and accordingly, increases pleasure.

As for aesthetics: these are cultivated. There is no reason to regard an uncircumcised penis as less aesthetic than a circumcised one. Your son will not consider an uncircumcised penis unaesthetic unless he is taught to.

Children are extremely sensitive to non-verbal, emotional cues, and your son will probably base how he feels about the way his body looks on the environmental feedback he gets from family, peers, and society. As his parents, you and your partner will shape much of this formative imprint, and have the opportunity to help him develop a positive body image.

There is a debate as to the psychological impact of circumcision on infants. Some argue that with the proper anesthetic this fairly simple medical procedure is harmless. Others argue that subjecting an infant to needless surgery and pain is an unwarranted risk. Still others believe circumcision instills psychic trauma. I am an advocate for allowing people to make decisions about their own bodies, and would remind you that your son can choose for himself when he is old enough.

Ultimately, you must follow your loving heart to protect your sons' best interest.


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