The vice president of public affairs for California Family Health Council, Amy Moy, holds court on why an ongoing conversation with children about sex is essential as they develop and grow.

Mediaplanet: When should parents start talking about their kids about sex?

Amy Moy: Building a foundation of trust and mutual respect can start at birth. Parents that use medically accurate terms, avoid judgmental or shaming language, stick to the facts and share their values can create a positive environment for having an ongoing conversation with their kids as they develop and grow.

MP: At what age are most young teens more understanding of sex?

AM: All kids develop at their own pace, but exposure to sexual content through the media is easier to access and more prevalent than ever before. The main thing is to make sure these conversations aren’t a history lesson.

"When you and your children talk about your family’s values, your children will think about those values when they make their own personal decisions." 

Starting between the ages of 9 and 12, parents can share personal experiences or use examples from the media to discuss what healthy relationships look and feel like. It’s also important at this stage to discuss your family’s expectations and values about dating and sexual activity.

In the early teen years, it’s important to have a conversation about the benefits of delaying sexual activity and the facts about birth control and STD prevention to help them avoid risky sexual behavior if and when they do have sex.

MP: Do you have any tips for parents on how to talk with their kids about sex?

AM: Start now. The earlier you start, the easier it is. You don’t have to be an expert. You and your child can learn together. Build your child’s trust in you: When you listen to your children and answer their questions honestly, you show them that you can be trusted and that you respect them.

Talk about what’s important to you. When you and your children talk about your family’s values, your children will think about those values when they make their own personal decisions. And help your children feel good about themselves. Let them know you love them no matter what. Young people who feel loved and supported by their parents make better choices for themselves.

Here are some tips for when your child comes to you with a question:

  • Affirm their question. Say something like, “that’s a great question.” This will let them know that it’s safe to go to you when they want to know or learn something.

  • Ask why they are asking. This will help give you context for their question.

  • Ask what they think. Use what they know or think as a springboard for your answer.

  • Positively respond to their answer. Validate their response so they don’t feel judged.

  • Share the facts. When you provide your answer, share medically accurate facts. If you don’t know an answer, you can look it up together.

MP: Does talking about sex, condoms and other contraception make kids have more sex?

AM: Research shows that talking with kids about sex does not lead to more sexual activity. In fact, talking with kids openly and honestly and sharing medically accurate information can lead to delayed initiation of sexual activity and healthier decision making—like using condoms and other forms of birth control—when they do have sex.

MP: What resources are more available in 2015?

AM: All kids learn about sex somehow, but it makes a difference who they hear about it from and when. Kids need medically accurate and comprehensive sex education that is inclusive and unbiased from an adult they can trust to deliver the facts without judgment. Thanks to a new California law, starting in 2016, comprehensive sex ed will be required in public schools. Online resources like teensource.org and bedsider.org are also available for teens to get reliable, youth-friendly information.