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Tips for the sex talk

With Sex and the City having hit the big screen, sex is everywhere -- on billboards, on TV, online. Even very young kids are exposed to mature topics unknowingly through pop-up ads, YouTube and at recess.

The media buzz makes me reflect on another bird/bee phenomenon -- talking to your kids about sex. It's something we all need to do at one time or another, and for many parents, it's unbelievably challenging and delicate.

So timely that a new book on the subject crossed my desk: Talking to Kids About Sex, Desire, and the Power of Sexy, by Sharon Maxwell, PhD. The author touches on not only the sex talk, but sexuality as well.

"We live in a hyper-sexualized, high-tech culture in which kids come of age in the sexual Wild West of the Internet and are taught to use sex as a commodity before entering puberty. They have hookups, friends with benefits, and booty calls,'' said Maxwell, a mom since 1989.

So, what is a parent to do?

The age at which you broach is the subject is personal. However, it's important that you're one step ahead of what your child is learning from friends or at school, and that you're viewed as a trustworthy and caring source for information. Here are some basic tips:

  • Be honest, but tread carefully. When kids ask questions, give them what they're asking, not too much more. Keep your information in sync with their curiosity. I remember my son asking what "sex'' was, only to find out later that he was actually asking what "sexist'' meant, something he heard on a cartoon!
  • Be comfortable, not giddy or anxious. Your approach and tone is paving the way for a lifetime of sexual experience for your children.
  • Connect sex with intimacy. The trend to strip love out of the equation is dangerous -- we need to teach our children that sex is more than a physical act that love, intimacy and commitment are essential ingredients.
  • Read/Study. I'm a firm believer in studying about parenting, especially in delicate areas such as sex education!

To ease the process, I asked Dr. Maxwell to share some how-to tips for parents:

1. Sexuality is a great and powerful source of energy. But "with great power comes great responsibility'' (Spiderman) and learning how to be a responsible adult means learning how to control and direct your sexual energy.

2. Learning to control and direct the power of sexual desire takes the same kind of muscle as controlling angry feelings or hungry feelings, the muscle of self-discipline. Learning to be in control of your desires gives you the freedom to make choices that won't hurt you or others. What happens when you don't learn to control your anger? Your appetite?

3. Sexual desire and the ability to elicit sexual desire in others are powerful forces. Like all desires, sexual desire can be manipulated by what you see, hear, feel and smell. Think of a time when your desires were manipulated by something you saw or heard.

4. Advertisers manipulate people's sexual feelings to get them to buy things. Teens are sold the idea that looking and acting sexy is a way to get power. Advertisers know that teens are insecure about their sexuality and that they can use that insecurity to sell products.

5. How we choose to dress and act has the power manipulate other people's sexual feelings. One person, dressed in a very sexy way, has the power to change the sexual energy in an entire room. Each of us has a responsibility to fit our level of sexy to the task at hand. When is it OK to look sexy? When is it not OK?

6. People who know how to control their sexual energy have the freedom to choose how and when to use it. Cultures, religions and families have different guidelines about what a person is supposed to do with their sexual energy. These guidelines help people decided how they should behave. They teach you how responsible men and women use their sexual energy. How do you think men and women should use their sexual energy?

7. Choosing to be sexual with another person is an act of intimacy. Sex should never be used to hurt, humiliate or control another person. Sex is not a way to gain power, acquire bragging rights or a cure for loneliness.

8. Some people say it's OK to be sexual with someone if you're in love. How do you know if you love someone or if someone loves you? Do you know the difference between having sexy feelings for someone and loving feelings? Love is a big subject. Who can you talk to about love?

9. Learning how your family and/or religion understands sexuality and the guidelines for how responsible people use their sexuality in an ethical way, is an important part of becoming a responsible adult. Who can you talk to about making healthy and ethical sexual choices?

Amy Kossoff Smith, Founder of The Business of Motherhood, is a nationally recognized Mompreneur who owns a Web site, , and blog, .