I was catching up with a good friend in Boston the other day and he let me know that he and his oldest had, “The Talk.” They had gone away for a father and son weekend so they could spend some quality time together and my friend felt it was time to approach the subject of sex with his twelve year old.

My own experience with my mother (my father would never approach this subject with me) was while running errands one day. She started in with vague imagery and asked if I had any questions. I was so caught off guard I just mumbled, “Uh…nope.”  The only other time I interacted with my mom on this topic was when she found me with a copy of “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask” by David Reuben, which happened to be on our living room book shelf.  Go figure. I sat down and devoured ever word. My mother wandered into the room, saw what I was reading, smiled, nodded in approval and walked away. So I learned from that experience that whatever I was going to learn about sex I was on my own.

Whenever I hear parents describing this right-of-passage moment, a single word seems to sum up the event: awkward. It doesn’t have to be this way. While one does have to keep in mind age-appropriateness, there still can be an attitude and approach that is respectful, informative and healthy.  Parents want to have their home be a place where meaningful dialogue can take place so kids don’t have to seek information elsewhere. Here are two things to think about:

First off there needs to be on open environment where any topic can be discussed. A lot of parents say to their kids, “You know you can ask/tell me anything. Right?” But this type of environment is set with reactions to small things.  If less significant events are met with openness and non-judgmental listening, more important topics can be addressed.

The other thing parents can do to have a healthy environment towards sex is to openly show affection to each other. The occasional kiss in front of the kids is a good way to start, but it should not end there. Children experience a sense of security when they see their parents enjoy each other.  This should include the physical, meaning hand holding, back rubs, hugs, etc.  They also need to hear that mom and dad find each other attractive. Comments like “Johnny, doesn’t your mother look beautiful tonight?” or “Cindy, I just love your father’s eyes.  They were what initially caught my attention the first time I meet him.”

Once sex has been discussed with a child it is important to keep the door to that conversation open and to not make the child feel it was a one-time only discussion. This way whatever questions come up after the fact can be explored with the parent. This limits a child searching for answers from other sources that could be  unsavory or unhealthy.  While sex will always be somewhat of a mystery for kids, home should be where answers are sought and found.