Images of sex are everywhere. That's why it's important for parents to guide their children in learning about sex.

"If we don't talk to our kids about sex, someone else - who may not share our values - will," said Tom Kottke, MD. Dr. Kottke is Medical Director for Well-being at HealthPartners Health Plan. He's also a Park Nicollet and HealthPartners cardiologist.

How can you make sure your child has accurate information? What's the best way to share your family's values about sex, love and relationships?

According to Dr. Kottke, there are a few helpful facts to know:

  • Babies and children are naturally curious. Babies begin to explore their own bodies soon after birth. By age four to six they're asking, "Why is Mommy different than Daddy?" Or, they're wondering, "Where do babies come from?" Their curiosity is endless. Parents must be prepared to discuss sex and sexuality frankly and truthfully. Otherwise, their children will think they're naïve. That's when kids start to seek information elsewhere.
  • We can make it less likely for a child to have sex before he or she is emotionally ready. How? Identify, promote and nurture your child's long-term goals well before adolescence. And, talk to your child about healthy relationships and values. This will help you stay engaged with them later.
  • "Abstinence only" programs don't make kids less likely to become sexually active. These approaches leave children unprepared as they grow toward adulthood. They put them at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And, they make unplanned pregnancies more likely.
  • Kids rarely have intercourse before age 14. But, they're having encounters with sexual overtones. Their hormones are raging. And, they're likely to think their parents are stupid. Start the conversation long before this age. Emphasize the value of relationships. Inform them of STIs and how to prevent them. And, explain contraception. Talk about how to use it and where to get it.
  • Giving a child information about contraception won't increase the odds that they'll become sexually active. Giving them contraception itself won't either. There's very good evidence that supports this. The more children know about sex, the safer they'll be.

Dr. Kottke says to remember the five Rs when talking about sex:

  • Relationships: Sex is most enjoyable when individuals are in long-term, intimate relationships.
  • Rights: Our children need to know that no one has the right to touch them without their permission. They must know they have the right to refuse anyone's touch.
  • Respect: Our children have an obligation to respect others. And, others have the obligation to respect them.
  • Responsibility: Our children have the responsibility to know the consequences of unprotected sex. They need to know how to keep themselves and others safe from STIs. And, they need to know how to avoid unplanned pregnancies. They also have the responsibility to never coerce anyone to have sex.
  • Resources: Resources are available for both parents and children. You and your child need to know how to access contraceptive services. Educate yourself if you don’t know the facts.

Dr. Kottke recommends looking at a World Health Organization document that outlines the stages that our children go through. It’s called: Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe. A framework for policy makers, educational and health authorities. Planned Parenthood, Teenwise and the Office of Adolescent Health also have resources for adolescents.