In an age when it's nearly impossible to control when our children are exposed to sex. The best we can do, writes author and sexuality educator Deborah Roffman, is get to them first.
"The role of adults is to put information in context for children," says Roffman, whose new book, "Talk to Me First," is a guide to "the talk" in the 21st century. "If we really understand what children are asking when they're 4, 5 and 6 years old, and we interpret the question correctly, then we give the message that we're the go-to person about this topic. But if parents try to change the subject or give a vague, offhanded answer, children learn that they have to go someplace else for this information." She spoke to us from her home in Maryland.
"Talk to Me First" includes an appendix with basic information for adults. Did you find that adults' knowledge was lacking?
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Here's an example:?Adults are likely to say "Little boys have a penis, little girls have a vagina" -- and the vagina's on the inside. So that's like saying "little boys have a nose, little girls have a throat." We don't teach correct terminology. The external part of the female anatomy is called the vulva. So if you're not learning the difference between the inside of your body and the outside of your body, your learning is really compromised.
Also, if they don't give accurate, standard terms for those parts, they're communicating another message, which is: We use direct words for everything else, but we're going to use code -- for that's what those funny terms are -- so that we're training children not to be direct, not to be able to communicate directly.
Are sex ed classes adequate?
My estimate is that the vast majority of schools are anywhere from three to five years late teaching basic, foundational information. ... I spend probably half of my time helping kids unlearn things before I can help them learn things. I mean, I can't think of any other subject where we sabotage children's learning to this extent. Another belief that we have is "knowing will lead to doing," which is totally the opposite of the research in this field.
So talking to children about sex at an early age doesn't actually encourage sexual activity?
I'm an educator; I believe in knowledge. You may have heard that you have to be careful, that you have to put off the information, have to make sure that they're old enough and that you say it just the right way -- no! We don't think about talking about or teaching any other subject that way. We worship knowledge for our children. I refer to this as a huge double standard that we have about sexual knowledge. And that comes out of our own fear and anxiety -- nothing really is going to change until we give that up as a culture.