Sex education for kids

Dr Martha Gelin has made it her business to give parents the tools they need to tackle the delicate topic of sex. Here, she talks openly about s-e-x with Josie Gagliano.

Your baby is born and in that moment, the world stops.

Here is this perfect human being, pure and untarnished by 'outside' influences.

You think about how you'll raise him, values you'll instill.Suddenly, your child grows up and asks the dreaded question: "mummy, where do babies come from?"

Don't panic! Armed with the right information, you can side-step the 'stork' reply and give your young child the right answers.

Your preschooler asks, "Where do babies come from?" What do you say?

Dr Martha: I would suggest: "Babies grow in a special place in their mother's body. The baby place is called a womb. It's in here (touch stomach), way inside. When she has a baby growing inside her, her tummy gets really big."

More young celebrities are pregnant. How would you approach a conversation about this with your child on whether you believe that is okay or unacceptable, without appearing 'uncool' to your child?

Dr Martha: I'd not worry about whether I appeared cool. I would be careful not to come down like a ton of bricks on behaviour I find unacceptable. Rather, I'd just strongly express how I feel about it, and why I feel that way, and ask my child how they feel about this behaviour. Get into discussions, rather than just lay down the law. Help your child think about the behaviour - what's good about it, what's harmful, and how to keep from getting pregnant before you're ready. I'd also talk about when I think it is okay for young people to start having intercourse and ask the child what they think. Use the media to raise topics you think are important.

What if you suspect your child may be gay? How do you tackle this one?

Dr Martha: "Tackle it directly. For a mid- to older teenager, find a time when you're doing something together and say something like, "Look, I don't want to be presumptuous, but I've been hearing a lot about gay teenagers, and I wonder if you ever thought you might be gay?" And you can add, "I just want you to know that whether you're straight or gay, I'm still your father/mother, I still love you, and I'll support you." You want to make it as easy as possible for them to come to you if they are gay, or if they are worried about it.

If the child is younger than, say, twelve or so, just educate them about the fact that homosexuality exists, and that some folks are naturally homosexual. Make it an open topic that can be discussed in your home.

Should you be 'friend' or parent to your child when it comes to the issue of sex?

Dr Martha: I think a parent needs to be a parent, but that doesn't mean just be the law-maker. It means engaging your children in on-going discussions about sexual facts and values. Develop a set of "family values" about how people should treat each other, including in sexual relationships. As the kids get older, they'll start developing their own values, which will be highly influenced by what they've learned at home - though that may not show up for a few years! Help your kids learn to think about sex before they start engaging in adult type sexual behaviours.

A parent herself, 70 year old American-born academic, Dr Martha Gelin, is a respected sex educator, with a PhD in Education specialising in sex education, and has worked in counseling, couple and family therapy, and professional training in sexuality. Also working as the HIV/AIDS Coordinator for the Central West Region of NSW Health, Dr Martha is certainly well qualified. She has just released a book called The Sex Explanation Handbook, Talking With Kids About Sex.