10/13/2011 09:26 EDT | Updated 12/13/2011 05:12 EST

The <i>Other</i> Reason Your Kids Don't Talk to You About Sex

I asked my sister if she talks to her 15-year-old son about sex. "I just told him I'm here if he wants to talk about anything," she answered.

He has never come to talk to her about anything.

I don't want to come down on my sister, but I just think it's sad how uncomfortable so many parents still are when talking to their kids about sex. Sure, I realize a lot of kids feel like parents are the last people they want to talk to when it comes to sex, but isn't that partly because parents are still so awkward and obviously embarrassed by it themselves?

It would seem so if you believe a study out of Ohio State University at Marion that was published in the Journal of Adolescence. The study -- "Dating and Disclosure: Adolescent Management of Information Regarding Romantic Involvement" -- revealed that, predictably, the more teenagers trusted their parents to accept and understand their decisions, the more likely they were to share the details of their love lives. "But if you haven't been talking to your children about their daily lives all along, asking about sex isn't going to elicit any information," says lead author of the study Christopher Daddis.

The problem, agrees Patricia Jamieson of Kids Help Phone, a toll-free, 24-hour national counseling and referral service for kids (, 1-800-668-6868), is that most parents are still too embarrassed to talk to their kids about sex. "They're relieved to have the school do it."

Parents are worried they'll say the wrong thing, she explains, or that the kid's going to ask if mommy and daddy do it. (I don't know about you but that was the last thing I wanted to know as a kid.) "It's hard enough to talk to kids about other stuff in their lives never mind yucky old sex," says Jamieson. "It's tough to explain to a nine-year-old what oral sex is."

So how do you explain what oral sex is to a nine-year-old?

"If a kid calls wanting to know, we usually ask them where they heard about it so we can figure out the context," says Jamieson. "Then we ask them if they have anyone they can ask questions of rather than get the information from a complete stranger. If they don't have anyone they can talk to and still insist on an explanation, we tell them it's something adults do during sex. You have to understand most kids want to know what something is, not how to do it."

Making kids comfortable about nudity and sexuality from the day they're born is essential to a healthy sexuality. Kids learn mostly by example. And being open with your kids doesn't mean you have to have little Billy show off his new masturbation skills to Aunt Betty when she comes to visit. Privacy and appropriate behaviour are all part of a healthy sexuality.

As is having good sex. I still think that what is lacking mostly in any information we give kids about sex is pleasure, and, dare I say it, technique. We're so terrified of letting kids in on the secret that, hey, sex can be fun, especially if you're good at it. Maybe we're afraid this might make them want to do it. Of course, they do it anyway because they're surrounded by the suggestion of it (and end up having bad sex because they don't know what the heck they're doing). We push our kids to be the best they can be in everything else they do -- why not sex too?

And one presumes that, if you have a kid, you've likely had sex. So you should have some idea what you're talking about. If my kid asked me to explain nuclear fusion on the other hand, well, then I'd be a little nervous.