Despite even the best efforts, your kids will probably be exposed to cyberporn, if they haven't been already. And it's happening a whole lot earlier and with greater frequency than most parents realize. All of which underscores the importance of talking to your teens and laying a strong foundation for a healthy attitude about sex. Psychoanalyst Paul Joannides, Psy.D., author of Guide to Getting It On (Goofy Foot Press), puts it even more bluntly: "If you don't teach your kids about sex in this day and age, porn and the media will."
Ideally, there should be an ongoing, age-appropriate discussion that evolves over the years, says Albert. Not "The Talk" many of us had with our parents when we were kids, which was probably stilted, awkward and quickly dismissed. "Think of it more as an 18-year conversation," says Albert, pointing out that opportunities for parents to get the conversation started are everywhere. With tweens and teens, the sheer overabundance of sex on television, at the movies and in the news provides a convenient way in. Next time you're watching something together and see people jumping into bed, ask your teen if she thinks they're making the right decision and why. Raise the issue of contraception, condoms and responsibility. If there are blaring headlines about a sexual assault, bring up the matter of mutual consent.
Make clear what your personal values are—such as whether sex should only take place in a loving relationship or after marriage—and the reasons why you feel that way. Try not to shy away from specifics like masturbation, which for most kids is the first sexual experience they're going to have.
And don't just dwell on the downside. It's perfectly fine to discuss the joy of sex, both physical and emotional. "Parents are uncomfortable and afraid to talk with their kids about how pleasurable and fun sex is," says Joannides. "But when we're open with our children, they'll ask us the questions that are really on their minds and decide we're the ones they can turn to."