One evening when I was 14, I was sitting on my bed reading a novel when my mom walked past my door. Then she came back, stood in the door, and asked me, “You know about sex, don’t you?”

Her question took me by surprise. I answered, “Uh, yeah.” Her question made me nervous; I couldn’t imagine talking to her about anything related to sex. She smiled and continued on her way. In retrospect, I appreciate that she probably didn’t really want to talk about it either. And neither my mom nor dad ever did. The subject never came up again during my youth.

And I must say, I entered adulthood fairly ignorant about sexual matters. On the other hand, I made it through adolescence without contracting a sexually transmitted infection or getting a girl pregnant. Amazing! No, scratch that. Lucky!

Starting in middle school, kids become curious about sex, which opens up a whole world of scary possibilities. Most parents have no idea how to talk to their kids about sex. Many parents feel that giving them information will only make them want to experiment, so they urge their kids to abstain until they’re married. This approach works perfectly if kids buy into it, but few do. Our culture is a sexualized culture; fashions, magazines, movies, advertisements – all of them inspire kids to want to be sexy. Young people turn to their peers and chat rooms for insights and come away with a lot of misinformation. When they get to high school, a part of the teen culture is “hooking up” and “partying.”

The result: in the U.S. alone there are about 10 million cases of adolescent child STIs every year. And more than 500,000 teen pregnancies.

Few questions are more important to a young adolescent. My answer is lots of factual information. Because they are going to make sexual choices, and the best case scenario is for them to consciously consider their options based on an understanding of consequences.

But few parents are comfortable talking to their kids about sex because they haven’t done their homework; they don’t know what to say or how to say it.

So what’s a parent to do? What’s a teen to do?

The most useful book I’ve read about teen sex is Sex: An Uncensored Introduction, by Nikol Hasler. It’s a guidebook for teens, written in the perfect style and tone for young people; and it covers practically everything. I can’t imagine a better collection of responsible, useful information. Sample chapters:

  • Your Body
  • Sexual Identification
  • Masturbation
  • The First Time
  • Protecting Yourself
  • Birth Control
  • Dating and Relationships
  • Communicating about Sex
  • Sex and the Internet

If you believe this kind of information will lead your child to want to have sex, and you believe the only answer is abstinence until marriage, this book is not for you.

But if you believe your kid needs factual information to make safe, healthy choices and you want help providing it, I recommend you buy this book, read it, and then give it to your kid. Then have some calm, caring talks based about the content – with plenty of listening on your part.

An equally fine resource: Spare Me ‘The Talk’ for guys and for girls. These books, written by Jo Langford, a teen sex researcher and educator, include more “growing up” topics, and the content is more thorough.