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Smart Answers to Kids' Sex Questions

A friend recently confessed that when her 6-year-old son asked how babies are made, her wimpy nonreply was, "Because a wife and husband love each other and want a baby badly." She was caught even more off guard when he followed up with, "How do some women have babies if they don't have husbands?" Red-faced, she stammered, "They go to sperm banks, honey, and pay money to get babies." Skydiving would have probably been a lot less nerve-racking than that exchange.

My friend's discomfort isn't unusual: Many parents I know admit to feeling embarrassed when they talk to kids about sex. Mind-boggling, isn't it, that at a time when oral sex has been on the national agenda and when movies and TV portray intimate acts, the mere mention of "penis" or "vagina" in front of the kids can rattle many parents. "Most of us didn't have parents who talked to us about sexuality, so we lack the skills to discuss it," explains Debra W. Haffner, M.P.H., author of From Diapers to Dating and former president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). "It's okay to tell a child that you're uncomfortable talking about sexuality, but that you'd still like to discuss it."

Still, how far should you go? Saying too little can confuse kids even more; saying too much can overwhelm them. To guide you, we've pinpointed the most common questions children ask, canvassed the experts for advice, and broken down the answers into two levels: minimum disclosure (the bare-bones info kids need to hear) and maximum disclosure (when you and your child feel comfortable enough to explore the topic further). There's no need to follow these responses word-for-word; consider them a blueprint. Now go on, speak up!