Down With "The Talk"!: What Would a New Paradigm Look and Feel Like? (Part 4 of 4)

10/08/2012 06:09 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2012

Here's the point all of us need to recognize: The "how to's" of nurturing sexually healthy children are precisely the same as the "how to's" of nurturing healthy children, period. Instead of treating sexuality as separate and different, we need simply to treat it the same, by reconnecting and integrating it -- seamlessly -- into all of the other life lessons we work so hard to teach our kids.

What, exactly, might that look like, from the earliest ages on?

First of all, when we give children names for their body parts, we'd use real words -- not silly and evasive euphemisms -- for their sexual and reproductive parts, which we'd collectively call genitals, not "privates." (We don't refer to arms and elbows as "publics.")

While we're out and about marveling with young children at the wonders of nature, we wouldn't hesitate to introduce the concept of reproduction, animal and human, and encourage lots of questions.

If our first grader wanted to know, "How was I made?," we'd answer in the same logical fashion as if she'd asked, "When you turn on the switch, why does the light go on?"

If a third grade teacher were to overhear kids giggling or spreading misinformation about a sexual topic on the playground, he'd know to bring the conversation right back to the classroom to provide adult input and guidance.

We'd know to explain sexual pleasure to youngsters as an example of the many enjoyable feelings our body is capable of experiencing, and masturbation as one of the many ways people choose to give their bodies pleasure.

As we taught our kids about standing up for themselves and others, we'd be sure to connect the dots to name calling, harassment, and other forms of bullying that use sex or gender as weapons.

When we talked about the risks of alcohol and other drugs, we'd make a point of explaining the sky-high correlation between substance use and both unprotected sexual intercourse and acquaintance rape.

As parents and teachers helped middle school students manage the identity issues so central to their age, they'd know how to inject sexual orientation and gender identity seamlessly into the mix.

Teachers in middle and upper grades would grasp, easily, the relevance of sexuality and gender issues to their particular disciplines -- whether in the arts, sciences, history, politics, current events, religion, economics, social studies, language, media, literature, etc. -- and would eagerly make important connections for kids in ongoing ways.

When we explained to children the importance of values like honesty, integrity, kindness, empathy, caring, respect and responsibility, we'd assert that we expect them to bring those values to any and all sexual situations, too (even kissing).

In the process of gradually turning teens over to themselves to make their own decisions, set their own limits, and take responsibility for their actions, we'd prepare them for sexual decisions--physically, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and ethically--as thoroughly as we would all others.

When school Boards and administrators sat down to hammer out policy around sexuality education, they'd think first and last about the developmentally based needs of students, and put politics and other adult issues and agendas aside.

Curriculum writers would build K-12 programs around a learning spiral of increasingly sophisticated facts, concepts and skills, as they do around every other subject, and also leave lots of blank pages to signify that much of the discussion will revolve around students' immediate needs and interests.

Principals would instruct teachers to answer all questions that children might ask in developmentally appropriate ways (and train them well to do so), not simply for the purpose of providing good information, because that's what schools do, but more importantly to identify themselves as trusted and available adults.

No parent would be relieved that the school was teaching "it" so they don't have to, because they'd know that while the roles of parents and schools are mutually reinforcing, we are not substitutes for each other.

When we told our kids our cherished hopes and dreams for them and their lives, we'd make clear how wanting them to enjoy a loving, safe, and meaningful sexual life was a priority, and, also, that helping them know how to create that experience was part of our responsibilities as parents.

And I'll definitely know we're there when interviewers opened segments with people like me like this: "As everyone knows, helping young people know how to create healthy, enjoyable, caring, respectful, and responsible sexual lives is a joyful and cherished part of being a good parent. How can parents ensure they are doing the best job they can?"

Deborah Roffman, a former member of the National Advisory Council on Sexual Health, is the author, most recently, of Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids' Go-To Person about Sex. Her website is