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The question

Hi, I'm a father of a nine year old son and a seven year old girl. How do I start the discussion about sex - and at what age?

The answer

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Talking to children about sex in one single moment is often not successful. Ideally it is task that should be carried out over many teachable moments. Some parents dread sitting down with a child for the big "birds and bees" talk.

Instead look at this important responsibility as a process over time.

Experts at the Mayo clinic suggest that parents should begin sex education long before it starts in school. I tend to agree - because the topic of sex is loaded with emotions and opinions, I prefer that the parents be the pace setters.

Most schools start formal sex education in the fifth or six grade, with two aspects to cover: science and values. The science part will go over things such as anatomy, pregnancy, contraception and sexually transmitted infections. The value part can be very controversial because of culture, religion and traditions that are extremely diverse.

There is a two year age difference and a gender difference with your children, so you will have to handle each child differently.One approach will not fit both kids.

Between the ages of 8 and 12, children may start noticing differences when it comes to penis size and breast size. Explain that the rate of development varies much and reassure them that their pace is completely normal. The Canadian Pediatric Society offers useful information on sexual development.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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