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Talk to your kids about sex

By Cynthia Nixon, Special to CNN
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Thu October 4, 2012
Cynthia Nixon says it's Let's Talk month, a good time for parents to wade in and make sure their kids have accurate information on sex
Cynthia Nixon says it's Let's Talk month, a good time for parents to wade in and make sure their kids have accurate information on sex
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cynthia Nixon says when she was young, she dreaded talking about sex with her parents
  • She eventually did (her parents were open with her), and values that, now that she's a parent
  • October is Let's Talk Month; parents, make sure you talk to your kids about sex, she says
  • Nixon: Kids get information online; parents and schools must correct misinformation

Editor's note: Emmy, Tony, and Grammy Award-winner Cynthia Nixon, who is best known for her role as Miranda Hobbes on the HBO series "Sex and the City," can next be seen in the upcoming miniseries "World Without End." She is a member of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Board of Advocates.

(CNN) -- Like most teens, I had a lot of questions about sex growing up, but I really didn't want to ask my parents any of them. I didn't want to ask anyone any of them.

I tried to piece things together for myself from what I'd read in books, seen in movies, seen in plays.

Cynthia Nixon
Cynthia Nixon

It wasn't that my parents wouldn't have frankly answered my questions. They had always let me know they were quite ready to discuss the topic, anytime I wanted to.

Even though it was a little difficult for me, I eventually became more comfortable.

In fact, when I lost my virginity, I felt I should honor my dad's forthrightness by telling him. (My mom and I had already discussed it before the fact.) He said, "OK. And are you using birth control?" I told him I was. "Great," he said. "I don't really need to know much more. Thank you so much for telling me." He was proud, I think, that I had shared the news with him but could only handle so much at that moment.

And though my dad clearly had a line where he got squeamish, I'm always grateful that both of my parents were so clear with me that sex was a normal, wonderful part of life and nothing to feel ashamed about.

As a parent, I think about that often now.

Our daughter is in high school, and our older son is in middle school. Like my parents, we try to do everything possible to make sure we are communicating with them in a clear, frank way so that they actually hear what we have to say.

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That can be difficult. They have access to information about sex in ways we never did. We are competing with many different sources: Twitter, texting, the Internet, and television all influence how they think and act.

That's why Let's Talk Month in October -- an annual awareness-raising effort that emphasizes the importance of conversations about sex and relationships between parents and their teens -- is extremely important.

It's a great opportunity for parents and young people to start (or even better, continue) a meaningful conversation about sex and relationships.

A new study from Planned Parenthood, Family Circle magazine and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at New York University shows that parents are significantly more comfortable talking to their teens than teens are talking to their parents -- just the way I was!

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But even though it may be hard to get started, it's so worthwhile to talk with kids, answer their questions about sex, and help them make smart decisions about their relationships and behavior. And the more you talk, the easier it gets.

In my household, we started talking with our kids when they were young, when their curiosity about their bodies and about differences between boys and girls created natural opportunities for starting a dialogue. We always emphasized that their bodies were private and their own. And while every family has its own opinions on this, from our earliest conversations about sex I felt it was important to emphasize to both my daughter and my son that birth control is a must, not a maybe.

Age-appropriate school programs also help reinforce the conversations we are having at home and can help increase teens' comfort level when talking with their parents.

My daughter's sex education class in middle school was really terrific. Every student was required to anonymously write down a question on a piece of paper and put it in a hat at every meeting.

Nothing was off limits. There were questions like, "Can you get pregnant if you have sex when you have your period?"

That kind of anonymity -- when posing a question a teen really wants to ask, but is maybe too embarrassed to ask a teacher or a parent directly -- is so important for a young person. And that class sparked endless conversations and made our daughter feel more comfortable talking about these issues with us at home.

It is never too early or too late to start having these conversations.

October is as good as time as any.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cynthia Nixon.

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