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SHOULD you be open with your kids about your sex life?

Q: Most Parents I know hide their sex lives from their children. My wife and I would like to be more open with our 2-year-old daughter without causing her harm. How much physical attention is appropriate to demonstrate in front of a 2-year-old?

Radio Psychologist Dr. Joy Browne: Simply put, one of the principal tasks facing parents is creating healthy boundaries between themselves and their child. Sexually speaking, this translates into making sure that the sexual natures of both adults and children are respected, but not intertwined. You breach that respect when you expose your bright, aware 2-year-old to sexual intimacies between you and your wife.

Children are sexual creatures from infancy and they regularly explore their own bodies, even if they are not knowledgeable about what they are doing. So think of your daughter as someone eager to learn about the fascinating world of pleasurable sensations. You'll be teaching her by example when you or your wife talk to her (she will absorb your tone of voice and your anxiety level), when you dress her, show her affection, play with her, and tell her the names of the parts of her body. In fact, on an almost daily basis you will be deliberately or inadvertently demonstrating something new and profoundly important about love and relationships, and she'll be eating up every word and gesture with a spoon. And that's a serious responsibility for you to keep.

But an excess of openness can be dangerous; lines must be drawn. Kissing and affectionately caressing in a nonsexual manner in your daughter's presence is a great way to model grown-up love.

The meaning of "privacy" is something that you'll have to introduce to your daughter soon enough anyway, when she starts spontaneously exploring her own pleasure zones (if she hasn't already!). For instance, you and your wife will be the ones to show her that there's a better place than the front steps of your house or the middle of the supermarket aisles to do what I've heard called the "happy wiggle." If you haven't created private space for intimate acts, how can she be expected to grasp the concept when you try to explain it?

For more guidance on this complex subject, visit the Sexuality, Education and Information Council of the United States at www.siecus.org, or read From Diapers to Dating: A Parent's Guide To Raising Sexually Healthy Children by Debra W. Haffner.


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