If you're a parent, I think you should talk to your kids about sex, realistically and honestly, as soon as they're old enough to understand (here's a great book to read together, as my four- and six-year-old daughters will tell you). Here's why:
Abstinence campaigns [...] do delay sexual activity, but [those kids who pledge abstinence are] around one-third less likely to use contraceptives, as they are not "prepared for an experience that they have promised to forgo". The result [...] is that abstinence programmes are "associated with an increase in the number of pregnancies among partners of young male participants". You read that right: abstinence training increases the rate of teenage pregnancy.
Promoting sexual abstinence until adulthood (or until marriage) has never been very realistic—even when people regularly got married in their teens. For many kids it results in ignorance, either because:
- Parents think children who say they won't be sexually active don't need any details about sex, or
- The "will this be on the exam?" syndrome means that kids who don't plan to be sexually active for a long time don't pay attention to what they need to know.
Sex educators argue that the more kids know about sex, the later they're likely to start having it, and the smarter they'll be about it when they do. I agree, but others don't—yet it seems even the most equivocal studies indicate that sex education doesn't make early or risky sex any more likely.
Knowledge is indeed power; ignorance is weakness. One nurse told Maclean's magazine:
"My goal is for all students, from junior high on up, to have access to [sex ed information]." Her motivation? "Have you ever listened to a conversation in a school washroom?"
Given that sex education doesn't increase kids' chances of doing something sexually stupid, and could very well help prevent it, I think giving kids power over their own bodies—and what they do with them—is a wise thing to do.