Talking with your kids about sex can be uncomfortable, but it's not something you can afford to neglect. Yes, they can pick up pieces of information during sex-ed class at school or during a church youth pastor's talk on abstinence. They'll likely hear more from their peers and try to make sense of it all themselves.

But no one can replace you as the greatest influence in their lives. Only you, as an involved and loving parent, can give them the best guidance to successfully navigate the maze of information. Making the effort to talk openly with them about sex is one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids. Otherwise, they may easily join the majority of kids in today's society who have sex before age 21 and have to deal with disease, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and heartbreak.

Here's how you can effectively talk with your kids about sex:

Remember how you felt when you first learned about sex. Think back to what it was like for you to learn about sex for the first time. If your parents answered your questions honestly and often, how did that help you? If your parents left you with unanswered questions, how did that stress and uncertainty harm you? Decide that you want to do what's best for your own kids.

Realize that sex education is more than just a one-time talk. Forget about sitting them down for a major "birds and bees" talk with an anatomy book in hand. To be effective, you need to nurture a close, ongoing relationship with your kids that motivates them to talk with you about sex whenever they have questions. As they ask questions over the years (likely beginning way before puberty), you should be prepared to answer them in age-appropriate ways and engage in meaningful discussions with them.

Don't make a great thing seem bad. Remember that sex itself isn't sinful; it's only the misuse of sex that's sin. Emphasize that sex was God's idea, and that He created it to bring great joy to people who use the gift the way He intended - within marriage between a man and a woman. Understand that your children are sexual beings from the day they're born, and that the changes they go through during puberty as they mature are normal and positive changes. Help them accept and embrace the wonderful way God created them.

Develop confidence. Do research to get accurate facts on sexuality. Practice how you plan to answer your kids' questions when they come up. Know that you can overcome your lack of skills and knowledge to successfully help your kids in this crucial area of their lives. Ask God to give you the confidence you need.

Set your kids up for success. Help your kids develop the character traits they'll need to be good stewards of their sexuality. Work with them to build patience, self-control, integrity, and responsibility in all aspects of their lives. Help them develop foresight, gain mastery over their feelings, and respect God's authority. Then when they encounter sexual temptation, they'll be equipped to respond in the right way.

Use proper anatomical terms. Don't use euphemisms to describe body parts like a penis and a vagina. Understand that refusing to use the proper terms will only convey that you're embarrassed about the bodies God has created. Pray for the peace to be able to overcome whatever embarrassment you have. When appropriate, use humor to defuse embarrassment when you're talking with your kids.

If you engaged in sex before marriage, don't avoid the subject with your kids. Don't neglect discussing the importance of waiting until after marriage to have sex, even if you didn't follow that advice yourself. If you were a virgin on your wedding night, explain why you're glad you waited and how God blessed you and your spouse as a result. But if you weren't, explain (without divulging extensive details) that your mistakes caused you unnecessary pain that you want your own kids to avoid.