As a parent, you want Amber Madison to explain sexting to you. Not the definition — you're clear as a bell on that. You want her to explain why. Why kids do it and what you can do to stop it and what, by the way, has the world come to?

Madison, 26, is a Tufts University-educated sex expert. She wrote a book called "Hooking Up: A Girl's All-Out Guide to Sex and Sexuality" (Prometheus), and she tours the U.S. talking to teens about sex. Now she's out to educate parents with her new book, "Talking Sex With your Kids" (Adams Media).

One out of every three students has had sex by freshman year of high school, according to a 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. By senior year, that rises to two out of three. Kids are having sex. Madison isn't trying to change that — or help parents change it. She's out to make kids better at it — better at knowing when they're ready, better at protecting themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies, better at choosing worthy partners and, of course, better at talking about it.

We chatted with Madison recently about a few of the book's key passages.

The decision to have sex should not be presented as synonymous with the feeling of being in love or the label of having a boyfriend or girlfriend.

"Too often parents go to these concrete labels of when sex is OK, but the labels are debatable," Madison says. "A 13-year-old might think she's in love. But you don't want your 13-year-old daughter thinking ‘I'm in love, so sex is OK.'

When is sex OK? When you feel emotionally ready, when you feel ready to handle any possible consequences, when you feel supported and know the other person will be there for you during any consequences, when you don't feel pressured into it, when you're really doing it for you. A teenager can take that information and make decisions based on those criteria instead of some arbitrary labels of boyfriend, girlfriend, love."

Of all the things that girls are told about sex, very few are told that they're supposed to like it.

"Teaching girls to enjoy sex will help them feel empowered to make safer choices. Girls are told so much, ‘You'll feel used. You'll totally regret it,' so when they're entering into a situation where they don't feel completely comfortable, they figure, ‘Well, that's what sex is like. It's not a problem with this guy or this relationship.' Sex should be amazing. It should feel really good and be something you really want to do. So if you're in a situation where it doesn't feel like something you really want to do or you're not quite ready, you listen to that. Sex should never feel bad."

Young men aren't dogs sitting under the table waiting for whatever scraps get thrown in their general direction.

"So many parents hear ‘Talk to your kids about sex,' and that gets flipped around to ‘Talk to your daughters about sex,' but young men need to hear just as much and no one is talking to them. No one is telling guys sex is a big deal and it should be a big deal. They shouldn't feel automatically ready. All the things we tell young women about being ready to have sex need to be told to young men too."

Beneath (it all) is a confused, vulnerable kid. A kid who still thinks sex is a big deal.

"Parents see the way kids are talking at bar mitzvahs, the tight yoga pants, sexting and they take it to mean, ‘Oh my god, kids are having sex.' Teens act sexual because that's what they see on TV. That's how adults act. It gets them attention.

Don't assume kids are out looking for sex just because they talk or act in a sexual manner. Teens are always very quick to joke about sex, but that doesn't mean they really feel OK about it."


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