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Parents of very young children may think they have plenty of time before they need to think about their child’s sexual health. But early discussions and appropriate language set the stage for open communication when it becomes critical.

Melisa Holmes, co-founder of Girlology and Guyology and a pediatric and adolescent OB-GYN with Greenville Health System, said parents need to consider the issue from the beginning.

“Sexual health is a lifelong process that starts at birth,” she said.

Holmes and pediatrician Trish Hutchison – both moms – founded their program in response to a need to help parents open dialogue with their children about puberty.

“Girlology was officially started in 2003 after I had so many moms asking me to talk to their daughters about puberty and sex and their period,” Holmes said.

The physician pair held a Saturday program for a group of girls and their mothers and asked them to invite their friends.

The program has expanded to include age appropriate material beginning with puberty information for fourth graders. Programs for older students include reproduction, self-esteem and the media, healthy relationships and more.

Holmes said parents should not wait to have one “talk” with their children about puberty.

“Really, parents should be talking with them from the time they can talk,” she said. “One of the most important things you can do to promote healthy sexual development is to give right names for body parts – eyes, nose, ears, vulva, penis. If animals are mating, say they are mating. Sometimes that’s as simple as it needs to be. Babies don’t grow in tummies, they grow in a uterus. It’s simple language that creates a lifetime of better dialogue.”

This is important for establishing communication, but Holmes said it is critical in cases of child sexual abuse.

She said some children can’t disclose abuse because they lack the language to do so.

Holmes said children do need information about body changes by fourth grade.

“Boys are a little later to start, but there are already conversations happening, so it’s a good time for boys to learn as well,” she said. “Our goal is always to bring up a topic before a kid is experiencing it. We’ve learned from all kinds of research – telling them about it doesn’t encourage them to experiment with it.”

In fact, parents might be surprised by what their tech-savvy kids have already seen.

“Pornography has changed the discussion tremendously,” Holmes said. “We discuss, when you are curious about something, where do you go?”

Holmes said the average age at which children land on online pornography is 11. It often occurs by accident, with an innocent web search turning up much more than a child expects.

And parents can’t rely on a school program to take on the task of educating their children about sexual health. Holmes’ program teaches about reproduction in fifth grade.

Girlology and Guyology programs are held at several Upstate locations, including Mary Black Health System, Spartanburg Regional Health System, Greenville Health System and Parkside Pediatrics, as well as in Columbia and Charleston.

For details and registration, visit https://www.girlology.com.

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