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Jenny Cotterell said her mother always believed in answering questions - any questions.

"Her goal was to try to create a healthy respect and a healthy view of sexuality, our body," said Cotterell.

So that was what Jenny and Dale tried to do when they started having kids. The parents of eight, from age 3 on up, have books around the house, talk about bodies during diaper changes and have even included the older kids whenever a new baby was born.

"They see that the baby entering the world is not a dirty thing or embarrassing. It's a natural act of life," said the Garland mother.

A generation or two ago, the only facts many toddlers had were about their snacks, stories, toys and bedtime. Today, more parents are having "the talk" earlier than ever, armed with a shelf full of books geared toward kids of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers.

The conversation still makes many parents squeamish, but it is perhaps more necessary than ever. Children are bombarded with sex, from the busty heroines of video games and the porn land mines of the Internet, to billboards glamorizing lingerie and the chronic coverage of tarts not wearing any.

"Whether you like it or not, your kids are being exposed to that," said Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and mental health contributor to the "Today Show," as well as author of Amazing You, geared toward preschoolers, and Changing You, written for children 6 and up.

"What they're not being exposed to is healthy, factual, clinical information, the nuts and bolts of how their bodies work."

Saltz's books name all the body parts, for both boys and girls, inside and out, then describes how those parts come together to make babies. While the book for younger kids doesn't connect the dots, Changing You does.

"When a man and a woman love each other and decide that they want to have a child, they will do something called 'sexual intercourse,' or 'sex,' " the book says. One simple sentence - and a diagram - explain the act.

"This is a very special way of expressing how much they love each other," it says.

Just as Saltz's book puts sex in a specific context - a consensual act between caring adults - she said that starting the conversation early lets parents put their own stamp on sexuality.

"They can imbue it with their family's values," she said.

Another perk is being able to supply correct information.

"As they grow up they're going to hear about it, and they're going to hear about it from people who don't know as much as their parents," said Karrie Galloway, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Utah. "Everybody is making stuff up, especially at the younger age."

Galloway said parents don't need to provide all the details the first time a child asks.

"It's important to listen and find out what the child is really asking," she said. As an example, she related the story of the boy who got a long speech about human reproduction when he asked where he came from; all he really wanted to know is whether he was from Ogden or Logan.

Starting the conversation early also can help to open lines of communication when it's vitally important, during the teen years.

"If we answer in the most straightforward, matter-of-fact way . . . then we create a relationship and a dialogue with our children that continues," said Robie Harris, author of several acclaimed books for children, including It's NOT the Stork, It's So Amazing, and It's Perfectly Normal, geared, respectively, toward kids ages 4 and up, 7 and up and 10 and up.

Each book becomes progressively more detailed, with the final book covering the basics as well as circumcision, adoption, multiple births, disease and sexual orientation.

"This is not just a physical health issue. It's to keep them emotionally healthy . . . so that when the difficult questions come up later, they feel good about themselves and their body and they know how to make good decisions," she said.

Decision making is vitally important at ever-younger ages, said Kim Openshaw, a Logan psychologist and associate professor at Utah State University.

"The sexual activity of kids has moved down in age dramatically. You're finding kids who are 12 who are involved in sexual intercourse," he said.

At the same time, the number of kids being arrested for sex offenses is on the rise.

"They're thinking that this is OK. 'She's 13. I'm 14. We really like each other. Let's play doctor.' But it's illegal," he said.

Talking early not only helps kids set boundaries about what they can do with someone else, it also teaches them it's OK to set boundaries for what someone else can do to them, according to the experts.

But not everyone is convinced that younger is better.

Too much honesty can be confusing or even terrifying for small kids, who "don't have the emotional or intellectual capacity to understand the complex dynamics of having babies," said Doug Goldsmith, executive director of The Children's Center in Salt Lake City.

He doesn't encourage parents to explain the birds and bees, or even get too specific about anatomy like the uterus or testicles, before age 5. Kids are curious, he said, and might hurt themselves trying to learn more about these mysterious parts.

Of course, he said, he wants children to be proud of their bodies. Of course, he wants to keep lines of communication open as children grow older.

But he fears this effort at younger education is misplaced.

"It's not about pounding on using the correct names" for body parts, he said. "It's about communication. . . . Listen to your children."

Even Cotterell, who includes her children in the delivery room, said there's no point in putting the cart before the horse.

"Younger children have no need to know function beyond bathroom function," she said. "Answers need to come after questions. If there's no question, the answer will have no point of reference."