Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask) by Justin Richardson MD and Mark A. Schuster MD, PhD (Crown) aims to be a cradle-to-adulthood guide for parents who have come to the harsh realization that they're not nearly as hip and broad-minded as they thought they'd be.


Richardson, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia and Cornell, and Schuster, an associate professor of pediatrics and public health at the University of California, Los Angeles, form a sort of mind-body tag team from the halls of academia, but their tone here is more kitchen table than roundtable.


The authors sum up the plight of the supposedly enlightened baby boomer parent with a question one of them got from a bewildered father: "How can I give my daughter a healthy attitude toward sex, but prevent her from having any?" They address that question -- and others -- without moralizing or condescension.


The book deals with the full range of sexual development issues -- from prenatal erections to "playing doctor" to STDs, unintended pregnancy and suspected sexual abuse -- with a combination of frankness and sensitivity. And the book is organized to help parents find where their children are developmentally and what's ahead.


The authors place a good bit of emphasis on the idea that the best way to help children develop a healthy sexual outlook is to develop generally healthy relationships with them. Here they steer parents toward being "authoritative," which is to say demanding and responsive without being too indulgent.