Talking to teens about sex makes them (especially girls) have safer behavior, here’s expert advice on how to talk about it
As uncomfortable as it may be to talk about safe sex with a teenager, it can have a positive impact, especially for girls, according to a new study published in the Pediatric Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Sexual communication with parents, particularly mothers, plays a small protective role in safer sex behavior among adolescents; this protective effect is more pronounced for girls than boys,” says the study report.
The study examined the link between parent-adolescent communication about sex and safer sex practices among youth. It analyzed 52 studies on the topic from more than 30 years of data and included more than 25,000 adolescents.
“Our results confirm that, across more than 50 studies, parent-adolescent sexual communication is positively associated with adolescents’ use of contraceptives and condoms regardless of communication topic or format,” says the report.
It is a message many Kentucky teens need to hear.
According to the 2013 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 44.7 percent of Kentucky’s students have had sex at least once, and almost one-third (31.7 percent) of them are sexually active. Almost half of them (46.9 percent) did not use a condom during their last sexual intercourse and 15.1 percent of them did not use any method to prevent pregnancy. And while Kentucky’s teen pregnancy rate is at an all time low of 39.5 per 1,000 girls between 15 and 19, it’s still much higher than the national rate of 26.6 per 1,000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for about half of all new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. each year, says the CDC.
Despite the risk of disease and pregnancy, nearly one-fourth of youth report that they have not discussed sexual topics with their parents, and even fewer report they have meaningful, open conversations with them about this subject, the study found.
The study attributes this poor communication to parental embarrassment, parents’ lack of accurate knowledge of the subject, and poor self-efficacy. It suggest physicians and other health care professionals should encourage these discussions and encourages parents to seek formal instruction on how to discuss safe sex practices with their children.
CBS News asked several experts for some do’s and dont’s to help parents talk about sex with their teens.
Dr. Anna-Barbara Moscicki, chief of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, told CBS that parents should start talking about sex early “so it’s never awkward.” She said parents should answer all their children’s questions about sex, but “keep it age-appropriate.” She reassured parents that “talking about sex does not make your kid want to have sex.”
Moscicki also advised that you should never confront a teen with questions such as, “Are you having sex? Are you using condoms?” Instead, she says you should be a resource and ask, “Do you know where to get condoms or get birth control?”
Dr. Leslie Walker, division chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, told CBS that “parents need to be informed before they talk with their kids about sex,” including accurate information about modern and efficient methods of birth control than weren’t available when they were younger.
She said parents should not be afraid to share their family values and that talking about safe sex should not be a “one time chat,” but instead an ongoing conversation.
Walker also said that parents need to push through the awkwardness of the conversation and not be judgmental or punitive, which she said will allow teens to know they can rely on their parents for help if something were to happen, like an unplanned pregnancy or a sexual assault.
“Don’t shut kids down,” Walker told CBS. “Don’t shut down the lines of communication, like saying, ‘If you ever do this, then you’re out of the house.'”
Both experts agreed that parents shouldn’t overshare. Walker said, “Kids don’t want to know about their parents’ sex life, or what happened to you when you were a teen.” But they might if you lecture them about their behavior and make them defensive.
Posted by Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky