A recent Harvard study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that parents are waiting too long to discuss important sexual topics with their children. In the study more than 40% of adolescents had become sexually active before their parents broached the subjects of condom use, birth control, and sexually transmitted infections.
In the study 141 parents and their children aged 13 - 17 each completed four surveys over a one-year time period. Surveys completed by the parents focused on the specific details of the sexual health communications that they had with their kids. Surveys completed by adolescents asked about the sexual topics that their parents had discussed with them as well as the sexual acts in which they had engaged. Researchers divided sexual acts into three categories presexual stage (handholding, kissing), precoital stage (genital touching, oral sex), and coital stage (intercourse, postintercourse). Consistently parents were late in their timing of sexual health communication on topics specific to their own child's sexual experiences.
Participants were recruited from a communications workshop aimed to improve parent-adolescent communication so they are not necessarily representative of the general population. Dr. Mark Schuster, chief of general pediatrics at Children's Hospital Boston and a co-author of the study told ABC News that "If we had had a representative sample of the country, I think we would have found that even more parents had not had these discussions."
The study reinforces the need for parents to start talking about sexual topics with their kids early, and to revisit the subject often. Jamie Feldman, MD, PhD, spoke with Don Shelby on WCCO radio in Minnesota and Gil Gross on KGO News Talk AM 810 in California regarding the Harvard study and suggestions for improving parent-child communication about sex. Eli Coleman, PhD, also discussed the study in the ABC News article "Don't Let the 'Sex Talk' Come Too Little, Too Late for Your Teen."
Beckett, M. K., Elliott, M. N., Martino, S., Kanouse, D. E., Rosalie, C., Klein, D. J., & Schuster, M. A. (2010) Timing of Parent and Child Communication About Sexuality Relative to Children's Sexual Behaviors. Pediatrics,125, 34-42. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-0806
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