The birds and bees: Talking to your kids about safe sex

teenagers2There are conversations that many parents approach with apprehension. Ranking high on that list are talks about sex. But given our modern culture, conversations between parents and children about sex are increasingly important.

A new systematic review published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Pediatrics journal ¬†underscores that point.

The review looked at 52 studies which included more than 25,000 adolescents to answer the question: how do conversations with parents impact youth’s use of contraception and condoms?

The results were not surprising: Kids who talked with their parents about sex, and specifically risky sexual behaviors, were more likely to use condoms and contraception compared to kids who did not discuss sex with their parents.

The review also revealed some nuances of communication between youth and parents: Girls who discussed sex with their parents were more likely to engage in safe sex compared with boys. Likewise, all teens were more likely to practice safe sex if they spoke with their mothers compared to their fathers.

“This review underscores the important role parents play in helping adolescents make healthy decisions about sex, sexuality and relationships,” said Jane Powers, Director of the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. “While the majority of parents want to talk to their teens about these issues, many report being challenged by this topic. ¬†Difficult as this might be, talking with teens about sex should not be a one-time conversation, but should be an on-going discussion throughout childhood. What parents have to say matters to teens, especially regarding their sexuality.¬† The pay off for these conversations can be enormous and life changing, as these data clearly indicate.”\

The researchers did find gaps in the data. Many studies did not specify which parent teens were speaking with. And often the research did not capture the depth of communication between parents and youth. For example, did parents have a one-time conversation about safe sex, or did they encourage children to discuss the topic on an on-going basis?

Despite the gaps in the evidence, the take-home message is clear: Parents’ discussion with their children about safe sex plays an important role in reducing risky sexual behavior amount youth.

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