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Doctors and Teenagers - The "Sex Talk"

Doctors and Teenagers - The "Sex Talk"

Doctors are natural sources information about sexuality and risk reduction for young people, but are those conversations happening? Just a couple of weeks ago, JAMA Pediatrics published the results of a recent study of “Sexuality Talk During Adolescent Health Maintenance,” a clumsy title that addressed an interesting question – how much time do doctors spend discussing sexual information and preventive services during annual visits with their adolescent patients?

The short answer is…not much. Researchers audio recorded conversations between 253 adolescents and 49 physicians at 11 different clinics in the area of Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. What they learned is probably not too surprising; there is very little talk happening between doctors and their adolescent patients.

The study was nearly evenly split between adolescent girls and boys (53% were females); 40% were white and 47% were African American. The doctors in the study were mostly pediatricians (82%), mostly white (84%) and mostly female (65%).

So how much time was devoted to talk about sexuality during these visits? Only about 65% of the visits recorded any conversation that contained sexual content. And the average time spent talking about anything sexual was 36 seconds.

There were some factors that seemed to increase the amount of sexuality talk during the visits – more talk about sex occurred with female patients and with African American adolescents, and longer overall visits upped the odds of more talk about sex. And while the study didn’t theorize about the results, it did make clear that doctors overall are not meeting the challenge of broaching the subject effectively, so their expertise is not being utilized in helping educate young people about sex.

At AOA we are committed to being a trusted partner in your health care. The “sex talk” can be hard for parents to have and hard for their adolescent children to hear, but a medical professional can be an ally in the conversation. Doctors can work together with parents to provide a confidential and knowledgeable perspective to help set the facts straight for young people, and dispel dangerous myths.

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