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Want Your Teenager to Practice Safe Sex? Then Start Talking

Teens who talk to their parents about sex, especially their mothers, are more likely to practice safer sex, according to an article published by JAMA Pediatrics.

In a related editorial, the study coauthors observe that parents have “a unique role” in sexual decision making among adolescents. “Youth want to hear from their parents and overwhelmingly say that parents matter.” They note that parents can “exert significant influence on adolescents’ sexual attitudes, values, and beliefs regarding risks.” Parents may also provide “a powerful model of open and honest communication about sexual health issues, which teens may emulate in their own sexual relationships.”

Risky sexual behavior among U.S. adolescents is a serious public health problem. Although adolescents make up only one-fourth of the sexually active population, they acquire half of all sexually transmitted infections. In addition, adolescents are at heightened risk of unintended pregnancy.

While parental communication about sex can be protective for youth, many parents simply don’t talk to their teens about sex.

According to the JAMA study, 25 percent of teens say they have never discussed sexual topics with their parents. Embarrassment, inaccurate knowledge, or the fear that simply talking about sex will be seen as permission to begin having sex may prevent some parents from engaging their children in honest and supportive conversations. Even though the topic can be awkward for everyone, parents should be engaged and communicating with their teen about sex – before someone else does.

When should you have “the talk?” According to experts, early – and often.

4 Articles to Help Start Discussions About Sex:

Ask the Doctor: How to Talk About Sex?

From a young age, parents should encourage an open atmosphere to reassure kids that the topic is not taboo. Focus on the ABCDs of sex. Abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to avoid unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection; Be faithful in relationships and monogamous if you do have sex; Condoms and Contraception are necessary if you do become sexually active; and, Discussion with an adult about safe sex. Your parent, your doctor, and/or a counselor will increase the likelihood that you will not be harmed by your decision.

Expert Advice About the Hookup Culture

Talk about what physical feelings are “normal” at this age and what terms like “hook up” mean to your teen.

If You Don’t Teach Them, Who Will? 

Help your teen try to understand the emotional consequences of sex.

Talking About Sex with Teens: One Dad’s Story

If talking is too difficult or doesn’t go the way you intended, try writing a letter to your teen.

So talk to your teen about sex. They ARE listening.

Jane Parent

Jane Parent is senior editor of Your Teen.