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Talking about Sex with Kids: Sex Talk Putting Kids to Sleep. And Some Parents Too?

Posted Dec 07 2009 11:54am

Parents are making sex a bore too.

We expect the kids don't listen when we tell them to brush their teeth, fold their laundry, take a shower.  But when we talk about sex???

Come on, people, we gotta sex up the sex talk.

That's my conclusion after reading a new study out of California in this month's journal Pediatrics.  No, the researchers didn't reach that same conclusion.  But, then again academic papers aren't known for their  titillation or their real-world application.  So what did the authors find?  Most parents don't get around to talking about sex until it's too late.  Ho hum.  As one of the researchers told a reporter, he wasn't all that surprised (Time magazine online article: Parents' Sex Talk with Kids: Too Little, Too Late by Alice Park).


More than 40% of teens report having sex before their parents have spoken to them about safe sex, birth control, the consequences of pregnancy and the like.   

The sex researchers surveyed 141 families (with kids aged 13 to 17 years old) who'd already volunteered to participate in the Talking Parents, Healthy Teens program to improve parent-child communication.  The parents and their children filled out surveys at the beginning of the study and at three other times over the next year (i.e. a "longitudinal survey").  The survey asked whether the kids and their parents had discussed 24 different topics ranging from menstruation, how to say "no", and how to put on a condom.  The kids also completed questions about their sexual experiences so the researchers could compare the timing of the sex talks with the actual sexual activity. 

Some interesting results here, beyond the "too little, too late".   Like the disconnect between what kids and parents remember.  Or don't remember.  Especially for the families with teenaged girls.  For the 15 of the 22 sex topics supposedly discussed before the girls actually had sex, parents were more likely to report having "the talk" then their girls.  So, did the girls simply not remember mom's (73% of the parents surveyed were women) lecture?  Or was it actually not a lecture at all but too subtle, the language too indirect, slipped in between "remember to bring your gym clothes home" and "take those muddy shoes off"?  It's not hard to imagine.  The parent nervous, speaking in innuendos about milking cows and such.  But on the flip side, for a few of the topics, the girls actually remembered the talk when the parent didn't.   I wonder what happened there? 

As for the boys, there was less disconnect between the parents and the teens.  There was just less talk for them overall.  For both males and females, when the parents reported more "before sex" talk, often the teens would report more "after" - even though the parents had clearly thought they'd discussed it before.  So, in some sense it seems the information did register. 

It's as if after having sex, the kids started remembering what mom and dad actually said. 

That happened more than a third of the time for boys, and a quarter for the girls.  A delayed effect.  Oh yeah, that's what my mom was talking about....
Or maybe the teenagers tried to bring it up after the fact with their stressed out, over-scheduled parents who simply didn't hear them or who cut them short without realizing what they were really asking about.   

And what's up with Time.com gratuitously inserting links in red at the end of paragraphs?  I get the related, useful links in the story and can tolerate the crap on the borders of the screen (don't know the proper terminology).  But when I'm reading an article on teenagers and sex do I really want to see "the top ten teen idols" or "pictures of teens in America" or worse yet "the evolution of the college dorm" -  pretty ridiculous.  It breaks your stream of thought, but maybe that's the purpose?  Does Time not want me to read the entire article?? Does a news publication not want me to read the news? 

Anyhow, read the study for free while you can.  It's easy to read with lots of clear tables.  Click on the link below.  The study is entirely "descriptive" so it's free of any statistical tests or off-putting technical language.

Timing of Parent and Child Communication About Sexuality Relative to Children's Sexual Behaviors.   Pediatrics online (December 7, 2009).  Megan K. Beckett, Marc N. Elliott, Steven Martino, David E. Kanouse, Rosalie Corona, David J. Klein and Mark A. Schuster
DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-0806
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