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Researchers find doctors do not talk to teens about sex enough

Personal physicians do not talk to teenagers enough about sex and sexual behavior according to research conducted by Dr. Stewart Alexander and colleagues at Duke University Medical Center that was published in the Dec. 30, 2013, issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

A young couple kissing.
A young couple kissing.Jefferson Rodrigues I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain.

Teens talk to each other about sex. Parents are advised to talk to teens about sex but frequently do not. The researchers contend that physicians could be a first line preventative for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases but doctors do not spend enough time talking to teens about sex.

The researchers examined audio recordings of the conversations between 253 adolescents aged 12 to 17 and their doctors during the teen’s annual physicals. The interviews included sports physicals.

The researchers found that on average a physician spends 36 seconds of a 25 minute physical examination discussing sex with teens. While 65 percent of the physicians did broach the subject of sex with their teenage patients, the depth and length of the conversation were considered insubstantial according to the researchers. Only four percent of teens had a long conversation about sex and their sexual behavior with their doctors.

Adolescent females were 50 percent more likely to talk to their doctor about birth control and safe sex practices than adolescent males. The researchers note that males are less likely than females to see a physician regularly after they are 18 years of age.

The researchers suggest that physicians increase the length of their conversations about sex and sexual behavior with teens and go to greater lengths to make teens understand that conversations between a doctor and patient are substantially confidential.