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Health & Parenting

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Sex Ed for Your Kids: One Talk Won’t Do

Parents Must Move Past the Awkwardness, Repeatedly Talk to Their Children About Sex Topics, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 3, 2008 -- Ideally, that "facts of life" talk you have with your children should be a series of sex ed discussions that cover a range of topics, rather than one long talk, according to a new study.

"Because of discomfort with the topic, there is that hope that it can be taken care of with a single talk," says Steven C. Martino, PhD, study researcher and a behavioral scientist at Rand Corp. in Pittsburgh.

But his new study, published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, suggests that a continuous, repetitive, wide-ranging conversation with your kids about sex is the better approach.

(How do you talk about sex with your kids? Find out what other parents have to say on our Parenting: Preteens and Teenagers board.)

Study: Beyond the "Big Talk"

"We know [already] that the more parents talk to their kids [about sex], the better off the kid is in terms of healthy beliefs," Martino says, citing previous research. Children whose parents talk often about sex education are more likely to delay sex until an older age and to take precautions when they do become sexually active, he says.

In the new study, Martino and his colleagues wanted to assess the independent influence of repeating topics and covering many topics on the teen's perceptions of their relationships and communication with their parents. "What we were interested in is whether the extent to which having repeated discussions about sexual topics and also covering a wide variety of topics matter" in terms of how teens feel about their relationship with their parents and how easy it was or wasn't to talk to them about sex.

The researchers polled 312 teens in grades 6 through 10, and their parents. They responded to four surveys during the yearlong study, telling whether they had discussed each of 22 sex-related topics and how often they had. Teens rated their overall relationship with their parents, too, including their ability to communicate about sex and other topics.

Among the topics: the making of decisions about whether to have sex, consequences of getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant, selection of a birth control method, what it feels like to have sex, and protection offered by condoms.

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