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Parents, Schools Should Talk to Kids About Sex

American Academy of Pediatrics Issues New Recommendations on Sex Education
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 30, 2010 -- Kids spend more than seven hours a day glued to the TV or online, where they are bombarded with mixed, unrealistic, and confusing messages about sex, sexuality, and contraception. Parents, pediatricians, and educators need to step up efforts to buck these trends, according to a revised policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The new recommendations appear in the September issue of Pediatrics.

"Parents need to realize that the media are teaching their kids about sex. And if they don't encourage schools to teach comprehensive sex education then their kids will learn a whole lot that parents are not happy with," says Victor C. Strasburger, MD, chief of the division of adolescent medicine at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. 

Many schools have an abstinence-only curriculum, while the media portray casual sex and sexuality without lasting consequences, Strasburger writes. And, he adds, society is paying the price: kids are having sex earlier, one in four U.S. teens has had a sexually transmitted diseases (STD), and the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the Western Hemisphere.

Parents can start taking sex ed back by limiting TV time to less than two hours a day and keeping the TV or Internet out of kids' bedrooms, Strasburger says. In addition, "watching TV and movies with your child or teenager can be a great way of talking about controversial subjects," he suggests.

"Sex education starts from the minute they change their baby's diaper and what they refer to babies' genitalia as, whether the parents leave the door open while they are in the bathroom, run around the house naked or half naked, or blush when something sexy comes on TV," he says. "This is all sex education, and kids are little sponges that soak it all up."

Media Responsibility Urged

The new recommendations, which were last updated in 2001, also call on the entertainment industry to produce more responsible sexual content and focus on relationships, not just sex. They also urge advertisers to stop using sex to sell, and specifically stress that ads for erectile dysfunction (ED) should not be broadcast until after 10 p.m.

These ads are confusing, he tells WebMD. "It is hypocritical to spend half a billion dollars on drugs for ED, but not be able to advertise for birth control pills, condoms, or emergency contraception," he says. While there are ads for oral contraceptives, most focus on benefits beyond pregnancy prevention such as premenstrual syndrome. And condoms are only advertised as a means to prevent sexually transmitted disease, not pregnancy, he says.

"We need to take back the agenda," agrees Diane Levin, PhD, a professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston and the author of So Sexy, So Soon. "The media is providing an incrediblydestructive sex education for our youth, and then we are fighting over what we teach them in schools. It's a horror show," she says. "Parent and schools must work together."

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