Teens Look to Parents for Sex Info

But Many Teens Say They Don't Know How to Discuss Sexual Health With Their Parents

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 24, 2006 -- A new survey shows that parents serve as role models and major sources of information on sexual health for their teenage children -- though parents may not know it.

The online survey included more than 1,100 teens aged 14-17 and more than 1,100 moms of teens in the same age range. Participants live in Canada, and the survey comes from the nonprofit Canadian Association for Adolescent Health.

Among the findings:

  • Nearly three in 10 teens aged 14-17 report being sexually active.
  • At age 15, one in five was sexually active. Nearly half (45%) were sexually active by 17.
  • Teens have had three partners, on average, since becoming sexually active.

Guidance From Parents?

Most teens regard parents as role models and sources of information on sexual health, the survey shows.

  • 63% of teens called their parents a major source of information on sex and sexual health.
  • 43% of teens said their parents are their most useful and valuable source of information.
  • 45% of teens called their parents their role models.
  • Fewer teens said their role models were stars (about 15%) or friends (32%).

Those views may surprise some parents. Most mothers who were interviewed said they thought their teens looked to friends and stars as their role models.

However, many teens have a glitch in talking about sex with their parents, the survey shows.

A quarter of teens said they didn't know how to talk about sexual health issues with their parents. Half of teens said they haven't talked about sexual health with their parents.

Skimpy Protection Against STDs

Nearly all teens surveyed (90%) claimed to be "very" or "somewhat" knowledgeable about sex and sexual health. But they didn't necessarily know much about sexually transmitted diseases.

Consider these findings:

  • One in 20 teens had been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection.
  • A quarter didn't use any protection against STDs the last time they had sex.
  • Half of those who used condoms the last time they had sex didn't check to see if the condom was still intact after use.
  • Only one in five had heard of human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection, and few knew that HPV can (but doesn't always) lead to cervical cancer.
  • More than half of sexually active female teens hadn't gotten a Pap test in the last three years.


Pap tests screen for cell changes in the cervix that indicate or could lead to cancer. Women should start getting an annual Pap test within three years of becoming sexually active or by age 21, whichever comes first, according to the American Cancer Society.

Since teenage girls have a three-year window between becoming sexually active and getting their first Pap test, the Canadian teens weren't necessarily behind schedule. Women age 30 and older who have three normal Pap tests in a row may get screened less often.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 24, 2006


SOURCES: News release, Canadian Association for Adolescent Health. WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: "Pap Test: Test Overview." WebMD Medical News: "New Guidelines for Cancer Screening."
© 2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.


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