Sex. This is one of the hardest topics for parents to broach with their kids. Parents are confused about just how much information is enough to give their teen; when to start such talk, and the difference in the sexuality content between the female and male teenager. Other than that, there is also the issue of whether teenagers with sexuality related concerns should be seen by pediatricians, adult physicians or gynaecologists. Increasingly though, there appears to be general consensus that pediatricians should treat adolescents, especially with the increasing realisation that most children begin to experience pubertal changes at an early age. At the same time, many children become exposed to adult sexual content from the Internet, friends, media outlets and peers.
Visits to the doctor are few and often don’t focus on the unique needs of the teenager. Research shows that physicians are missing opportunities to educate and counsel adolescent patients on healthy sexual behaviours and prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and unplanned pregnancy.
A recent study to assess sexuality discussions during health maintenance visits by adolescents and to identify predictors of time spent discussing sexuality and level of adolescent participation in North Carolina found that roughly, a third of adolescents left the physician’s office with no mention of sex or sexuality issues. In cases where sexual content was discussed, physicians initiated the talks, with teenagers often responding silently or with simple yes or no answers. The older teenager was more likely to talk about sex. However, by waiting until teenagers are older to discuss sex, we may miss opportunities to identify adolescents who are contemplating sexual activities.
While we agree that attending clinicians could be an important source of information regarding sexuality, the role of the parent as the first source of information and guidance cannot be over emphasised.
Parents should initiate discussion as early as possible with their teenagers.