Doctors need to talk more with teenagers about sex

January 7, 2014

One in every 3 annual healthy visits with adolescents contains no discussion about topics related to sexuality. When discussion does occur, it often lasts barely more than half a minute.

 

One in every 3 annual healthy visits with adolescents contains no discussion about topics related to sexuality. When discussion does occur, it often lasts barely more than half a minute.

The finding comes from the first study to directly observe audio-recorded discussions about sexuality between physicians and their teenaged patients.

Because physicians can be important sources of information about sexuality and preventive services, researchers from North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio collaborated to determine the occurrence and characteristics of physician-adolescent discussions about issues pertaining to sex.

The investigators studied the audio recordings of conversations between 253 teenagers (mean age,14.3 years) and 49 physicians occurring at 11 clinics (3 academic and 8 community-based) located throughout the Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, area.

They found that 165 (65%) of the encounters contained some sexual discussion and that the average length of the discussion was 36 seconds. They also found that being female, older, or African American was associated with more time spent discussing sexual topics, while being Asian was associated with less time spent on sexual issues.

An editorial about the study notes that the findings “are consistent with other studies indicating low frequency and thoroughness of physician discussion with adolescents about sexuality in primary care.” The editorial also points out that no discussions regarding sexuality occurred unless the physician initiated the discussion, underscoring the importance of physicians doing so.

The investigators conclude that research is needed to unearth successful strategies physicians can use to spark discussion about sexual topics with teenagers in order to promote healthy sexual behavior and smart decision making. 

 

 

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