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49 Percent of 12th-Grade Students Reported Being Sexually Active: Time to Have "The Talk?"

June 16, 2011

Parents should begin talking about sexual health matters with their children from an early age, especially when they ask questions, experts say.

About 49 percent of 12th-graders are sexually active, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (NCPTUP), citing the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. However, the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth found 33 percent of female teens received no instruction about contraception before they first had sex.

"Parents should disabuse themselves of this notion that it is a one-time talk," said Bill Albert, chief program officer for NCPTUP. "It is and should be an 18-year conversation."

The conversations should be tailored to the child's age, graduating from discussions about anatomy to middle-school topics about acting respectfully toward peers, said Leslie Montgomery, director of education at Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

"If your child does come to you and asks a question, the most important thing at that point is to avoid having that shocked expression on your face, and answer in a matter-of-fact tone," Montgomery said.

Parents' influence over children's decisions about sex is greater than that of the youths' peers, Albert said. Children can accept, "‘Please delay having sex; but if you do have sex, use contraception,'" he said.

Parents who believe teens should save sex for marriage should share and foster those values early, noting that contraception reduces -- not eliminates -- risks, said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association.

"What they need to do is give their young person enough tools to be safe," said Dr. J. Dennis Fortenberry, pediatrics professor at Indiana University School of Medicine and an adolescent-medicine specialist.

"We need to treat sex as something different than drugs, alcohol, and other risk behaviors," said Dr. Margaret Blythe, adolescent-medicine specialist at Riley Hospital for Children in Indiana. "It is a part of our lives, and it should be a healthy part."

Back to other news for June 2011

Adapted from:
Indianapolis Star
06.12.2011; Shari Rudavsky

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More HIV Prevention Guides for Parents

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Kelley (Dallas, TX) Tue., Jun. 28, 2011 at 11:36 am UTC
I am a Mom and I will definitely have a talk with my little boy about sex at a very early age. Speaker and Author, Mary Flo Ridley says that planning conversations with your kids about sex might seem stressful, but itís easier than trying to answer their questions when youíre not prepared. Take in and personalize this information for your family and you will find that these conversations serve as tremendous opportunities for strengthening your relationship with your children. I can't wait to start utilizing her methods with my kiddos!
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Comment by: Evelyn V S (Auburn Hills, MI) Wed., Jun. 22, 2011 at 8:10 am UTC
I agree with Dr. Blythe that sex is a part of our lives and should be a healthy part. Because it's not treated that way in society (as something to be shared in a monogomous relationship) it has become a high risk behavior. The more partners one has the more risk there is for STIs and our statistics show this clearly. Healthy sex is within the bounds of a faithful, monogomous and committed relationship like marriage.
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Comment by: Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall (New Plymouth, New Zealand) Sat., Jun. 18, 2011 at 1:23 am UTC
As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I heartily second this advice, especially as the US enjoys the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the industrialized work.

I have done my own small part to increase adolescent awareness about pregnancy and contraception with a new young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW: A FABLE ( A book about youth activism, it also frankly addresses teen sexuality contraception and abortion.
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