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Parents should talk to their kids about sex. We've got data. This is Healthcare Triage News.

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Parents should talk to their kids about sex. We've got data. This is Healthcare Triage New.


During our recent trip to Disney World, while waiting to be seated at the Liberty Tree Tavern for dinner, my boy spontaneously started asking my wife about sex. I happened to be sitting outside with my daughter, my wife was inside with my sons and her parents.

Amy's a nurse practitioner at a teen clinic at Broad Ripple Magnet School here in Indianapolis. She deals with questions about sex and contraception all of the time at her job, so this was not a problem for her. But, the questions quickly got detailed to the reported mortification of my in-laws and many other people standing nearby.

I know all this, because my son soon appeared outside, sent out there by Amy, to pepper me with the same questions. I answered most of them simply and honestly, drawing the line only when they got too personal.

Some of our friends were a bit shocked that we found this so funny, and that we talk about sex so openly with our kids. They'd be horrified, I imagine, to know some of the questions my daughter's asked and which I've answered. But, Amy and I are on the same page here: we're going to be a resource and we're going to have this dialogue with our kids over and over again.

Data supports this attitude. To the research!

From JAMA Pediatrics, Parent-Associated Sexual Communication and Adolescents Safer Sex Behaviour. This was a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies through June 2014 examining the relationship between parent-adolescent communication about sex and safer sexual behavior. Their pull initially yielded more than 5,000 potential studies. Of those, 52 met inclusion criteria, and those studies included 25,000 adolescent participants. 

Here's what they found: When parents had better communication about sex with their kids, their kids practice safer sex. Communication had more of an impact with girls than with boys. It was also more effective when it came from the mother than when it came from the father.

Now, for the caveats. The overall effect was statistically significant, but small. It was also greater for mothers, not so much for fathers. But, the authors posit that this is because fathers in general tend to be much less expressive, open, and able to share. So that may mean that fathers have potential, but aren't using it as much as mothers do.

But, as always, let's weigh the benefits and the harms. The research shows that communication is associated with many benefits, and it hints towards the idea that there's a dose-response, or that parents who communicate more, see better results. I see no reason for Amy and I to change our behavior.


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