Having "the talk" may make both kids and parents feel awkward and uncomfortable, but it can truly help shape the former's behavior in the long run, experts say.
Parents who discuss topics about reproductive health such as the use of condoms, birth control methods and the risks for sexually transmitted diseases influence their children to be more cautious than children who were not educated by their parents, according to a study.
In a report issued in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers expounded on the fact that the effect of discussing these safe sex topics is measurable, clear and important. They said that any difference can contribute especially in a country where teenagers are likely to be sexually active.
"The take home message is that parents do matter, and these conversations do matter," said Laura Widman, psychologist and lead author of the study.
She said that parents need not have a lot of technical and sophisticated knowledge about sex, but that just talking with their kids is very important. "That's the good news," she added.
To examine the effect of the parent-child communication regarding safe sex, Widman and her colleagues assessed data that included more than 25,000 adolescents. They found that girls were strongly influenced by their parents more than boys in topics such as the use of condoms and contraceptives and other sexual health matters.
Parents are also more likely to give emphasis on the negative consequences of sexual behavior when talking to girls. One of these consequences is unwanted pregnancy, researchers said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that roughly 47 percent of high school students have had sexual intercourse. Of these, 60 percent said they used protection the last time they did it, while 14 percent said they did not use any.
In 2010, there were about 625,000 cases of teen pregnancy in the U.S., and only 273,000 of them gave birth. In 2013, about 273,105 babies were born to teenagers who were 15 to 19 years old, the CDC said.
The CDC says the prevention of teenage pregnancies is a "winnable battle" and it can start at home. Prevention programs often discuss specific protective factors based on skills, beliefs, knowledge and attitudes concerning teen pregnancies.
Experts added that topics parents should discuss with their kids are perception of HIV risk, personal principles regarding sexual activity and abstinence, perception of peer norms and behavior, the choice to refuse sex, intent to use birth control and protection, among many others.
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