Most parents dread having the “sex talk” with their adolescent children. It’s uncomfortable territory between parent and child. But people may be surprised to learn that doctors may dread the conversation just as much. According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, sexuality issues are rarely discussed with teens on visits to the doctor and when sex is discussed, it is only for a brief period of time.

"It's hard for physicians to treat adolescents and help them make healthy choices about sex if they don't have these conversations," said lead author Stewart Alexander, associate professor of medicine at Duke University, according to Fox News. "For teens who are trying to understand sex and sexuality, not talking about sex could have huge implications."

The study, published Monday, found that only four percent of teens had in-depth discussions with their doctors about sex. In addition, female patients were two times more likely than their male counterparts to have a real conversation with their physician about sexuality issues. "The implication for males is troublesome because as they get older, they become less likely to routinely see physicians outside of checkups or sports physicals," said Alexander, according to Medical XPress. "Thus, the annual visits become essential and are perhaps the only opportunity for physicians to address the sexual behaviors of adolescent boys.”

According to Medical Xpress, current guidelines recommend that physicians discuss sex with their patients beginning at early adolescence. But researchers found that doctors were more likely to discuss sex with older teens, rather than younger ones. And overall, less than three percent of each visit was spent discussing sexuality. In his editorial on the subject, Dr. Bradley O. Boekeloo attributes physicians’ inability to initiate discussions about sexuality to lack of time and skill as well as adolescent avoidance. There are also issues with doctors being uncomfortable with the subject matter themselves. In general, though, the researchers in this study found that doctors who shy away from sex conversations with teens are doing their patients a huge disservice.

"Although adolescents have access to information on sex from a variety of sources, physicians could do more in support of teens' healthy sexual development," said Alexander. "Initiating conversations demonstrates to adolescents that talking about sex is a normal part of a checkup, and may open the door for more extensive discussions."

 

Source: Stewart C. Alexander, PhD; J. Dennis Fortenberry, MD, MS. Sexuality Talk During Adolescent Health Maintenance Visits. JAMA Pediatrics. 2013.