Parents may not relish this news but a study suggests that parents should have more than one session of discussing sex with their children in order to reduce risky sexual behaviors.
Lead author of the study Steven Martino, a behavioral scientist at RAND in Pittsburgh said, "It's important that parents set a foundation early on in talking with their kids about sex so that it becomes part of the norm in their household."
"As children grow and have experiences, you want them to feel it's natural to talk to their parents. When asked where they'd like to get their information, kids say from their parents more than anyone else," he added.
Findings of the study were published in the March issue of Pediatrics.
The study included 312 teens in grades 6 through 10, and their parents for the research. They responded to four surveys that went on for a year, answering queries whether they had discussed each of 22 sex-related topics and how often they had discussed. The study also required teens to rate their overall relationship with their parents including their parents' ability to communicate about sex and other topics.
Some of the topics that the parents and their children discussed were, the making of decisions about whether to have sex, consequences of getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant, selection of a birth control method, sexuality and the 'feel' of having sex, and understanding the necessity of using condoms.
According to Martino,"We think that having these repeated discussions is so important because it helps kids to better understand the information." He added, "It helps them to get a clear sense of what their parents' values are, and it boosts parent and child feelings of comfort in talking about sex."
Repeated discussions allowed the participants to revisit a topic, thereby encouraging the children to ask clarifying questions. It was also found that parents talked about topics in a more age-appropriate way as a child grows and matures.
It was observed that lack of preparation was one cause of discomfort for parents when their kids asked questions about sex. The study advised parents to use prepared materials and anticipate unexpected questions ahead of time—maybe when the children were just toddlers.
Vanessa Cullins, MD, MPH, MBA, vice president for medical affairs for Planned Parenthood of America, New York, said the study "reinforces what Planned Parenthood has always believed in, and that is that parents should be the primary educators in a child's life, and that the best way to keep teens healthy and safe is to have open, honest communication [about sexual matters]."
Sex education for children should be a frequent part of household conversation according to Cullins. "You just can't deal with the subject of sex infrequently or every blue moon," she says.