60-Second Health

Teens and Docs Abstain from Sex Talk

In annual physicals teens and docs failed to talk sex a third of the time and usually too briefly when the subject was addressed. Dina Fine Maron reports

Teenagers talk about sex—but not enough with their doctors.

A North Carolina-based study of teenagers’ annual routine physicals finds that a third of the time the subject of sex, sexuality or dating never comes up.  When sex is discussed, it usually gets only a cursory mention—an average of 36 seconds in an annual checkup that averages 22 minutes.

The research team studied the interactions between physicians and 253 teens at 11 North Carolina clinics. The results are in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. [Stewart C. Alexander et al., Sexuality Talk During Adolescent Health Maintenance Visits]

When docs did initiate the talk, it was almost twice as likely to be with girls. That’s a missed opportunity to talk about sexual health and safety, especially with boys, the researchers say.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors dive in on discussing sexual information, even if the docs themselves may feel uncomfortable. And such chats need to last longer than a few seconds. The time invested could pay off in lower rates of sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy.

—Dina Fine Maron

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[Related JAMA Pediatrics editorial: Will You Ask? Will They Tell You? Are You Ready to Hear and Respond? Barriers to Physician-Adolescent Discussion about Sexuality]

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