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Doctors missing the sex talk with teen patients

10-19-07 Dr. LaurBerman studio......Rich Hein/Sun-Times

10-19-07 Dr. Laura Berman in studio......Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:39PM

A new study from Duke University has found that most doctors do not talk to their teenage patients about sex. Even when doctors do broach the sex talk with teens, they spend only spend about 36 seconds on average discussing the issue. In other words, less than 3 percent of the total visit is spent discussing sexual health, safer sex, dating violence, consent, and other crucial issues.

Unfortunately, it seems doctors are even more remiss in discussing sexual issues when attending to their male patients. Doctors are twice as likely to discuss sex with female patients than with male patients. (This is no surprise as female patients are more likely to require sexual and reproductive health treatment such as birth control pills, Pap smears, etc.).

Although we tend to think birth control tends to lie in a woman’s hands (or in this case, a young girl’s hands), safer sex isn’t merely a female issue. Boys have just as many questions and concerns about sex as girls do, and they require just as much as guidance and education. Like girls, boys need to learn why safer sex is important and how to say “no” until they are ready, as well as how to use condoms and how to protect their sexual health. They also need to learn what is consent and what is not (i.e. a drunk/high person cannot consent to sex, an underage girl cannot consent to sex even if both partners are still teenagers, etc.) Consent looks (and sounds) like an enthusiastic yes, and it must be given before sex can occur.

The more we educate kids about safer sex, the more empowered and informed they will be when they are inevitably confronted with sexual situations. Doctors play a key role in making sure that their patients have the information and resources they need to be healthy — physically, emotionally and sexually. Let’s hope this study serves as a reminder that all of us — parents, teachers, doctors, health professionals — play a part in helping teens make safer sex choices and that we cannot lie down on the job and leave them to face these important issues on their own.

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