Doctors Barely Talk to Adolescents About Sex, Study Finds

A new report published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics has found that most pediatricians spend an average of only 36 seconds talking with adolescent patients about sex and sexuality. This finding is discouraging in light of recommendations that doctors cultivate relationships with teens that encourages them to feel comfortable discussing uncomfortable topics including sex. More from CNN.com:

About one-third of adolescent patient-doctor interactions result in no talk at all about sexuality – which includes things like sexual activity, dating and sexual orientation.

“A lot of these are one-way conversations,” said Stewart C. Alexander, associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center and lead author of the study. “The adolescent barely talks or responds (when issues of sexuality are raised).

“Doctors just lob it up there and when there isn’t participation, they stop going there.”

About 30% of the time, the conversations lasted between one and 35 seconds (out of an average 22-minute appointment), while 35% of conversations went a bit longer, according to the study.  On the high end of the spectrum, the sex-talk lasted just under two minutes – hardly enough time to delve deeply into a topic.

Researchers listened to audio recordings of annual doctors’ visits with 12 to 17 year olds (with their parents’ consent) in the North Carolina area from 2009-2012; study participants included 253 adolescents and 49 physicians.

They analyzed the conversations according things like how often sexuality was raised, how engaged the adolescent was during those conversations, and who brought up issues of sexuality.

Questions ranged from “Are you having sex?” and “How many partners do you have?” to more innocuous-seeming fare, like “Are you dating?”  Not surprisingly, the usual response from the adolescents tended toward one-word answers.

What should be happening, according to organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, is for children and adolescents to “discuss potentially embarrassing experiences, or reveal highly personal information to their pediatricians,” according to a policy statement on the AAP website.

Image: Teen at doctor’s appointment, via Shutterstock

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