Having 'The Talk' Early Can Halt Infection Later

Adolescent girls with parental disapproval of sex are less likely to have sexually transmitted infections as young adults, researchers say.

July 13, 2005 -- Some parents find it hard to believe they will one day have "the talk" with their children to explain the birds and the bees. But researchers say it's a critical conversation to have, and one that should include some strong messages from mom and dad.

A study led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill concludes adolescent girls who perceive that their parents disapprove of them having sexual intercourse when they are younger are less likely to have sexually transmitted infections as young adults than girls without such perceptions. The same is not true for boys.

The researchers examined whether a range of adolescent factors predicated a likelihood of having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) six years later-in young adulthood. These included family variables such as perceived parental disapproval of sex and contraception, school variables such as feelings of connectedness to school and whether or not the respondent attended a parochial school, and individual variables such as grade point average and whether or not the respondent had made a virginity pledge.

Among the other key findings:

  • While girls who perceived that their parents disapproved of them having sex as adolescents were less likely to have STIs six years later, this was not true for boys.
  • Adolescents with higher grades in school were less likely to have acquired STIs six years after the original study than those with lower grades.
  • Most family, school and individual factors that are linked to delaying the onset of sexual activity among adolescents had no effect on the respondents' likelihood of having STIs six years later.

    There were 11,594 adolescents who participated in the study. The researchers arrived at their conclusions after analyzing data obtained by conducting in-home interviews and collecting urine samples six years later from 81 percent of the original participants to be tested for the STIs. It's the first study to find a link between adolescents' perceptions of parental opinions about sex, and the chance that they have a STI in young adulthood, according to the study's authors.

    "Our results suggest that effective communication between adolescents and their parents about sex is important. Parents who do not approve of their adolescents having sex during adolescence should try to effectively communicate this," said Dr. Carol A. Ford. Lead author of the study, which was published in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.

    What do you think of this study? Are you surprised that what mom and dad say might actually help shape a teen's decisions? How old are your children, and what has your attitude toward sex been to them? Share your thoughts on our message board below:

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