Parents can find it difficult to discuss sex with their teens. However, they rely on the fact that their local GP will also help to educate them about sex and any surrounding health issues.

Teenagers are painfully self-conscious and sensitive about discussing the changes that are happening to them both physically and psychologically. It is vitally important that at a young age they feel able to ask their health professionals about sex, and that doctors are inquiring about their awareness of sex and sexual health.

However, recent research, published in December 2013 in the Journal of the Medical Association, found that doctors are not actively discussing sex with teens. Researchers at Duke University Medical Centre looked at 253 adolescent doctor visits in order to discover how often sex was discussed. The outcome was surprising and disappointing. Less than two thirds of doctors included in the study spoke to teen patients about sex, sexual health or family planning. This is despite the fact that educating teens by doing so, and normalising sexual health could help prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Of greater concern is the fact that when conversations did occur in the doctor’s office about sex they typically lasted less than a minute. This might be expected of awkward teenagers who feel uncomfortable discussing sex, but doctors should be conscious of the teen’s limitations and educate them regardless of their embarrassment.   

Teenagers will invariably look to their peers to discuss sex. This is logical, as they can empathise with each other’s situations, but it is not a sound way for a teen to be educated about sex. If this is the only source someone has of sexual health advice or support, they are likely to be ignorant and expose themselves to difficult decisions and situations.

Outside of their peer groups another easier, less embarrassing source of information is the media and internet, neither of which is held accountable for the information or representations of sex they give.

Carole Lieberman MD, a psychiatrist with the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute said “It’s the media that is talking to teens about sex and giving them the wrong message. The media, through movies, TV, music and teen celebrities, tells kids that to be cool, you have to have sex, and to have it often.”

It is the responsibility of parents and doctors alike to ensure people get a comprehensive sexual education. Parents feel squeamish talking to their family about sex, generally limiting discussion to a cursory conversation about the birds and the bees and not to let anyone touch their genitals. This is due to parents own sexual hang ups and a reluctance to acknowledge sex as an act of love between two consenting adults.  

Doctors are most likely unwilling to discuss sex with teens because they do not want to be accused of encouraging them to engage in sex. If teens are not having sex it is the best time to educate them as to the risks and actions they should take to protect themselves before they engage in it in ignorance.