A new study found that doctors often miss out on having 'the talk' with teenagers during their visits, failing to inform them about healthy sex practices.
Researchers found that less than two thirds of doctors and teen aged patients talk about sex, sexuality or dating during annual visits and the conversations, if any, only last less than a minute on average, according to a press statement.
"It's hard for physicians to treat adolescents and help them make healthy choices about sex if they don't have these conversations," said lead author Stewart Alexander, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at Duke. "For teens who are trying to understand sex and sexuality, not talking about sex could have huge implications."
Annual visits are a great opportunity for doctors to promote healthy habits in teenagers like talking about smoking, drinking and wearing seatbelts. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that physicians have the much required "sex talk" with their teenage patients during such visits too. Doctors can inform and educate them about sexual development, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy prevention.
For the study, researchers at Duke gathered audio recordings of annual visits, including camp and sports physicals, for 253 adolescents. The teens, aged 12 to 17, visited pediatricians and family physicians at 11 clinics in North Carolina. They made note of any mention of sexual activity, sexuality or dating during these conversations.
The experts found that physicians brought up these topics in 65 percent of visits and each conversation regarding sex lasted for an average of 36 seconds only. It was also found that in none of the visits did adolescents start the sex conversation, reinforcing the need for physicians to initiate such talks.
"We saw that physicians spent an average of 22.4 minutes in the exam room with their patients. Even when discussions about sex occurred, less than 3 percent of the visit was devoted to topics related to sex," Alexander said. "This limited exchange is likely inadequate to meet the sexual health prevention needs of teens."
The scientists also found that female adolescents were more than twice as likely to spend more time talking about sex than their male counterparts. This could be because they have more to discuss about sex like birth control and pregnancy prevention than males.
"The implication for males is troublesome because as they get older, they become less likely to routinely see physicians outside of checkups or sports physicals," said Alexander. "Thus, the annual visits become essential and are perhaps the only opportunity for physicians to address the sexual behaviors of adolescent boys. There's a saying that it's always better to have the conversation two years too soon than one day too late. If you're one day too late, the teens may already be engaging in sexual behaviors that have consequences for them."