Only in New Jersey: Passion Plea

Dr. Robert Johnson, director of adolescent and young adult medicine at NJ Medical School, says parents need to be open and honest in discussing sex with their kids.

Dr. Robert Johnson, director of adolescent and young adult medicine at NJ Medical School, says parents need to be open and honest in discussing sex with their kids.

What unique challenges does sex present for young adults today?
Fifty years ago, sex carried risks of pregnancy, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Today there are many more diseases we are aware of, some of which, like HIV, are very serious and cannot be treated easily. Since birth control is much more effective and readily available today, young adults have to make the decision to use birth control, especially condoms—or even emergency contraception, which is now available in most states. Abortions, however, were more available 25 years ago than they are today.

Are young people more sexually active today?
Most people are surprised to learn that young people actually are sexually active less today than 20 years ago. We are not quite sure why that is. What we do know is that pregnancy rates and STDs are down significantly, and use of condoms and other birth control is up. We are seeing an across-the-board decrease in all risk behaviors, not just sexual activity. There is less violence in schools, less drug use, and attendance in schools is going up.

How do kids get proper sexual education?
Kids are more knowledgeable today, and this is largely a result of connection to family, community, and peers. The important message to parents is that they are the most effective tool in decreasing risk behaviors in kids. Most schools are not providing sexual education, and if they are doing it at all, they are using methods that don’t work.

Why are kids so knowledgeable about sex today?

With the Internet and other technology, access to information continues to grow. Kids today already have gone on the Internet and made a self diagnosis before they even walk through my office door. Especially over the past five years, access to valuable information has improved.

How should parents discuss sex with their kids?
It is less an issue of parents talking to their children about sex than an issue of them being connected to their kids and the family in general. If the message comes from parents, it is more powerful; but even if parents don’t provide direct messages, kids will pick up on it. There are a number of things that parents can do to help: Have dinner with your kids on a regular basis, let them know how you feel about sexual activity. If you disapprove of it, you should tell them. They won’t necessarily listen to you, but they need to know how you feel.

When should parents start the discussion?
With girls, start when they are nine or ten; with boys, start around age twelve. But most importantly, remember: If your kids ask questions when they’re younger, be prepared to answer, or take the child to someone who can give an answer. Never dodge the question or give the impression that you won’t discuss it. Your attention to the question is even more important than the answer itself.

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