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Kids' Health Issues to Watch: Keeping the Sex Talks Going

Keeping the Sex Talks Going

When the pregnancies of a popular teen TV star and a vice presidential candidate's daughter took center stage, premarital sex became an even more pressing topic for parents.

It was practically impossible to avoid all the press about teen pregnancy and premarital sex in 2008. And no doubt many preteens and teens caught wind of a lot of it, too. On the heels of a late 2007 government report showing the first rise in teen pregnancies in 15 years, Jamie Lynn Spears (teen TV star and sister of pop diva Britney) gave birth in '08. Then came the news about Bristol Palin, the pregnant adolescent daughter of Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin. Amidst it all, this jaw-dropping headline: "1 in 4 Girls Has a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)." A 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that a staggering 3.2 million teen girls could potentially have at least one of four common STDs (with human papillomavirus, or HPV, at the very top of the list).

The vaccine against HPV (called Gardasil) also drew attention. More than half of sexually active people get HPV at some point in their lives (about 6.2 million people each year, in fact, and about half of those infected are just 14 to 24 years old). Yet, the CDC also reported in 2008 that just a quarter of preteen and teen girls are getting the recommended HPV immunization — it's pricey and many parents are still worried about its possible impact on teens' sexual behavior.

What to Watch:
Somewhere between dealing with two wars and a tanking economy, preventing teen pregnancies could become a top priority for the new administration (fewer teen pregnancies means fewer abortions). One major way to help reduce unplanned pregnancies: Teach kids about more than just abstaining from sex. On the cusp of 2008, a government study from the outgoing administration found that abstinence-only education might not be the most effective way to go. Federal researchers discovered that it has little to no impact on whether teens have sex or how many sexual partners they have. Though it's a heated debate that shows no signs of ending, sex-ed classes may get a major makeover, with an emphasis on not just abstinence but also birth control and preventing STDs.

On the homefront, parents can keep unplanned pregnancies and STDs at bay by finding out about their kids' sex-ed classes — asking teachers what's in their lesson plans, coordinating discussions with kids around class topics, and filling in any gaps. Also key: Having ongoing, age- and developmentally appropriate discussions as kids grow (instead of in one big awkward "talk"). Another simple way to keep early sex from seeming so appealing: Turn off that TV! A 2008 study suggested that watching racy shows might play a role in upping teen pregnancy rates. Although a cause-and-effect relationship isn't clear, teens who see lots of lewd TV are actually twice as likely to become (or get someone) pregnant before age 20 than those who view very little sexually explicit content on the tube.

For Kids:
All About Menstruation
All About Puberty

For Teens:
About Birth Control: What You Need to Know
About Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Birth Control Methods: How Well Do They Work?
Talking to Your Partner About Condoms

For Parents:
About Birth Control: What Parents Need to Know
News - Abstinence-Only Education Inadequate, Says Study
News - A  Quarter of Teen Girls in the U.S. Have an STD
Questions and Answers About Sex
News - Teen Birth Rate Sees First Rise Since 1990s
News - Teens Who Watch Lots of Sexually Explicit Shows Have Twice the Risk of Getting Pregnant
When Your Teen Is Having a Baby

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Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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