New research on talking with teens about sex

Girls more likely than boys to talk to parents
  • Deborah Condon

Just 45% of 13-year-olds have discussed sex and relationships with their parents, new research has found.

According to the findings, by the age of 17, this proportion increases to 60%. Those with better relationships with their parents are more likely to talk to them about sex.

The research was carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the HSE, and was based on data from the ongoing Growing Up In Ireland study.

It found that 55% of 13-year-olds had received relationship and sexuality education (RSE) at school, and by the age of 17, this had increased to 92%.

The research found no significant variation in RSE receipt by school characteristics. In other words, whether children had received RSE in school was not dependent on factors such as DEIS status, school size, gender mix or whether the school had a Catholic ethos.

"However, whether the young person had received RSE varied significantly by the individual school they attended, suggesting that second-level schools differ in the timing of RSE," the report on the research noted.

When it came to discussing sex and relationships with their parents, girls were more likely than boys to have discussed these topics with their parents at both 13 and 17 years of age (38% of girls versus 28% of boys).

Furthermore, young men were much more likely to never have discussed these topics with their parents at any age (39% of boys versus 26% of girls).

Overall, discussions about sex and relationships with parents were more likely to have taken place by the age of 13 if the young people had reached puberty (voice broken in boys, menstruation started in girls), "suggesting that puberty operated as a prompt for parental engagement on the issue".

The research also found that at the age of 13, parents and/or family were the main source of information about sex, but by the age of 17, friends were the most common source cited.

By the age of 17, almost 25% of young men and 20% of young women said that the internet, TV, films or books were their main sources of information abut sex.

Meanwhile, the research also looked at sexual behaviours and found that by the age of 17, 33% of young people reported having had sexual intercourse, with 90% of these stating that they used contraception when first having sex.

Young people who had discussed sex and relationships with their parents at the age of 13 were much more likely to have used contraception the first time they had sex.

Among those who were sexually active, 79% said that they ‘always' used contraception, while 56% reported using a condom ‘all the time'.

Some 23% said they regretted the timing of the first time they had sex, with girls much more likely to regret the timing (31% versus 16% of boys).

"The study findings show us that the quality of the relationship between parents and their children is a key determinant of whether discussions about sex and relationships take place and how easy young people find it to speak to their parents about sex.

"Initiatives to support parents in developing positive communication skills may be expected to have broader benefits in terms of discussions about sex and relationships," commented the report's co-author, Anne Nolan of the ESRI.

According to Moira Germaine, education and training manager with the HSE's Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme, "what parents do matters".

"This is confirmed by the finding that parent-child communication about relationships and sexuality in the early adolescent years was associated with contraception use when the children became sexually active as young adults.

"Not only can parents have this specific protective influence, they can also help their child to develop all the attitudes, values and behaviours necessary for forming and maintaining healthy relationships," she commented.

The report, Talking About Sex and Sexual Behaviour of Young Adults in Ireland, can be viewed here.


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