'What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate'

By Beth Olson

Here’s what we know. Parents don’t think teens want to talk about sex. Teens don’t think adults want to talk about sex. ... So, no one talks about sex.

And when no one talks about sex, teens turn elsewhere for information. They use Google. Yes, Google. When young people don’t feel comfortable talking with trusted adults, they turn to the Internet. 82% of Texas teens report using Google as their primary source of information about sexual health.

This isn’t new information, but national and statewide survey data really brings the issue into focus.

Parents matter. Adults matter.

Power to Decide has conducted multiple national surveys about the role of parents in educating teens about sex. Each time, the results are the same: teens care what their parents think about sex. In fact, parents are the single largest influence on their teens’ decisions about sex.

Similarly, research shows that informed teens who receive accurate sex education and talk with their parents about sexual health are more likely to delay sex and use contraception more consistently.

But parental influence wanes as young people grow older. By the time teens reach their early twenties, friends are significantly more likely to influence their decisions about sex.

Parents have great intentions. Just need some help on the follow through.

A survey done by the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy shows that 96% of Texas parents want to be their children’s primary sex educators. Most parents — upwards of 80% — feel “completely comfortable” with topics such as pregnancy prevention and birth control. However, only about a quarter of those parents report having had frequent conversations with their teens about the same issues.

Parents also acknowledge that they need help. 99% of parents surveyed say that more effort is needed at home — in schools (92%) and in the community overall (93%).

The numbers don’t lie. All parties want to communicate more effectively about sexual health, and we lessen the stigma surrounding sex every time we talk about it. So, start talking about it. Ask one friend how they learned about sex as a teen. Ladies, share your birth control experience with a girlfriend. This kind of social course correction doesn’t happen overnight, but it will never happen if we stay silent.

Beth Olson is director of adolescent health initiatives with Prosper Waco.