Does Mother Know Best? Parental Misconceptions About Kids’ Contraception
In the ongoing debate over the provision of sex education in schools, many agree that parents should be the primary source of sex education for their children. A recent survey explores whether parents know what they are talking about.
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By Michael Long
May 4, 2004
By nature, teenagers assume that their parents don’t know what they are talking about. Parents, for their part, usually do know more about life than their children. The cliché of the ineffective parental “sex talk,” where fidgeting parents sit their children down and explain the birds and the bees, is famous more for its uncomfortable mix of normally asexual family relationships and explicit and intimate discussion of sexuality than for bad advice.
So it came as no small surprise to find that in addition to a fumbling delivery, parents may not even have the right answers. In a study published in the March/April 2004 issue of the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, researchers from the University of Minnesota conducted a telephone survey of more than 1,000 parents of teenagers in Minnesota on their beliefs regarding the safety and effectiveness of condoms and birth control pills.
Prefacing their discussion of the results, researchers noted that there is little data showing that parent-child sex discussions have any significant effect on teenage sexual behavior. They also noted findings showing that both children and parents want to have positive discussions about sex.
Despite substantial evidence showing that condoms are effective at preventing pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases, only 47% of the parents believed that condoms are very effective for STD prevention, and 40% for pregnancy prevention.
Of interest, fathers tended to have more accurate views on the effectiveness of condoms and mothers have more accurate views on the effectiveness of the birth control pill. Also of considerable importance in the currently politically-charged atmosphere of sexual health policymaking, liberals were more likely than conservatives to have accurate views on the effectiveness of condoms.
The authors conclude, “Sexuality is a sensitive and difficult subject, and many parents lack adequate role models for educating and socializing their children about sex. Parents' discomfort with discussing sex may stem partly from a lack of relevant information. Because our society encourages parents to be the primary sex educators of their children, society is obligated to provide parents with medically accurate information.”
If you are a parent, or planning on being one, do your homework. When you are looking for sexual health on the Internet, seek sources based on sound science, not ideology. In an age when children are having sex young and STDs are all too common, having an open and accurate and sex talk with your children is too important to mess up because you don’t know what you are talking about or are uncomfortable with your child’s developing sexuality. Get the facts and keep them from having children too young or getting sick before their time.
“Parents' Beliefs About Condoms and Oral Contraceptives: Are They Medically Accurate?” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health Volume 36, Number 2, March/April 2004
“Talk With Your Kids,” Kaiser Family Foundation
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy