*The following is excerpted from an online article from U.S. News & World Report.
Teens whose parents talk with them about sex are more likely to wait to have sex and to use birth control and condoms when they do, a new study finds.
Although a parent's voice is only one in the mix of influences, it does have a significant, though small, role in helping their kids avoid sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies, the researchers said. And the effect was slightly stronger when moms were the ones doing the talking, the study found.
"Communicating about sex can be uncomfortable for both parents and teens, but these conversations are a critical component of helping teens make safe and healthy decisions," said lead researcher Laura Widman, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
"What parents say to their kids about sex matters," she said.
Although the study found an association between having "the talk" about sex with teens and a delay in teens' sexual activity, the study wasn't designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The report was published online in JAMA Pediatrics.
Teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, are preventable, but remain far too common, Widman said. Parents have an important role in educating teens about sexual health and helping them make safer, healthier decisions when it comes to sex, she said.
Regular conversations should start before children become sexually active to ensure that teens understand family values about sex and are equipped to make the best possible decisions, Widman suggested.
"Conversations about sex, like conversations about other important health topics for teens -- drinking, smoking, texting and driving -- deserve thoughtful, honest conversations," Widman said. "The bottom line is that these are conversations worth having, even if they are difficult."
For the study, Widman's team pooled data from 30 years of research. The investigators found 52 previously published studies on sex communication between parents and teens, as well as teen sexual practices. The studies included more than 25,000 adolescents.
The researchers found a small, but significant positive effect of parent-teen talks on safer sex behavior. The association was stronger for girls. The link was also stronger for teens who discussed sexual topics with their mothers, the study authors found.
In addition, the association between parent communication and teen contraceptive and condom use was significantly stronger for girls than boys, the researchers said.
"We know that the messages parents share are more likely to stress the negative consequences of sexual activity, like pregnancy, when they talk with their daughters," Widman said.
Source: U.S. News & World Report