When it comes to talking to their teenagers about sex, health and condoms, mum's the word for most American parents.
"The core of the problem is that it is harder for adults to talk about sex than substance abuse. Parents don't talk about sex with their children," says Diane Morrison, a University of Washington research associate professor of social work who studies public health issues and the consequences of risky behavior. It is especially hard, she notes, for a parent to talk to a child of the opposite sex.
She believes that if Americans want their children to learn safe and positive sexual behavior, parents have to teach these things just as they should tell their children about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol.
"People's concerns with teenage health issues and sex have become hopelessly jumbled," she says. "We can accept direct messages of no-alcohol and no-drug use. But when it comes to sex we rely on hidden messages. We believe that if we talk about condoms, birth control and safe sex with our children we are giving an inferred message that it is OK to have sex. We can't seem to tell our kids directly, 'I don't want you to have sex yet,' and why."
Teenagers, she says aren't smart about sex and they are confused about expected sexual behavior.
"Our society is saturated with sex, but primarily the negative side of sex. The idea of sex being something you do with someone you care about is not being taught. You would expect parents to talk to their children about the positive side of sex, but they don't.
Instead, children largely see only the seamy side of sex, and see it as something used to sell everything from books and beer to clothes and makeup. It's a good cheap way for advertisers to get an emotional response," says Morrison.
"Our culture expects schools to teach about sex, but different parents have different
standards for what their children should or shouldn't know," she says. At the same time
Contact: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington