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18 December 2003
Teens Want Relationship Help, Not Just Sex Ed
by George Atkinson

When it comes to sexual health, teens have more questions about relationships than condoms or sexually transmitted infections, according to a study in the American Journal of Health Education.

That's one of the conclusions reached by Planned Parenthood Federation of America researchers who analysed the questions sent to the "Ask the Experts" section of their Web site for teens.

"Although sexuality education and reproductive health services often primarily focus on the physical aspects of sexuality, teens are also asking about the more emotional or relational aspects," says researcher Suzanne M. Johnson Vickberg.

"Integrating the mind and body aspects of sexuality in discussions with teens is likely to more completely meet their needs," she adds.

Most of the questions posted to the site focused primarily on bodily symptoms such as bleeding or pain after sex, pregnancy and relationships and sexual identity. Fewer site visitors asked specifically about contraception and sexual behaviors. Sexually transmitted infections generated the smallest number of questions to the site.

Vickberg and colleagues said they were concerned about the lack of questions on contraception and sexually transmitted infections, since recent studies suggest that "teens do not have crucial information" on these topics.

"Such lack of concern is also apparent in interactions with health care providers most sexually active teens have never discussed sexually transmitted infections with a provider," Vickberg says.

Most of the questions were submitted by girls, although the gender of the questioner could not be determined for almost a quarter of the submissions. Younger site visitors tended to ask more questions about the body and relationships than older visitors, who asked more questions about reproductive services, pregnancy and contraception.

Vickberg said that the researchers were concerned to see that the teens asked about sex behaviors almost a year earlier than they asked about disease or pregnancy prevention.

Although information about many of the topics was easily available on the site, "the teens submitting questions seemed to believe that their circumstances were different from others and wanted individualized responses to their questions," Vickberg says.

The researchers say that the Internet, along with parents, teachers and health care providers, can provide much-needed personal attention and encourage healthy sexual behaviors and decision-making among teens.

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