By Susanna Schneider Banks, SIECUS Program Research Intern
Kelli Stidham Hall, Caroline Moreau, and James Trussell, "Associations Between Sexual and Reproductive Health Communication and Health Service Use Among U.S. Adolescent Women," Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 44 (2012): 6-12.
Using data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) conducted in 2002 and 2006-2008, the authors identified a sample of 2,326 adolescent females ages 15 to 19 from across the United States. Study participants reported on the sexual and reproductive health information they had received from parents and through formal instruction at school, church, community centers, or other venues. Topics included contraceptive methods, how to access contraceptives, how to use condoms, information about STDs, and strategies for abstaining from sexual activity. Participants also reported whether they had visited a medical provider in the past 12 months for contraceptive services or gynecologic care. The authors used this data to find associations between health communication and health service use.1
- 43 percent of participants reported recent use of sexual and reproductive health services; 75 percent received some type of parental communication about sexual and reproductive health, and 92 percent received some type of formal sexual health education.
- Among teens who had already had sexual intercourse, those whose parents had talked to them about sexual and reproductive health issues were more likely to use sexual and reproductive health services than those whose parents spoke only of abstinence.
- Abstinence-only communication from parents was negatively associated with teens' service use, and this association became stronger over time (from 2002 to 2008).
- Formal sexual health education was not found to be a significant factor in affecting service use.
This study suggests that teens are more likely to use sexual health care services when their parents communicate openly about a variety of sexual health topics in addition to abstinence. Hearing this information from parents, rather than from formal sources alone, appears to increase teens' use of such services. Thus, parents have great potential to normalize the use of preventive sexual health care services among adolescents – an important step towards achieving a sexually healthy adulthood.
Future researchers could build on these findings by exploring at what age parental communication about sexual health topics is most helpful in normalizing the use of preventive sexual health services. Another compelling question regards males: do they, too, seek and use sexual health services more often when their parents talk about sexuality more comprehensively?
1 Hall KS, Moreau C, Trussell J, (2012). Associations between sexual and reproductive health communication and health service use among U.S. adolescent women. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 44(1):6-12. < http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/4400612.html>