September 16, 2014 — Research suggests that many pediatricians avoid talking to teenagers about sex and fail to routinely offer sexual health-related services, the Wall Street Journal reports.
For example, a study in the Journal of Pediatrics this year found that only 20% of 1,000 teens in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were asked about their sexual history during a routine checkup with their pediatrician. A separate CDC study published this summer found that only one in five sexually experienced teens had ever been tested for HIV.
Meanwhile, CDC has found that vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus are falling far short of its recommendation that all teens receive the shots. According to a CDC report, only 38% of girls and 14% of boys ages 13 to 17 have been fully vaccinated against HPV, which can cause cancer.
Reasons for Lack of Discussion
Time constraints and a lack of training on how to handle issues related to adolescent sexuality are among the reasons that physicians sometimes fail to discuss the topic, according to the Wall Street Journal. Further, many pediatricians simply are not comfortable talking about sex.
Veenod Chulani, director of adolescent medicine at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, noted that many pediatricians are only trained on adolescent-specific services for about one month during their residencies. In addition, they have many other topics -- such as smoking, bullying and depression -- that they are supposed discuss with their patients during visits that are as short as 15 minutes and must also include a physical exam.
Steps To Improve Care
Organizations like Physicians for Reproductive Health are taking steps to improve physician training, such as lectures and workshops for pediatricians on sexual health.
Meanwhile, CDC is funding programs that bolster services for teens, like the Get Yourself Tested Campaign, which uses social media to promote the need for screenings (Whalen, Wall Street Journal, 9/14).