The researchers then assessed the breadth of communications -- how many of those 22 subjects the parents had discussed with their teens, and how often.
They found that when teens and their parents had more conversations -- repetition -- teens reported feeling closer to their parents and felt they could talk more openly with their parents about sex and other topics. A greater breadth of communication was associated with a perceived ease of discussing sex between parent and child, according to the study.
Results of the study were published in the March issue of Pediatrics.
"You can't just have the big sex talk once. Discussions need to be ongoing," said Dr. Lea deFrancisci Lis, a child psychiatrist at New York University's Child Study Center in New York City.
DeFrancisci Lis pointed out that, like most studies, this one didn't establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship. "We can't say that kids whose parents talk about sex openly with them will have less sex," she said. "But, research has shown an association between parents who are more open and kids who wait longer to have sex, have less teen pregnancy and less sexually transmitted diseases, so communication is really important."
Both experts recommend starting to talk about sex at a young age, properly naming the body parts. DeFrancisci Lis said that when a new sibling is on the way, that's a great time to discuss where babies come from. For parents who are really uncomfortable talking about sex, books can help open discussions, she said.
Martino added that watching TV or movies with your child can provide teaching situations and may make the dialogue feel more natural. The same goes for some of the lyrics in teen music, he said.
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