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NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
Transforming Teen Sex Education: 07/21/2014

Picture of Dr. Lindberg
close-up illustration of teen couple holding each other
Photo: Courtesy of the
National Library of Medicine.

Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff U.S. National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Here is what's new this week in MedlinePlus.listen

A decline in school sex education for teens paradoxically occurs at a time when new, tested programs that produce healthier outcomes as well as constructive Internet-based services are available, suggests a recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The commentary’s authors note health and sex education is declining in middle and high schools across the U.S. as limited resources are reallocated to support reading, writing, math, and science education.

While the authors support the latter investment, they note (and we quote) ‘these legitimate demands places substantial pressure on school hours and budgets, often at the expense of such areas as art and physical education as well as health education, which often includes sex education’ (end of quote). 

The authors add 46 percent of male and 33 percent of female teens now report they received zero instruction about contraception before they were sexually active. The authors explain Oklahoma and Alabama do not require sex education in schools despite the fact these states have among the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the nation.

The authors note the absence or decline of school sex education for teenagers is distressing because of the current availability of new, evidence-based (or tested) programs that reduce teen pregnancy, delay the start of adolescent sexual activities, and increase contraception among sexually active teens.

The authors, from the University of New Mexico, note the Office of Adolescent Health (within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) now lists 31 programs developed for schools with evidence of successful teen outcomes. Buoyed by evidence of recent success, the authors add the Office of Adolescent Health added a special Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program that is designed for use in school-based sex education programs.

In addition to research based programs within classroom instruction, the authors note there is a significant opportunity to develop sex education programs for teens on the Internet. The authors explain recent surveys suggest 85 percent of Australian teens report the Internet is the most common source of sex education information.

Rather than lament the sex education misinformation about sexual activity on the Internet, the authors write (and we quote): ‘professional oversight may help direct teens to reputable, accurate sites. In addition ‘good’ sexual content may help to drown out ‘bad’ sexual content… In any event, sex education should not miss out on the worldwide move to use online systems to improve health’ (end of quote).

The authors note some constructive, popular websites such as StayTeen.org, Bedsider.org, Go Ask Alice, and Scarleteen, provide sex education information that is designed to be accurate, appealing, and relevant for teens.

The authors add the states of California, New Mexico, and North Carolina recently set up digital services where teens can text sex-related questions, which the authors find is more likely to attract teen audiences.

To improve existing efforts, the authors encourage the development of evidence-based websites that teach teens some of the key skills to reduce sexual risks, such as improving partner negotiating skills, and encouraging a strong sense of teen agency and self-efficacy.

The authors also encourage websites that are presented in the voice and tone of teens that additionally provide accurate, and well-researched sex education information. The authors imply where there are web-based efforts to provide sex education in teen voice, and websites that provide evidence-based constructive information, these assets rarely are combined.

The authors ask (and we quote): ‘why not encourage development of responsible, relevant sex information that would appeal to teens and be easy to use?’ (end of quote).

The authors note a combination of online materials and social media (and we quote) ‘could help fill in the gaps in sex education and support for many young people’ (end of quote).

Meanwhile, MedlinePlus.gov’s teen sexual health health topic page is designed to provide evidence-based sex educational information for teens as well as their parents, guardians, or advisors.

A sex education website especially designed for teens (from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) is available in the ‘overviews’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s teen sexual health health topic page. A website from the American Academy of Pediatrics about understanding teenage sexuality (that is more designed for parental and adult use) also is available in the ‘overviews’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s teen sexual health health topic page.

 Another website from the American Academy of Pediatrics, that helps teens resist sexual pressure, also is available in the ‘related issues’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s teen sexual health health topic page.

MedlinePlus.gov’s teen sexual health health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. Links to clinical trials that may be occurring in your area are available in the ‘clinical trials’ section. You can sign up to receive updates about teen sexual health as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.

To find MedlinePlus.gov’s teen sexual health health topic page type ‘teen sexual health’ in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov’s home page, then, click on ‘Teen sexual health (National Library of Medicine).’ MedlinePlus.gov also has a comprehensive health topic page on teenage pregnancy.

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A disclaimer — the information presented in this program should not replace the medical advice of your physician. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease without first consulting with your physician or other health care provider.

It was nice to be with you. I look forward to meeting you here next week.