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These days, dads change diapers, help with homework, and fix dinner for the kids.  But there’s one area where their co-parenting duties are still often overlooked: talking with teens about sex and sexuality.

As mothers, we know that parenting is not just our responsibility. Neither is talking with our children about sexuality.  Still, most research looking at parents’ influence on their teens’ sexual behavior has focused mainly on mothers.  But fathers make a real difference when they talk with teens about sex, too.  A new review of studies in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows just how profound fathers’ influence can be.  Conducted by New York University (NYU) Professor Vincent Guilamo-Ramos and colleagues from the University of Chicago, NYU, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the review found that when fathers are connected and close to their teens and talk with them about sex and sexuality, teens are more likely to wait to become sexually active and are more likely to use condoms when they do.  This echoes what previous studies have shown us about the positive effects parents have on their teen’s sexual decision making and behavior.

With so many proven benefits, talking with teens about sex should be a priority and a shared responsibility.  As moms, it can be easy for us to fall into the habit of having most of the conversations with our teens about their social lives and relationships.  But this review shows why it's critically important for us to encourage dads and other father figures to play a central role.  Teens need to hear from their fathers, and these conversations should begin sooner rather than later.  Planned Parenthood offers some tips for effective conversations with children and teenagers at various ages.

Both girls and boys need to hear from their dads about sex.  The review found that communication about sex between fathers and their sons was linked to increased abstinence, and that daughters who were close with their fathers were also more likely to delay sexual activity.  A study in The Journal of Family Issues found that a majority of young women asked about their communication with their fathers wished they had had better conversations with their fathers about dating and sexuality.  This is interesting, because even though teens say they are more uncomfortable talking about sex than their parents are, they still want (and need) to have these conversations.  Clearly fathers play a unique role in helping to shape their teen’s values and decisions about sexual behavior, and strong father-daughter and father-son relationships are incredibly important.

Dads want to be involved in helping their teens make good decisions when it comes to sex and relationships.  We saw plenty of evidence of this in our national survey of how parents talk with their teens about sex, which found that the majority of fathers surveyed (85 percent) had talked to their teens about sexuality, compared to 93 percent of mothers.  One father said that he knows he can’t prevent his daughter from having sex, but he wants to educate and inform her of the consequences of contracting a disease or having sex before she is ready to care for a child.

So moms, we can take heart in the fact that many fathers are playing an active role in helping their teens sort through what can be new and challenging feelings and emotions and that when they do, it can make a big difference.


 Leslie Kantor is the vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. You can find her on Twitter at @LeslieKantor.

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