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Teens taking sex questions to the Internet

Marilyn Elias USA Today

The Internet apparently is a key source of sex education — and miseducation — for U.S. teenagers.

About half of teens go online for health information, and they have more questions about sex than they do about any other topic, researchers reported at an American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Washington.

The answers given at adolescent health sites range from the scientifically sound to dangerous falsehoods, says Dina Borzekowski, who specializes in media and children’s health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Just over half of teenagers use the Internet daily, according to surveys she cited, and nearly 100 percent are online at some time. It is not known how many teen health sites there are, Borzekowski says. But a Google search for “teen health information” brought up 22 million references, reports Walter Rosenfeld, medical director of TeenHealthFX.com and a doctor at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown, N.J.

TeenHealthFX.com has been around for six years and has attracted 4.4 million unique visitors, he says. After 25 years in adolescent medicine, “this Web site has taught me that I don’t have a clue what adolescents are thinking.”

Many parents, believing that kids obsess over drugs, alcohol and their emotional angst, are equally clueless, judging by questions sent to the site.

Sexual health is the topic asked about most — 41 percent of the questions — more than twice the percentage on emotional health or relationships, Rosenfeld says. Only 4 percent of questions concern alcohol, drugs and cigarettes.

Kids might get their fill of education about drugs and drinking at school, he says, but find it hard to get answers to sexual questions.

Boys as young as 13 send in questions they’re far too embarrassed to ask anyone else, Rosenfeld says.

Smart parents will work at channeling kids’ online interests, Borzekowski suggests.

“We recommend keeping the computer in an open family area. … And say to the kid, ‘Here are some health sites that are actually useful. If you’re not comfortable asking me about something, use these sites.”’

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