Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community

Teen sex myths spread by Web


Health Web sites that tell teens about sex are often riddled with errors and omissions, according to research from Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and the Stanford University School of Medicine. Myths about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and Pap exams are not dispelled even on sites reviewed by doctors, the study found.

“Even widely trusted sites are not that accurate when it comes to adolescent reproductive health,” said lead researcher Sophia Yen, MD, an adolescent medicine specialist at Packard Children’s and a clinical instructor of pediatrics. “Teens should be cautious about finding sexual health answers on the Web.”

Yen’s team identified the top teen sexual health myths perpetuated by 35 well-trafficked health Web sites. The findings were presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the Society for Adolescent Medicine in March.

About half of the Web sites failed to provide accurate, complete information about emergency contraception, also known as “the morning-after pill.” Sixty percent of the Web sites said the birth control pill causes weight gain despite recent research showing modern oral contraceptives do not affect body weight. And only 19 percent of the Web sites made it clear that intrauterine devices are safe for adolescents to use.

In addition, only about half of the Web sites surveyed correctly stated that some STDs, such as herpes, can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact or kissing.

Yen’s research suggests teens looking for sexual health answers should steer toward Web sites associated with academic medical centers, where site review committees are more likely to include a board-certified adolescent medicine specialist. Her team decided that the following are the most reliable sites:

She also recommends the book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to her patients and suggests young people see a physician who specializes in adolescent medicine.

“Making the transition between childhood and adulthood can be tough on teenagers,” said Neville Golden, MD, chief of adolescent medicine at Packard Children’s. “We know this population has a lot of questions about reproductive health. That’s why Dr. Yen’s research is so important. She has demonstrated that there is a tremendous amount of misinformation on the Web. It is the challenge of medical providers to help provide accurate and updated information.”

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