Parents often have mistaken ideas about contraception, and could be passing those fallacies on to their children.
A recent poll found that less than half of parents believe that condoms are very effective at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Moreover, roughly the same amount think oral contraceptives prevent pregnancy nearly every time when used properly, and only 40 percent think the Pill is safe.
When used correctly, condoms are up to 97 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Among Pill users, that figure exceeds 99 percent, according to the report published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.
Parents’ inaccurate perceptions of the effectiveness of condoms and oral contraceptives may be putting their children at risk, study author Dr. Maria Eisenberg told Reuters Health.
“If young people hear that condoms and contraceptive pills don’t work, they may be less likely to use them if they do become sexually active, which places them at risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,” she said.
She added that many parents may not have accurate information about contraception because they learn about it through inaccurate sources, such as friends and television.
“I suspect that few parents make the effort to seek out accurate scientific information about condoms or oral contraceptive pills,” she said.
Amidst ongoing debates about the role of schools in providing sex education, most groups agree that parents should play a primary role in teaching their children about sexuality.
To investigate how much parents know about contraception, Eisenberg, who is based at the University of Minneapolis in Minnesota, and her colleagues surveyed 1,069 parents of 13- to 17-year olds about their beliefs on condoms and oral contraceptives.
The investigators found that only 47 percent of parents believe that condoms are “very effective” at preventing sexually transmitted diseases, and only 40 percent thought condoms did a good job of stopping pregnancy.
Around one-half of parents thought the Pill prevented pregnancy most of the time, but less than 40 percent said they thought it was very safe.
According to the report, the Pill is considered to be very safe for most women, and in the U.S., regular use is safer than childbirth.
Parents who said they were very politically conservative tended to have less accurate beliefs about how well condoms work than liberal parents. This finding suggests that political beliefs may influence knowledge about contraception, Eisenberg noted.
“We found a strong relationship between political orientation and beliefs about condoms, which suggests that inaccurate information about condoms may be included in conservative political messages,” she said.
Using “media and political channels” to disseminate clear, consistent and accurate information about condoms and oral contraception is likely needed to combat parents’ misperceptions about contraception, Eisenberg noted.
SOURCE: Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, March/April 2004.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD