Talk about sex with patients and their families, and have ongoing, age-appropriate discussions over the course of a patient’s development, urges an updated clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Citing gaps in school-based sexuality education programs nationally, the report calls on you to do more to ensure patients have adequate information about preventing teen pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The report will be seen as good news by pediatricians and others, lead author and chairperson of the AAP Committee on Adolescence, Cora Collette Breuner, MD, said in an interview.

“Pediatricians, parents, and school administrators have been asking for this updated information,” Dr. Breuner said. “Pediatricians want more clarification, more resources, and more evidence for what they are already doing.”

The report, Sexuality Education for Children and Adolescents, is published online and is free to the general public. It is the AAP’s first update on sexuality education since 2001, and includes lists of resources specifically for clinicians, parents, and schools.

“We found that only one out of three adolescent patients receive any information on sexuality from their pediatrician, and if they did, the conversation lasted less than 40 seconds,” Dr. Breuner said, citing a review of health maintenance visits. Dr. Breuner is also a professor of adolescent medicine at the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Even if less than a minute is all that you have to devote to discussing sexual health with a patient, Dr. Breuner said it’s well worth it, in part because it can help prevent teens from turning to often unreliable sources of information on the Internet, and because it can help fill the gap for teens whose families don’t want to address the topic, or whose schools do not offer programs to address it.

“The conversations should cover a range of aspects of sexual health, including healthy sexual development, interpersonal and consensual relationships, affection, intimacy, and body image,” Dr. Breuner said. “The research shows that just talking about abstinence is not enough.”

Such conversations also should address sexual anatomy and reproduction, sexually transmitted infections, sexual orientation, gender identity, abstinence, contraception, and reproductive rights and responsibilities, according to the report.

The report cites a meta-analysis finding that parents who were trained on how to effectively communicate about sex with their adolescents had better conversations on the subject than parents who were not. Such conversations correlated with a delay in teen sexual debut and an increased use of contraception and condoms.

Talking with young persons about their sexuality is also a way to help screen them for depression and suicidality, Dr. Breuner said. “These issues can often be uncovered when talking with kids about sexuality, particularly with those who are questioning their sexual identity.”

The report also suggests pediatricians discuss issues of physical, cognitive, and psychosexual development with parents of young children during well visits over time.

Earlier this year, in conjunction with the North American Society of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, the AAP issued its first clinical guidance on addressing sexual health in adolescents with special needs ( Pediatrics. 2006. doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-1115 ).

Neither Dr. Breuner nor the authors of the clinical report had any relevant financial disclosures.

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