Ob-Gyns Help Shape Adolescent Understanding of Healthy Relationships

October 24, 2018

Washington, D.C. -  Exploration of gender identity, sexuality, relationships and intimacy occur over a lifetime, and early adolescence is an important time for ob-gyns and families to engage teens about these subjects. Today, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a new Committee Opinion, "Promoting Healthy Relationships in Adolescents," on what conversations about healthy relationships should look like between adolescent patients and ob-gyns.

During adolescence, individuals are still learning what is and is not acceptable behavior in romantic and sexual relationships, as well as in friendships. By having conversations with adolescent patients about the characteristics of healthy relationships - communication, honesty, consent, enjoyment - ob-gyns can empower adolescents to make safe choices and to recognize “red flags”.  The Committee Opinion includes suggested questions to help put both ob-gyns and adolescents at ease and encourage open communication during these conversations.

“As ob-gyns, speaking with our adolescent patients about things like consent, pleasure, and safe-sex practices and their right to say no, helps to form early, healthy approaches to relationships,” said Karen Gerancher, M.D., Committee Opinion author. “An ob-gyn might be one of the first adults to broach these topics with a teen, and the information we provide can be invaluable for an adolescent who has questions or is confused about something happening in their or a peer’s relationship.”

Reports show that many young women will experience intimate partner violence, like forced sexual activity, rape, or physical abuse, while in high school. Exposure to intimate partner violence has immediate and long-term harm for adolescents. It may shape a young person’s sense of self, self-worth, or what they believe is acceptable behavior in romantic or sexual relationships. External support or affirmation from a trusted adult, like an ob-gyn, about these behaviors being unacceptable may help adolescents to leave these relationships and seek healthier dynamics in the future. It is critically important that ob-gyns are clear when defining what kind of behaviors make a relationship unhealthy.

Many teenagers are also eager to receive more information or guidance on navigating relationships from their parents. In some instances, ob-gyns may be able to help parents with these conversations by providing relevant information or resources and encouraging openness when talking about sex. To make this easier, the Committee Opinion includes 10 tips for parents and families when talking to adolescents about healthy relationships and guidance about typical adolescent development.

Committee Opinion #758, "Promoting Healthy Relationships in Adolescents," is published in the November issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of more than 58,000 members, ACOG strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care. www.acog.org