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Mother and daughter on sofa talking

ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) – As uncomfortable as it may be, having “the talk” with your teen can lead to safer sexual behavior, according to a new study.

“Communicating about sex can be uncomfortable for both parents and teens, but these conversations are a critical component of helping teens make safe and healthy decisions,” lead author Laura Widman, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, told HealthDay. “What parents say to their kids about sex matters.”

The researchers found that open communication about sex helped young people make more informed choices about when to have sex, whether to use contraception, and avoiding sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unwanted pregnancies.

Widman and her colleagues collected data from 30 years of research, including 52 studies involving more than 25,000 teens.

They found teens who had conversations about sex with their parents were more likely to use condoms or other forms of contraception.

The association between parent communication and teen contraceptive use was much greater for girls, especially if they had the talk with their mothers.

“We know that parents tend to communicate more frequently with girls than with boys,” Widman explained. “We also know that the messages parents share are more likely to stress the negative consequences of sexual activity, like pregnancy, when they talk with their daughters.”

“When parents model how to have open and honest conversations about sex with their teens,” she added, “they can help teens learn how to have similar conversations with their dating partners.”

The CDC says nearly half of the 20 million new STDs each year were among young people between the ages of 15 to 24.

The study is published in JAMA Pediatrics.