This results in missed opportunities to inform and counsel young people about ways to help prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted teen pregnancies, the researchers suggested.
The study, published Dec. 30 in JAMA Pediatrics, involved 253 teens and 49 doctors from 11 clinics from the Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina area.
One-third of these teens did not ask questions about sex or discuss their sexual activity, sexuality, dating or sexual identity during their yearly check-ups, the study found.
The researchers, led by Stewart Alexander of the Duke University Medical Center, recorded conversations between the teens and their doctor, and analyzed how much time was spent talking about sex. They also considered the involvement of teens in these discussions.
The topic of sex was brought up at 65 percent of all visits, the study showed. The investigators pointed out, however, that when these talks occurred, they were usually short conversations. On average, these talks lasted only 36 seconds.
The researchers noted that Asian doctors spoke about sex with their teen patients less often than the other doctors involved in the study. The study also showed that most of these discussions involved female patients and black teens, as well as older teens.
When office visits were longer and explicitly confidential, however, the topic of sex was more likely to be discussed, the study authors pointed out in a university news release.
"The findings suggest that physicians are missing opportunities to educate and counsel adolescent patients on healthy sexual behaviors and prevention of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy," Alexander's team concluded in their report.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about how to talk with teens about sex.