- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

The Internet is becoming a popular place for teens to get answers to "sensitive health issues," such as sex, pregnancy and contraception, says a study released yesterday.
Friends remain teen-agers' most common source of information on birth control and "safer sex," but the next three most likely sources are siblings or cousins, the Internet and magazines, wrote Dina L.G. Borzekowski and Vaughn I. Rickert in a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
The authors, who are associated with the Adolescent Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, recently surveyed 412 ethnically diverse 10th-graders in suburban New York.
Eighty-eight percent of the teens had computers in their homes, and 96 percent used the Internet at home or at school.
Nearly half of the teens said they had used the Internet for health information and viewed much of the information they got off the Internet as "relevant, useful and trustworthy," the authors wrote.
Sex sexual activity, pregnancy and contraception was the most researched health topic, wrote the authors, who added that they conducted their survey because very little data had been compiled on teen use of the Internet for health information.
Fitness and exercise was the second most researched topic, and sexually transmitted disease was the third.
The authors also found that most teens 63 percent relied on friends for information about birth control and sex.
About a third of teens chose siblings or cousins, the Internet or magazines as their next most likely source for sex information. Public health campaigns and the clergy were among the least likely places for teens to ask questions about sex, the authors found.
Mrs. Borzekowski, who is a doctor of education, and Mr. Rickert, who is a doctor of psychology, concluded that the Internet will play an increasingly important role in teen sex education because it is an accessible medium and offers "a confidential and less threatening way to get information that might otherwise be difficult or compromising to obtain."
The authors did not report which Web sites the teens used for their sex education, but other studies have identified Columbia University's "Go Ask Alice" site (www.goaskalice.columbia.edu) as a top site for teens and college students.
"There are dozens of great Web sites that discuss legitimate teen sexual issues," said Christian Ophus, president of the Internet Safety Association, a trade group for companies whose products block unwanted Web sites.
"However, for every site offering good advice, there are three that encourage teens to engage in behavior that the average adult would consider perverted," he said.
Teens looking for legitimate sexual health information on the Internet should be able to access it even if they are using computers with filtering software, added Mr. Ophus. Filtering technology has become more sophisticated and blocks Web sites based on their overall content, not just specific words, he said.
A March Consumer Reports article said that filters such as America Online Young Teen, Net Nanny and Internet Guard Dog blocked "Sex Etc.," a Rutgers University sex education site "written by teens for teens." However, several filtering products allow adults to block or unblock sites dealing with sex education, said the article.

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