It's certainly not surprising that teenagers are having sex. By their senior year, it is estimated that just under half of boys in of high school will have engaged in sexual activity.

At the same time, condom use, which in addition to helping prevent pregnancy also prevents the transmission of many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), is on the decline. This lack of protection has contributed to more than 100,000 annual diagnoses of reportable STIs.

Talking about condoms will not encourage your son to have sex. In fact, the opposite tends to be true.

Those hardest hit by the effects of STIs, HIV and unplanned parenthood are Latino and Black adolescents. A primary reason is unequal health services, but there is a way to begin to counteract this problem.

The answer is to get fathers involved. Fathers' guidance — the earlier the better — can help inform their sons' decision-making around sexual activity, including condom use.

Fathers often wait to talk about condoms until they believe their sons are ready for sex. But a John's Hopkins School of Nursing study found it is more helpful to talk about it sooner.

The researchers recruited 191 Latino and Black teen boys between the ages of 15 and 19 years and their fathers for the study. The boys and their fathers all lived in the South Bronx, in New York City. Both sons and their dads completed a survey, and a portion of the fathers also participated in audio-recorded session with a father-coach that included conversations about condom use among teen boys.

A father's perception of his son's readiness for sex was a crucial predictor of when and whether they offered guidance on condom use, the researchers found. Fathers' perceptions of their sons' maturity — whether they've reached certain milestones — also influenced their motivation to talk with their son about condom use.

Unfortunately, this is a mistake. The researchers say that fathers should not wait until they believe their son is ready to have sex before sharing information and guidance about condom use. It's better if the conversation or conversations happen before a boy reaches cognitive, social and emotional maturity.

Fathers uneasy about starting a condom conversation with their sons will be glad to know that the researchers suggest a good place to begin is to have a healthcare provider bring up the topic during a routine visit. “Discussing paternal notions of adolescent male readiness for sex might be a good way for family-focused health care providers to get fathers involved in protecting their adolescent sons' sexual health,” lead author Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, a nurse practitioner who specializes in adolescent sexual health and Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Solutions at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, said in a press release.

Fathers often wait to talk about condoms until they believe their sons are ready for sex. But a John's Hopkins School of Nursing study found it is more helpful to talk about protection sooner.

The study's authors want fathers to know how important they are to protecting their sons' sexual health and that healthcare providers can help them. Here's what dads need to know, whether they learn it from a nurse or other healthcare provider or come to it on their own:

  • Be ready to start regular communication about the importance of sexual health before an adolescent starts having sex.
  • Fathers need to be pre-emptive and not reactive in giving condom guidance to their adolescent sons.
  • Emphasize knowing how to use a condom correctly and consistently is part of a strategy for preventing negative academic, economic and social consequences of unprotected sex and supports their son's future goals and life opportunities.
  • Fathers need to understand that talking about condoms will not encourage their sons to have sex. In fact, the opposite tends to be true: fathers who communicate with their adolescent sons about sex early during adolescence and regularly reduce the chances of their son's starting to engage in sex too early.
  • A family nurse or doctor can help fathers figure out how to start the condom conversation and explain to their son how to use a condom correctly.
  • Fathers should become comfortable with encouraging their sons to practice using a condom and either provide condoms or help them purchase them.

Fathers should think about condom use as a health and safety issue. Approach it the way you'd discuss using a seatbelt or helmet. Don't hesitate to reach out to a family provider if you need help getting started.

The study is published in Annals of Family Medicine.