go hand-in-hand. The CDC reports that nearly half of all high schoolers have had sexual intercourse. Every year, about one out of four sexually active teens will contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Chlamydia, called the "silent STD" because it goes unnoticed 70 percent of the time, leads to infertility if left diagnosed, and is more common among teens than among older men and women. Teens have higher rates of gonorrhea than men and women in their 20s.
Bottom line: Like it or not, your child is at risk for getting an STD.
But you can decrease the danger to your child simply by talking with him or her about sex. Studies show that kids who engage in straight talk about sex with their parents are less likely to have unsafe sex.
Here are six tips to make it easier:
Inform, don't interrogate. Your goal is not to find out if she's having sex. Your goal is to protect your child from harm. If you grill her for information or seem judgmental, she will shut down.Start with a punch line. Tell him it only takes a few seconds of unsafe sexual behavior, one time, to catch an STD he could have for the rest of his life. For example, one in four American women have genital herpes—an incurable STD very often contracted from oral sex (which often kids don't "count" as sex).
- Make an appointment. Don't ambush your child with "the talk" while you're driving in the car. Ask him what time is good for him to set aside 15 minutes—no TV, no instant messaging, no cell phone interruptions, no iPod distractions for either one of you. This gets his commitment and his undivided attention.
Give them the facts. Most kids—and many adults—mistakenly believe that using a condom will fully protect them against all STDs. If you're uncomfortable talking about the risks of anal sex and oral sex and the diseases they can get that way, buy your kid a book, or print out fact sheets on different diseases from CDC.gov.Make it real. Remind your kid that when she has sex with one person, it's like having sex with every person that person has had sex with, and every person each of those people has had sex with, and so on. No wonder STDs are at epidemic proportions!
The key to a great birds-and-bees conversation with a tween or teen is to make it short and direct. Prepare what you're going to say. If it feels very awkward—and for most parents, it might—remind them that you love them and care about their safety. Just like wearing a seat belt or a bike helmet, getting all the facts about STD transmission will enable them to make better choices and help keep their bodies healthy.
© Jill Grimes, MD 2008