Jill Grimes, M.D.

 

Ten Tips for Talking to your Teen about STDs

1. Realize that it is normal for your teen to be defensive.
Remember this is true whether they've chosen abstinence and are insulted that you might be questioning their integrity, or if perhaps they've been pushing their own personal limits of intimacy with their current significant other.

2. Learn the facts yourself before you talk with your teen.
Don't rely on your dated high school sex education knowledge. We can diagnose diseases that were not even on the radar as little as ten or fifteen years ago! Ask your doctor, get an accurate book on STDs or go to a reliable website such as cdc.gov for current statistics and information.

3. Show them it's important to you.
Find time to sit down, turn off your cell phone and close your laptop. An uninterrupted 5 or 10 minutes is worth an hour with distractions.

4. Limit your first talk to sharing information about STD risks.
This is NOT an inquisition! If you start going on a fishing expedition for information about your teen's activity or that of their friends, you are likely to quickly lose your audience.

5. Use language your teen will definitely understand.
When you talk about the risks of oral sex, for example, clarify that this means when one person's mouth is in contact with another person's genitals. (Truly, the embarrassment won't kill you, and it might really help your offspring!) Many times kids hear or even use slang terms without ever understanding the accurate meaning.

6. Remember the old commercial? "If you tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on..."
Make sure your child understands that they will effectively be intimate with EVERY person their partners have been intimate with prior to this relationship. Do a math problem or draw a diagram — "if your new girlfriend has had two prior boyfriends, and each boyfriend had three former girlfriends, who had each only had one previous relationship, how many does that add up to?"

7. Stress that it doesn't take full blown "sex" to catch an STD.
Many people are shocked to find out that herpes, HPV (human papilloma virus — the wart virus), syphilis, and pubic lice ("crabs") can be transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact, without intercourse. Subsequently, condoms cannot fully protect against these diseases, because the diseases are spread outside the area that a condom can cover.

8. Teach that many STDs are SILENT.
The only way to be certain you are disease-free is if you have had no prior intimate contacts or you have had a full exam, including blood and other tests by a medical professional. The majority of people with genital herpes, HPV infection, chlamydia and trichomonas are unaware they are infected because they have no symptoms. It is estimated that 25% of Americans with HIV infection are unaware as well.

9. Discuss long-term consequences.
Teens rarely think "long term" about anything. They are thinking about tonight, next week, next month or maybe next year. Explain that while we have cures for the bacterial STDs (gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomonas, and syphilis) we may not be able to cure damage to the reproductive tract from these often silent diseases. Viral diseases such as herpes, HPV, and HIV have treatments, but no cure yet. A moment of passion can cause a life-long disease.

10. Read Seductive Delusions: How everyday people catch STDs — make it a pre-dating requirement! (frame it as the dating equivalent of a driver's ed course before getting your license.)
There are no steamy sex scenes or foul language to further embarrass parents or kids. Talk about the situations in the book. "Do you think Chad told his Mom what the doctor said?" "Did you know you could catch herpes that way?" "Wow, how would you handle it if your girlfriend told you that?" Discussing these characters and their circumstances is far less threatening than talking about your child's significant other, but you can be sure that your son or daughter is learning all the important information that they need to have to preserve their health.