by Melanie Davis EdD, CSE
Teen males aren’t getting the sexual health counseling they need from health care providers about HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
A New York Times article points out that fewer than one-quarter of teen males received provider counseling about STIs, and fewer than one-fifth were counseled about contraception. Only 26% of teen males engaging in high-risk sex were counseled. The study was conducted to learn whether more counseling is being done now than in 1995 and 2002; no improvement was observed.
If healthcare providers aren’t educating teen males about sex, who does? Schools can, but only if you live in a state that mandates education about STIs and contraceptives. And even then, some schools don’t check to ensure that teachers actually deliver the curriculum. I have visited schools without sex ed because the teachers are uncomfortable with the topic.
Parents must pick up the slack. Whether you have a son or a daughter, and regardless of whether you think your teen is sexually active, please consider that providing information about sexual health is as important as talking about good nutrition – both will help keep your child alive and thriving.
Tips for Talking about STIs
• Avoid scare tactics. Scary photos of skin lesions and discharge don’t work. Instead, speak matter of factly and point out that many STIs have no visible symptoms.
• Promote delayed intercourse. The longer teens wait to have oral, anal or vaginal intercourse, the fewer lifetime partners they are likely to have. Fewer partners means lower exposure to STIs.
• Know the facts. I’ve posted a short PowerPoint slide deck, The How’s and Why’s of STI’s in the Resources area of my website. It covers the STIs that Health Departments are most concerned about, and it provides facts about the four categories of STIs and information about symptoms, potential effects, and treatment options. You may want to review the slides with your teen.
• Emphasize the importance of safer sex choices. Deciding not to have intercourse in is the safest choice, of course. Teens often don’t realize they have options other than intercourse to express attraction and caring for a partner. Discuss the options (hugging, snuggling, kissing, fondling, massage…). And then, because you can’t guarantee that your teen will wait, discuss the importance of condoms, regular STI testing, and open communication with a partner.
Teens most often turn to friends for information about sex, but they may not have the facts that will keep your child safe. Take the time to be your teen’s primary sex educator. You’ve got all the tools you need to get started.
Melanie J. Davis, EdD, CSE is the founder of Honest Exchange LLC, a sexuality education consulting firm in Somerville, NJ. She offers private consultations in person and by phone and is a popular speaker for college and medical school students. Visit HonestExchange.com for free resources, book recommendations, and information about Dr. Davis’ services.