Thoughtful Parenting: Talking about STDs
May 1, 2016
Most parents know that one of our roles in our children's lives is to prepare them to face risks with honesty and wisdom. We want them to be able to assess the scope and extent of the threat realistically and to plan wisely to avoid risks that have the potential to cause long-term or extensive damage. (Toddlers and hot stoves, anyone?)
For that reason, many parents warn teenagers about the risks of teen pregnancy. Many parents also caution teenagers that sexual behavior can sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. When it comes to STDs, however, adults need to understand the scope of the risk so that they can talk effectively with students about creating their own risk avoidance plans.
Following are the five most common misconceptions we have heard from teenagers about STDs that you can help correct.
Fallacy: Teenagers do not contract STDs.
Fact: Teenagers account for the majority of new infections. While teenagers account for about one quarter of the sexually active population, they also contract more than half of all new infections. They are particularly susceptible to STDs because they are more likely to have multiple partners, more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and less likely to be tested and treated.
Fallacy: Protection will always prevent you from getting an STD.
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Fact: While using a condom is never a bad idea, STDs are transmitted both by body fluids and skin-to-skin contact. Condoms are not 100 percent effective at preventing either transmission. Statistically, condoms are up to 85 percent effective at protecting someone from acquiring HIV through sexual contact, if they are used consistently. Other forms of birth control (pills, IUDs) provide no protection against STDs.
Fallacy: STDs can just be treated.
Fact: STDs are both viral and bacterial. In fact, the most common STDs are bacterial and can be easily treated with antibiotics. (Antibiotics, however, will not reverse any damage to internal organs caused by the infection.) Viral infections cannot be treated. If the infection is minor, a person's immune system will fight it off. In other cases (such as herpes), once a person acquires the disease, he or she will have it for life.
Fallacy: I would know if I have an STD.
Fact: Several STDs, including the most common ones, often have no symptoms. It is possible for a person to have a sexually transmitted disease and to transfer it to others without knowing it. The CDC recommends all sexually active persons be tested for STDs.
Fallacy: As long as I don't "do it," I'm fine.
Fact: STDs can be transmitted through any form of sexual contact. In fact, throat and tongue cancers caused by sexually transmitted HPV are on the rise among non-smoking young adults.
Having the facts is the first step to avoiding risks that could have lifelong implications. The next step is to provide young people with the skills and the space to make a risk avoidance plan that will allow each of them to enjoy healthy bodies, healthy relationships, and healthy futures. Teens can avoid getting an STD. Start a conversation.
Melinda Clark is CEO of Selah, a holistic reproductive health center which offers free testing and treatment for the most common STDs. As a professional and as a mom, she has experienced firsthand the importance of having honest, factual conversations with young people and setting them up to thrive.