Since it’s STD Awareness Month, I want to continue to follow up on our conversation from last week about STDs. When I was going through Sex-Ed, frankly, I don’t think STDs (apart from AIDS) were really talked about much. Hopefully your kids have heard a little about STDs if they are a teen or tween, but if they haven’t, here are a few facts that are important to consider talking about with your kids in an age-appropriate fashion. (Parents would be shocked at how confused their own kids are about sex and sex-related risks... so often, "The Talk" ends at "Just Say No to Sex").
What are STDs?
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases that can spread through any type of sexual physical contact between two people. STDs affect girls and guys, regardless of age, race, background, and sexual orientation. STDs have become very common among teenagers. Our culture tends to make light of STDs, and often teenagers view them as more of an inconvenience or embarrassment, rather than as a big health risk. It’s important that we help our kids recognize that STDs are actually very serious health problems, which, if left untreated, can cause permanent damage, such as infertility, cancer, and even death.
There are lots of ways to get STDs.
Many teenagers think they can only get STDs if they have vaginal sexual intercourse. The truth is that anyone can get STDs through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area or an open sore. And you can acquire STDs from both anal and oral sex. The bacteria and viruses that cause STDs can enter the body through any tiny cuts or tears in the mouth, anus, penis, or vaginal wall. (Often these slight tears are so small you might not recognize or even see them.)
Can I Tell if I have an STD?
It’s very difficult to tell whether someone has STDs or a related infection that could put others at risk (ven though the majority of teens and young adults believe they can tell if someone has an STD just by looking at them!). Many people with STDs don’t even know that they have the STDs because these diseases present themselves differently in each individual and can appear dormant in some. These people are at risk of passing on this infection to anyone they have sexual interactions with, regardless of whether they show signs of “breaking out” or infection.
What I do Now Won’t Matter as an Adult, Right?
Statistics have shown that the earlier in life a person begins experimenting sexually, the greater his or her chance will be of becoming infected with an STD. People who have more than one sexual partner over their lifetime are much more likely to acquire an STD. Using birth control, like the pill, spermicides, or diaphragms, does not protect a person against STDs, and latex condoms are only partially protective. Rinsing with water or using homemade protection (like socks to cling wrap!) will not protect an individual from acquiring STDs or from getting pregnant.
For more on talking about sex with your son or daughter, check out our parent resources here.