Discussing Sex With Adolescents
According to latest data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is observed that young teens are at high risk of developing sexually transmitted infections due to unprotected sexual activity. Besides STIs, unprotected sex is also responsible for teen pregnancy, high school dropouts and other related teen issues.
Adolescence is a sensitive and challenging period for most teens. This is partly due to puberty related physical and biochemical changes and partly due to sexual curiosity and experimental nature of teens. Experts suggests that active interaction with parents can make this transitional period smoother and trouble-free for most teens.
Why Teens Feel Uncomfortable In Discussing Sex With Their Parents?
According to a survey conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Seventeen Magazine on the sexual health communication between parents and young adolescents (15- to 17-years); following important inferences were drawn (1):
- 51% study participants agreed to consulting their parents regarding ‘when to engage in the sexual intercourse’ (this comprise of 42% male and 61% female participants).
- 43% survey takers inquired with their parents about ‘how to sort out important sexual matters with a partner’ such as STIs, pregnancy, contraception etc.
- About 50% male teens discussed the efficacy and importance of condoms but only under 35% inquired about other more effective methods of birth control.
- 50-56% survey takers discussed common STDs (such as AIDs/HIV, gonorrhea and other infections) with their parents.
Teens shared their reasons why they feel uncomfortable in discussing sex related questions with their parents at the end of survey; according to which most common culprits of poor communication on sexual health issues are:
- Anticipated negative reaction of parents (such as anger, frustration, disappointment, accusations etc.
- Possibility that the parents will think that teens are already having sex or will have sex soon
- Shame or embarrassment
- Not knowing how to bring this topic in the discussion
Should Parents Take An Initiative To Discuss Sex And Sexuality Issues With Their Teens?
Most parents are under the misconception that discussing sex with teens can evoke their curiosity and entice them to engage in the first-hand experience or sexual encounters, which is not true. Several clinical and independent surveys suggests that effective parent-adolescent communication on sexual health have positive long-term implications. For example parental discussion of safe sex and condom use prior to initiating sexual encounters is associated with high condom use in teens (2), which reduces the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases as well as unwanted teen pregnancies.
Parents should realize that:
- They are the most important, reliable and trustworthy source of sex education for their teens.
- Adolescents often value the advice/input of their experienced peers. In some ways, it also makes them more vulnerable to make wrong choices (which can be prevented with active supervision of parents).
- You don’t have to be a specialist or an expert to discuss sex and sexuality issues with your teen. It is more important to let your teen ask you questions and queries regarding sex.
What Are Some Important Topics That Must Be Discussed?
- The functioning of female and male reproductive systems.
- Why they should avoid alcohol and drugs – including how intoxication can impair judgment and decision making capacity.
- The act of sexual intercourse (regarding safe positions, right time, right person etc.).
- How and why unprotected sex can lead to an unwanted pregnancy and positive/ negative implications of teen pregnancy.
- Negative implications of poor sexual choices such as rape (including gray rape, date rape), sexual abuse, etc.
- Postponing Sex or abstinence as well as how teens can maintain healthy asexual relationships
- All about contraception, including its importance, benefits and efficacy of different methods of birth control.
- Different types of sexual orientations (homosexual, heterosexual, transsexual, bisexual, etc.)
- STDs / HIV/AIDS – the mode of transmission, early symptomatology and prevention. It is very important to encourage teens to seek immediate treatment in case of active symptoms.
- Negative aspects of sexual assault. For example, it is very important to identify the signs of being in an abusive relationship (such as harassment, stalking, physical/ sexual abuse) etc.
And in short how to live a healthy, productive and disease free life.
1. Communication: A Series of National Surveys of Teens about Sex. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2002.
2. Miller KS et al. Patterns of condom use among adolescents: the impact of mother-adolescent communication. Amer J Public Health 1998; 88:1542-44.
3. Zakrajsek, J. S., Shope, J. T., Greenspan, A. I., Wang, J., Bingham, C. R., & Simons-Morton, B. G. (2013). Effectiveness of a brief parent-directed teen driver safety intervention (Checkpoints) delivered by driver education instructors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(1), 27-33.
4. Lindberg, L. D., & Maddow-Zimet, I. (2012). Consequences of sex education on teen and young adult sexual behaviors and outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51(4), 332-338.