Educating Teens About STDs

  • Some of the most gratifying scenes I've participated in throughout the past several weeks have been those when parents bring their teenage daughters and sons to me for school physicals. I'm particularly impressed with the parents who are bringing in their daughters for their first gynecological exam.


    I see these visits as an honor and an opportunity and I treat the visits with care. I find that the girls are usually scared, uncomfortable with the inevitable discussions about sexuality that are likely to ensue, and terrified about the pelvic examination.


    Although I discuss general health issues--blood pressure, weight, exercise, seat belts, drugs, drinking, immunizations--I focus a lot of attention on sexual health issues.

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    I always show the girls what to expect during the pelvic exam - I discuss the technical issues of the exam, show them the equipment I use including the tubes and brushes I use for the Pap smear. I hope this helps them overcome fear of the unknown.


    Next, when I show them the tubes I use to do smears for vaginal cultures, HPV, gonorrhea and Chlamydia, I launch into a discussion about STDs. I tell them about the most common STDs, and if they have been sexually active, I offer to do HIV, syphilis and HSV testing in addition to the rest of the exam.


    Then, I talk about birth control - I discuss the pill as well as other forms of contraception and condoms.


    Lastly I end the discussion talking about Gardasil - the new HPV vaccine.


    I've noticed that a lot of girls continue to be very naive about "safe sex". Almost all of them have had unprotected sex. This almost always surprises me - I grew up during the height of the HIV epidemic and most of my friends were terrified of contracting it. I know that that disease isn't on the forefront of most girls' minds these days. But nevertheless, the lack of knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases is frightening.


    As parents, it is our responsibility to inform, and reinforce our children's knowledge of STDs. It's hard to know when to begin that discussion; I'll leave that to up you. But be sure your teenage and college age children are equipped with accurate and complete information about STDS. It's a matter of health. Here are a few statistics for you to know about teens and STDs.


    1. In a single act of unprotected sex with an infected partner (and you can't tell by looking!), a teenage girl has a 30% risk of getting genital herpes.
    2. One in four sexually active teens has Chlamydia, and most have no symptoms. Chlamydia is a serious infection that can lead to infertility if not recognized and treated.
    3. The number one risk factor for development of cervical cancer is sexual activity; the number two risk factor is having multiple partners.
    4. Each year, one in five teen girls (age 15-19) who have sex become pregnant.
Published On: August 15, 2007