When I ask parents what grade they were in when they learned about Sexually Transmitted Diseases, most say, “around ninth grade.” That means that these parents typically learned about STDs when they were 14 or 15. Unfortunately, although the current average age at which young people are having vaginal intercourse for the first time is 15 ½ for boys and 16 for girls, oral sex is beginning in middle school. That means that high school is too late to address STDs.
The first night of Rites of Passage, our course for 5th and 6th graders, is for parents only, and during it we quiz parents on their knowledge of current teen statistics. The quiz covers topics such as self-esteem, teen pregnancy, social media and STDs. Probably one of the most challenging questions I ask is, “How many teens aged 15 – 19 contract an STD each year?”
Most parents say, “I don’t know,” or, “Maybe 100,000?”
The answer is 10 million young people contract STDs each year, and the most prevalent one is HPV (Human Papilloma Virus).
A lot of parents know about HPV due to the controversy over the immunization that protects young people from contracting the virus and, possibly, getting cancer later in life. (When parents ask me whether or not to vaccinate their child, I invite them to do their due diligence before making that decision.) But do you know about the other STDs out there, how they’re contracted and how to be proactive about helping your kids avoid them?
Here are some facts to consider:
- STDs are typically spread from person-to-person through an exchange of bodily fluids such as vaginal fluids, semen and blood.
- Some STDs, like herpes and genital warts, can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.
- STDs can be spread through not only vaginal sex, but oral and anal as well.
- Many STDs are asymptomatic.
- The younger the teen is when they begin engaging in sex (vaginal, oral and/or anal), the higher the risk of contracting an STD.
- Teen pregnancy and abortions have gone down due to teen girls being given birth control, but the STD rate has not fallen in parallel.
I don’t want to scare you, but I do want to drive home how important it is for parents to be extremely well informed, have resources to draw from and be able to overcome their resistance to talking about tricky subjects with their children. Those are the three things parents can do about STDs – get educated themselves, find reliable resources and talk frankly and openly with their kids before they’re old enough to need the information.
If you’re worried, don’t be. That’s literally what The Birds & Bees Connection is here for—to empower parents to become the educators their children need on subjects like this one. Check out our upcoming classes, or drop us a line with your questions. Together, we can make a dent in that teen STD statistic.