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Talking to Your Kids About STDs and STIs

Talking to your kids about sex is never easy, but it’s a conversation that you need to have sooner or later. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 50 percent of American teenagers engage in sexual intercourse before they turn 18. This means that if you have teenage children, they are either already having sex or thinking about having sex. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sex is perfectly normal, and it shouldn’t be presented as a bad thing. However, this doesn’t mean that you should be turning a blind eye to the possibility that your child may be sexually active. They still need to be taught how risky sexual activity can be, especially when it comes to STDs.

What are STDs?

STDs, or sexually transmitted diseases, are diseases that are spread through sexual activity. They are also known as STIs or sexually transmitted infections. Some common STIs include herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV/AIDS. These diseases are spread through close contact with the genitals or bodily fluids.

How to Talk to Your Kids About STIs

Some STIs are more serious than others, but they can all be avoided through safe and responsible sexual practices. Abstinence is obviously the best way to avoid contracting an STD, but expecting a young adult to completely abstain from all sexual activity isn’t always realistic. Adolescents and young adults will naturally want to have sex. Most will have a sex drive, and they will, at the very least be curious about what it is like. Simply telling your kids not to have sex will either frighten them from something that is a natural part of life or turn it into a mysterious taboo subject that is never discussed. You can mention abstinence as the only way to avoid STDs completely, but you’re always better off teaching young people to be responsible if they decide to become sexually active. Teach them that consent is mandatory, that they should always use condoms or some other kind of protection, and that they should never be afraid to be tested if they suspect that they’ve contracted an STD. 

As for bringing up this topic with your kids, the best way to do that is to bring it up casually when your kids are at their chattiest and most relaxed. You can bring it up during a casual car ride or if they mention something that they saw in a movie or TV show. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they already know about sex and STDs; the chances are that they probably know more than you think they do, even if they aren’t sexually active. Not only is sex ed still taught in school, but they’ve almost certainly have heard some stories from their peers. Whether or not those stories are accurate or realistic is another issue entirely, but they might give you a good opening to start a conversation. You should also avoid pressing the issue too hard. This may be a conversation that you have to have sooner or later, but it’s one that you can accidentally shut down if you push your kids beyond their comfort zone.

Getting Tested 

One of the most dangerous aspects of STDs is that you can’t always tell if someone is infected. Many people have an STD and not know it. This is why it is important to be tested regularly. Your child may be reluctant or embarrassed to be tested for STDs thanks to the stigma that sex has in our society, but it’s a practice that could literally save their life. Their doctor can certainly test them, or they can go to one of many free or low-cost clinics. Planned Parenthood is an excellent resource for STD testing, and they are in practically every major metropolitan area in the United States. You can also explain that there are home test kits, so they never have to let the embarrassment of walking into a doctor’s office and requesting a gonorrhea test stand in the way of their good health.

The bottom line is that no matter what happens, you and your kids should never be afraid or ashamed to talk about sex or STDs with each other. Teach them to always practice safe sex if they are sexually active and let them know that there is no shame in being tested regularly. It’s a healthy and responsible practice, one that is for sexually active people of all ages.

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