Wes: In September we discussed issues related to contraception. A reader asked that we give equal attention to the problem of sexually transmitted diseases. They're all pretty well known so I won't belabor the sexual hygiene, except to bust a few myths I see frequently in conversations with teens.
It may seem counterintuitive, but in discussing STDs with teens, it's vital to avoid proposing disease as a counterpoint to sexual activity. While that's obviously true, nothing turns off the nerve connections between the ears and the teenage brain faster than dire warnings of death and dismemberment.
What does work is straightforward talk about preventative measures and what risks are unavoidable in sexual contact. You can point out that the only real way to avoid infection is abstinence - one indisputable fact. However, as we discussed in September, teenagers simply don't choose the safest of paths. So focusing on "risk management" may give you the best shot at effective communication. For those not so inclined, you can skip the rest of this column. However, I see a lot of families who believe their children are abstinent when the facts are otherwise.
Here are some facts to share with teens - and some myths to bust. Condoms are helpful in the prevention of HIV/AIDS and the much more common infections of gonorrhea and chlamydia. While they aren't 100 percent perfect, they will significantly reduce risk if used correctly. Because of the way these infections are transmitted, condoms are of little use in protection from HPV and Herpes.
Many people carry one of the many strains of HPV and don't even know it - especially guys who will rarely have symptoms. Several of those strains cause cervical cancer, which kills more women every year than HIV/AIDS. The only good news here is that a vaccine called Guardasil exists that protects against most of the cancer-causing strains.
All families should discuss this vaccine with their doctors well before their girls hit puberty and well before the issue of sexuality has really become a concern. Guardasil won't stop all forms of HPV, however, and the reality is that most sexually active women will end up with one of the other strains by the time they are 30.
Likewise, Herpes comes in two strains - simplex 1 and 2. However, one can contract either strain orally or genitally. Simplex 2 is generally the longest lasting and most serious, requiring medication to suppress outbreaks over the course of a lifetime. Herpes is easy to get and incredibly annoying and emotionally upsetting to those who contract it. The only way for anyone to limit their exposure to herpes and HPV is to limit the number of partners and have a thorough discussion with any potential partner to assess risk. Icky - I know, but a core part of responsible sexuality.
If a teenager can't have it, that teen should reconsider whether he or she is ready for sex. If you put it this way, your teen may listen much more closely than if you propose that their only shot is to never have sex until ... (fill in the blank).
Parents should also look at the literature. A particularly disturbing study from Ohio State traced the sexual histories within a particular high school and found that from a disease transmission standpoint, most sexually active students were linked by only a few degrees of separation. By drawing a network between all the sexual partners disclosed confidentiality, they were able to prove a wide transmission pattern of potential sexual disease throughout 288 students - a huge percentage of the population - and into the surrounding community. This little factoid has caused more than one careless young person to shudder in my office and render a plaintiff "eewww."
Kelly: It is not surprising that in a time of sexual promiscuity and oversexed teenagers, our society is facing a marked increase in STDs. Only when we have to bear the consequences of our actions are we truly willing to change our habits. It is sad to see that in a world of prosperity and development, we as sexual beings are taken aback by the ongoing issues of STDs. Sexual promiscuity has become something of a social norm. Sex requires responsibility, and some are too immature to handle it.
For parents, I think it's essential to talk to your children about this matter. The best defense you can give your children use against STDs is knowledge and preparation. Even though this is a somewhat embarrassing subject, do not let it prevent you from having the talk with your children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 65 million Americans are living with a sexually transmitted disease. Some have STDs but are completely unaware. Either they were never educated on this subject or they have the mindset that it can't happen to them. If you are sexually active, be sure to get tested regularly. As serious as it is to pass your driver's test, it's twice as important to pass your STDs test.
Then there are those who are fully aware of their STDs and rather than seek medical treatment, continue to have unprotected sex. The last thing we need in our society is a greater rate of STDs. I would consider this one of the most selfish, immature acts you can commit.
To prevent STDs, please remember the precautions that need to be taken. Limit yourself on your sexual partners, do not forget to use condoms for disease control and get tested. These steps may seem minor but they are the key to maintaining a healthy society.
Next week: Adderall abuse. What's new and what's not.
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.