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Kids & Sexuality

Why, How, and When to Talk

A 2007 survey from the Centers for Disease Control showed that 48 percent of high school students have been or currently are sexually active. Fifteen percent of them said they’ve had at least four sexual partners. Not surprisingly, the survey also revealed that one in four American girls aged 14 to 19 has a sexually transmitted disease.

As a nurse practitioner for a busy medical practice, my patients include hundreds of teenaged girls from the greater Richmond area who fit this profile. In the safety and privacy of the exam room, I often hear and see firsthand what happens when young people don’t fully understand the responsibilities and consequences that come from being sexually active.

While not all young people are sexually active or headed toward early sexual activity, sexually suggestive material is all around. The exposure raises questions, and kids will get answers. Unless moms or dads are involved, though, the answers probably will not be accurate.

I can’t tell you that it’s easy. No parent relishes talking to his or her child about sex. And guess what? They don’t want to talk to you about it either. For good reason, too: embarrassment, fear of punishment, or never being allowed to see their current love interest again.

But studies show that kids who feel they can talk with their parents about sex—because their moms and dads speak openly and listen carefully to them—are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. And according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, open communication and accurate information from parents increases the chance that teens will postpone sex and use appropriate methods of birth control once they begin having sex.

Get started by conducting an Internet search of talk to kids about sex. You’ll find many sources containing numerous approaches. Yours doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be timely. You see, at best, your kids are confused. At worst, they risk sexually transmitted disease, unplanned pregnancy, physical and emotional discomfort, and numerous other assaults on their already fragile self esteem. Just start talking, and don’t stop. The notion that the stereotypical sex talk should happen just once is dated and detrimental. It’s better to feel comfortable discussing topics early and often.

Another option is to bring your teen to see a nurse practitioner or gynecologist. We recommend age 15, or earlier if you feel it’s a good idea for health promotion and disease prevention counseling. We can meet with mother and daughter or just daughter. The teen will not need a pelvic exam, unless she has gynecological complaints or is sexually active. (If a young woman is not having problems or is sexually active, she should have a Pap test at age 21.)

This is an excellent way to establish a trusting relationship with a health-care provider and begin to set in motion clear, open communications at home, too. It also establishes the gynecologist’s office as a safe place and trusted resource, setting the stage for a lifetime of good health practices and care.

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