How to talk about safe sex

Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Regardless of what anyone says, it is hard talking to your teenager about sex. It is better, in fact, to start open discussions when they are much younger. Keeping silent on issues such as whether your teen is sexually active, safe sex practices, contraception, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unwanted pregnancy and gender roles, does not keep them healthy and safe when they are young, and does not give them a better chance to develop into mature adults in the future.

It is also difficult for some parents to build a trusting relationship with a child who may be grappling with issues of sexual orientation — up to 10 percent of adolescents report feeling attracted to people of the same sex. These adolescents deal with alarming incidents of bullying and harassment, particularly at school, and are more likely to have unprotected sex (with partners of the opposite sex) and multiple partners.

Becoming sexual is a part of growing up and occurs most naturally in the context of relationships. As a parent, you hope to nurture happy and caring relationships, so it is important to discuss this positive aspect of sexuality with your teenagers, whatever their sexual orientation, and not just talk about the dangers that await them.

The sooner you start open and frank discussions with your child the better. The statistics show that half of adolescent pregnancies occur in the first six months of sexual activity and that younger teenagers are most at risk of getting infections like Chlamydia. Teenagers usually go to a GP for prescriptions for the contraceptive pill on average one year after starting to have sex.

Encourage them to go to their doctor regularly to have sexual health checks and, if they feel comfortable, to discuss with the doctor things that concern them that they might not want to talk about with you. All sexually active women, including teenagers, should have the routine Pap test procedure every two years to screen against cervical cancer.

One of the most important roles you have is to teach your sons as well as your daughters about taking charge of their sexual health: transmitting sexual infections, contraception and unwanted pregnancy are matters for both young men and young women to deal with equally and together.

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