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Genital Herpes: Intimate Conversations

with Terri Warren, RN, ANP

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sex, STDs, Safety and Your Teen

A recent study by the CDC suggests that 1 in 4 teenage girls have a sexually transmitted disease. This may include the genital wart virus, chlamydia, or trichomoniasis, among others. This doesn’t surprise me at all. Sex in teenagers in incredibly common – by age 15, about half of teen girls have had intercourse, and probably more have given or received oral sex. And it often isn’t with committed partners; it may be quite casual or fit into the category “buddies with benefits”, friends having sex without a romantic attachment at all.

But where are the parents in all of this? Are we doing a decent job of talking with our kids about sex? I don’t think so. If you have a teenager, let me ask you this: how often have you talked to your child about giving and receiving oral sex? Its the big thing now, kids have lots of oral sex so they can preserve their virginity and feel like they really haven’t had sex. And anal sex is the same – if you’ve had anal sex, they will tell you, you are still a virgin. Interesting thinking, wouldn’t you agree? I have 16-year-old female patients who have had lots of anal sex so they can still be virgins and 45 year old men who would give their right arm to have anal sex once in their lifetime. Its boggles my mind sometimes.

But teens are vulnerable and desperately need frank and honest information. Yes, abstinence would be my preference too, at least for a while, but this really isn’t our choice. It is their choice, it is their body, and no matter how much we talk and lecture and pray and hope, they will do what they do, and often that’s have sex. They are curious and want pleasure and sometimes drugs and alcohol impair their judgment. Does this sound familiar to you?

How old were you when you first had sex? I made the dubious decision to tell my youngest daughter when that was for me, and at that age, she told me that she first had sex then, too, so it must have been OK. That’s a decision I might revisit with my granddaughters someday! But she and I talked a lot about sex – about the risk of getting herpes from a cold sore and oral sex, about the damage that chlamydia can do to fallopian tubes, what HPV can do to the cervix. We talked about all the behaviors that could put her at risk, and we made the discussion a casual, regular thing we talked about because I knew it was on her mind. Her friends sought me out for birth control and STD testing and free condoms and information. I felt mixed, but mostly incredibly glad that they did, that they trusted me and knew they could count on me for straight answers. These teens are very dear, just beginning to explore their worlds, and they need their parents to be the ones who they can turn to for these discussions.

But the truth is not all parents can do it, so it would be good to have a back up person in mind to talk the talk. Teens who are having sex need STD screens, and they need reminders about condom use and they need to hear that mutual masturbation holds no risk and oral sex and anal sex ARE sex and do present some risks of their own. And they need to know their parents love them, even if they are sexually active. Because no matter how uncomfortable we are, their safety and their future fertility and sexual health is what’s important, right?

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Posted by: Terri Warren, RN, ANP at 4:38 pm