Communicating with Teens about STDs

My various jobs call for me to read on a regular basis. However, there is only one book I’ve read that felt so important to my parenting mission that I interrupted my own reading of it and asked for my two teenagers to read the first chapter. That book is Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs by family practitioner Jill Grimes, M.D.

The national survey data on youth sexual behaviors indicate that teens frequently have sex, and in ways that put themselves and their partners at risk. For instance, the CDC’s most recent edition of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, indicates that 46% of high school students have had sexual intercourse (African-American youths reported the highest rates at 65%), with 34% reporting that they are sexually active and 14% indicating that they have had sexual intercourse with four or more different partners. Moreover, 39% of teens reported that they did not use a condom the last time they had intercourse, though 22% did use drugs or alcohol.

The results of these behaviors can range from unwanted pregnancies (e.g., according to the CDC there were 409,840 infants born to girls ages 14-19 in 2009) to the contraction of a (sometimes life-long) sexually transmitted disease (e.g., quoting from Dr. Grimes’ book: “Estimates vary, but between 50 and 90% of adults have oral herpes by age 50…25% of adults have genital herpes, but up to 90% of them are unaware of it.”) I do my teen no favor if I think that she or he could never be one of these statistics.

Giving teens real life stories of peers and young adults suffering from STDs can be one effective way of reaching them about these matters, especially when those stories poignantly review the long term, embarrassing and inconvenient realities that can follow from even a brief lapse. That is what makes this book so important. The stories are effectively organized by type of STD and include facts about each disease at the end of each chapter; the reviews of the book have also been stellar (e.g., see amazon.com). I encourage you to review it yourself and see whether you might want to recommend it for your teen (or older) child. (Please also stay tuned to this blog as Dr. Grimes will be doing a guest entry for us sometime later this month or early next month.)

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