As a parent, advice you might feel queasy, troche even embarrassed, talking about sexual matters with your teenager. You might have grown up in a home when sex was not even mentioned, much less discussed in detail. Or you might be worried that talking about sex with your child will make him or her more likely to engage in it. But given the risks associated with irresponsible sexual behavior today, this is not a talk you want to miss.
Here are some important details about sexual disease and protective practices to cover in your talk, just in case you’re not up to date:
What is a Sexually Transmitted Disease?
As the term implies, sexually transmitted diseases or STDs are illnesses that can be passed through sexual contact; through vaginal intercourse, oral sex or anal sex. These illnesses can range from manageable fungal infections to debilitating and terminal diseases such as HIV-AIDS. STDs is the category used for diseases that used to be called VDs or venereal diseases.
Below are just some of the many STDs identified today:
- Genital warts. Genital warts are caused by HPV, human papillomavirus. This virus lead to warts in the genital area as well as cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, and penis. It is spread through skin contact in vaginal or anal sex. Eruption of warts can be painful both physically and psychologically and, since they are part of a viral process that can lead to more deadly disease, they are also a matter of serious concern. There are currently HPV vaccines available that are effective for people who have never been infected with this virus. Therefore, teens are urged to have the vaccine before engaging in their first sexual experience.
- Gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection characterized by a yellowish discharge in the sexual organ and difficulty in urination. Untreated gonorrhea can spread to other parts of the body, such as the joints or the heart.
- Herpes. This STD lives in the nerves and once contracted, is a permanent condition. Herpes simplex type-1 produces cold sores around the mouth, while Herpes simplex type-2 produces sores in the genital area. The sores take the form of painful, itchy blisters. Break-outs can be prevented or minimized with daily doses of anti-viral drugs. Pregnant women can pass the virus to their babies, so they need to inform their doctor of their condition immediately. Herpes is contracted by skin-to-skin contact whether or not sores are visible to the eye at the time of contact.
- Syphilis. Another bacterial infection, syphilis has three stages, with symptoms getting more serious as one proceeds to a later stage. Primary syphilis is characterized by a painless red sore in the genital area called a chancre. In the secondary stage of the infection, the bacteria may enter the bloodstream and cause many symptoms like fever, rashes, weight loss, muscle aches and joint pain. In its later stage, syphilis can damage vital organs like the heart and parts of the central nervous system.
- Candidiasis. Also called thrush, this STD is caused by a fungus called Candida or what is commonly known as yeast. The infection may be minimal, causing merely irritation and itching, or it can result to more systemic health problems. Cheese-like discharge in the sexual organs, redness and a smell similar to bread are some of the common symptoms of Candidiasis.
- HIV. HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the main culprit behind the fatal disease Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS. AIDS is a pandemic in many countries, and has caused the lost of whole communities in some areas of Africa. It’s a disease that causes a steady decline of the body’s immune system, causing susceptibility to different kinds of opportunistic illnesses. As of present, HIV has no cure, although there are drugs that can boost the immune system and improve quality of life.
How can Kids Protect Themselves from Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
It’s important that parents emphasize to their children that they can protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases.
The most foolproof method of avoiding STDs is sexual abstinence. While the age of first sexual experience tends to become younger and younger every year (NBC Today’s latest survey has it at 15 years old!), it doesn’t necessarily mean that the teenage years is the recommended age to start having sex. While the physical maturity may already be present by the time kids hit the teenage years, it also takes mental and emotional maturity to engage in a sexually active relationship or a sexually active lifestyle. There is nothing to be lost by waiting until one feels more ready, or until marriage, to begin having sex.
But if your child does decide that he or she is ready, and you concur, there are ways to practice safer sex. Start by making sure that you and your partner have undergone a medical exam and have a clean bill of health before engaging in any sexual activity. While the practice of asking when a partner’s last check up was may sound unromantic, it is always better to be safe than very, very sorry. Regular tests and visits to a gynecologist should occur as long as one is sexually active.
Opt to use contraception. As of now, it’s only the condom that is recommended for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Birth control pills and intra-uterine devices may protect a couple from unwanted pregnancy but they do not protect against STDs. Note though that a condom is not 100% foolproof; some STDs may be passed through oral sex and there are reports of condoms breaking during intercourse.
If one suspects an infection, it’s best to consult a doctor immediately. With the exception of HIV, most STDs are treatable by medicines such as some antibiotics. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis.