Sexually active youngins have more to worry about than pregnancy these days. With sexually transmitted infections in the 13-24 age group continually on the rise, knowing how to talk to your kids about education, prevention, and, yes, even coping tactics is key.
Years ago, “the talk” meant having a brief conversation about the birds and the bees. Sex was discussed in context of love, partnership and how babies were made. End of story. Today, however, “the talk” should be reaching a whole new, uncomfortable-to-discuss level – one that includes the nitty gritty on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Why? Because according to recent stats, teens and young adults are far from informed on the topic of sexual health.
Let’s talk about STIs
A 2013 study conducted for the makers of Trojan Condoms and The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN) surveyed 1,500 university students across Canada and discovered that of the 72 per cent of students engaging in sexual intercourse within the past year, only about half (51 per cent) reported using a condom.
More surprisingly is the fact that although 34 per cent described their most recent sexual encounter as a ‘hook-up, booty call or involving friends with benefits’, there is a lack of concern surrounding contracting a STI. A whopping 56 per cent of students reported not being concerned with catching an STI and, moreover, 56 per cent reported that they were not aware that human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in Canada. “Rates of sexually transmitted infection are high in the young adult age group, so the results of this study show that there remains much more work to do in terms of encouraging young people to better protect themselves against not only unwanted pregnancy, but especially STIs,” suggests that Alex McKay, Ph.D and research coordinator at SIECCAN.
STI Conversation Starter
Talking about sex to your kids can be painfully awkward for both parties, so to lighten the mood, Kelly Moroz, child psychologist and director of the Moroz Child Psychology in Calgary, says the best way to start a conversation about STIs is with a little white lie. “Talk about an issue you’ve heard of or read about without mentioning any specific names. Or simply make up someone with a sexual situation to open the door to talk,” says Moroz. “I can’t tell you the amount of topics – be it sex, personal hygiene, or whatever – that go better for everyone when you use a fake person as an example. Everyone is more OK talking about a person they don’t know.”
Remember all those gory Driver’s Ed videos and images of reckless drivers ramming head-first into cars and into poles? Hard as they may have been to watch, chances are it was enough to get you to buckle up. The same theory can apply to chatting about STIs, says Moroz. “In some ways it’s easier to talk about sexually transmitted diseases than actual sex because diseases can be put more scientifically,” he says. “It removes emotion from the situation, allowing an easier conversation about what the disease is and how it affects you.” He suggests being honest and graphic about the physical symptoms of STIs such as itching, burning and oozing, because these types of discussions can occur without any threat attached to it. “You can present the information in an educational way that tends to work for parents and resonate with kids.”
And should all else fail, call on your computer – more specifically, on Google Images – for help. Moroz says it’s important that parents push through feeling uncomfortable or grossed out because this conversation can change their child’s lives. “Planning over panic is always the solution,” says Moroz. “If you logically prepare for what is going to happen, it increases the odds of the right outcome.”
Coping with STIs
Teens or young adults contracting an STI can experience more than a hit to their health. “This is the time in their life where every emotion is so heightened,” says Moroz. “Something like this can be traumatic for them.” The best way to handle news that they’ve developed an STI? First, don’t fly off the handle with a spontaneous “You what?!” (or worse), and second, reassure and validate your child and their worries. “Just doing this alone is enough to encourage discussion,” says Moroz.
Next, thank them for trusting you enough to open up about such a personal problem. Once you’ve discussed the issue and talked about their symptoms, be the one to accompany them to a clinic or doctor. Pay attention while health professionals educate your child about dealing with their infection now and in the future, and when you get home, try to offer quiet support instead of lecturing them about what just happened.
“Tell them they did the right thing by coming to you,” says Moroz, “and show them you mean it. Think about how you want to come across. The last thing you want to do is seem like you don’t have any empathy or that you’re using the moment to lecture.”
Lastly: When the conversation ends, take their secret to the grave. “Be that person who your child knows they can trust to get them through any tough situation – no matter what it is.”
- According to a Stats Canada study “Sexual behaviour and condom use of 15- to 24-year-olds in 2003 and 2009/2010”, two-thirds of 15- to 24-year-olds have had sexual intercourse at least once; a third of the age group had first done so when they were younger than 17.
- According to the same Stats Can study, condom use was lower in Quebec and Manitoba, and higher in Ontario, Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
- According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, in 2010, reported rates of chlamydia and gonorrhoea were highest in the 20-24 age group.
- A 2010 study of students at a Canadian university found that HPV was present in over 50 per cent among both sexes.
- The Canadian Health Measures Survey indicates that approximately six per cent of people ages 14 to 34 have genital herpes.