Earlier last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released findings from one of the largest and most reliable surveys done on the topic of sexual behavior. The results based on interviews of about 5,300 young people, ages 15 to 24, shows the proportion of young people in that age group who said they’d never had oral, vaginal or anal sex rose in the past decade from 22 percent to about 28 percent.
So while more young people may be delaying sexual intercourse, they still are engaging in sexual activity. Health education can help address the lack of knowledge when it comes to sexual transmitted infections, unwanted and/or unplanned pregnancies, and of course contraceptive options. If you believe that the potential of young people must be guided to help them realize their full potential, then educating young people about sexual behavior risks could be a worthwhile investment. Regardless if you are a parent or not, support abstinence or a dual approach, keeping our youth free of STIs and unplanned babies is a smart investment.
Adolescence is an ideal time to promote positive personal behaviors such as an “ABC” approach , abstain – educating youth about both abstinence and delay of sexual activity and first pregnancy; be faithful – or partner reduction; and correct and consistent condom use. Another component sometimes added is “D” for drugs, which refers to reducing use of both intravenous drugs and recreational drugs, such as alcohol, that can increase the possibility of unsafe sex.
It’s important for parents and guardians to be active players in what minors know and do not know when it comes to sexual and reproductive health. Imagine the disappointment of a child becoming HIV positive because they didn’t know HIV can be contracted through oral and vaginal sex or a high school couple dealing with a pregnancy because they believed a popular contraception myth.
There are a few things to consider when preparing to implement effective health education in the home. For example, consider a “natural opportunity” to talk with a young person vs. a manufactured time, like when you’re together watching a program or film addressing the topic. You also need to consider the age and maturity of a young person; you don’t want to overwhelm them, so ask. Simply asking, “what do you know about preventing pregnancy…How do you avoid getting HIV…may make you blush but it starts a conversation.”
Here are five tips to educate your young person on health topics:
- Consider health on a continuum when you engage your child. Be consistent with health promotion when it comes to brushing teeth, getting proper sleep, preventing STI’s, and hand washing. Soon, nothing will be taboo to talk about.
- Be open to talking about any and everything brought to you. Youth today are continuously exposed to different points of view; some may differ from your own. By being open and willing to discuss it all, it creates a “safe place” to talk about the most sensitive topics. Be mindful of how you respond (e.g. avoid shaming, be more supportive).
- Get the facts. Arm your young person with the facts. Learn about STIs, contraception, risks, etc. together. Visit a clinic together, go online together, read brochures and discuss them. Clarify myths and push accurate information. It could save a life.
- Be sincere. Talking about some health issues are easier than some others. But avoid being contrite or rehearsed and be willing to share your own experiences, lessons you learned, etc. It will go a long way.
- Chances are if you open the door to communicate, someone will walk through. But you don’t have to know all the answers. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” Often listening without bias is a great opportunity to connect on these topics. See tip #4.
Remember that teenagers who are well informed are in a better position to make better decisions about their health and sexual behavior. For accurate health and hygiene information and resources, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov.
By Walker Tisdale