When the subject of teens and sex comes up, the first thing to come to mind is usually unwanted pregnancy. However, today the issue is in fact much more complex. With the unprecedented surge in sexually transmitted diseases, sex among teens carries with it a much wider range of potentially life-altering consequences than pregnancy. Recent statistics indicate that 3-4 million teens annually become infected with some form of STD.
Herpes, gonorrhea and syphilis have been joined by more than 100 strains of human papilloma virus which is linked to most cases of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer kills more women than HIV/AIDS in the United States. Approximately 20 percent of our population over the age of 12 is infected with herpes type 2 virus. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 500 percent increase in herpes type 2 virus in white teens since 1976 and the Center estimates that current numbers of infections are over 45 million. Herpes type 2 results in genital infections, but it can also infect the mouth. Like HPV, while symptoms can be treated, it is an incurable virus that retreats into the nerve cells and randomly recurs. Although most become infected when their partner is having an outbreak, the current research indicates that the virus sheds cells between outbreaks, thereby causing the spread of infection when no symptoms are present.
Sadly, many teens believe that condoms protect against both unwanted pregnancies and STDs. The truth is that condoms, even when properly used, can fail, and they do not protect against many STDs that only require skin to skin contact to occur. Then there is the issue of oral sex. According to current statistics, upwards of 25 percent of youth believe that oral sex is not really sex and constitutes a way to preserve their virginity while still experiencing pleasure and intimacy. Nothing could be farther from the truth and too many learn far too late that HIV, herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis B can all be contracted orally.
It is critical that caretakers arm their children with the facts. Do not assume that they know, that they are abstinent or that they are safe. To assume is to put them at risk. Misinformation can lead to dangerous, psychologically damaging, irreversible consequences. If you are uncomfortable broaching the subject, one approach to assuring that your child has all the information necessary is to select a book from your local library that you, as a caretaker, have read and approved of, then make it required reading for your child, emphasizing your concern for their safety and well-being. Afterwards, sit down with them and ask what they learned and what their thoughts, feelings and questions are in regard to what they read.
Peggy Nolen is a licensed professional counselor. She specializes in recovery from traumatic experience, depression, anxiety and problems with drugs and alcohol. She can be reached at (770) 314-5924.