Knowing when your child is ready to talk about sexual health can be a challenge. Knowing how to talk to you child about sex is another puzzle. While having this conversation may seem daunting and uncomfortable, it’s much better to address the topic instead of staying silent.
Consider the current statistics on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that girls ages 13 to 19 had a birth rate of 26.5 per 1,000. And according to The Department of Health and Human Services, nearly half of the 20 million reported new cases of STDs each year in the United States occur in youths ages 15 to 24.
Starting the conversation
It’s important to establish an open line of communication with your teen to discuss sexual health and the pressures or desires to engage in sexual activity. Establishing this type of communication can prevent teens from engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors. Start by answering your child’s questions with age-appropriate answers and correct terminology. Try to avoid including extra details or information.
But it’s not all up to you to educate your child. They may already be learning about sexual health in the classroom. In Maryland, local school boards developed a standard for sexual health classes to begin between the ages of 10 and 12. Asking your child about what they’re learning is a good place to start the conversation.
Involving your child’s doctor
Your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor can also talk to your child about sexual health at their annual physical. It’s a chance for both you and your child to ask questions and discuss concerns. Before the physical, you may speak with the doctor to discuss family values and standards. While your child’s doctor is a resource to you, I recommend you also personally share these views with your child in an open discussion.
During the physical, many providers will ask you to leave the exam room for a period of time. Don’t take offense. Your child may be embarrassed to make a comment or ask a question in front of you. This time allows the doctor to talk to your child about emotional wellbeing and risk behaviors. If needed, the doctor can also help your child share concerns with you.
As your child’s doctor continues the discussion into their late teen years, your child will build a trusting relationship with his or her doctor. This way, there’s already an established relationship of trust between teen, parent and doctor when your teen gets older and asks more questions about sexual health.
Keep in mind that Maryland Minor Consent Laws allow minors to be seen without the consent of parents to discuss contraception, diagnosis or screening of STDs and decisions related to pregnancy. As a parent, it’s important to build a foundation of trust for the future. A primary care doctor is a resource, but not a replacement for your own communication with your child.