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STD and HIV Prevention for Parents: Top Tips for Opening Up the Conversation with Your Teen

Open communication between parents and their teenage kids is the ideal, but it’s not always the way it goes. Sometimes, parents and kids are too embarrassed to readily talk about personal matter such as sex. This is normal, perhaps, but not very effective. It’s as important for teenagers to understand the risks of unprotected sex as it is for them to understand the mechanics of intercourse. In the interest of a happier, healthier populace, we are pleased to present these top tips for opening up the STD and HIV prevention conversation with your own teen.

What are STDs

STD, also known as STI, are diseases and infections that are transmitted from one person to another by way of sexual contact. The exchange of bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions is enough to give a sex partner any STD you may have. At the same time, anyone you have sexual contact with can infect you, even if neither of you shows any signs or symptoms.

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that can be cured with a dose of penicillin or other antibiotic medicine. Gonorrhea symptoms generally appear within ten days of exposure and include painful or burning sensations while urinating, bloody or cloudy discharge from the vagina or penis, bleeding between periods and uncomfortable bowel movements. Anal itching and swollen testes are other common signs of gonorrhea infection.

Chlamydia is another sort of bacterial infection that affects the genitals in both men and women. Symptoms are similar to gonorrhea and may include painful intercourse, as well.

Trichomoniasis is caused by a tiny parasite and almost always affects the vagina, causing symptoms similar to gonorrhea and chlamydia. In men, trichomoniasis may cause an itching sensation inside the penis. The disease is mostly spread through heterosexual intercourse and is easily treated in both genders.

HIV is an as yet incurable disease that’s spread through sexual contact, or by way of shared needles or transfusion with tainted blood products. Infected persons may experience flu-like symptoms around six weeks after infection. This is not always the case, however. The only way to determine HIV infection is with a blood test. As the disease progresses, HIV can cause swollen lymph nodes as it destroys the body’s ability to heal itself.

How to start the conversation

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Ideally, you and your teenager have maintained open lines of communication throughout their childhood. If not, this is a good chance to re-open an honest dialog with your adolescent.

Know what you want to say before you say it. Try to present the facts about STD in a way that doesn’t overwhelm. Use examples, if you can, to illustrate the gravity of STD prevention, suggests Healthfinder. Start “the talk” while you and your teen are doing something together. You might be surprised at how receptive your teen is while you’re doing dishes or weeding the garden together.

What your teenager needs to know about STDs

Besides knowing that STDs exist, it’s important for your teen to know how they are spread, what the consequences of infection are, and how they can best protect themselves against sexually transmitted disease. Tell your teen of either gender how and where to purchase condoms, and offer to pay for them if they cannot afford the expense.

Ways your teen can protect themselves

The only sure-fire way to avoid STD is to avoid sexual contact of any kind. This is, of course, not realistic for an amorously inclined adolescent. Barring total avoidance of sex, your teen should understand the effectiveness of latex condoms and know how to use them. Your teen should know that STD can be shared in a number of ways, including missionary-style intercourse, anal sex and oral sex, too. Even hand-to-genital contact like “heavy petting” can transmit enough bodily fluid to cause infection. Tell your teen how and where to get tested for STD and gently offer to take them for STD testing near you.

Above all, help your teenager understand that sexual contact is best saved to share with someone who respects them. Sex may not be saved for marriage anymore, but it should always be done with caring and regard for the other person’s health, happiness and well-being.

Joshua Morton is at medical school and plans to go into a career in community sexual and reproductive health. His articles appear on lifestyle blogs and health blogs.

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