Sunday, July 20, 2008

In my many conversations with parents about talking to their kids about sex, I find it interesting that when I say the word “s-e-x,” faces turn red and people look away as if I have said something dirty.

Most parents are afraid to talk with their kids about sex, even though it is one of the most important ongoing conversations a parent can have with his or her child.

Some parents think the answer is to put their daughters on birth control as soon as their periods start. Others think that since their parents didn’t talk with them and they turned out OK, their children will be just fine, too.

What parents do not realize is it is a whole new world when it comes to issues surrounding sex. Most young people think that what they do sexually during their teen and young adult years will not have an impact on their future. This could not be further from the truth.

I recently ran across Dr. Meg Meeker‘s book, “Your Kids at Risk: How Teen Sex Threatens Our Sons and Daughters.”This a must-read for all parents.

In talking with Dr. Meeker recently, one of the things she pointed out is that while most people would agree that getting pregnant as a teen is not a great idea, young people don’t typically die from pregnancy. They do die from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

“Unfortunately, we are seeing a dramatic increase in sexually transmitted infections in young people, many of whom do not understand that oral contraceptives do not protect you,” Dr. Meeker said.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates 19 million Americans contract STIs every year, and half are younger than 25. Additionally, studies indicate that 80 percent of the time, when teens become infected, they don’t know it.

In her book, Dr. Meeker tells the story of a young man who contracted genital herpes when he was 17. He only had one outbreak, so he eventually assumed he was disease-free. He married and had a child. When the baby was 3 days old, she became very ill.

The doctors determined she had encephalitis, a potentially fatal brain infection resulting from the herpes type 2 virus circulating in her mother’s spinal fluid. When the doctor asked the mother why she had not told her she was infected, the mother said, “I don’t have genital herpes.” Only then did the father realize the virus still lived in him and he had infected his wife.

It is estimated that one in five Americans older than 12 is infected with herpes

In 2002, researchers looked at the trajectory of herpes infections, Dr. Meeker said.

“They determined that by 2025, 39 percent of all men and 49 percent of all women will test positive for herpes type 2,” she said.

“Oral contraceptives do nothing to prevent this infection. In fact, if anything they encourage the spread of it” because of the likelihood of having multiple sex partners.

Dr. Meeker says she thinks parents can help their kids stay safe when it comes to dealing with STIs by using the following suggestions:

Listen more, talk less. Pay attention to and get your finger on the pulse of what is happening in the life of your teen.

Keep it simple. Don’t worry about talking about the specifics of sex. Your teen wants to know what you think about them having sex, whether they tell you that or not.

Know your role. It is your responsibility to do everything in your power to keep your teen safe and healthy. The longer you can help your teen delay their sexual debut, the less at risk they are for contracting an STI.

Tell them sex is fabulous. They potentially have 60 years of great sexual activity in front of them, but to make it wonderful and healthy, the smart thing to do is put on the brakes and pay attention.

For more information on this topic, visit

Julie Baumgardner is the executive director of First Things First, an organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at

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