Adolescents and young adults experience a disproportionately high rate of sexually transmitted infections. In 2017, adolescents ages 15-19 only accounted for 7% of the Minnesota population but accounted for 25% of all chlamydia and 18% of all gonorrhea cases.1 It is important to talk with young people about STIs and empower them to make responsible and well-informed decisions.
You have probably heard before adolescents have a sense of being invincible, and tend to have an “it will never happen to me” mind-set. This mind-set applies to STIs just as it does to driving fast. Many people don’t think they will ever contract an STI but statistics tell a different story. Talking to young people about STIs can empower them to prevent the spread of STIs, but also lets them know what they can do if they have been infected.
Talking about STIs doesn’t encourage young people to be sexually active, but it does take away the stigma of reproductive health. This stigma prevents young people from talking about STIs with partners, getting tested, and taking care of their health. When we ask young people what might prevent someone from talking about STIs with a partner, the top answers we hear are awkwardness and embarrassment. We want young people to know it’s okay to feel awkward, but there is nothing embarrassing about taking care of their health. But how do we let young people know that? Having conversations of our own.
Talking with our young people about sexuality can seem intimidating. You might feel like you don’t have all the information, don’t know the right time to bring it up, or fear young people will laugh it off or respond with an eye roll. It’s okay to feel this way! Parents don’t have to be experts to be great sexuality educators in their young people’s lives. The most important thing is to be open and available whenever your young person wants to talk.
Not sure how to start talking to your young person about STIs? We have a few tips:
- Reassure young people that they are normal- as are their questions and thoughts.
- Ask questions (even if they don’t)! Ask them about what they think, what they know, and what they may want to know about STIs and reproductive health.
- Make it feel like a normal, everyday conversation, like you’re talking about what groceries you need from the store. This also helps reduce the stigma that exists around STIs and taking care of your reproductive health.
- Leave a journal article or brochure about STIs out for your young person to see- curiosity almost always prevails. Follow up with a conversation!
- Share some of the rumors you heard about STIs when you were in high school and the correct information you know now.
- Discuss that at times your teen may feel more comfortable talking with someone other than you. Together, think of other trusted adults with whom they can talk with, or resources they can access (like myHealth!).
Been a while since your last health class?