We all want our children to grow up, fall in love, get married and have a family … someday. To help your teen understand the role sex will play and does play in their lives and empower them to make healthy decisions, it is something you need to be open to talking about. He or she has probably learned about the mechanics of sex in a health class in school, but as we all know, there is so much more surrounding sex and intimacy that should be discussed.
Some of the things my wife and I discussed with our sons and that, when asked, I recommend patients talk to their teens about include the following:
Healthy, respectful relationships;
Pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and possible consequences;
How to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
These talks can be somewhat uncomfortable, and you may be putting some of them off while you try to find the “right time” to have them. What the right time looks like is different for each of us, it is hopefully always before something unwanted by your teen happens.
I have practiced family medicine for decades now, and I still deliver babies. I love developing relationships with young families and the privilege of knowing and taking care of multiple generations. I still see too many unplanned pregnancies to teenage parents.
My personal advice to teens is to refrain from having sex. If they choose to have sex, I recommend both condoms and other forms of birth control like what we call “reversible long acting contraception” or LARC. These are either IUD’s or a type of plastic rod inserted under the skin of the upper arm of a woman that slowly releases a progesterone birth control and is effective for 3-5 years depending on what form is selected. I encourage teens to be thoughtful about choosing to have sex responsibly and choosing when to have a baby.
Take advantage of opportunities such as the two of you in the car, after watching a movie or TV show that touched upon a pertinent topic or during a quiet walk. Strive to answer openly, honestly and without judgment any questions you are asked about sex and intimacy. When answering questions and conveying information, do your best to ensure you teens know that you care for them and want to understand how they are feeling.
Some questions may make you uncomfortable, and that is OK. Be honest and explain that although you are uncomfortable, you want to continue the conversation and be there for your teen.
It can be embarrassing if your teen asks you a question you do not know the answer to. No one has all the answers, and it may be an opportunity for you and your teen to find the answer together. I recommend that you answer questions factually, truthfully and in an age-appropriate manner. If your teen feels that he or she cannot get the facts from you or trust you, he or she may go elsewhere for advice and information in the future.
No matter how open, loving and non-judgmental you are about talking with your teen about sex and intimacy, there may still be things he or she is not comfortable talking about with you. That is where your health care provider can become a resource as well as another trusted adult for your teen. Be sure not to miss routine checkups during which your health care provider should spend some time talking confidentially with your teen. Prepare your child for this and leave time in the visit for this to occur.
These are not easy topics to talk about, but they are so very important. How your teen views and regards sex impacts the shape of his or her life today and in the future.
Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.