Apr 15, 2019

Dr. Cindy Gellner: It's coming up on Valentine's Day and love is in the air and that goes for your teenager as well. Today, we're going to talk about your teenager and sex on The Scope.

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Dr. Cindy Gellner: So I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner with the University of Utah Health Care and I'm seeing a lot of teenagers that are becoming sexually active lately. I'm having to do sexually transmitted infection testing lately and I have a few patients who are either now pregnant as teenagers or were pregnant as teenagers and I'm now seeing both them and their children.

So today I want to talk to you about sex because you are the parent and you are the ones that should be talking to your teen about sex. It's something that a lot of people don't want to talk about, but it's something everybody does and you have to make sure your teenager has the correct information, not what they hear from their friends, not what they find out on the Internet, but what your family values are, and the correct information about what sex is really all about.

So how do you prepare to talk about this very sensitive subject? Be confident and take a deep breath, relax. It's not something you're going to be talking about probably and it's okay to let your child know that. Explain that this discussion is out of love and concern for them, their health, and their safety.

You want to resist the temptation to lecture them. Teens get lectured a lot, in school, when they get in trouble. You want this to be an open comfortable conversation as much as it can be because otherwise they're going to tune out.

Many parents will find it helpful to find a book that they think is appropriate and expresses what their values are, and will give their teen the book on human sexuality and say, "Hey, you know what? I found this. I want you to take a look at it and then we'll talk about it, and I can help you answer any questions that you have."

Another thing is if you're not exactly comfortable about answering those questions, I often will tell teenagers at their visits with me when they're coming for their physicals, if you ever have any questions you are not comfortable talking to your parent about or that your parent doesn't know the answer to, or isn't comfortable talking to you about, teenagers are always welcome to talk to their pediatricians privately.

And unless they're talking about something where they're going to hurt themselves or someone else there is confidentiality, but what we do as pediatricians is we try to encourage your child to talk to you about what they talk to us about. And we try to encourage open dialogue between you guys regardless of what the subject is about.

So even before your child becomes a teenager many schools have maturation classes, but your teens and your preteens still want to hear from you. You are their parent. They want to hear this from you. Some specific questions to get the conversation started could be, have you had sex ed in school? What did they teach you? Do you have questions about birth control? You'd be surprised how many times I have a conversation about birth control.

Also, it's important that your child understands that the pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. Make sure your child knows that. Make sure your child knows, do they know how to protect themselves against getting pregnant if they're a girl or getting a girl pregnant if they're a boy, or getting a sexually transmitted infection?

You want to find out what their friends are saying about sex because quite often it's not going to be true. You want to ask them if anyone has ever asked them to have sex because that's important too, especially for girls. We're finding a lot of peer pressure. A lot of girls will be pressured into having sex in order to obtain a boyfriend and that's one thing you want to make sure your girl has good self-esteem, good body image, and they also know they don't need to ever feel pressured to have sex. It goes for boys too. They shouldn't ever feel pressured to have sex either.

And finally, you want to ask them, what do you know about sexually transmitted diseases? A lot of kids don't even know what a sexually transmitted disease is, so you need to have these discussions before they show that they're interested in having sex or if you find out that they are having sex, you want to start this conversation as soon as possible.

So one question I get asked about a lot is, does making birth control available increase the likelihood that kids will have sex? No, but it will decrease the likelihood of you becoming a grandparent.

So I'm a parent too. I know having the talk can be hard, but it's one thing that you really need to do to help benefit your child's health. Emotionally, physically, you need to have this talk with them. Be open, be honest, and reassure them that nothing they say will make you love them any less.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

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