Let’s face the fact that pregnancy, condom use and sexual diseases such as Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are a real thing here. And believe it or not, but teenager’s sexual health needs differ from adults, am I right? I can’ t stress enough how sexual education is not spoken enough about to teenagers. And not talking sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes leave them in a messy situation that you (parents and teachers) have to try help clean up and make sure the correct decisions are made, am I right again? I am here to talk about the importance of advocating earlier sexual education at school and in the comfort of your own living room.
Now we cannot ignore the fact that as teenagers grow up, their sexual behaviour can increase dramatically. In addition, many adults tend to feel either uncomfortable talking about the topic or remain in denial about it. For example, when I was blossoming into my early teenage years, my parents thought I didn’t understand any concepts of sexual contact and behaviour, little did they know I knew what ‘sex’ was, even without experience. Therefore, they never thought the need to inform me on the risks involved. This happens enormously in households, for young girls and boys. That is why I am encouraging parents and educators to enlighten teenagers to a higher extent rather than ‘just use protection’, and spread knowledge on the naked truth while they’re still young.
Let’s get down to business, when you hear that someone has an STI, what do you think? It is not something anyone wants to deal with, but unfortunately it’s something that can be caught and passed along very, very easily. It’s easy to tell those itty little teens to ‘use protection’ and leave it at that but I’ll tell you what, they don’t always do that. Let me introduce you to an STI. STIs rarely show any signs or symptoms. So it is important for adolescents, and adults to regularly visit a doctor to get tested because it is frequently overlooked or teenagers feel embarrassed to get tested. STIs are passed through during unprotected sexual contact, causing body fluids to exchange (Australian Government Department of Health, 2013). Now you already have or will hear this repeatedly, but it is crucial to warn adolescents about the risks of receiving, or passing on an STI. You may or may not know, but just like any other infections or diseases, STIs are caused from the spread of organisms, like bacteria, viruses, and parasites (Australian Government Department of Health, 2013).
STI caused by bacteria include:
Chlamydia (curable)- if left untreated, it can cause serious or permanent damage to women’s reproductive systems, and/or can cause a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that occurs outside the womb) (Centers for Disease Control and Protection, 2017).
Gonorrhoea (curable) – very painful and can cause infertility in both men and women.
Syphilis (curable)- split into stages (primary, secondary, latent, tertiary) and can cause serious health problems if it is not treated correctly. Physical infections include sores, skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, fever. If left untreated, severe medical problems can occur which can affect the brain, heart and other organs in the body (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017)
STI caused by viruses include:
Herpes (incurable): a common non-curable STI that anyone can get and the virus does not show symptoms. Genital herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth (Centers for Disease Control and Protection, 2017).
HIV (incurable): HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is caused by having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It is a virus that attacks cells of the immune system, interfering with the body’s ability to fight infections (AIDS.gov, 2016).
HPV (curable): HPV (Human Papillomavirus) doesn’t have any symptoms but can still infect others through sexual contact. Symptoms may include warts on the genitals or surrounding skin (Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet, 2017).
Hepatitis B (curable): Hepatitis B is transmitted when blood, semen, or other body fluid from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters, the body of someone who is not infected (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015) Chronic Hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues, like cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Find your confidence- seek help
Educating young teenagers about the risks involved in unprotected sexual contact can truly change their perspective on their mental and physical wellbeing. And don’t inform them only once when they’re young, remind them regularly on how being sexually unsafe can impact their lives dramatically with incurable diseases and/or unwanted pregnancy. There are many ways to advocate sex education, one idea I think would be beneficial for teachers and parents/caregivers is for someone to hold a sex education information night full of pamphlets, condoms etc. It’s a great idea because it brings everyone together to not only educate adolescents, but also educate you as carers.
So take one for the team and don’t be shy confronting teenagers about their sexual health because you can be the change their lives need!
But hey, if you’re still uncomfortable, that’s ok. You can receive help from helplines instead:
The Sexual Health Helpline- +61 (08) 9227 6177
Sexual Healthline- 1300 883 793
AIDS.gov. (2016, July 14). WHAT IS HIV/AIDS? Retrieved from AIDS.gov: https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/what-is-hiv-aids/
Australian Government Department of Health. (2013). Prevention of STI. Retrieved from The Department of Health: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/sti/publishing.nsf/Content/sexual-health
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, May 31). Viral Hepititis. Retrieved from Center for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hbv/index.htm
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, February 24). Syphilis – CDC Fact Sheet. Retrieved from Center for Disease Control and Prevention : https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Protection. (2017, March 14). Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Protection: https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Protection. (2017, February 21). Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Protection: https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm
Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet. (2017, March 14). Retrieved from Center for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm