By: David Michalik, DO, pediatric infectious disease physician, Bickerstaff Pediatric Family Center, Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach
With current technology – and a social media-driven age – adolescents are being exposed to sex at an earlier age. A certain time comes to have “the talk” with your teen. Too often, simply telling your kids ‘don’t do it’ is not enough and can lead to unfortunate consequences.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimate that in 2000 more than 48 percent of new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S. occurred among those ages 15 to 24, even though these youth amount to only 25 percent of the sexually experience population. In addition, about 50% of new HIV infections occur each year in people under age 25.
In many communities in Southern California, discussions related to sex are taboo or just plain uncomfortable. The belief that sex, pregnancy or contracting sexually transmitted infections won’t happen to their teen happens often. Sex and physical intimacy with both the same or opposite sex has become more mainstream on social media, television and movies, and seems to be more common in younger ages. Parents having an open conversation about the risks, what it means to engage in sex or a sexual relationship can help ensure your teen has accurate information.
Pediatricians and family practice doctors can help start parents off with some ideas or starting points on an HIV/STI discussion. Having a discussion – any discussion – is a start. If you’re having an especially difficult time engaging in this conversation, consider having your teen’s doctor help open the conversation.
Parents should know the risks of getting HIV or an STI, and how certain common STIs are transmitted. STI rates have been climbing, and lack of condom use, risky sexual practices and a high number of sexual partners are indicators of those most at risk of contracting HIV and/or STIs. There are a high number of resources available for parents online, through your doctor and community.
Many STIs can be present with few or no symptoms. Getting your teen tested is easy and can be done through free clinics or your teen’s primary care physician. If an adolescent over the age of 12 years is concerned that they might have HIV or an STD, or been exposed to one, they have the legal right to get tested and treated without parental consent under California law.
Having a support structure is important for any individual. If your teen contracts HIV or an STI, they are encouraged to get medical attention and disclose their status to their partners, and people within their support structure, like parents or other family members. Having support helps individuals to stay compliant with their check-ups and medications. HIV-positive adolescents need to be assured that their diagnosis is not a death sentence. With today’s medical advances, there are effective treatments available for STIs, as well as HIV. Today, people with HIV can lead long healthy lives with the right medications.
The Bickerstaff Pediatric Family Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach offers comprehensive evaluation and condition management for infants, children, teens and expectant mothers who are at risk, or infected with HIV/AIDS. For more information, visit MillerChildrens.org/Bickerstaff.