How to educate the young people about sexual health?
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With South Africa celebrating Youth Day on 16th June, it’s a great time to reflect on how to educate the young people in our lives about sexual health. There’s no denying that these kinds of conversations can feel very awkward. Sex is so taboo in our society, and the idea of speaking with young people about it might make you cringe.
But sadly, sex education in schools is seriously lacking and whether we like it or not, young people are engaging in sexual activities and sometimes risky behaviours. It’s our responsibility as parents and caregivers to share helpful, credible sexual health knowledge to prevent STIs, unplanned pregnancy and potentially traumatising situations from occurring.
If you’re agreeing right now, but wondering where to begin, you’re in the right place! This blog post will provide suggestions on how to handle the most important sexual health topics in an accurate, age-appropriate and sensitive way.
The foundation of comprehensive sex education is consent. It’s important that your teenager understands the concept of consent to help them manage the situation if they feel pressured into having sex, or if they are ever tempted to persuade someone to have sex.
It can be useful to open a conversation by asking the young person what their understanding of consent is. This will allow you to see where there may be gaps in their knowledge or if they have picked up confusing and misleading information about consent. The important aspects of consent to teach young people are:
- Sexual activity without consent is sexual assault.
- NO always means no, without needing a reason.
- Only an enthusiastic YES, means yes. Consent must be explicit.
- Consent is an ongoing conversation that may be revoked at any time by either party – even after sex has started.
Take the time to explain to your teen that they don’t owe anybody sex and that they have the right to choose what they want to do in any given moment. Reassure them that it is normal to experience big overwhelming feelings and drives that may potentially cloud their judgement – and that this can be exacerbated by alcohol and drug use. Suggest tools for dealing with these situations in the moment, and remind them that you are always available to support without judgement.
A good tool could be that they take a pause and ask themselves: Am I ready to have sex? Do I feel pressured? What would I feel comfortable with right now?
Giving your teen a solid understanding of consent can protect them from potentially harmful situations.
Safe Sex and STIs
All intimate practices that involve the exchange of bodily fluids (including kissing) carry a risk of transmitting an STI, so safe sex is very important. Using condoms and dental dams is the best way to reduce the risk of getting STIs. You may also consider a vaccine to protect your young person against HPV.
Some personal lubricants and massage can reduce the effectiveness of latex condoms and dental dams, and it’s important that your adolescent is aware of this so they can be fully informed.
There is no perfect method to prevent STIs, so it is also useful to encourage your young person to stay healthy with regular medical checkups and develop an open conversation with their doctor about their sexual health.
Adolescent pregnancies are a global problem that many parents of young people worry about. Studies show that it can cause major health consequences for teenage mothers and their babies, as well as longer-term social and economic consequences.
Thankfully, there are many effective birth control methods available for adolescents that you can introduce, so that your teen can be prepared for a conversation with your doctor. These include long-acting reversible contraceptives such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), short-acting hormonal methods such as the pill or the patch, and barrier methods including condoms and diaphragms.
Your medical health provider will be able to advise your young person on the best choice for them.
Keep the conversation about unplanned pregnancy open, so that your teen feels able to come to you with any questions, especially if they ever suspect they are pregnant.
If you are a parent of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or other LGBTQIA+ adolescent, it’s important that you understand and acknowledge the unique journey that your young person is on, without judgment or stereotyping. Each teen is unique in their experiences and the best thing you can do is support and love them unconditionally.
There are many fantastic resources (online and in-person) that may be able to support your teen in ways you cannot as they navigate this expression of their identity.
Pleasure Positive Education
The idea of talking with your teen about pleasure might feel controversial and even risky… but studies have shown that pleasure-positive sex education could actually lead to safer sex. The World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) released a declaration on Sexual Pleasure in January 2022 which outlines this.
“A growing body of work shows that sexual pleasure is integral to broader health, mental health, sexual health, well-being and rights and indeed can lead to improvements in health.”
So, don’t shy away from teaching your teen that sex is supposed to be pleasurable. It will certainly lead to a more comprehensive sexual education than “abstinence-only” could ever do.
Talking to your teen about sex is something that many parents dread. But the consequences of leaving them to learn about sex from misleading TikTok videos, or even porn, could be dangerous. By following the tips in this article, you can prepare them for real-life sex situations and potentially prevent unfortunate circumstances from happening. It will also have the added benefit of developing a bond between you as your child grows into an adult. So take a deep breath… It’s time to talk about the birds and the bees!