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What to do when your teen tells you they have a sexually transmitted infection

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By now, most parents likely know that not talking about sex with their teens will not stop them from doing it. And, as a parent, you might even have done some reading on how to have The Talk with your kids. Maybe you think you’ve done everything right when it comes to having important conversations with your teen. Or maybe you’ve been avoiding the discussion because you’re not sure where to start.

No matter which category you fit into, you may still find yourself as the parent whose kid comes home and tells them they think they might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or that they have contracted an STI. The way you respond to that bombshell can make all the difference for your child going forward — in their relationship with you, with future partners, and with themselves. “Often, the response of the people that you confide in when you first have a diagnosis shapes how you see your condition from then on out,” says Myisha Battle, a San Francisco-based sex coach. “It’s important that parents have a response that can potentially produce a positive outcome for kids when they’re disclosing.”

That, of course, is easier said than done. Heather Corinna, founder of Scarleteen, a sex ed web site for youth, and author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties, says that the groundwork for a positive response begins before your child ever receives a diagnosis. In fact, the way you talk about STIs from the beginning may determine whether your child even comes to you if they’re worried about their sexual health. And that, says Corinna, includes things like not talking about any infectious illness in a stigmatized way. “The closer we get to people, the more susceptible we are to infections,” Corinna explains. So if you wouldn’t talk about getting the chicken pox or a cold from someone as something gross, you shouldn’t talk about STIs that way, either. “When STIs come up in media or if people make a stigmatizing joke, correct it,” Corinna says. “Also important is not assigning value to people who do or don’t have an STI.”

And, no matter how many safer sex conversations you have (or haven’t) had with your kid, even people who do everything right can contract an STI. “STIs can happen even if you use protection and get tested,” says Ella Dawson, a writer who was diagnosed with herpes at 20. According to the CDC, nearly all sexually active people will contract HPV in their lifetime; two in three people worldwide have herpes simplex I and half of new infections are genital. The CDC considers both chlamydia and gonorrhea to be common infections. But, as Corinna points out, “The tricky thing is that when we talk about STIs, we’re talking about easily treatable illnesses like chlamydia versus [something like] HIV.”

Something else that might affect how involved a parent is or needs to be is how a young person contracted their STI in the first place. Often, STIs are contracted during consensual sexual interactions, but they can also be contracted during abuse or an assault. Corinna says that the biggest concern that they hear at Scarleteen from teens who have STIs is that their parents or caregivers will be disappointed in them. But, more serious than that, are fears that they may be kicked out of their house for having sex. Or, “if it happens in a wanted or ongoing relationship,” says Corinna, “there is the fear that their parents will punish them by refusing to let them see the person anymore.” All of these things may prevent a young person from disclosing their status to their parent or caregiver, or to avoid seeking medical attention all together.

“Teens with STIs need two things,” says Dawson. Those things are “access to medical care, and support. Make sure that your child has gotten a quality diagnosis from a medical professional, and also make sure that they are being treated with respect by their physician,” she says. Then, bombard them with unconditional love and support. It’s also important to do what you can to avoid adding to the shame and stigma your child might already be feeling. “Believe me, they don’t need you to confirm their own feelings of shame and regret,” Dawson warns.

Of course, it’s normal for parents to panic when their kid comes to them with an unexpected revelation like an STI diagnosis, but “it’s important to keep that freak out away from your kid,” says Battle. Corinna encourages parents to put aside their emotional reaction and get themselves educated so they can best help the young person in their lives. “If you’re in denial about [your] young person having sex, try to move past it and help them with what they need. If it’s about you controlling their health care and not giving them access, fix that,” Corinna says. “If you didn’t have conversations about what it means to be sexual with someone else, it’s time to have this conversation.”

Everyone agrees that the best way to be helpful as a parent is to take your lead from your child. “If they are upset, validate that. If they don’t feel bad about it, don’t make it a big deal,” suggests Corinna. Demonizing the transmitter, especially if that person is a partner, is not a helpful tactic and may alienate your child. Also not helpful? Trying to implement behavior modifications that same day, like taking them immediately to buy condoms, because it may feel like blaming. Also, going behind the young person’s back and calling their healthcare provider or their partner or telling a co-parent without getting explicit permission are surefire ways to lose a teen’s trust.

If your child isn’t sure what their diagnosis means, it can be a great time to get educated together. If they’re unsure if they might have an STI, “ask, ‘What are your symptoms? Let’s go to trusted website and find out what next steps should be.’ Or if it’s a diagnosis, it’s still an opportunity to sit down and ask what they learned at the doctor and what they know, so you can understand the next steps,” says Battle. Check out the resources on Scarleteen, the CDC’s website, or the American Social Health Association.

If you haven’t had great sex education yourself, learn along with your teen. After there is some distance, you can initiate another conversation about safer sex and make sure your teen has access to the appropriate supplies to help them avoid an STI in the future.

At the end of the day, what’s most important is letting your child know that an STI does not change the way you see them. This “does not mean your child has erred, ruined their future, or shown their true, negative character. Anyone can get an STI, even if you’re on the Dean’s list,” says Dawson. “What’s really important is that your kid is having a respectful, consensual and healthy sex life.”

Complete Article HERE!

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High-risk sex, girl-on-girl experimenting linked among NYC teens

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By Susan Edelman

Nearly half the Big Apple’s sexually active high-school girls have had female partners — and many engage in behavior that endangers their health, an alarming new study finds.

Researchers from New York University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine based their findings on a 2013 survey of public high-school students citywide — but most heavily in “high-risk neighborhoods” in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Of 4,600 girls surveyed, 1,101, or 27.5 percent, were sexually active. Of those, 513, or 46.6 percent, reported same-sex experiences, according to the study, published this month in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

This “vulnerable population of girls” who engage in same-sex or bisexual activity are twice as likely as heterosexual teens to be sexually active. The researchers also found:

  • These girls start having sex sooner, have more sexual partners and suffer more “intimate partner violence.”
  • They are less likely to use contraceptive methods — putting them at higher risk of unplanned pregnancy if they also have sex with boys.
  • They use more alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs.
  • They report more suicidal thoughts or attempts. Girls “not sure” of their sexual orientation are at highest risk of trying to kill themselves.
  • Even though female-to female transmission of HIV is possible, many of these girls do not test for it or other sex-related diseases.

Dr. Chanelle Coble, an adolescent pediatrician and assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, co-authored the study with Einstein assistant professors and psychologists Rosy Chhabra and Ellen Silver.

The researchers found the abundance of same-sex activity even though not all teens who indulged identified themselves as lesbian or bi-sexual.

“Just looking at how someone describes themselves doesn’t tell the whole story,” Coble said. “When they’re young, it’s harder for them to be specific about their identity — they’re still exploring and figuring it out.”

An advocate for lesbian and bisexual youth called the study’s results, “disheartening, but not surprising.”

Lesbian and bisexual girls are often stigmatized and treated with hostility, said Emily Greytak, research director for GLSEN, a Manhattan-based group that promotes safe schools for LGBT students.

“That can lead to more risky behavior, and takes a toll on their health,” she said.

The surveys were conducted by the city Department of Health for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Complete Article HERE!

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Toddler play may give clues to sexual orientation

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A controversial study finds children who engage in more gender-stereotypical play are more likely to self-identify as heterosexual later in life.

By Michael Price

The objects and people children play with as early as toddlerhood may provide clues to their eventual sexual orientation, reveals the largest study of its kind. The investigation, which tracked more than 4500 kids over the first 15 years of their lives, seeks to answer one of the most controversial questions in the social sciences, but experts are mixed on the findings.

“Within its paradigm, it’s one of the better studies I’ve seen,” says Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor emerita of biology and gender studies at Brown University. The fact that it looks at development over time and relies on parents’ observations is a big improvement over previous studies that attempted to answer similar questions based on respondents’ own, often unreliable, memories, she says. “That being said … they’re still not answering questions of how these preferences for toys or different kinds of behaviors develop in the first place.”

The new study builds largely on research done in the 1970s by American sex and gender researcher Richard Green, who spent decades investigating sexuality. He was influential in the development of the term “gender identity disorder” to describe stress and confusion over one’s sex and gender, though the term—and Green’s work more broadly—has come under fire from many psychologists and social scientists today who say it’s wrong to label someone’s gender and sexuality “disordered.”

In the decades since, other studies have reported that whether a child plays along traditional gender lines can predict their later sexual orientation. But these have largely been criticized for their small sample sizes, for drawing from children who exhibit what the authors call “extreme” gender nonconformity, and for various other methodological shortcomings.

Seeking to improve on this earlier research, Melissa Hines, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, turned to data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The study includes thousands of British children born in the 1990s. Parents observed and reported various aspects of their children’s behavior, which Hines and her Cambridge colleague, Gu Li, analyzed for what they call male-typical or female-typical play.

An example of stereotypical male-typical play, as defined by the study, would include playing with toy trucks, “rough-and-tumble” wrestling, and playing with other boys. Female-typical play, on the other hand, would include dolls, playing house, and playing with other girls.

Hines and Li looked at parental reporting of children’s play at ages 2.5, 3.5, and 4.75 years old, and arranged them on a scale of one to 100, with lower scores meaning more female-typical play and higher scores more male-typical play. They then compared those results to the participants’ self-reported responses as teenagers to a series of internet-administered questions about their sexuality.

Beginning with the 3.5-year-old age group, the team found that children who engaged mostly in “gender-conforming” play (boys who played with trucks and girls who played with dolls, as an example) were likely to report being heterosexual at age 15, whereas the teenagers who reported being gay, lesbian, or not strictly heterosexual were more likely to engage in “gender-nonconforming” play. The same pattern held true when they expanded the teenagers’ choices to a five-point spectrum ranging from 100% heterosexual to 100% homosexual.

Teens who described themselves as lesbian scored on average about 10 points higher on the gender-play scale at age 4.75 (meaning more stereotypically male play) than their heterosexual peers, and teens who described themselves as gay men scored about 10 points lower on the scale than their peers, the researchers report in Developmental Psychology. Questions of transgender identity were not addressed in the study.

“I think it’s remarkable that childhood gender-typed behavior measured as early as age 3.5 years is associated with sexual orientation 12 years later,” wrote Li in an email. “The findings help us to understand variability in sexual orientation and could have implications for understanding the origins of this variability.”

The paper “is just a well-done study in terms of getting around some of the problems that have plagued the field,” says Simon LeVay, a retired neuroscientist whose 1991 paper in Science sparked interest in brain differences associated with sexual identity. “It shows that something is going on really early in life and points away from things like role modeling and adolescent experiences as reasons for becoming gay.”

Others dispute the paper’s methods and significance. Parents’ own beliefs and biases about gender almost certainly influence how they described their children’s gendered play, which could skew their reporting, says Patrick Ryan Grzanka, a psychologist who studies sexuality and multicultural issues at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. But more worrisome to him are the cultural assumptions underlying the study itself. The authors appear to regard gender nonconformity as the primary marker of gayness, which doesn’t align with current research suggesting that your individual preferences for either stereotypically male or female behaviors and traits has little to do with your sexual orientation, he says.

Grzanka is also dismayed that the paper fails to critique the history of similar research that investigated whether childhood behaviors lined up with eventual sexual orientation. It wasn’t long ago that such research was used to stigmatize and pathologize gender-nonconforming children, he says. “I think it’s important to ask why we’re so invested in this purported link [between gender conformity and sexuality] in the first place.”

Complete Article HERE!

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The way we teach sex-ed is old and ineffective. Here’s how to fix it.

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By Stephanie Auteri

In a predictable bit of news, the results of a study released this past September show that students consider most sex-education programs to be out-of-touch, outdated, and lacking in the information that might actually prove useful to them. Among the deficiencies reported by teenagers were a focus on fear-based lesson plans, curricula that alienate LGBTQ+ students, instructors untrained in actually providing useful sex-ed, and a failure to acknowledge that some young people are  —  spoiler alert  —  sexually active.

When it comes down to it, though, these inadequacies do not stem from lack of trying on the part of certified sexuality educators. There are disparities in curricula, and in resources: Federal funding for sex-education flows to both abstinence-only and evidence-based approaches, and decisions about curricula are made on a state-by-state  —  and district-by-district  —  basis. There are still only 13 states that require sex-education to be “medically accurate.”

In fact, in the past year, 23 bills were introduced with the intention of restricting the quality of sex-ed. Such restrictions included moves to limit access to information about reproductive health options, and to exclude qualified sexuality educators from schools based upon their affiliation with abortion providers.

While the majority of these bills failed to advance, in many cases, educators continue to be hamstrung by red tape. And they worry that  —  in the wake of the most recent presidential election  —  their jobs will only become more difficult. What is an enterprising, conscientious sex-educator to do?

Recently, I attended the National sex-ed Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where I saw sexuality educator Francisco Ramirez present a keynote on “hacking” sexual health. During his talk, Ramirez spoke about how educators might possibly shake things up, in some cases taking sex-ed outside the classroom in order to reach those who need it most. Happily, many educators are already doing this, systematically toppling many of the barriers that have long stood in their way. Throughout the conference, I was reminded of the many forms such resourcefulness can take. Here are the six most important fixes currently happening in American sex-ed.

1. Where can students get the answers they crave without fear of embarrassment or other negative repercussions? These days: their phones.

Sex-educators often employ anonymous question boxes in their classrooms, but the new-media generation is taking this idea of anonymity to the place where it thrives best: social media. I recently wrote about a variety of new social-media applications, YouTube series, and other online resources that allow teens to seek out accurate sexuality information anonymously. Since then, it seems that not a day goes by where I don’t hear about a new sex-ed app.

What’s important to remember about any of these sex-ed hacks is that just because a program works in one place, that doesn’t mean it will work in every community.

One of the more recent ones to catch my eye is Capptivation’s Reach Out, an app that provides sexual assault survivor resources to college-age students. According to Capptivation, a similar app for high schoolers is on its way. And the Healthy Teen Network — a membership-based advocacy organization  —  is in the process of developing two phone apps, one for high school-aged teens, and one for people who are older. They were inspired to do so after receiving an RFP (a request for proposal — a document from an agency soliciting a proposal for a specific commodity or service) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alongside the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC has been looking to fund the development of a mobile app that would support teen pregnancy prevention.

This push for sex-ed apps is not without precedent. A 2016 study on mobile phone-based interventions for smoking cessation showed that mobile interventions can lead to positive behavioral changes. And additional research  —  including a 2016 paper published in BMC Public Health  —  has shown that sexual-health apps remove certain barriers youth often feel in seeking out sexual-health services: namely, embarrassment. HTN is in the midst of conducting its own randomized control trials in order to determine the efficacy of its apps.

2. How can students take a leadership role in their own sex-education? Through peer-led sex-ed.

A recent review of 15 peer-led sexual-health education programs shows that peer-to-peer sex-ed can be successful at improving teens’ knowledge and attitude about sexual health  —  which is good news, considering that many teens don’t think adults are doing the best job. And just as with social-media apps, new peer-to-peer training programs are popping up all around the country. Teen PEP, which operates in both New Jersey and North Carolina, is one such program that trains teens to provide sex-ed to their peers at school. Another example is the team out of Planned Parenthood of North, Central, and South New Jersey, which leads an annual Teen Conference that students travel to on a one-day field trip.

In Austin, Texas, the Peer 2 Peer Project trains teens to teach both on school grounds and at other locations within their communities, going so far as to pay them for their efforts. In Baltimore, Maryland, the Healthy Teen Network and its subsidiary, the Healthy Teen Leadership Alliance, also empower teens to influence the field of sexual health. These are just a handful of programs among many that are handing the reins over to teens. It can be difficult to keep track of all the peer-led programs popping up around the country, but Advocates for Youth  —  an advocacy organization with its focus on adolescent sexual health  —  has gathered the results of numerous studies on the impact of peer education. These studies show how peer education reduces risky sexual behaviors and empowers teens, who seem to find their peers to be more credible than adult educators.

Complete Article HERE!

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Talking With Both Daughters and Sons About Sex

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Parents play a key role in shaping sexual decision-making among adolescents — especially for girls.

A 2016 review of more than three decades of research found that teenagers who communicated with their parents about sex used safer sexual practices. Likewise, new research from Dutch investigators who studied nearly 3,000 teenagers found that young adolescents who reported feeling close with a parent were unlikely to have had sex when surveyed again two years later.

Notably, both research teams found that daughters benefited more than sons, and that the effective conversations and relationships were typically had with mothers.

According to Laura Widman, lead author of the review study and an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, “parents tend to talk about sex more with daughters than with sons, and we can speculate that that’s what’s probably driving these findings. Boys may not get the messages as frequently or have the kind of in-depth conversations that parents are having with girls.”

Given the results of her research, Dr. Widman said that she “wouldn’t want parents to get the idea that they only need to talk to daughters. In fact, it may be the opposite. We need to find a way to help parents do a better job of communicating with both their sons and daughters so that all teens are making safer sexual decisions.”

That parents have more frequent conversations with their daughters about sex and sexual development may be prompted by biological realities. Menstruation, HPV vaccination (which remains more common in girls than boys), and the fact that birth control pills require a prescription might spur discussions that aren’t being had with sons.

Yet experts also agree that gender stereotypes play a powerful role in sidelining both fathers and sons when it comes to conversations about emotional and physical intimacy. Andrew Smiler, a psychologist who specializes in male sexual development, noted that women generally “have a better vocabulary for talking about feelings and relationships than boys and men do. Fathers may be a little more stoic, more reserved and more hands-off.” And, he added, “they may play to the stereotype of trusting boys to be independent and able to care for themselves.”

These same stereotypes can also tend to steer the conversation in one direction with daughters and another direction with sons. When parents do address sexual topics with their teenagers, they typically adopt a heterosexual frame with boys playing offense and girls playing defense.

“We usually view our girls as potential victims who need to be protected from pregnancy and rape,” says Sheryl Ziegler, a psychologist who provides mother-daughter seminars on puberty and sexual development, while boys are often cast as testosterone-fueled prowlers looking for nothing but sex. These assumptions often drive how parents approach the conversation. Dr. Mary Ott, an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University and the author of a research synopsis on sexual development in adolescent boys observed that, “when parents talk with boys, there’s an assumption that they’ll have sex and they are advised to use condoms. Whereas for girls, there’s more of a focus on abstinence and delaying sex.”

Parental concern about the negative consequences of adolescent sexual activity can reduce “the talk” to a laundry list of don’ts. Don’t get a sexually transmitted infection, don’t get pregnant or get a girl pregnant and don’t proceed without gaining consent. Critical as these topics are, Dr. Ziegler points out that they can “become the focus, so much more than having a quality conversation about why we are sexual beings, or talking about all of the ways we can express love.” And failing to acknowledge the pleasurable side of sex can, according to Dr. Smiler, hurt the credibility of adults. “When parents only acknowledge the scary side of the story,” he said, “teenagers can devalue everything else the parents have to say.”

So how might we do justice to conversations with both our daughters and sons about emotional and physical intimacy?

Over the years in my work as a clinician, I’ve come to a single tack that I take with adolescent girls and boys alike. First, I prompt teenagers to reflect on what they want out of the sexual side of their romantic life, whenever it begins. Why are they being physically intimate, what would they like to have happen, what would feel good?

Following that, I encourage each teenager to learn about what his or her partner wants. I urge them to secure not just consent, but enthusiastic agreement. Given that we also grant consent for root canals, gaining mere permission seems, to me, an awfully low bar for what should be the joys of physical sexuality. Dr. Smiler adds that any conversation about consent should avoid gender stereotypes and address the fact that boys experience sexual coercion and assault and “include the idea that boys can and do say no.”

Finally, if the parties are enthusiastically agreeing to sexual activity that comes with risks — pregnancy, infection, the potential for heartbreak, and so on — they need to work together to address those hazards.

Research suggests that this shouldn’t be a single sit-down. The more charged the topic, the better it is served, and digested, in small bites.

Further, returning to the topic over time allows parents to account for the rapidly shifting landscape of adolescent sexual activity. We should probably be having one conversation with a 12-year-old, an age when intercourse is rare, and a different one with a 17-year-old, half of whose peers have had sex.

Is it better for mom or dad to handle these discussions? Teenagers “want to have the conversation with someone they trust and respect and who will show respect back to the teen,” Dr. Smiler said. “Those issues are more important than the sex of the person having the conversation.”

How families talk with teenagers about their developing sexuality will reflect the parents’ values and experiences but, Dr. Ott notes, we’re all in the business of raising sexually healthy adults.

“We want our teenagers to develop meaningful relationships and we want them to experience intimacy,” she said, “so we need to move our conversations about sex away from sex as a risk factor category and toward sex as part of healthy development.” And we need to do so with our sons as well as our daughters.

Complete Article HERE!

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