Teenage Girls and Sex Education – by Dr. Roslyn Gerwin

A requirement for my medical school was to participate in health teaching. I chose to provide an informal session on alcohol, sex and drugs for a small group of freshman girls, the next generation of diverse women. I find this subject so important, because the issues confronting teenagers are numerous and can create a significant generational gap between them and their parents. It’s not as simple as just staying clean and not having sex to avoid pregnancy. The reality is that most teenagers at some point will drink alcohol and take drugs and/or become sexually active.

While expressing that avoiding all of these things should be paramount, parents who shy away from having discussions, whether it is from embarrassment or beliefs or whatever, with their kids about a more realistic and imperfect world do their children a great disservice. Plus, when does telling a teen not do something always mean they won’t do it anyway?

The girls I spoke to were mostly interested in talking about sex, so we devoted most of our time. The most interesting thing about my discussion was the difference in knowledge and backgrounds of the girls. Some came from private, catholic school, and some had spent their entire education in the public system. Some couldn’t tell me the anatomy of the female genitalia, and some were already sexually active by age 15. I would like everyone to ask themselves some of the same questions I asked them.

First, could you name all of the possible sexually transmitted diseases? Do you know which are curable? Did you know you can gonorrhea of the mouth and eye, or that untreated, STD’s run the risks of serious infection, sterility, cancer, and psychosis? What types of birth control are available? As a teenager, legally, what power would you have over your own sexual health choices? If you don’t know most of the answers, how can you possibly hope to relate to a teenager?

In general, these girls were motivated to fill in their knowledge gaps. They wanted to be able to make informed decisions and protect themselves. They were horrified when they learned that acts they deemed perfectly safe were very much not. When I asked how many of them had used a condom when participating in oral sex, I got a universal blank stare. And the pictures I showed them of oral Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, well, let’s just say that images of infected, purulent mouths will hopefully haunt them forever.

These are just some of the issues facing our teens, and many of them involve life-long and life-threatening conditions. So I encourage all parents to educated themselves and talk to your kids early. If you are informed and open, it will build trust and a dialogue. Maybe then if you tell them to wait, they might actually listen.

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