Recently, the Boston Public Health Commission announced it will launch a new safer-sex campaign that will educate teens about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) through Facebook, You Tube, TV and street performances. The announcement comes after startling new data revealing an increase in STIs in and around Boston over the past couple of years. Children’s Chief of General Pediatrics, Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, weighs in on the increase in STIs and gives tips on how parents can address it with their children.
Are you surprised by the increase in STIs?
STIs have never gone away. The statistics have always been way too high. Fifteen years ago, parents were focused on sexual health because of HIV. Nowadays, more media attention is paid to obesity, which is also an important issue, yet unintended pregnancies and STIs are still very much something we need to worry about.
What are your thoughts on this new campaign?
Reaching out to youth in multiple settings through multiple strategies is a great approach. Some will respond to YouTube, while others will respond to street performances or Facebook. It’s great that kids can write in with questions and get accurate answers from a trusted source. The program could also help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies among adolescents.
What else can be done to prevent the spread of STIs and educate teens?
It’s very important that parents have the confidence to talk to their kids about sex. This should be done throughout their children’s lives, not just during a single, nerve-wracking moment often referred to as “the Big Talk.” It’s essential to create an open dialogue throughout childhood and adolescence so that kids are comfortable asking their parents questions—otherwise they turn to friends or the Internet, where they might receive the wrong message.
What’s one of the most important takeaways from a campaign like this?
Some teens will choose to have sex and some will not. Nearly two-thirds will have had intercourse before they finish high school. We need to make sure they fully understand the responsibilities and potential consequences that go along with having sex. Regardless of whether or not they choose to have sex, teens need to be well-informed and aware of the risks associated with sexual activity.
For more advice on how to talk about STIs and safe sex with teens, check out Schuster’s tips on how to have “the talk.”