The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report that the sexually transmitted infections gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia have hit an all-time high. These infections have historically burdened women more than men because a woman’s reproductive anatomy is more complex.
Now these infections are affecting more pregnant women and their newborn babies.
The CDC’s report showed a whopping 36 percent increase of syphilis among women and a 28 percent increase in newborns. Gay men saw a 22 percent rise in syphilis among them — and half of these men also had HIV.
Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center of HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, sounded an alarm. “Increases in STDs are a clear warning of a growing threat. STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond.”
So will we see this warning on the front page of the major news organizations in the U.S?
Unlikely. Here’s why.
Americans have worked decades to make sexual freedom a “right” for all — especially our teens. Additionally, businesses, media and marketers have spent millions of dollars marketing sex to our kids. Although physicians regard sexual activity among teens as high-risk behavior, alongside drinking and taking drugs, many Americans refuse to see sexual activity among kids as a “problem.”
We hear parents, teachers, politicians and peers remarking that sexual activity among teens is not only acceptable, but in many ways healthy. After all, many say, sexual activity is natural and teens should figure out what they like and dislike to make sure that when they choose a “lifetime partner,” the two are sexually compatible.
Social and media maneuvers encouraging teens to have sex whenever they want with whomever they want may seem reasonable to many parents, but we have one serious issue that no one — including the press, media outlets, Planned Parenthood, and school sex ed teachers — will face the ugly truth: There is an epidemic of STDs among teens in the U.S. And according to the CDC, the numbers are rising fast.
So what’s a parent to do? Retreat in fear and lock their kids away? Certainly not. Here’s what every parent needs to know and do to keep their kids safe.
1.) Kids can get through high school and even college without being sexually active. Your kids won’t hear about peers who abstain from sex, but they are there and growing in number. Research shows that about 50 percent of teens have sex before high school graduation. That means that the other 50 percent don’t.
Teens and young adults are smarter about sex than many of their parents. They know there’s trouble and they want to stay away from it. I know — because over my 30 years in medical practice, I’ve personally witnessed the growing trend.
As one who has counseled thousands of teens and college students about sex, take it from me: It gets easier.
2.) The biggest determination of whether kids become sexually active or not is — you guessed it — parents. The best medical research shows that the most significant influence in a teen or young adult’s decision to engage or not engage in sexual activity is the influence of their parents. This counters many parents’ beliefs that peers, not parents, determine a teen’s decision. This is great news for any parent because it means that if you help your kids avoid sexual activity, they are likely to listen.
3.) Teens and young adults want to know what their parents believe about their having sex. Teens want to hear from their parents. This is good news and bad news for parents. It’s good news because kids are ready and willing to listen, but the bad news is that parents need to have conversations that may feel embarrassing. As one who has counseled literally thousands of teens and college students about sex, take it from me: It really does get easier. Jump in.
4.) Parents don’t need to get into nitty-gritty details about sex with their teens; they need to communicate their hopes and expectations for their them. Then, they need to explain why they have these. When parents raise high expectations for a child’s behavior and explain in a positive way why they have expectations and that they believe the child can meet them, the child feels good about himself and he feels loved. Raise a bar and a child will rise to it. Lower it and he will meet the low bar.
5.) Communicate to your teens that your job is to help them navigate a world that is pushing them to be sexually active for all the wrong reasons. Letting your kids know you are on their side and have their backs, and that sex is wonderful enough to be protected and saved for a lifetime partner or marriage — kids get it.
I guarantee that when a parent speaks positively about sexual activity, avoiding any sense of shame and explains why having sex with many partners is dangerous, both sons and daughters will listen.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the new book “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing, May 2017), as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.