Ask Dr. Marla: How can I teach teens about STIs and safe sex?

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on November 01, 2012
I want my teens to have a healthy attitude towards sex but I also want them to be cautious. How can I teach them about STIs and safe sex without scaring them?


I think it is terrific that you recognize that education and information is the best way for your teens to make informed decisions. Opening the door to this conversation is critical as all sexually active adolescents are at an increased risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and should be offered counselling.

According to the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), studies show that formal information sessions are effective in reducing the incidence of STIs. It is important that the information you share with them is accurate and without judgment. Some kids might be embarrassed to have this frank discussion with a parent and an alternative option might be to encourage your teen to speak with their healthcare provider. Although teens might feel they have all the information, many are uninformed about the wide array of potential STIs, their prevalence and risk of transmission. In addition to safe sex practices, a discussion about immunization strategies to prevent transmission of HPV related diseases in both boys and girls is critical.

Among the studies reviewed by the USPSTF, the most successful high-intensity interventions were delivered through multiple sessions, most often in groups, lasting from three to nine hours. There was little evidence showing that single-session interventions or interventions lasting less than 30 minutes were effective in reducing STIs. So, good advice to parents would be to have ongoing conversations with your child and be open to questions and periodic review.

Formal studies show there is no evidence of any significant harm as a result of riskreduction counselling. Another study found that risk-reduction counselling did not lead to earlier sexual debut among boys, so I don’t think you need to be concerned about scaring your children by talking about safe sex and proper condom use.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2012.

By Dr. Marla Shapiro| November 01, 2012

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