Dealing with Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Teen-Agers

By Sheila D. Boyd And Chris L. Ohlemeyer | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 3, 1997 | Go to article overview

Dealing with Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Teen-Agers


Sheila D. Boyd And Chris L. Ohlemeyer, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Medical, educational and social service professionals are spending a lot of time discussing the origins and consequences of early sexual activity. There is a responsibility to examine the issues as completely and candidly as possible. The public is best served by a presentation of accurate scientific information, objective observations of existing programs and expert opinion as to the most reasonable approaches to teen-age sex and consequent sexually transmitted diseases.

Adolescence is a time of self-discovery, adventure, risk-taking and establishment of independence. Sexuality is a part of this life change. The combination of passionate, rapid serial monogamy and the sense of invulnerability that characterizes adolescents leads to more partners, erra tic use of barrier contraceptives and probable exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.

If teens add alcohol and drug use to their lifestyles, the chances of unprotected sex and subsequent sexually transmitted diseases are even higher.

Beyond the natural and behavioral reasons for teen sexual activity, there are factors for which the adults in adolescents' lives are responsible. Recent studies demonstrate that a large number, even a majority, of teen-age girls are having sex with adult men. In some areas, even junior high school girls have partners who are an average of six years older than they. Obviously, there are questions of exploitation, safety and supervision.

A 20-something man picks up a 13-year-old girl at a skating rink. Are no other adults - his friends, her relatives, parents out skating with their kids - alarmed?

Why is that teen-age girl so starved for attention that she responds readily to an unknown man, and why does she not know the dangers of "just taking a ride" with him? Does she have no one she must go to and get permission?

It is not unusual for a 16-year-old young woman to have a 22-year-old boyfriend. The relationship is conducted in his social circle, not hers; with adults, not other children. The unavoidable result is a teen-ager doing very grown-up things. If a responsible adult doesn't intervene, the young woman learns that there is nothing amiss, that this is the expectation, and that no one will guide or protect her. The man learns he can take advantage of women and situations, that mature relationships can be avoided and that no one will hold him accountable. Given these scenarios, it is no wonder we are faced with a trend of earlier and more frequent teen sexual activity and an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases.

There is no single solution. Educational programs impart information, and information leads to knowledge. However, knowledge does not automatically translate into changed behavior.

For instance, college students can recount accurate information about transmission and avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases, but the rates of these diseases and condom usage do not improve in college populations.

Teaching and promoting abstinence should be the foundation of a complete sex education program, but too often the instruction is focused on the girl saying no, with little attention on the male, and assumes that a young woman has power in the relationship.

Families must model, support and nurture lifestyles that encourage behaviors based on integrity and responsibility. …

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