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SIX. SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES

Did you know that approximately 85% of females will have some type of sexual contact (vaginal, oral, or anal) either with a male or another female by the time they're 19 years old? Did you know that almost one-third of ninth-grade girls have had sexual intercourse? Did you know that more than 60% of twelfth-grade girls have had sexual intercourse?

Have I alarmed you yet?

Actually, my purpose in telling you about these statistics is not to alarm you, but to inform you. We can try to ignore the obvious when it comes to our daughters' sexuality, but it doesn't change the cold, hard facts. Each one of those young girls out there experimenting with sex must be someone's daughter. Is she yours?

Perhaps not. After all, even if more than 60% of twelfth-grade girls have engaged in sexual intercourse, that still means that almost 40% have not. Perhaps your daughter is in the latter group. But are you really willing to gamble on your daughter's health, and on the risk that she could become pregnant, simply because you feel uncomfortable talking to her about safe sex?

I thought not. So let's start by discussing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)[1].

The first thing I want to emphasize is that all it takes to expose a young woman to any STD is one partner. That's all—one partner. And all it takes to expose a young woman to any STD is one sexual episode. That's all—one episode. Although the incidence of STDs rises with the number of partners a young woman has had, as a gynecologist I have seen many distraught females who have had sex with their first sexual partner for the first time and they have contracted one, two, or even three infections. And in many instances the girl's partner never even knew he had a disease.

How is it possible that the guy didn't know?

Because— drum roll, please—many STDs cause little or no obvious signs in men. That's right. Men can be clueless that they're infectious. And just to compound the unfairness, I'm sure you and your daughter will be interested to know that even when a guy does discover that he has an STD, he typically can easily receive treatment without any of the lifelong health consequences that afflict females. (Yes, when it comes to males and females, life is unfair—but we already knew that because of pantyhose.)

How important are condoms in preventing STDs?

Because of these facts, I constantly emphasize to my young patients the need to protect themselves. And the best form of protection, besides abstinence, is a low-tech condom[2]. Because semen[3] is often the source of transmission when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases, if a girl doesn't expose herself to it, she is going to be much, much safer.

"Use a condom____ Use a condom____ Use a condom...."

That refrain should play over and over in every female's mind when she engages in behavior that may subject her to even the slightest risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Notions such as "Just this once . ..," or "But he seems really nice .. .," or "I'm too drunk to care . . .," should NEVER be allowed to trump the "Use a condom" mantra.

When it comes to condom use (which I'll discuss in more detail in the chapter about birth control), your daughter should realize a couple of things at the outset. First, yes, it may be a little awkward to stop in the "middle of the action" and ask whether a partner has "protection." But if there is so little communication and connection between the two of them that this simple, understandable question is unbearably awkward, then she shouldn't be physically intimate with him in the first place.

And second, your daughter should know that wearing a condom during sexual activity isn't quite as much fun for the guy. No matter the type of condom or its thinness, and no matter what some advocates may try to claim, its use somewhat reduces the sensation that a partner feels on his penis. That's why she needs to be prepared for the fact that some guys will try to convince a girl—sometimes repeatedly and persistently— that he shouldn't have to wear one.

Your daughter shouldn't fall for any reason her partner may try to give her about why he shouldn't have to use a condom. If a little, fleeting, extra sensation is worth more to the guy than your daughter's long-tem health, then she shouldn't care about his pleasure at all. Moreover, a guy is going to get plenty of satisfaction out of the deal anyway, no matter what. Therefore, affording your daughter this dramatically increased protection just makes sense. So, to recap, the proper refrain always is, "Use a condom. ...Use a condom.... Use a condom...."

  • [1] Also known as sexually transmitted infection (STI), or venereal disease (VD), this category includes any infection that can be transmitted from one person to another through any sexual contact, including oral sex.
  • [2] A thin sheath, often made of latex, which is placed over the penis to capture semen for the purpose of preventing pregnancy and the transmission of infection.
  • [3] The fluid containing sperm that is released from the penis during ejaculation. This fluid helps the sperm reach the egg for fertilization.
 
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