The holidays are finally over and we are well into the New Year! If you have a kid in high school or college, they’re probably returned to school. But while they were home did you take the time to talk to them in between the holiday shopping, family gatherings and all that food. You might think that since you have a child in college or in their final year of high school, you don’t have to talk to them about sex, BUT you do! Among teenagers, “only about one in five sexually active high school students has ever been tested for HIV, CDC researchers reported.” Teens and young adults are more than likely to practice unsafe sex (sex without a condom) and to have multiple sex partners. According to a report by the CDC, “young people aged 13-29 accounted for 39% of all new HIV infections in 2009. With regard to youth, HIV disportionately affects gay and bisexual men and young African Americans.”
With the numbers still climbing in HIV/STD infections mostly among youth, I started to think how many of my friends who have children that started their first year of college or entering their finally year of high school had the “sex” talk with their child. How many college freshmen went back to school with safe sex materials and condoms packed neatly among their care packages of cup of noodles, tuna fish and cookies. How many senior high school students started the New Year with a discussion on how to negiotate sex with their partner. These discussions are even more important for young women, who have the potential of being in a verbally or physically abusive relationship and are coerced into group sex. According to a recent article in the New York Daily News, “More than 7% of teen girls have engaged in multi-person sex, a new study reports – and half of them said they were threatened or forced into the act.” “For us, the most worrisome thing is that in 45 percent of the girls’ most recent MPS experience, at least one male had not used a condom,” Rothman said. “That’s a really high rate.”
Most schools are not prepared to address domestic violence much less are in the business of teaching safe sex education. The article later notes,“We need to find out more about how prevalent this is, because we need to get better information into the hands of parents, pediatricians and schools,” she said. “People need to know about what’s happening. And then be prepared to provide education and counseling.” Providing education and counseling is crucial for our youth, but more so for our young women. According to the report “AIDS at 30: Nations at the crossroads”, gender inequalities remain a major barrier to effective HIV response. ”HIV is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age, and more than a quarter (26 percent) of all new global HIV infections are among young women aged 15-24,” it said. The report also said that apart from women, HIV prevalence among homosexuals, people who inject drugs, sex workers and their clients and transgender people are higher than among other population.
With all the things you have to worry about including paying bills and making sure you have a roof over your head, you have to learn how to talk to your kid about not only having sex but also practicing safe sex. Teens are having sex at an earlier age and they are less prepared to handle the consequence of their actions. We can no longer hide our head in the sand and hope they figure this out on their own because statistics show they are not doing that. According to CDC’s 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), “many adolescents begin having sexual intercourse at early ages: 46.0% of high school students have had sexual intercourse, and 5.9% reported first sexual intercourse before the age of 13. Of the 34.2% of students reporting sexual intercourse during the 3 months before the survey, 38.9% did not use a condom. And if young people are not practicing safe sex, they are more like to be infected with a sexualy transmitted disease (STD), which is a risk fact for HIV.” The CDC has estimated that young people account for up to half of the nation’s 19 million new STI infections each year. These rates are even higher among minority youths. In regards to youth of color, many have older partners, which means young people are even more likely to be exposed to HIV and STIs. Compared with black and Latina peers whose first sex occurred with a male of their own age, young women whose partner was older were significantly less likely to use condoms during first sex, and to have used them consistently since becoming sexually active. Some factors that contribute to the high infection of HIV/STDs among young of color, specifically African American youth, are racism and its connection to underemployment and unemployment, decreased access to medical care, and incarceration according to an article written by Jennifer Augustine and Emily Bridges, “Young People and HIV: A Realistic Approach to Prevention.” They further state, “For young people of color who become sexually active, the deck is stacked against them in terms of maintaining their sexual health. HIV prevention efforts, which teach healthier behaviors like using condoms, are still vital, but are only a part of a successful prevention strategy. Addressing other factors which contribute to the spread of HIV is important.”
So, as a parent, guardian, sibling or concerned friend or family member what can you do to help encourage healthier behaviors towards sex.
- Talk to children before they hit their teens helps them to develop a healthy and responsible view on sex. Be open to a dialogue and respect their opinions.
- Teach them to respect and love themselves and nurture their self -esteem. A person’s healthy self-esteem goes a long way in developing good decision-making skills.
- Let them know there is nothing wrong with waiting to have sex but if they decide differently or are already having sex then its is crucial that they practice safe sex. No one likes to think that his or her child, sibling or younger relative is having sex but it happens.
- Share positive messages about sexuality and the healthy role it can play in our lives.
- Find teachable moments when discussions about sexuality fit naturally into everyday conversation.
- Spend quality time with your child and get to know their friends and partners.
Dealing with issues around sex and sexuality with a young person can be overwhelming but there are resources and organizations available to help. The CDC provides a wealth of information on risky sexual behavior as well as the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has created several reports and studies on HIV & Youth. There are also a number of organizations across the country that address the increasing HIV rates among youth, such as Advocates for Youth and the National Youth Advocacy Coalition and among young women of color there is Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Collaborative , Iris House and SisterLove. In addition, there are several national HIV/AIDS organizatons that address issues around youth, sex and HIV, such as the The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Latino Commission on AIDS, and the National Minority AIDS Coalition. All the above-mentioned resources and organizations also address HIV among young gay and bisexual men, but there are specific places to go to such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Last year, Clutch Magazine published the article, 10 Black Women Teaching Us About Sex, which provided a wealth of information, food for thought and good ole’ fashion advice. Lastly, if you can’t find or make use of any of the above-mentioned resources, start a safe sex education group or HIV/AIDS ministry in your church. The Balm in Gilead, develops educational and training programs specifically designed to meet the unique needs of African American and African congregations that strive to become community centers for health education and disease prevention. They can work with your Pastor and church to provide the necessary tools, support and resources to create an effective program.
Getting your kids off to a healthy start in life is not just your responsibility but that of the entire community but the first step starts with you. Have that talk, what are you waiting for?