While sex is a topic that many parents tend to avoid when dealing with teens and young adults, troubling sexual health outcomes, especially among youth of color, make a strong case that it should not be ignored.
By Deomattie Singh-Bahadur, MA, Sr. Associate Director Ambulatory & Primary Care Services, NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are approximately 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. each year, half of which occur in people ages 13 to 24 years. Moreover, there is a substantial disparity in sexual health outcomes between minority youth and their white counterparts, which is growing at an alarming rate. In New York City, the rates for sexually transmitted diseases are 13.8 times higher amongst Blacks and three times higher among Hispanics/Latinos than among their White and Asian youth counterparts. The disparities for minorities are apparent across the spectrum of sexually transmitted diseases, from chlamydia to HIV/AIDs.
Proper education is the first step to combat these disparities. Although sex is often an awkward topic of conversation, parents and guardians must nevertheless take the opportunity to talk to their teens about the importance of good sexual health to reduce negative sexual health outcomes. Here are three tips to make that conversation more effective, if not a little easier:
Take the initiative: Start the conversation early and make it clear that you are interested in what they think and how they feel about sexuality.
Don't preach: Have a conversation with your teen; don't talk at them. Correct misinformation gently, and reinforce your values whenever possible. Assure your teen that you will not punish him/her for being honest.
Keep the conversation going: Sexuality is a part of life. Talk with your teen about sex on an ongoing basis. Emphasize the importance of safe sex. Let your teen know you are always open and willing to talk about any questions or concerns.
Young adults and teens should also be aware of available health care resources. At NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County, our adolescent department provides sexual and reproductive health, mental health, and depression screenings. We screen for high-risk behaviors and, when appropriate, make patients aware of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) services, which reduce the risk of HIV infection. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that, when taken consistently, PrEP reduces the risk of HIV infection by up to 92 percent, and other studies also suggest that PEP substantially reduces transmission risk.
Parents and guardians should also be aware that NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County offers sexual and reproductive health services to adolescents age 13 and over without parental consent. Too often, adolescents need these services but find the topic too difficult to discuss with anyone other than a health care provider. We want to keep them as healthy and safe as possible. We also offer specialized services, including LGBTQ care, in our Center for HOPE, an infectious disease clinic.
Through better education and more readily available services, we aim to help reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted disease among all of New York City's youth. For more information, please visit www.nychealthandhospitals.org/kingscounty/our-services/specialties/ or call (718) 245-2562.