STIs are infections that can be spread from one person to another through sexual contact—from sexual touching (genital-to-genital contact) to any kind of sexual intercourse (oral, anal or penile-vaginal).
There are many different STIs. Many people also believe that they will know when they have an STD, when in reality most people who have an STI do not experience any symptoms.
It is common for young people to hear many myths about STIs, so educating them about this topic is very important. There is also a lot of stigma around having an STI, even though it is quite common to have one at some point in one’s life.
Talking to your children about STI transmission and prevention should start hopefully before young people begin engaging in sexual behaviors with a partner. While it is good to help young people understand that STIs are relatively common, it is also important to be clear with young people about how STIs can affect them and why it is important to practice safe sex and to be tested regularly.
Before young people begin engaging in sexual behaviors, they should know how they can reduce the risk of contracting an STI by decreasing their number of sexual partners, getting tested before sexual activity, and properly and consistently using latex barriers, like condoms, female (internal) condoms and dental dams.
It’s also very helpful for young people to know how to get tested, if they think they might have an STI. STI testing and treatment is offered by most GPs and at many clinics and community health centres. STI testing can involve either a urine test, a simple blood test or a swab taken vis a pap smear. Young people should also understand that many STIs can be treated with medicines provided by a doctor, but there are some STIs that cannot be cured.
Talking about STIs with the young people in your life lets them know that they are not alone and that they can come to their parents or guardians when they have questions or need support.
If you start essential conversations about topics like STIs with your children, then they will know they can come to you with questions. The easiest way to start these conversations is to talk about issues as they arise in everyday life while you are doing things like watching TV together. Symptoms, testing and condoms may not just come up in conversation, but it is important to talk about these issues. Below are some ways to start these conversations: