When should you talk to your teenage daughter about sex?

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So, have you talked to your teenage daughter about sex?

Have you really talked to her about sex?

I’m not talking about the superficial birds and the bees conversation; I’m talking about using words like vagina, penis, and condom. Yes, those words!

As an obstetrician-gynecologist and a mother of girls, I know the challenges that our daughters face as they navigate their teenage years. I know how critical it is to have real conversations with teenage girls, and how difficult it is to have these discussions. I know that it is uncomfortable to discuss sex, especially with your 13, 14, or 15-year old daughter, who is still a little girl in your eyes.

Get yourself together! No matter how difficult, you must have these conversations with your daughter. If you don’t, she will get incorrect information from her friends or from the internet. Face it, if your daughter is 17, chances are she has had sex or is thinking about having sex, because on average, most young people in the U.S. have sex for the first time at age seventeen.

Every few months in my clinic I see a teenager with a genital herpes infection who thinks the sores on her “bottom” are from scratching herself too hard; a teenager with abdominal pain who finds out she is five months pregnant; or a college student with abdominal pain and chlamydia. Many of my teenage patients have not had a frank discussion with their parents about their bodies, or about sex, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or contraception. Teenagers don’t get this information at school either, as most schools lack comprehensive reproductive health education.

So, Mom and Dad, it’s up to you to guide your daughter during this important transition period from girlhood to womanhood. Start early, before she even thinks about having sex, so that she has the information she needs to better protect herself. Start during childhood by having short conversations about her anatomy, so that she is comfortable talking to you about her reproductive health. As she gets older, show her real pictures, not just illustrations, of people with STDs so that she understands the gravity of these infections and the dangers and consequences of having sex. She needs to understand that only abstinence can prevent pregnancy and STDs, but she also needs to know that condoms can decrease the risk of STDs and that contraceptives can decrease the risk of unintended pregnancy.

Partner with your daughter, and help guide her reproductive health decisions. Ask her important questions like: Do you plan to wait until you are married to have sex? Do you plan to wait until you are in college? Do you plan to wait until you are an adult? Are you planning to have sex soon? Are you already having sex?

Take her to her doctor so that they can establish a relationship early. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that girls should have their first gynecological visit between ages thirteen to fifteen. Don’t be apprehensive about taking your daughter for this first visit, as most girls will not get a pelvic or breast exam. The first visit is usually a counseling visit, as a pelvic exam is not needed until a teenager is sexually active. The doctor will have an age-appropriate discussion about your daughter’s changing body, immunizations, contraception, the dangers posed by STDs, and the medical reasons to delay having sex. For teenagers that are already having sex, the doctor will discuss the importance of condoms to prevent STDs, and different contraceptives including safe and effective long term methods like the arm implant or the intrauterine device.

Start talking to your daughter now, so that you can help her transition from girlhood to womanhood. Every teenage girl needs guidance from her parents to help her make decisions that will ensure a healthy and safe reproductive life.

Fatu Forna is an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of From Your Doctor To You: What every teenage girl should know about her body, sex, STDs and contraception.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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