Zika Virus…a New STD?

We’ve all heard by now about the damage the Zika virus can cause to babies developing in the womb. Up until a few days ago, we thought there were no mosquitos wmosquito-213805_960_720ith Zika here in the U.S. But in the last week, two possible cases of mosquito transmission in Florida have emerged. What you may not have heard is that Zika is being transmitted sexually from infected men (via semen) to their sexual partners. This causes me great concern, and adds to the number of serious consequences of STDs.

Most parents of today’s teens took health classes in which they learned about 4 known STDs: herpes, HIV, gonorrhea and syphilis.  Now, most health classes teach about 10 to 12 common STDs, all HERE in our area.  And young people from the ages of 15-24 account for HALF of all new STDs diagnosed each year! Teen Decision gives the facts to teens about STDs, and urges teens to avoid the risks by choosing to wait to have sex.  But, it’s up to parents to keep the conversation going.  To learn more about STDs and their consequences, click on this LINK.

Parents Survival Guide to 50 Shades of Grey

Dr. Grossman
Dr. Grossman speaks out about the dangers of unhealthy portrayals of sex in movies like “50 Shades of Grey.”

Miriam Grossman is a psychiatrist, author and speaker who has been speaking out about the dangers of unhealthy portrayals of sex in media. Her books are included on our list of resources for parents. I was recently made aware of a series of blog posts she is producing for parents leading up to the Valentine’s Day release of 50 Shades of Grey. You may want to check them out here!

Teens Who Don’t Have Sex Say It’s Because…

“Among those teens who haven’t had sex, the primary reason they give for…well…not doing it is that having sex at this point in their lives is against their religion or morals, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”  This quote comes from a Washington Times op ed by Sarah Brown from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in which she discusses the difference that faith may have on the sexual choices of teens today.  She continues, “Research makes clear that religion, faith, and a strong moral sense play vital roles in protecting teens from too-early sexual activity and teen pregnancy. In particular, being connected to a religious community has been linked with a decreased risk for teen pregnancy. Moreover, a survey we released this week suggests that the majority of Americans want more from religious groups rather than less. Some 52 percent of adults and 57 percent of teens think religious leaders and groups should be doing more to help prevent teen pregnancy.”

This leads me to a suggestion.  If any of you, among my readers, belong to a faith community, Amplify Development offers our program to you and you teens. We also do parent workshops.  Although the vast majority of our speaking engagements are in a secular forum–public schools–our message has broad appeal to teens in various settings.  From our website amplifyyouthdevelopment.com: “We work with both public and private institutions, ensuring that we teach our curricula in a manner consistent with the values of each of our partner organizations. Our program is based on current research about sexual health, bonding, and relationship formation. We are careful to teach in a sensitive manner that allows for multiple points of view while communicating the core message that abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the safest and healthiest choice.”  If you want to bring our program to your youth group or community group, give Andrea Nelson a call at 630-493-1523.

Fathers’ Attitudes and Teen Sex

Until recently, most studies focused on how mothers affect teens’ decisions about sex.  But now, a researcher at New York University confirms what we might suspect…that dads make a difference too.   An October 22 article in the Washington Post reported on the results of a study with this conclusion:   “A new review of studies suggests that fathers’ attitudes toward teen sex and their relationships with their teens can substantially influence their teens’ sexual behavior, separately from the influence of mothers. The review demonstrated that fathers’ attitudes toward teen sexual behavior were linked to the age at which teens first had sex. According to studies included in the review, those teens whose dads approved of adolescent sexual activity tended to begin sexual activity earlier than those teens whose dads did not approve. An additional finding was that teens that were closer to their fathers tended to start having sex later.”

For my female readers, consider forwarding this on to the men you know who can be encouraged with the news that they CAN make a difference for the better in the lives of their children.

Defining Sex, and What is Safe

I think it’s time for a reminder.  Sex is NOT just about losing one’s virginity.  A Fox News article out today had this confusing (to me) title:  “Teens Who Don’t Have Sex Still at Risk for HPV Infection.”  Since HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, what did they mean?  The problem was that the article didn’t clearly define what was meant by “sex.”  Generally, our society defines sex the same way teens do…as intercourse.  However, as we clarify to teens in our classroom discussions, thinking of sex in terms of “sexual activity” is a more valuable way to think about sex, since other kinds of sexual activity bear risks as well.  The article went on to clarify that a recent study indicated that HPV is being “transmitted through genital-to-genital, or hand-to-genital contact” as well as the more common modes of transmission: vaginal or anal intercourse.  The article didn’t cover the transmission of several STDs orally, including HPV, but that is happening as well.  SO…here’s our definition of sexual activity (all behaviors that carry risk):

Intercourse, Oral Sex, Anal Sex, AND Touching of Private areas (whether genital to genital, or hands to genitals).

Abstinence is choosing to avoid all of those behaviors.

(To learn why condoms are not a safe solution, see this 2011 Amplify Youth Development newsletter article.)

Teen Sex: Rethinking the Rewards

In an interesting Wall Street Journal article, “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?” the author referred to a study that suggests that adolescents “aren’t reckless because they underestimate risks, but because they overestimate rewards—or, rather, find rewards more rewarding than adults do.”  The reward centers of the adolescent brain are activated with an intensity greater than that of the adult brain.  Think of  first love, the forbidden fruit of sneaking a smoke, putting the pedal to the floor of Dad’s car, etc.

And what reward is the strongest?  The article says that “What teenagers want most of all are social rewards, especially the respect of their peers. In a recent study by the developmental psychologist Laurence Steinberg at Temple University, teenagers did a simulated high-risk driving task while they were lying in an MRI brain-imaging machine. The reward system of their brains lighted up much more when they thought another teenager was watching what they did—and they took more risks.”

I just finished a week in a school where the boys were admitting that they biggest pressure they faced was from other boys urging them to become sexually active with their date or girlfriend.  This was no surprise to me, as “bragging rights” is almost always on top of the list of reasons teens give for having sex.

If it’s so rewarding to be able to brag about sexual exploits, getting the admiration and high-fives of one’s buddies, what can parents and other caring adults do to counteract that? Perhaps elevating the risks to front-of-mind more frequently might help.  But even better, help them think through the benefits of being abstinent.  Since keeping the conversation going is important, why not sit down together with your son or daughter and come up with a list of all the benefits (besides avoiding STDs and pregnancy) of being abstinent?  Setting an exciting picture of the future before them might just make the temporary kudos of peers pale in comparison.


One Reason STDs are Spreading Among Teens

I can just hear the wheels turning in the minds of kids who have just been seriously unsettled by the revelation that about 1 out of 4 sexually active teens will get an STD by the time they graduate high school.  Occasionally someone will ask what the others are thinking:  “But what if its the first time for both of them?”  I give an honest answer, “Well, then they can’t get an STD.”  But then I follow up with a couple of questions:  “How do you know it’s someone’s first time…for SURE?  Do you think people ever lie about their  sexual pasts?”  Sometimes they even figure that if the other person has only had one previous partner, that’s not too bad, and surely doesn’t pose much of a risk.

Many youth, and adults, assume that it’s a small group of promiscuous teens who are out there spreading nasty diseases, but that doesn’t appear to be an accurate analysis of what’s really going on.  A study of sexual encounters at a midwestern high school showed a long chain linking many of the students.  “Of about 1,000 students at the school, 832 were interviewed and asked to identify their sexual and romantic partners over the previous 18 months. Just more than half reported having sexual intercourse….  Of all the pairings, 63 involved two students who had not partnered with anyone else.”  The article concluded that “Sharing of partners was rare, but many students were indirectly linked through one partner to another and another.”  Can you get an STD the first time you are sexually active?  You bet.   This study clearly has implications for the spread of disease, and is another reason why an abstinence message is all the more critical to the health and well-being of our children.

Talking About Sex: How Parents Handle the Conversation (Part 2)

At the last parent presentation I did, a parent asked for advice on how to talk to a VERY reluctant teen.  It seemed that this teen stonewalled, disappeared…in short did anything possible to avoid having any talks about sex and dating.  I remembered an insight from the article,  referred to in past blogs, about parent-teen conversations about sex.  The authors pointed out that some teens may be “embarrassed, uncomfortable, are afraid of tarnishing their parent’s image of them, and do not want to be judged or looked down upon.”  With that in mind, and remembering the tactics of some parents in the study, I suggested this strategy:  Talk about someone else.  It is much easier to discuss “that poor girl who was drinking and driving and killed her best friend who was in the passenger seat” or to mention “Remember Danny, who you used to play with when you were in grade school?  I heard his girlfriend had to drop out of school because she’s pregnant.”  The conversation (and parental input) can then continue in the context of someone else’s poor choices, in a much less direct way.  It is assuredly best to be direct, but for those teens who just can’t bear the embarrassment of talking about such things with Mom or Dad…give the indirect route a shot.

Teens Choosing Abstinence More

An April 5 press release (quoted below) from the National Abstinence Education Association tells us that there is encouraging news for those who believe that abstinence is a viable choice for teens.

A report released today from the CDC indicates that teen birth rates have decreased by 37 percent in the past two decades.  This heartening statistic begs a closer look at the trends that have aided this decrease. Most noticeably, this encouraging statistic has been the result of a surprising trend among teens that, according to another recent CDC data report, they are choosing not to have sex. 2006-2008 survey results from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that 68% of boys and 67% of girls (ages 15-17) have not have sexual intercourse and that overall sexual contact trends are also moving in the right direction. 53% of boys and 58% of girls report never having had oral, anal, or vaginal sex with anyone.

“While these statistics certainly do not mean that teen sexual activity is not an issue of concern, they do compel us to examine what is working and what is causing teens to reject the ‘everybody’s doing it” myth promulgated in the media,” stated Valerie Huber, Executive Director of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA).   Huber continued, “While some argue that teens simply need access to more birth control and devices, perhaps a closer look would show us that they need more support for the good decisions they are making to abstain. Current public policy has failed to recognize and support the positive behavioral trends among teens by failing to provide resources for comprehensive risk avoidance sex education.”

The report further indicates that contraceptive use is lowest and teen birth rates are highest among Hispanic and Black teen populations. For decades sex education for these populations has been primarily a contraceptive-centered approach. “Perhaps it is time to start believing that all teens can be empowered with the skills to resist early sexual activity. Let’s capitalize on what is working and increase the positive direction of teen sexual health”, said Huber.