Teenage sexual health

Condom in jean's pocketKids grow up - we all know that. They go to big school, start hanging out with their friends more than they hang out with you, do their GCSEs, start working for their A-levels. And at some point along the way - more often than not - they start having sex.

It's a sobering thought that your one-time baby is now a wannabe grown-up, negotiating a serious relationship. More than most other things that happen in your life as a parent, it's a wake-up call about how far along the road to adulthood your child has come.

This is the moment when all the messages you've ever given your kid about relationships - and that's every bit as much about how you've role-modelled relationships in your own life - now come into play. How do I work out whether I trust this person? How do I build an honest, caring relationship? What really matters to me in a relationship? These are the questions your child is starting to ask – and his or her most important reference point is you.

So, the first thing to say is: don't worry. You've taught your kid a huge amount already. But there are some practical points to bear in mind. 

Contraception

If your kid is having sex, he or she must, must use contraception. One in six teenage girls has been pregnant by the age of 18, and almost all of them didn't plan a baby. This Mumsnetter advises: "Here's my key message: If you feel it is right to have sex, please use some protection. I am going to repeat this message loud and long to both my children. And hope it gets through."

However difficult you find the idea, make time to talk to your child about the importance of contraception. Remind them that if they find it too tough to talk to a partner about contraception, they have to ask themselves whether it's right to be sleeping with him or her.

Many young people use condoms (see below), which have the advantage of protecting against STIs as well as pregnancy; but there are other contraceptive methods worth considering.

If you've got a daughter (let's face it, she's the person who actually runs the risk of pregnancy – but of course contraception matters for teenage sons as well) and she's sleeping with a boyfriend, suggest making an appointment with the GP/family planning clinic to discuss the options, which will may include LACRs (long-acting reversible contraceptives) such as the coil or hormonal implants. The British Medical Association has said that GPs shouldn't assume the Pill is the 'best' or 'right' contraceptive for teenagers.

Remember: there's no perfect contraceptive, and there are good and bad points to each method.

"Advice I'd give my daughter about sleeping with men: don't let yourself be pressured into having sex. Only have sex if you really want to and you trust the man. Use contraception. Have sex in a bed." BonsoirAnna

Sexually transmitted infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the increase in the UK, big-time. Under-25s are most at risk: two-thirds of new STI cases are females aged 15-24. The peak age to get an STI is 19-20 for a female, and 20-23 for a male.

Talk to other parents about

Research shows young people don't know enough about STIs, and don't know how to protect themselves. This Mumsnetter says: "Can I tell you what I tell my sons? If you have sex, have protected sex - you know where you've been; you don't know where they've been! If you have sex be sure it's for the right reasons because one act of sex can give you a lifelong commitment or disease."

What your son or daughter needs to know about sexual health:

  • Always use a condom with a new partner, whether or not you/she is on the Pill or using another form of contraception
  • If you do have unsafe sex, get advice from your GP or a sexual health clinic as soon as possible
  • Get tested for chlamydia every year and whenever you get a new partner - 88% of new cases of chlamydia in women, and 69% of new cases in men, are in under-25s
  • It's not only about chyamydia - young people are also at most risk of gonorrhoea and genital warts, not to mention HIV, which remains a risk for heterosexual as well as homosexual young people.

Last updated: 06-Mar-2014 at 3:15 PM