Talk with Your Teen about Preventing STDs

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

Talk with your teen about how to prevent STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), even if you don't think your teen is sexually active.

If talking about sex and STDs with your teen makes you nervous, you aren't alone. It can be hard to know where to start. But it's important to make sure your teen knows how to stay safe.

How do I talk with my teen?

These tips can help you talk to your teen about preventing STDs:

  • Think about what you want to say ahead of time.
  • Be honest about how you feel.
  • Try not to give your teen too much information at once.
  • Use examples to start a conversation.
  • Talk while you are doing something together.
  • Get ideas from other parents.

You can also ask your teen’s doctor to talk with your teen about preventing STDs. This is called STD prevention counseling.

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The Basics: STD Facts

Why do I need to talk with my teen?

All teens need accurate information about how to prevent STDs. Teens whose parents talk with them about sex are more likely to make healthy choices. Find out more about why it’s important to talk to your kids about sex.

Young people are more likely to get STDs.

About half of all STD cases in the United States happen in young people ages 15 to 24. 

Teens are at a higher risk than adults of getting STDs for a number of reasons. For example, they may:

  • Not know they need tests to check for STDs
  • Be more likely to have sex without a condom
  • Have sexual contact with multiple partners during the same period of time

What do I need to know about STDs?

STDs are diseases that can spread from person to person during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Some STDs can also spread during any kind of sexual activity that involves skin-to-skin sexual contact.

These diseases are very common. Although many STDs can be cured, they can cause serious health problems if they aren’t treated. Examples of STDs include genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. 

STDs are sometimes called STIs, or sexually transmitted infections. Learn more about STDs.

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The Basics: Prevention

What do I tell my teen about preventing STDs?

Talk to your teen about what STDs are and how to prevent them. Use the facts and resources below to talk with your teen.

It’s important to learn about STDs and how they spread.

Knowing the facts helps teens protect themselves. Check out these websites together:

Complete abstinence is the best way to prevent STDs.

Complete abstinence means not having any kind of sexual contact. This includes vaginal, anal, or oral sex and skin-to-skin sexual contact. Complete abstinence is the only sure way to prevent STDs.

Discuss this information about abstinence with your teen.

Condoms can help prevent STDs.

Make sure your teen knows how to use condoms, even if you don't think he is sexually active. Offer to help get condoms if your teen doesn’t know where to go. Share these resources:

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The Basics: Testing

Your teen may need to get tested for STDs.

Ask your teen to talk honestly with the doctor or nurse about any sexual activity. That way, the doctor can decide which tests your teen may need. Sexually active teens may need to be tested for:

Keep in mind that it’s important to help your teen develop a trusting relationship with the doctor or nurse. Step out of the room to give your teen a chance to ask about STD testing and prevention in private.

This is an important step in teaching teens to play an active role in their health care. Get more tips on helping teens take charge of their health care.

It’s important for teens to talk with their partners about STDs before having sex.

Encourage your teen to talk with her partner about STD prevention before having sex. Say that you understand it may not be easy, but it’s important for your teen to speak up. These tips can help:

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The Basics: Other Topics to Discuss

How can I talk to my teen about preventing pregnancy?

It’s important for teen girls and boys to know about preventing pregnancy as well as STDs. Check out these resources with your teen:

How can I help my teen build healthy relationships?

Families have different rules about when it’s okay for teens to start dating. Whatever your rules are, the best time to start talking about healthy relationships is before your teen starts dating.

Help your teen develop healthy expectations for relationships. Get tips for talking to your kids about healthy relationships.

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The Basics: LGBT Teens

Does my LGBT teen need information about preventing STDs?

Yes. All teens – including LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) teens – need accurate information about STDs. Remember, some STDs can spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact.

LGBT teens may also be at higher risk for STDs than straight teens. But when LGBT teens feel supported by their parents, their risk of getting an STD goes down. 

Talking to your teen is an important way to show you care. Learn more about supporting your LGBT teen’s health [PDF - 260 KB].

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Take Action!

Take Action: Be Prepared

Protect your teen from STDs by sharing the facts he or she needs to make healthy decisions.

Think about what you want to say ahead of time.

It’s very common to be nervous when talking to your teen about something like STDs. Learn about STDs so you’ll be ready for the conversation. You may also want to practice what you’ll say to your teen with another adult, like your partner or another parent.

Before you talk with your teen about preventing STDs:

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Take Action: Start Talking

Be honest about how you feel.

Talking with your teen about how to prevent STDs may not be easy for you. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable – and it’s okay to be honest with your teen about how you feel.

Remember, when you are honest with your teen, he’s more likely to be honest with you. And keep in mind that your teen may ask a question you can’t answer. Tell him you aren’t sure – then look up the answer together!

Try not to give your teen too much information at once.

Remember, you have plenty of time to talk about preventing STDs. You don’t need to fit everything into one conversation – it’s actually better if you don’t. Give your teen time to think – she may come back later and ask questions.

Make this the first conversation of many about preventing STDs. 

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Take Action: Conversation Tips

Listen and ask questions.

Show your teen that you are paying attention and trying to understand his thoughts and feelings. Try these tips:

  • Repeat back what your teen says in your own words. For example, “So you don’t think you are at risk for getting an STD?”
  • Ask questions to help guide the conversation. For example, “Have you talked about preventing STDs in school?”
  • Ask questions that check for your teen’s understanding. For example, “What did you learn about how STDs are spread?”
  • Talk about something that happened in a movie or TV show. For example, “It looks like they had sex without using a condom. What do you think about that?”

Get more tips for listening to your teen.

Talk while you are doing something together.

Sometimes it’s easier to have a conversation while you are doing something else at the same time. For example, try talking with your teen about sex and STDs when you are driving in the car or cooking dinner.

You can still show your teen that you are listening to him by nodding your head or repeating what he says.

Get ideas from other parents.

Remember that you aren’t the only person thinking about how to talk to a teen about preventing STDs. Ask other parents what they have done. You may be able to get helpful tips and ideas.

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Take Action: Prevention Counseling

Ask your teen’s doctor about STD prevention counseling.

Counseling to prevent STDs is recommended for all teens who are sexually active. That means it’s part of a doctor’s job to help teens learn how to prevent STDs. The doctor may:

  • Give your teen information about preventing STDs
  • Refer your teen to a health educator or counselor for STD prevention counseling

STD prevention counseling includes:

  • Giving your teen basic information about STDs and how they spread
  • Figuring out your teen’s risk of getting or spreading an STD
  • Teaching your teen important skills – like how to use condoms and how to talk with a partner about STDs

What about cost?

Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, health insurance plans must cover prevention counseling and screening for teens at risk of getting an STD.

Depending on your insurance plan, your teen may be able to get STD counseling and screening at no cost to you. For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

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