Children's Health and Wellness

Safer Sex Guidelines for Adolescents

What is "safe" sex?

Picture of male, latex condom

The only safe sex is no sex, according to most health care providers. Abstinence may be the only true form of "safe" sex, as all forms of sexual contact carry some risk. However, certain precautions and safe behaviors can minimize a person's risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. As a parent, you can teach your child about safer sex before he/she becomes sexually active.

Talking to your teen about safe sex

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents start talking to children about sex when they first ask where babies come from, usually between the ages of 3 and 4. Although many adolescents may say they know everything about sex, studies have found that many adolescents are not completely informed about sex and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

As a parent, you are the best source of accurate information for your adolescent. However, many parents are unsure how to begin talking about safe sex with their adolescents. The following are some tips on how to approach the topic of safe sex with your adolescent:

Picture of a female condom made of polyurethane

  • Talk calmly and honestly about safe sex.

  • Practice talking about safe sex with another adult before approaching your adolescent.

  • Listen to your adolescent and answer his/her questions honestly.

  • Topics that are appropriate for a safe sex discussion may include: STDs and prevention, peer pressure to have sex, birth control, different forms of sexuality, and date rape.

Other people who can help talk to your adolescent about sex may include your adolescent's physician or health care provider, a relative, or a religious counselor. Books on the topic may also be helpful in addressing uncomfortable questions.

Some misconceptions about "safe" sex:

  • Kissing is thought to be a safe activity, but herpes and other diseases can be contracted this way.

  • Condoms are commonly thought to protect against STDs. While it is true that if used properly and consistently condoms are helpful in preventing certain diseases, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, they may not fully protect against other diseases such as genital warts, herpes and syphilis.

Guidelines for safer sex

Limit your sexual activity to only one partner who is having sex only with you to reduce exposure to disease-causing organisms. Follow these guidelines for safer sex:

  • Think twice before beginning sexual relations with a new partner. First, discuss past partners, history of STDs, and drug use.

  • Use condoms. A male condom made of latex or polyurethane - not natural materials. Polyurethane should only be used if you have a latex allergy. A female condom made of polyurethane.

  • Although studies indicate that nonoxynol-9 spermicide kills HIV in laboratory testing, it has not been determined whether spermicides, used alone or with condoms, provide protection against HIV. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that latex condoms, with or without spermicides, should be used to help prevent sexual transmission of HIV.

  • For oral sex, help protect your mouth by having your partner use a condom (male or female).

  • Women should not douche after intercourse - it does not protect against STDs, could spread an infection farther into the reproductive tract, and can wash away spermicidal protection.

  • See your health care provider for regular Pap tests, pelvic examinations, and periodic tests for STDs.

  • Be aware of your partner's body - look for signs of a sore, blister, rash, or discharge.

  • Check your body frequently for signs of a sore, blister, rash, or discharge.

  • Consider sexual activities other than vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse - techniques that do not involve the exchange of body fluids or contact between mucous membranes.

Online Source: Centers for Disease Control and Preventionhttp://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2010/STD-Treatment-2010-RR5912.pdf
Online Source: American Academy of Pediatricshttp://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/Pages/Talking-to-Your-Young-Child-About-Sex.aspx
Online Source: American Academy of Pediatricshttp://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/dating-sex/pages/How-to-Talk-About-Sex-With-Your-Teen.aspx
Online Editor: Kochman, Marilyn
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 5/24/2013
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