Teenagers and sex is not a parent’s favorite subject. It makes some parents feel uneasy. It can be embarrassing for both parents and children to talk about. However, it is something that needs to be talked about, in particular the human papillomavirus or HPV for short. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) on the planet. HPV can lead to condyloma (genital warts), cervical cancer in women and penile cancer in men, among other things.
Let’s look at a few facts about the virus and how to easily incorporate “the talk” into a casual conversation. HPV is something that over 20 million Americans live with and many of them don’t even know it. HPV can be transmitted by skin to skin contact, not just sexual penetration. There are over 100 different strains of the virus and depending on the strain it can cause genital warts or various cancers. On average 26% of girl’s age 13 to 19 already have some form of HPV, that is 1 out of every 4 teenage girls.
When talking to your teen about HPV it is important to help them understand that once this virus is contracted they will never be able to get rid of it. The most important thing to a teenager is usually their vanity. With a virus they can’t get rid of, they can have embarrassing warts in strange places for the rest of their lives. The idea of being “gross” is usually more devastating to a teenager than the idea of having cancer.
HPV has so many facets that you can be talking to your kids about cancer, statistics, relationships, funny words (human papillomavirus, its fun to say) just to name a few and incorporate information on the virus.
Here are a few things to share with the kids. Since HPV is transmitted by skin to skin contact condoms are not 100% effective in stopping it since they do not cover all skin contact. HPV can also be transmitted via oral contact. Gardasil, an HPV vaccine, has been approved by the FDA and shown to be effective in stopping the transfer of several of the most common strains of HPV, but not all strains. Total abstinence is the only guaranteed prevention, but not realistic for everyone.
I know it’s tough to talk to your kids, especially about a subject that most parents don’t want to think about their children doing. However, it is better to arm your children with knowledge that they might not need than to not arm them with knowledge that they do need. A casual conversation about this subject can plant a seed in their mind that will hopefully grow and help protect your child from future problems.