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Information for Boys and Girls: Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Disease

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

All pubescent youth need to learn that pregnancy occurs when sperm contained in the male's ejaculate comes into contact with the female's egg. Usually this occurs through vaginal intercourse where the male ejaculates while his penis is inside the female's vagina. However, pubescent children also need to know that any ejaculate that makes its way inside the vagina can result in pregnancy.

upset teen girlPubescent youth also need to be educated about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and how they can be prevented. Information about STDs is available in our Sexually Transmitted Disease Topic Center.

In providing information about STDs, parents should be careful to ask about and correct children's mistaken beliefs about sexual practices. Adolescent children often have looser and more creative definitions of "sex" than their parents which may lead them to believe that activities are safe when they are not. For example, adolescents may believe that oral sex is only a form of foreplay, and that they can remain "virgin" if they only have oral sex. While this is true in the strictly vaginal sense, it is not the slightest bit true when it comes to prevention of sexually transmitted disease! Girls and boys both may contract STDs through oral sexual activity!

Abstinence and Birth Control

It is important for youth to understand that all sexual activity carries risk. The only 100% sure way to prevent pregnancy and STDs is complete abstinence. Children may have different ideas about the meaning of abstinence than parents do, so it is important for parents to clarify what they mean. Complete abstinence means no vaginal intercourse, and also no oral intercourse, or anal intercourse, and no other forms of mutual gratification such as "petting," which involve skin-to-skin genital contact. Truly complete abstinence means "no skin-to-skin sexual touching" which of course also means no ejaculation.

Complete abstinence is an extremely high, and in our view, an unreasonable, unnatural and impractical standard to ask pubescent children to meet. It is for this reason that we believe it is important (at minimum) to educate children about inexpensive barrier methods of birth control such as condoms which dramatically reduce both the risk of pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted disease. It is up to individual parents whether to encourage their children to remain abstinent and for how long. Different families have different values and beliefs about adolescents and sexuality, and each family will need to decide what morals they want to teach their children. However, at some point in time it is overwhelmingly likely that children will choose to become sexually active. As parents well know from their own experience, children will not generally inform their parents that this event has occurred. When the time does arrive, our hope is that parents will have previously provided children with accurate information on how to be sexually active and also minimize the risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Information about sexually transmitted disease may be found in our sexually transmitted disease topic center.

Teaching Healthy Sexuality

Simply by growing up in society, children will be exposed to many opposed and conflicting sexual messages whether parents want that to happen or not. Among these messages will be the following, "Sexuality is for reproduction only / is a recreational activity", "Pornography is bad/good", "Kids who have sex are sluts/studs", "Homosexuality is healthy/ is immoral", etc. These are values statements whose truth depends in large part on faith and belief. We suggest that an important part of pubescent children's preparatory education involves parents taking time to teach the values that they believe underlie health expressions of sexuality. In teaching children to discriminate between healthy and unhealthy forms of sexuality, parents have the opportunity to influence the conclusions that children will form about sexual messages they consume, and potentially help them avoid making mistakes that come with negative consequences.

As we look at it, there are two separate aspects to a discussion of healthy vs. unhealthy sexuality. There is a values dimension, and there is a self-protection dimension. The moral dimension involves communicating values to children that will help them make sense of the vast realm of sexual possibilities they will encounter. The self-protection dimension involves helping children identify situations that are inherently abusive so that they can remove themselves from them.