Teen to Teen
As a teenager, discussions about sex will probably be coming at you from every angle. Your friends will be trading sex stories, rumors will be flying, and you may enroll in a sexual education class. During this period, your peers can be both a source of education and misinformation about sexuality and sexual health. This section of this resource is focused on helping teens communicate with their peers when talking about sex.
Rumors and Misinformation
As informed as they may sound and as many explanations as they can offer, the information and advice about sexual health you receive from your peers may not always be correct. This is not to say teenagers never have correct information about sexual health; in fact, many are quite knowledgeable on the topic. It's simply important to remember that rumors about sex run rampant in our society, especially among teenagers and some of the sexual information believed to be fact is simply wrong. Information circulated about birth control and transmission of STIs is open to misinterpretation and faulty reporting, so watch out. As a teenager, you and your friends are especially influential over each other's sexual behavior. It's been shown that the greater the sexual experience of their peers the greater chance a teen has of engaging in first sexual intercourse earlier, especially if they think that having sex will impress their friends (1). Remember that your words and actions can have an effect on your peers, and vice versa.
When your friends talk about sexual health, listen to them, but always do your own research on the topic by double-checking with trusted sexual health resources or health professionals. If you ever hear your peers sharing sex facts that are incorrect, make sure to correct them! Don't phrase it as an accusation, but instead try starting your correction with "My doctor told me..." or "I read in this health book..." This makes it seem like you are simply sharing education, not trying to prove your peers wrong. Your correct information can make a difference in keeping your friends healthy and safe.
What do you do when a friend is making unsafe sexual decisions? This can be anything from not using condoms to hiding their STI status from their partners. Approaching friends about their unsafe behavior can be difficult. When confronted about such behavior, many people can become defensive, denying any wrongdoing or insulting their friend for being nosey. Be prepared for this response and try not to take it personally. Chances are they are not angry with you specifically, but may be lashing out because they feel embarrassed by their lapse in judgment or worried about the consequences of their actions.
Try not to pass moral judgments when addressing your friend's unsafe actions. Make it abundantly clear that you are doing this because you care about them and their health. Be specific in your concerns. If you are worried about your friend because they have multiple sexual partners and use The Pill but not condoms, don't condemn their entire sex life. Instead of simply telling them to stop having so much sex, let them know that you are worried that they are putting themselves at risk for STIs and you think they should start using condoms with any partners they have. Remember that one in four Americans will be diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection in their life (2). Risk of STI transmission is high, especially for young people who are just beginning to be sexually active. They may be more lax with their safer sex practices and not have frequent access to STI testing. Also, since the most frequently reported bacterial STI is Chlamydia, which may not cause any symptoms, testing is a crucial part of safer sex because many individuals don't have any idea they are infected (3). By addressing the issue in this way you avoid passing judgment on their relationships and values, and focus on their health instead. Remember that whatever reaction you get, positive or negative, your friend has still heard your concerns. You have given them valuable information about their sexual heath and what they do with that information is ultimately up to them.
1. Sieving, R. Friends' Influence on Adolescent's First Sexual Intercourse. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health Vol. 38. 2006.
2. Center for Disease Control. www.cdc.gov
3. Center for Disease Control. www.cdc.gov