Mighty Blog

What parents need to know about sexually transmitted infections

It can be difficult for parents to talk to their teens about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). While it may be an uncomfortable conversation, it is an important one to have with your child or teen before they before they start having sex so they know how to protect themselves and others.

Common STIs

STIs are spread from person to person during vaginal, oral or anal sex, or other kinds of close intimate contact. Some common STIs include: chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts (HPV), gonorrhea, pubic lice, syphilis and trichomoniasis.

Dr. Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics, shared more about talking to your kids and teens about STIs:


Most STIs can be prevented by correctly using a condom or a dental dam every time someone has sex. Genital warts caused by an HPV infection can be prevented with a vaccine.


Condoms are thin pouches that keep sperm from getting into the vagina or anus. There are two types of condoms: external and internal. Both types of condoms are usually made with latex or a type of rubber, like polyurethane or polyisoprene, that is safe for people with latex allergies.

External condoms

External condoms are worn on the penis. To correctly put one on, one must hold the tip of the condom while rolling it to the base of the penis. This will leave room for semen after ejaculation, making it less likely that the condom will break. When removing a condom after sex, hold the condom at the base to prevent it from slipping.

Internal condoms

An internal condom is inserted into the vagina or anus and has a flexible ring at each end. One end is closed and goes inside and the other is open and sits outside the opening of the vagina or anus. The condom will line the walls, creating a barrier. Internal condoms can be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse, but should be removed immediately after sex before standing up.

Internal and external condoms should not be used at the same time because the friction can cause the condoms to break, stick together or slip out of place. However, couples concerned about not getting pregnant should combine a barrier method, such as a condom, with a hormonal birth control option, like the birth control pill, intrauterine device (IUD), birth control shot, birth control ring, birth control implant or birth control patch, to lessen the chance of an unintended pregnancy.

Pregnancy prevention

Long-term contraceptive options, like an IUD or implant, are 99 percent effective and, depending on the method, can last anywhere from 3-12 years, making them a very safe and low-maintenance choice.

Many other birth control methods are used on a schedule. With the birth control shot, patients need to go to a doctor every three months for an injection, and this method is 94 percent effective. The birth control ring needs to be replaced monthly and the patch needs to be replaced weekly, both of these methods are 91 percent effective when properly maintained. The birth control pill is 91 percent effective, but is the highest maintenance option as it needs to be taken at the same time every day.

Condoms can also help prevent pregnancy when used every time: external condoms are 83 percent effective and internal condoms are 79 percent effective.

There are a lot of birth control options to choose from, and it can be overwhelming. But a medical provider can help your child decide which method is best for their body and lifestyle.

Dental dams

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dental dams are very similar to condoms and are made out of the same latex or polyurethane material. The biggest difference between condoms and dental dams is the shape, as dental dams are flat sheets. Dental dams are used as a barrier for protection during oral sex.


STIs that are caused by bacteria, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can be treated by antibiotics that your doctor can prescribe. STIs that are caused by a virus, like genital herpes or genital warts, can be managed by your doctor.

It’s important to screen for STIs because they can lead to health concerns in males and females if left untreated. In males, untreated STIs can cause painful testicular swelling or urethritis, an inflammation of the urethra. In females, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is a serious infection of the female reproductive system that usually happens when bacteria from an STI infects the uterus or upper genital tract. Untreated PID can damage the fallopian tubes, ovaries or uterus, which may lead to chronic pelvic pain or serious damage to the reproductive system, including infertility.

If your child tells you they have been sexually active and they and their partner did not use protection or if they think they may have an STI, you should make an appointment with their primary care physician right away.

It’s important to talk to your child or teen about sex so they know how to protect themselves from STIs and/or pregnancy. For tips on how to approach this touchy subject, check out these tips from the CDC.