Not many topics can make parents possibly more uncomfortable than those of sexual health and mental health. But I am about to tell you why you should adjust your comfort meter and snuggle in for a chat.
First of all, we don’t want any confusion. Blank stares and stuttering over the subject of sexual health will not leave your child completely confident in your ability to fill them in with accurate and trustworthy details. The last thing we want to do is direct them to Snapchat as a resource. So here we go. It will be okay I promise. I’m a therapist. Just breathe your way through it.
Sexual health is one aspect of your child’s health and its important you view your child as a whole person, who will at some point have a sexual history. If you negate sexual health from the discussion, you are in fact losing an opportunity to converse openly with your child about healthy relationships, domestic violence (yes, this happens with teens), birth control, abstinence, human sexuality and the real zingers: sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy.
Secondly, your teen’s mental health is inclusive of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, which may or may not lead down a path of struggles with symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD and the like. If illness progresses too far without intervention this can develop into suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and/or self-harm. Now, I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you but if I have, please read on. It gets better.
Your teen’s mental health and sexual health are intimately tied together. And they are tied together for life. Scientific research backs up this statement. And this is how:
- Teens with mental illness (diagnosed or not) are more likely to initiate sexual activity at an earlier age and with more partners. Think this doesn’t include your teen; think again. Many teens are walking around with anxiety and depression and have never been to a therapist or psychiatrist. We are not talking severe mental illness. We are actually talking about your average teen, who is struggling.
- Teens with mental illness (again diagnosed or not) are more likely to be faced with an unintended pregnancy. Why? The answer is simple. Teens who are grappling with emotional health issues participate in risky sexual behavior. In a nutshell, they are less likely to use birth control. And typically, they demonstrate impulsive behavior.
- Anxious and depressed teens are more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases. At this point, I am sure you are catching on. They have higher rates of STD’s because they are less likely to use condoms and more likely to be sexually active. We can’t downplay the dangers of STD’s. Untreated STD’s can lead to physical health complications including cancer and infertility. Not only will their future relationships be impacted by the contraction of a STD; their future families may be altered.
Here comes the good news. We can do something about it. We can help our children prevent unintended pregnancies, delay sexual activity, unhealthy relationships, and the ill effects of sexually transmitted diseases.
How do we help our teens?
- Support comprehensive sexual education in your public school system.
- Support your child if they are struggling with mental health issues and seek help from a professional therapist.
- Start the conversation about mental health and sexual health today with your child.
One conversation isn’t enough. An ongoing dialogue must be initiated. If you as the parent or your teen is struggling with mental health, don’t be ashamed. Seek help. For mental health resources, contact Moods and Foods 4 Kids. For more information on talking to your teen about sexual health, check out Eyes Open Iowa. We are here to support your family now.