The Basics: Overview
Talk with your teen about how to prevent STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), even if you don't think your teen is sexually active.
If talking about sex and STDs with your teen makes you nervous, you aren't alone. It can be hard to know where to start. But it's important to make sure your teen knows how to stay safe.
How do I talk with my teen?
These tips can help you talk to your teen about preventing STDs:
- Think about what you want to say ahead of time.
- Be honest about how you feel.
- Try not to give your teen too much information at once.
- Use examples to start a conversation.
- Talk while you are doing something together.
- Get ideas from other parents.
You can also ask your teen’s doctor to talk with your teen about preventing STDs. This is called STD prevention counseling.
The Basics: STD Facts
Why do I need to talk with my teen?
All teens need accurate information about how to prevent STDs. Teens whose parents talk with them about sex and how to prevent STDs are not more likely to have sex. But they will be more likely to make healthy choices about sex when they're older.
In fact, teens say that their parents have a bigger influence on their decisions about sex than the media, their siblings, or their friends.
Young people are more likely to get STDs.
About half of all STD cases in the United States happen in young people ages 15 to 24.
Teens are at a higher risk than adults of getting STDs for a number of reasons. For example, they may:
- Not know they need tests to check for STDs
- Not use condoms correctly every time they have sex
- Have sexual contact with multiple partners during the same period of time
What do I need to know about STDs?
STDs are diseases that can spread from person to person during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Some STDs can also spread during any kind of activity that involves skin-to-skin sexual contact.
STDs are sometimes called STIs, or sexually transmitted infections. Examples of STDs include genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV.
These diseases are very common. Although many STDs can be cured, they can cause serious health problems if they aren’t treated. Many STDs don't have any symptoms, so the only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to get tested. Learn more about STDs.
The Basics: Prevention
What do I tell my teen about preventing STDs?
Talk to your teen about what STDs are and how to prevent them. Use the facts and resources below to talk with your teen.
It’s important to learn about STDs and how they spread.
Knowing the facts helps teens protect themselves. Check out these websites together:
- About Sexually Transmitted Diseases – for Teens
- Information for Teens and Young Adults: Staying Healthy and Preventing STDs
Complete abstinence is the best way to prevent STDs.
Complete abstinence means not having any kind of sexual contact. This includes vaginal, anal, or oral sex and skin-to-skin sexual contact. Complete abstinence is the only sure way to prevent STDs.
Discuss this information about abstinence with your teen.
Condoms can help prevent STDs.
Make sure your teen knows how to use condoms, even if you don't think he is sexually active. Offer to help get condoms if your teen doesn’t know where to go. Share these resources:
It’s important for teens to talk with their partners about STDs before having sex.
Encourage your teen to talk with her partner about STD prevention before having sex. Say that you understand it may not be easy, but it’s important for your teen to speak up. These tips can help:
The Basics: Testing
Your teen may need to get tested for STDs.
Ask your teen to talk honestly with the doctor or nurse about any sexual activity. That way, the doctor can decide which tests your teen may need. Sexually active teens may need to be tested for:
It's important to help your teen develop a trusting relationship with the doctor or nurse. Step out of the room to give your teen a chance to ask about STD testing and prevention in private.
This is an important step in teaching teens to play an active role in their health care. Get more tips on helping teens take charge of their health care.
Keep in mind that your teen can get tested for STDs at the doctor – or go to a clinic. To find an STD clinic near you:
- Enter your Zip code to find a local testing site.
- Call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).
The Basics: Other Topics to Discuss
How can I talk to my teen about preventing pregnancy?
It’s important for teen girls and boys to know about preventing pregnancy as well as STDs. Check out these resources with your teen:
- What Do I Need to Know About Birth Control?
- Choose the Right Birth Control
- About Birth Control – for Teens
How can I help my teen build healthy relationships?
Families have different rules about when it’s okay for teens to start dating. Whatever your rules are, the best time to start talking about healthy relationships is before your teen starts dating.
Help your teen develop healthy expectations for relationships. Get tips for talking to your kids about healthy relationships.
The Basics: LGBT Teens
Does my LGBT teen need information about preventing STDs?
Yes. All teens – including LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) teens – need accurate information about STDs. Remember, STDs can spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex and skin-to-skin sexual contact.
LGBT teens may also be at higher risk for STDs than straight teens, so it's important to talk to your teen about STD prevention. Learn more about supporting your LGBT teen’s health.
Take Action: Be Prepared
Help protect your teen from STDs by sharing the facts he or she needs to make healthy decisions.
Think about what you want to say ahead of time.
It’s very common to be nervous when talking to your teen about something like STDs. Learn about STDs so you’ll be ready for the conversation. You may also want to practice what you’ll say to your teen with another adult, like your partner or another parent.
Before you talk with your teen about preventing STDs:
Take Action: Start Talking
Be honest about how you feel.
Talking with your teen about how to prevent STDs may not be easy for you. It’s normal for both of you to feel uncomfortable – and it’s okay to be honest with your teen about how you feel.
Remember, when you are honest with your teen, he’s more likely to be honest with you. And keep in mind that your teen may ask a question you can’t answer. Tell him you aren’t sure – then look up the answer together!
Try not to give your teen too much information at once.
Remember, you have plenty of time to talk about preventing STDs. You don’t need to fit everything into one conversation – it’s actually better if you don’t. Give your teen time to think – she may come back later and ask questions.
Make this the first conversation of many about preventing STDs.
Take Action: Conversation Tips
Listen and ask questions.
Show your teen that you are paying attention and trying to understand his thoughts and feelings. Try these tips:
- Repeat back what your teen says in your own words. For example, “So you don’t think you are at risk for getting an STD?”
- Ask questions to help guide the conversation. For example, “Have you talked in school about how to prevent STDs?”
- Ask questions that check for your teen’s understanding. For example, “What did you learn about how STDs are spread?”
- Talk about something that happened in a movie or TV show. For example, “It looks like they had sex without using a condom. What do you think about that?”
Talk while you are doing something together.
Sometimes it’s easier to have a conversation while you are doing something else at the same time. For example, try talking with your teen about sex and STDs when you are driving in the car or cooking dinner.
You can still show your teen that you are listening to him by nodding your head or repeating what he says.
Get ideas from other parents.
Remember that you aren’t the only person thinking about how to talk to a teen about preventing STDs. Ask other parents what they have done. You may be able to get helpful tips and ideas.
Take Action: Prevention Counseling
Ask your teen’s doctor about STD prevention counseling.
Counseling to prevent STDs is recommended for all teens who are sexually active. That means it’s part of a doctor’s job to help teens learn how to prevent STDs. The doctor may:
- Give your teen information about preventing STDs
- Refer your teen to a health educator or counselor for STD prevention counseling
STD prevention counseling includes:
- Giving your teen basic information about STDs and how they spread
- Figuring out your teen’s risk of getting or spreading an STD
- Teaching your teen important skills – like how to use condoms, how to talk with a partner about STDs, and how to get tested for STDs
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, health insurance plans must cover prevention counseling and screening for teens at higher risk of getting an STD.
Depending on your insurance plan, your teen may be able to get STD counseling and screening at no cost to you. For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.
Content last updated July 24, 2020
This information on STD prevention was adapted from materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Health Communication Science Office
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention