As parents, once our child is born, we have an instinct to protect them. We teach them right from wrong. We teach them to wear a seatbelt in the car. We teach them to never ride with someone intoxicated. We teach them the dangers of illicit drug use. We teach them how to be safe in and around water. We teach them about knives and firearms. So, why do so few parents teach their kids about sex and how to take care of their bodies?
Sex ed where every parent plays paper/rock/scissors to see who gets to give “the talk.” Most pre-teens and teenagers don’t realize that it is just as awkward for the parent when it comes to bringing up the conversation. At a young age, we emphasize that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. We emphasize that these are “potty words’ and we don’t talk about them. We all go on with life until one day at the end of elementary school, our child gets sent home with a note asking for our permission for them to watch a video about “their changing body”. The video where girls learn about menstruation and boys learn about erections and ejaculation. Generally, parents are thankful for this video, as it covers all the topics- and parents can ask at the end of the day, “do you have any questions?”
Fast Forward to high school, where teenagers have a health class. Generally, in this class, sexual education is very brief. Most school systems, especially in the South, teach an abstinence-only curriculum. With this curriculum, topics on birth control are often not discussed and the teen is taught that doing anything besides kissing can lead to irreparable psychological damage. I can also tell you, teens aren’t learning as much as you think. Working in gynecology, I have the privilege to talk with preteens, teenagers, and young adults. Unfortunately, a lot of the information I hear from these ladies is untrue.
So, as a parent, what can you do?
Talk to your child. Destigmatize sexuality. Be open. Let them come to you. Educate your child. A lot of parents in my office express concern that exposing their pre-teen or teens to this type of talk will push them to do something. That is absolutely not true. Your preteen and teenager is already exposed to these things. From music to television shows, movies, books, and the internet; they know a whole lot more than you think. Give them the correct information and help them protect their health and their future.
In my experience, adolescent females who are appropriately educated about their body, health, and rights, are more likely to make informed decisions and not be persuaded by boyfriends, girlfriends, or peers. This is why I founded Comprehensive Teenage Female Education. It is a 4 part online course for girls 7-12 grade (or whenever their parent or guardian feels they are ready). I speak with these ladies about a variety of topics. I discuss female anatomy, what is normal/not normal and when they need to see a healthcare provider. We discuss gynecological diseases as well as sexually transmitted infections. We talk about over the counter contraception, prescription contraception, how to use it and how it works. I discuss the importance of healthy dating relationships, red flags, and when to seek help. We also discuss rape and what to do if ever in that situation. I also have a course for younger girls to discuss their changing body. I educate them on menstruation, how to use pads/tampons, breast changes, hair growth, and vaginal discharge as well as certain infections.
The goal of creating this online program is to lay a foundation. I wanted to have a safe space where these young women could learn accurate information on their own time without feeling judged or embarrassed. As a healthcare provider, I am not here to tell your child what is right and wrong. I do not give them permission to become sexually active or tell them not to become sexually active. I am here to give them the foundation they need to be aware of their body and make informed decisions regarding their health. I personally feel the best way for the program to work is for the parents to watch the videos beforehand or with their daughter. That way everyone is on the same page. I am also available through messaging for any further questions.
Knowledge is power, and as parents, we have the opportunity to protect our children’s health and future. We have the power to teach them the correct information. We have the power to be an open ear. As parents, we have the right to teach our kids. As awkward as it may be, in the future they will thank us.
Stephanie Howard is a board-certified Physician Assistant practicing obstetrics and gynecology in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has always had a passion for women’s health and immediately started working in the field upon graduation in 2010. Stephanie is an advocate of education and believes women of all ages have the right to be informed about their body and how it works. She has an online comprehensive health education program for teenagers that covers everything from male and female anatomy to birth control and sex education. Stephanie is an adjunct faculty member for the South College Physician Assistant program in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her role is to precept clinical year students and educate them on the physical exam, diagnosis, and treatment of obstetric and gynecologic patients. Stephanie was awarded preceptor of the year for the South College Physician Assistant program. She was also awarded the PA/Physician Team of the year by the Tennessee Academy of Physician Assistants. Stephanie’s Instagram account, TheGyn_PA, covers gynecological topics for all ages and anyone interested in female health. She truly believes Knowledge is power and wants to provide a source of accurate information for females everywhere. Stephanie is married to her high school sweetheart, Taylor, and together they have two boys Hudson (4) and Jax (1).