Taking Care of Your Sexual Health: It’s All About Prevention

(VTV Breakfast, Dec. 5, 2000)

1. How young do we need to worry about our sexual health?

  • Starts at birth, by making sure our body is clean, healthy and learning to take care of it.
    (e.g. Learning technical terms for private parts of body, learning to wash genitals thoroughly to prevent infection, immunization against Hepatitis B, learning what it means to have a period and how to deal with it, receiving accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education)

2. When does my child have to start taking a pro-active approach when it comes to self-examinations?

  • Before puberty, boys must examine their testicles once a week for the prevention of testicular cancer, which puts those aged 14-35 at particular risk.
  • Because breast cancer is most common in women aged 40-60, young girls don’t necessarily have to start these self-examinations until their early twenties. Besides, when their breasts are still developing, they will naturally have small bumps, called nodes, that should be confused with cancer. If breast cancer runs in your family, ask a doctor about necessary precautions at a younger age. Although breast cancer in males is much less common, it does occur, so it should not be ruled out.
  • No matter how young your child is, he/she needs to be taught to tell you about anything different or painful on their body (e.g. an infection in the genital area) so it can be cared for.

3. What about visits to the doctor? How often? For what?

  • Before puberty, both boys and girls should visit their doctor at least once a year for an annual check up. This will help a child feel comfortable visiting the doctor.
  • Once puberty starts, boys should be particularly careful about having their testicles examined if any changes are noticed. Same goes for any other pain/infection in the genital area. If they are sexually active, they must be checked for STDs every time they have a new partner so he is not unknowingly passing it on.
  • Girls need to start visiting the doctor for an annual Pap Smear at age 18, or when they become sexually active—whichever comes first. They should know that a Pap Smear tests for abnormalities in cells on the cervix that could indicate the beginning stages of cervical cancer. It DOES NOT check for STDs. If a girls is sexually active, she must request a test at least for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year, and every time she has a new sexual partner. A breast exam by the doctor would also be a good preventative measure.

4. Are there any tips I can give my child when it comes to his/her relationship with a doctor?

  • As mentioned before, start regular doctor’s visits at an early age to reduce fear and discomfort.
  • At puberty age, suggest that your child has his/her own doctor. Especially during the teen years, it is important that your child feels a sense of privacy regarding his/her health issues. Respect your child’s desire for a doctor of the same gender.
  • Suggest that your child write a list of questions he/she wants to ask the doctor. Often visits are rushed, and this will help ensure that all of your child’s concerns are addressed. It may also be helpful for you or your child to inform the receptionist when making the appointment that I bit of extra time with the doctor will be needed.
  • Talk to your child about appropriate and inappropriate doctor-patient relationships (e.g. a shirt does not need to be removed for a pap smear unless a breast exam is being done—even then, the shirt can just be lifted up). Teach your child to trust his/her gut instinct if there is discomfort.
  • To avoid instilling a sense of paranoia in your child, stress that these exams and doctor’s visits are just a part of growing up and taking responsibility for our bodies. We go to the doctor not always because we are sick, but in order to stay healthy and safe.