The Anonymous Question: What Teens REALLY Want to Know

(As discussed with Saleema Noon on VTV Breakfast Show, November 27, 1999)

Whenever I have the chance when working with teens, I give them the opportunity to ask anonymous questions. Below are five of the questions I received at a high school last week (of a total of about 500!) that reflect the most common or typical topics teens want (and need) to know about.

1. What if I’m too embarrassed to talk to my family doctor or my parents about birth control? Where can I go to get on the pill?

Often teens don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about sexual health because they feel they will get in trouble. It is important for parents to encourage their children to approach them on sexual health issues from a young age, so that they can provide the information they need. It is also important for teens to know about the free, confidential health clinics available to youth in the community such as Planned Parenthood or Youth Family Planning Clinics sponsored by community health that provide birth control counselling and products.

2. Can you get AIDS from oral sex (or from anal sex or from saliva or having sex for the first time?)

Teens need to know that STDs are transmitted primarily by the exchange of bodily fluids, which can happen through unprotected anal and vaginal sex. AIDS can’t be transmitted through saliva, but if an infected person is kissing someone and they have cuts, cold sores or bleeding gums, it can happen. STDs including AIDS can definitely be transmitted the first time someone is having sex.

3. How big is the average breasts (or penis)?

Really what this person is asking is “Are my breasts to small?” It is important to emphasize the individuality of breasts and penises, and that their purpose (breastfeeding and delivering sperm, respectively) has nothing to do with size.

4. Can you get pregnant without having sex?

YES. Sperm are great swimmers and can travel up the vagina even from outside the body.

5. What is the best age to start having sex?

Teens are looking for easy answers when it comes to values associated with sex. Because these values are different in every family, parents need to teach them to their children starting at day one. I try to stress the positive message that while sex can be wonderful, it comes with many emotional and physical risks and is definitely worth the wait—I tell teens that I have NEVER met an adult who has said “Gee, I wish I started having sex sooner!”.