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It is important for parents to talk to their kids and teens about STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Your kids need to understand how STDs spread and how to protect themselves.

What Are STDs?

STDs (also called sexually transmitted infections, or STIs) are infections that spread from person to person during sexual activity. This includes vaginal, oral, or anal sex; using fingers ("fingering"); or any other sexual contact. 

Does Talking About Sex and STDs Make Teens More Likely to Have Sex?

Talking to kids and teens about sex and STDs does not make it more likely that they'll have sex. Instead, if they do become sexually active, they’ll understand the risks and know how to protect themselves.

When Should I Talk to My Kids About STDs?

Talking about STDs and other personal subjects like sex shouldn't be one big talk at a certain age. Instead, start the conversation early. Then slowly build on it based on how much your child understands. By about 10–13 years old, most kids know what sex is and are ready to learn about STDs.

But even if your child is older and you haven't started talking about STDs, it's not too late. A delayed talk is better than no talk at all.

How Do I Bring Up the Subject of STDs?

Good times to talk about STDs could be when:

  • your child asks questions about sex
  • you're watching a TV show or movie together that shows a romantic couple. You might ask, "What sorts of things do people in a relationship need to think about?" 
  • when your child gets the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. You could say, "This shot protects you from a type of STD. Do you know what an STD is?"

What Should I Talk About?

Cover these key points when talking to your kids about STDs:

  • How STDs spread. STDs mainly spread through sex. But some STDs can pass through close contact with someone's genitals or body fluids. People can get an STD the very first time they have sex.
  • Symptoms. Some people with an STD have discharge from the vagina or penis, or sores in the genital area. But most people have no signs or symptoms. You can’t tell if someone has an STD just by looking. Even people without symptoms can spread the infection to a sexual partner.
  • Treatment. Medicines called antibiotics can cure some STDs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea. Other STDs, like herpes and HIV, can be treated but not cured.
  • Risks. If someone has an STD and doesn’t get treatment, it can lead to medical problems like long-term pain and trouble getting pregnant later.
  • Prevention. The best way to completely prevent an STD is to not have sex, including vaginal, oral, or anal sex; or using fingers ("fingering"). If someone decides to have sex, using a condom, finger condom, or dental dam every time can help prevent most STDs.

What if I Have Trouble Talking to My Kids About STDs?

Kids and teens need to know about STDs. It's best if they get the facts from someone reliable. If you don't feel comfortable talking with your kids about STDs, make sure they can turn to someone else for accurate information. This could be a doctor, school nurse or counselor, teacher, or a trusted family member. They can also reach out to places like Planned Parenthood.

Medically reviewed by: Lonna P. Gordon, MD
Date reviewed: January 2024