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You Have Herpes. Now What?

At lunch, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood listens to her friends talk about sex and contraceptives, keeping quiet since she doesn’t know anything about those subjects.  In sexual education class, she learns about sex, sexually transmitted diseases and infections, abstinence, and contraceptives.  At home, her mind is spinning with unanswered questions, but she can’t ask her parents about sex because it would be uncomfortable to say the least, and an inappropriate conversation.

This is where the Teen Resource Center (TRC) located at 125 Walker Street in Chinatown, New York comes into play.  The TRC strives to educate adolescents about the topics of abstinence, contraceptives, sexually transmitted infections and diseases, nutrition and science, acne, the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and smoking.

Emerging adults in Chinatown say that the topic of sex was never brought up during dinner table conversation if at all.  “My parents do not think I am that type of girl, and I do not express myself in that way for them to ever question or to think I am engaged in sexual activity. Chinese parents do not want to think about this.  The topic of sex to them should not even exist at this age,” said Anna Wu an emerging adult.

While many parents in the community of Chinatown ignore the topic of sex; a new breed of parents are emerging, and their views of sex are drastically different from the older generation of parents, Leticia Chiu a parent said, “I do not think it’s smart because sex is perfectly normal; teens should be aware of sex and know what to do when the time comes.”

Even if parents choose to ignore the topic of sex, it is still very much embedded in our society today where sex shows up in television shows, movies, and commercials, teenagers are still very much exposed to it. “A lot of media today such as TV shows, music videos, and movies portray a lot of sex,” and constant need for sex in media only serves to devalue the importance of sex, “we don’t think of sex as such a huge deal,” said Anna Wu.

Ignoring sex largely may be due to cultural differences says, Dr. Carolyn Chang of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, “I think it’s definitely cultural differences, but a lot of parents even if they’re not Chinese parents they’re uncomfortable with talking to their children about sex.”

Parents fear sexual activity will deter their children from becoming successful individuals. As Kevin Tse, a TRC Teen Health Educator said, “The topic of sex education is not widely talked upon in our Asian community, because parents do not want their teens to be sexually active at a young age.  They may be afraid that once their child learns how to protect themselves from getting STI’s, and getting pregnant than they will have sex at a young age. Many Asian families want their children to be successful in the future, and having an early pregnancy is not accepted in the Asian community.”

There are parents who are open-minded about the topic of sex, and sexual health. “I would teach my son about contraceptives. I would tell him that he should always wear condoms, and be protected. And if I don’t feel comfortable talking to him about the subject, then I’ll buy a book about it and make him read it,” said Leticia Chiu.

The TRC offers various ways to educate teens from ages 13 to 21 years old about the topic of sex and sexual health. “As a Teen Health Educator, my role within TRC is to educate patients within the clinic.  We offer teens one on one session’s and workshops to discuss any questions they may have in regards to sex, sexual health, and other topics such as nutritional health and stress management,” said Kevin Tse.

It is often easier for teenagers to talk to a friend or a complete stranger like a Teen Health Educator about the topics of sex and sexual health because they will not feel uncomfortable.  “Some kids might not be comfortable in opening up their sexual lives to their parents; they might open up to a total stranger, because they’re not likely to judge or tell anyone else,” said Leticia Chiu.

Every teenager should have an outlet for information.  If they feel that they do not have anyone to talk to they can go to TRC to seek information, “We inform all teens who come in for a one on one educational session, we inform them about abstinence, birth control options, protection, sexual transmitted infections, and sexually transmitted diseases. If teens are younger, our educators will inform them about the materials in a way that teens are most comfortable,” said Kevin Tse.

Aside from providing education sessions to teens, “TRC hosts various programs and activities such as an annual basketball tournament, a handball tournament, and a talent show over this past summer.  Another program that TRC host is the Teen Pregnancy Experience; a program in which a group of teens get to experience taking of a robotic baby,” said Kevin Tse.

For parents who may brave the unknown Dr. Carolyn Chang offers some insights as to how to approach the sensitive topic of sex.  “It’s important to just to start with a very non- accusatory tone to talk to them, and ask if they have any questions,” said Dr. Carolyn Chang.   Another method that Dr. Chang offers in talking to teens about sex is, “keep the conversation open ended, and allow the teen direct the way the conversation flows.”

Parents should also try to approach the topic of sex and sexual health with their teens around the age of 10.  “If they start talking about sex at a tender age, teens wouldn’t feel awkward about the subject later on. It’s all about early communication. Teens might even be so comfortable with their parents later on that they even update their parents about their boyfriends and girlfriends,” said Kevin Tse.

Knowledge is always power, and if teens are educated on the topic of sex and sexual health than, “hopefully it’ll cut down the number of sexually transmitted disease and infections, cut down the number of unwanted pregnancies, and just give young adults the sense that they don’t necessarily have to feel pressured into having sex or do anything else they may not be ready for,” said Dr. Chang.

Teenagers, who aren’t even thinking about having sex, should be informed of the topics of sex and sexual health since it’ll certainly impact their lives in one way or another.  “If teenagers feel that the sexual health information is irrelevant to them, because they are not sexually active, knowing this information can help them make decisions if they choose to have sex in the future. They can also relate this information to their friends who are sexually active,” said Kevin Tse.

TRC has an impact on the community of Chinatown immensely, “it has definitely benefited the community, because at least teenagers have some sort of access to information.  It may not be necessary for them to see a doctor and all that entails, but they may feel more comfortable to talk about the topics of sex to someone closer to them in age,” said Dr. Chang.

With the many services TRC provides for adolescents ranging from nutritional health to sexual health it’s a shame that not many teenagers are utilizing these educational services.  “Very rare would we see a teen walk in to TRC, and ask for information about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Usually teenagers come to the TRC because they want be involved with our programs and get community service hours. Sometimes teenagers will come to TRC to get condoms, and if they had unprotected sex the night before they would seek our services to get emergency contraceptives,” said Kevin Tse.

Emerging adults need to be informed about sex and sexual health, because when someone contracts a sexually transmitted disease or infection, or has an unplanned pregnancy it not only affects the individuals but the families as well. “It is very discerning when a woman who comes into my office and has had sex, but haven’t been tested.  When their boyfriends don’t want to use a condom or get tested they think that it’s acceptable.  They’re putting themselves into these risky situations and not knowing the consequences,” said Dr. Chang.

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