Beccastone sat down with Dr. Carl M. Reddix to discuss issues related to teen reproductive health. These issues are particularly important to consider as teens head off to school and college. Dr. Carl Reddix practices obstetrics and gynecology with The Reddix Medical Group in Jackson, MS. Dr. Carl Reddix is a graduate of Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, MS and Tufts University Medical School in Boston, Mass. He has three young adult children, one son and two daughters.
Beccastone: When should parents take their daughter to get a pelvic exam?
Dr. Carl Reddix: I think that as soon as you notice that your daughter is becoming more mindful of her body and how she looks, you should encourage her to have a conversation about sexual health with a physician without you the parent present. It could be the pediatrician who has this conversation. It should be a doctor whom your daughter trusts and who can be open and frank. At the latest, a young girl should see a physician before she leaves home for college. If you believe your daughter is sexually active, she should see a doctor.
BS: What do you do if your daughter is reluctant or afraid to see the doctor?
DCR: It is very important not to force a young girl to have a pelvic exam if she doesn’t want to and refuses. I believe that it can be traumatic and may be harmful to the child’s self-esteem to proceed over the child’s wishes. The first step is to get the child to talk to a doctor, ideally someone she already trusts like her pediatrician. The child and the doctor can discuss when the child feels comfortable having the exam.
What trends among teens are you seeing in your practice?
DCR: Over the past ten years or so, I have seen significant growth in cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among teens, particularly chlamydia. I recommend that if teens are sexually active, they get screened annually for chlamydia and HPV (human papillomavirus), as well as get a pap smear. I also suggest a blood test for HIV, hepatitis B, and syphilis. Left untreated, chlamydia is a very dangerous disease that can cause chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and pelvic inflammatory disease.
BS: What about the boys? When should they talk to the doctor?
DCR: I would treat the boys the same as the girls and encourage them to talk with their doctor or pediatrician when they start to show an interest in their physical appearance. They may not have the same consequences from sex as girls, but they are the instruments and they can get STDs also. I find that as often as not, today, female teens are the ones initiating sex with the boys. The boys need to understand the importance of being tested and not passing on STDs to their next partner.
BS: Do you recommend that young girls get the HPV vaccination that can lower the risk of getting cervical cancer?
DCR: The vaccination is generally recommended for females between the ages of 13 to 26. If you have any questions, you should talk to your doctor or pediatrician about the pros and cons. In my experience, if the eldest daughter in a family started intercourse at a relatively young age, there is a higher likelihood that the younger siblings will be sexually active also and should be vaccinated. But at the end of the day, it’s a decision to be made after talking with your doctor.
BS: Is there any general advice you would like to give parents?
DCR: The Black community generally does not seek or receive medical screening with the same frequency as the nonminority community. Therefore, when disease is detected, Blacks tend to have different outcomes, because the disease is caught at a later stage. To lower the risk of bad outcomes, when teens become sexually active, they should start getting tested annually for the STDs I mentioned earlier and they should seek medical treatment if they have any symptoms such as discharge or painful urination.
The other thing I want to mention to parents is that the physician’s job is to be an advocate for his or her patient. If the patient is the child, then the doctor has to put the child’s needs and requests first, and not the parents’ wishes.
I also want to stress that when parents talk to their children about sex, they need to have a very frank and open conversation about three types of sex — vaginal, oral and anal. If parents are uncomfortable talking about these subjects, they can ask the physician to talk to their children about these issues. Parents have to recognize that today, there are a lot of temptations and choices, and young people should be informed about the risks and consequences associated with a range of sexual activities.