DEAR ABBY: My daughter, age 15, was just diagnosed with the herpes virus, and she is devastated by the news. I had cautioned her to wait until she was older to become sexually active because I understand that decisions made in haste cannot be unmade, and some -- as in this case -- carry lifelong consequences. I also know that many, if not all, teenage girls do not cope very well with all the baggage that goes along with having sex.
At the time we had that discussion my daughter brushed me off. She said I couldn't look at the situation clearly because my feelings were influenced by my own mistakes and regrets. Now she sees that I knew what I was talking about.
Besides having to deal with a lifelong contagious disease and the possibility of infecting someone else, she has to deal with her irresponsible boyfriend who is threatening to tell people that they are infected and it's all her fault.
Please tell me what I can do to protect my daughter from further harm. And please caution other teens about the risks of unprotected sex while letting them know that moms and dads really DO know what is best for them. -- DEVASTATED MOM IN OHIO
DEAR MOM: It isn't enough to tell young men and women to wait until they are older to have sex. In addition to that message they need to know how to protect themselves against an unplanned pregnancy, about the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and how to prevent it if they do become sexually active, and how to recognize the symptoms if they do get one so it can be promptly treated.
The rate of STDs in teens today is very high. It is estimated that one in four young women in the U.S. ages 14 to 19 is infected with at least one common STD including herpes, HPV, chlamydia and trich (trichomoniasis).
Most STDs often have no symptoms -- until there are more serious complications. Left untreated, some can make it difficult to conceive in adulthood.
Teens who are sexually active should have an STD checkup at least once a year. And any teen who thinks she -- or he -- might have an STD or learns that a sex partner has one should go and get tested right away.
Because there have been financial cutbacks in education, comprehensive sex education classes are being -- and have been -- eliminated. I publish a booklet, "What Every Teen Should Know," that is frank, informative and answers many of the questions teens ask about drugs, alcohol and sex. Many parents find conversations about sex difficult to start, and my booklet has helped many parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents start the discussion.
It can be ordered by sending your name and address, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price.
You asked me how to protect your daughter now that her boyfriend is threatening to say this is all her fault. Much as you might wish to, you can't muzzle the young man. You can have a chat with his parents and let them impress upon their son how unwise that kind of slander would be for both of them. And that's what I'm advising you to do.