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Why you need to talk to your lesbian daughter about unprotected sex

Parents and educators often make the assumption that teens who identify as lesbians are in a low sexual risk category, but the latest research proves this stereotype is actually harmful, as lesbian youth are more likely to engage in risky sexual activity with both sexes.

More: How to make sure your teen talks to you about sex

The study, co-authored by researchers from the University of British Columbia and City University of New York and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, looked at the data of nearly 3,000 girls from the Teens, Health, and Technology survey. “Our findings highlight that sexual orientation labels and sexual behaviour don’t always align — especially during the teen years,” says lead author Michele Ybarra in a statement.

“This means that lesbian and bisexual girls may be having unprotected sex with boys — and with girls.”

The study found that 1 in 5 teen girls identifying as lesbian had a recent male sex partner and that both lesbian and bisexual girls were more likely to have early pregnancies. If you’re a parent of a daughter who identifies as lesbian or bisexual, it’s crucial you talk to your teen about sex in light of the latest research.

Here’s what health experts say you should be doing:

1. Start the conversation about sexual health early on

The researchers found that lesbian girls were younger than straight girls when they started having sex. On average, lesbian youth are just shy of 14 years old when they start having sex, while bisexual girls are around 15, and heterosexual girls usually start having sex at 15-1/2. It’s important to talk to your daughter about sex before she hits her teen years, as once she’s a teenager, she’ll likely have gotten her information elsewhere and may already be sexually active.

“I’ve had parents say they can’t and they won’t talk to their kids about sex,” Kim Martyn, a sexual health educator with the Toronto Public Health Department tells AboutKidsHealth.

“When these children become teenagers, the parents have more or less forfeited their right to offer their opinions. They can speak to them about sex as much as they want, but these teens will not be receptive.” For parents who want to know how to talk to their kids about sex, visit Planned Parenthood’s resources.

More: The most cringe-worthy ways parents have explained the birds and the bees

2. Talk to your daughter about birth control

“If you have a daughter who identifies as a lesbian, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have that talk about birth control,” study co-author Elizabeth Saewyc tells The Province. It’s important to have an honest conversation with your daughter and her health care provider to determine whether or not birth control is right for her.

This conversation is especially important for lesbian youth, as they’re more than twice as likely to get pregnant, according to data from the B.C. Adolescent Health Survey. Teaching Sexual Health has information available for parents and educators about the different forms of birth control available for Canadian teens.

3. Talk to your daughter about STI prevention

The study found that only about a third (32 per cent) of lesbian teens had a conversation about using protection like condoms or dental dams with their last sexual partner, while 62 per cent of bisexual teens had this conversation, as did 73 per cent of teens who identify as straight.

It’s important that parents have conversations about STI risks with their lesbian daughter before she starts having sex. Lesbian sex is by no means risk free — common STIs women and girls transmit to one another include but are not limited to herpes, trichomoniasis, chlamydia and bacterial vaginosis. And given that many lesbian youth report having sex with men too, it’s important to ensure your daughter is schooled on proper condom use and condom negotiation skills as well.

“Experimentation is normal, which is why adolescent health professionals need to make sure that every young person has the skills she needs to keep herself safe,” says study co-author Margaret Rosario. Parents need to understand that their lesbian child is statistically likely to engage in risky sexual activity if she doesn’t have the resources she needs. Don’t let your daughter become another negative statistic; instead, have an open, honest and informed conversation about sexual health.

More: How I held it together when my teenage son told me he was ready for sex

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