Last week, I went for tea with two friends, Karen and Christy. I told them about a conversation I recently had with my friend, Jane. Jane has a 14-year old son, Henry, who is cute, outgoing, and very popular with the girls at his school. Jane and Henry have a very close relationship and no topic is off limits, including sex. Not long ago, Henry told his mom that he was at a party where a 16-year old girl took her top off and invited him to touch her boobies. Henry ran off because he didn’t know what to do. Jane told me that it is just a matter of time before her son starts having sex. “I wish he would wait and I tell him all the time that he is too young, and that sex is reserved for love and commitment. But I also know it’s going to happen, and probably soon. But he cannot get a girl pregnant so I have a box of condoms ready for him. Ugh!”
I asked Jane when she’s going to give him those condoms. “I don’t know. At what point am I condoning and encouraging sex at the age of 14, versus making sure there aren’t STDs and a pregnancy? But the answer is, soon.”
I asked Karen and Christy they’re thoughts were on the topic. All three of us have daughters the same age. I gave them this scenario: Our daughter comes home and says “I’m going to have sex with my boyfriend, Mom.” …or… instead of one of our daughters telling us they’re about ready to have sex, we just know in our gut that it’s going to happen soon. Grounding her and never letting her out of the house again isn’t realistic. So, when do we take her to the doctor and get her on birth control? When do we give her condoms and beg her to use them so she doesn’t come home with herpes? And while our daughters are all 14 years old now, what happens if they are older, like 16, which, in my opinion, is a more typical time to start exploring sex?
Without missing a beat, Christy, who is very conservative Mormon, said that there would be no birth control for her daughters, no matter what. “If they are going to have sex, then they’ll get pregnant and need to put the baby up for adoption. It’s natural consequences and I am not going to shield them from it.”
I was speechless. It took me several moments to recover. “You would rather have your daughter come home pregnant than put her on birth control?” I asked.
“Yes!” Just like that. I thought she was joking until I realized she wasn’t.
I had to make sure I understood her correctly. “You would rather have your young daughter pregnant, if it were avoidable, to teach her a lesson on sexual purity? And you would ‘punish’ her for having sex with the consequence of a baby?”
Karen jumped in. “What if she doesn’t want to put the baby up for adoption?”
“Well she’ll need to. The Mormon church teaches that adoption is a great option and lots of good Mormon parents want to adopt.”
I was horrified. Natural consequences of sex is a baby? Not since birth control hit the market! Or, wait, natural consequences of sex without birth control is a baby. That is more accurate. And, I suppose, teaching this lesson is… wise? Fair? And teaches what life lesson, exactly, other than “you will not have sex outside of marriage because, if you do, you’ll need to have a baby and put it up for adoption.” It was so nonsensical and … well… wrong! And if her daughters know how their mom feels, how likely are they going to tell her anything? If you ask me, this is one way to raise kids to lie and hide from their parents. Not a great way to foster a relationship of openness and trust.
This entire line of thinking was making my head spin and I had to end our outing because I didn’t want to say anything that I would regret. Since then, I’ve thought endlessly about this conversation. And, really, the Big Challenge that this mom has is how best to teach lifelong healthy lessons about sex, responsibility and consequences to my two daughters.
Sex is a huge responsibility. There are diseases and pregnancies. sex, whether in a committed relationship or a one-night stand, has psychological impacts to self esteem and self worth. Growing up, my parents never discussed sex with me. It was one of those “uncomfortable” topics. And growing up in a staunch Mormon household, I was taught that you just don’t ever have sex if you’re not married so end of discussion.
Except I had other thoughts about the whole thing and I sure as hell wasn’t going to talk to my parents about it. Instead, I went off to college a virgin but very open to the possibilities that awaited me. I somehow never felt shame or guilt about sex. And when I got my first boyfriend, I had a roommate with a car and, together, we went off to Planned Parenthood and got our first packets of birth control pills for just a few dollars. Thank goodness that I had somehow learned enough that I wasn’t going to get pregnant. I decided that sleeping around felt crummy. I developed boundaries that worked for me and, to this day, I think I have a really healthy attitude about sex. I love it, it’s natural, I’m comfortable talking about it. I developed this all on my own without getting pregnant or an STD. I was lucky.
Now that I’m a mom, I vow that I will not allow luck to dictate how my daughters navigate sex. First, like my friend, Jane, my daughters know that I am very comfortable discussing sex with them. They can ask me any question and they will receive an open and honest answer. If the time comes that they are about ready to have sex, I will be getting them on birth control pills and handing them a box of condoms. I believe that sex is best inside a committed and loving relationship and I already teach them that idea. But they will be making their own decisions. Denying that reality and potentially “punishing” them with the possibility of a pregnancy or disease is really dangerous parenting, if you ask me.