Raising Richmond: Teens and birth control

Teenagers and sex. Not really a new concept, but one that’s definitely much more “in your face” these days, leaving parents with a tricky decision: do we make birth control accessible to our teenagers? Come see our thoughts and be sure to share yours…

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a little while). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Today’s question: Should teenagers be given access to birth control or should parents offer abstinence as the only option?

Here we go…

The Salgados

I’ll never forget long ago when I was just a teenager, Sharon Stone (back in the heydays of Basic Instinct fame) announced that she would leave condoms available to her kids should they ever need them. Oh the scandal! It was a big deal for this card carrying True Love Waits high school (almost college) girl.

My conservative upbringing only had one option available to me: abstinence. The only problem was even as an almost perfect- Pollyanna-kind-of-girl, I was deeply in love with my boyfriend, madly, truly, deeply. The kind of love that isn’t supposed to come to a person that early in their life, And while it was wrong in my world, I wanted to sleep with my man. Well, maybe he was almost a man. It was all a little High School Musical, if you will.

Throw all the raging hormones in and mix with a little shame, you get a terrible cocktail for unsafe sex. That is exactly what ended up happening. A lack of education and knowing only one side of the story left us both acting irresponsibly about our sexual health. It all worked out because I married that guy in the end — 18 years together and going strong — but I’m not sure it was the best way for us. I don’t really blame my parents as I really believe it was what they thought was right, but I’m guessing we will do things a little differently when the time comes for our kids to explore that part of themselves.

I think normalizing the subject and age appropriate education along the way will be a good start to keeping the communications lines open. While I don’t exactly want my 13-year-old having sex like so many horror stories I hear these days, I do think I’ll pull a Sharon Stone and have protection available at a certain point. More importantly, I’m wondering if self respect is the biggest lesson of all to teach kids.

Although the answers all seem perfectly clear now, I have a feeling this is one of those subjects that you really have no idea what it is truly like until you are in it, until you have a ridiculously beautiful sixteen year old daughter or a strapping boy who looks like a man. So I reserve the right to change mind, worry like a crazy person, or do all the other wild things that parents do in trying to find the best way to love and guide their kids. Who knows? We might be handing out abstinence promise cards, condoms, or both.

The Catrows

My husband and I are part of what now is perhaps a rare breed that didn’t even consider having sex during our teen years out of complete and utter fear — him of getting a girl pregnant, me of getting pregnant and of what my mother would do to me if I got pregnant. And then there were those terrifying images of STD symptoms and side effects projected on the big screen at my college’s freshmen orientation. Bluh. We knew about how to protect ourselves, but that wasn’t really an issue because we thought it best to just avoid The Deed altogether.

The line between “Sex is normal and healthy and great!” and “Sex is Serious Business” is a tricky one to walk when you’re raising kids. While fear is obviously an effective motivator (see above), we don’t want our son to be terrified of sex. We also don’t want him to approach it lightly — not just for his own physical and emotional well-being, but also because hey, we aren’t trying to be raising his babies when we should be enjoying retirement bliss.

As our son gets older and sex becomes a topic of interest on his part and a topic of conversation on ours (because let’s be honest, we don’t expect him to really be initiating any of these chats), we’re going to make it clear to him that we’d prefer him to wait to have sex until he’s married or at least in a committed, monogamous relationship — and preferably only after everyone involved has been given a clean bill of health. Abstinence will be hailed as the only 100 percent, guaranteed way to protect himself.

However. Oh, however.

We realize that our wants for our son might not line up with his wants once he’s confronted with such big decisions. While that might scare the bejeezus out of us, it doesn’t give us the right to come down on him with anger or judgment (which is how adults tend to express fear, it seems). It’s our job to be there for him, to give him a safe place to land, and to protect him. If that means handing him a condom, then so be it. In fact, if that means one day saying to him, “Condoms are in the bathroom drawer, so use one if you’re going to have sex” then so be it. We’d rather him be here, healthy, and happy than to be able to say “See? Didn’t we TELL you what could happen if you have sex?”

Some people might think making birth control available to your teenager is the same as giving him a high five and saying “Yeah, sex! Go for it!” with a **winkwink** and a **nudgenudge**. If you make it available without any conversation behind it, maybe that’s true. But pair its availability with a solid understanding of responsibilities and possible outcomes and consequences, and you’ve given your kid the entire picture, equipping him to make informed decisions about his life and health. It’s our hope that taking this approach to sex, birth control, and STD prevention will help us address both sides of that line I talked about before.

The fact that we can say this to our son also helps:

“Use a condom every time. We had sex without protection once. Nine months later we got you.”

Yeah, I’m sure he’ll be hearing that one a lot.

Ok, your turn

Should we make birth control available to our teenagers or set up abstinence as the only way to go? What about in schools? Tell us your thoughts…

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Patience Salgado

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