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

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Dave on said:

    God I hate parenting bloggers. No one cares about your kids.

  2. I hate internet trolls. No one cares about your comments.

  3. While my son is not even 4 months old yet and I luckily won’t have to worry about this for quite some time from a parenting perspective, I have a half-sister who is 13 years younger than me. When she was 15, I could tell that sex was on her mind. She grew up in a very conservative household, where abstinence was the only option. As someone who grew up in a similar environment and totally did NOT wait, I knew she already knew the stock reasons for not having teen sex: you can get an STD, you can get pregnant, you should save yourself for true love. I knew she fully intended to wait until she was married. I also knew that some of us with that notion get to a certain age and state of physical frustration and realize that waiting is not realistic.

    She needed to know more than just that waiting was the best option. She needed to know that Sex Changes Everything. That once you give it up, whatever boy you have given it to will be totally twitterpated and possibly unable to focus on anything else about you. She needed to know that there are places to go where people will give you birth control. She needed to know that STDs really DO happen to clean-cut middle-class types (and I had examples of people she knew to prove it). She needed to know that people actually still get pregnant even when they use a condom (again, with real-life examples), and that she could obtain emergency contraception if, god forbid, she decided to have sex and the condom broke. She needed to know that there are other ways to satisfy your urges than doing the actual deed. She needed to know that God was not going to smite her and stamp STRAIGHT TO HELL across her file if she decided to give up her V-card before marriage. She also needed to know that “everybody else is doing it” is the lamest reason EVER to have sex, and that, if she did wait, one day she would be ever-so-grateful that she had not wasted something so precious just to seem cool.

    I told her all of these things in many conversations over the past four years, and I’ve been there to advise since she *did* have sex. Certainly the relationship with a sister will be different than my relationship with my son or (potential future) other children, but you can bet that either me or his dad is going to be talking to him about what sex really means, and we will be there to make sure he’s doing it safely if he chooses to get his groove on as a teenager.

    Of course, like Patience said, everything could change once you’re actually IN this situation!

  4. Tommy O'Malley on said:

    I am a big proponent of giving my kids birth control. I put my daughter on the pill when she was 11. Both of my sons got a big box of Trojans put in their medicine cabinet when they were 10.

    I don’t want them to make the same little mistakes I made with all three of their mothers. At least they aren’t drinking yet, unlike their mothers.

  5. My kids will not have sex, my kids will not have sex, my kids will not have sex. Hope that works.

  6. One of my most treasured gifts is the memory of my mother telling me *everything* – in an age-appropriate way – in my late childhood/early adolescence. She even served as a living-breathing live action demo while pregnant with my 11-years-younger-than-me baby bro.

    This was back in the dark ages. Ozzie & Harriet and the Donna Reed Show were still on the air. And I’m from an Irish Catlick family.

    Telling your kids the truth-and-consequences (sex is good, it’s powerful, and it’s most certainly NSF kids), and helping them navigate their sexuality with a minimum of bullsh*t and drama, will make them love you forever.

    Trust me on this one.

  7. Julie on said:


    My oldest son, now 11, was conceived while a perfectly sound condom was in perfectly responsible and correct use. It didn’t even visibly break. The best method is girl-drugs (the pill, the shot, whatever.) Anything else I view as dicey at best.

    I have 2 boys, the youngest, who is a total shmooze, is nearly old enough for the TALK. And he’s curious. Oh buddy is he curious. My older son is a deeply emotional, moody, mature soul. He will meet that one girl, stalk her, and have his heart broken by her, and not leave his room for 6 months, some day. We have bad poetry and mournful viola music in his future. The little one…at age 5 had TWO “girlfriends” in daycare, the sisters, Amora and Serenity. They fought over the right to sit by him. He didn’t care…and they fought harder. He wraps every female (teachers included) around his charming little finger without even trying.

    So yeah, I live in fear. And with 8 and 11 year old kids…that horizon is looming…*shudder* I talk, and love, and parent them to death. And yeah, I’ll make the condoms available…but I might count them in the bathroom drawer when no one’s looking, when that time comes. Like…every day.

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