Seems like an odd time of year to bring up the subject of sex, but it’s amazing what women talk about at these cookie exchange parties. I was chatting with a friend at one last week (while surrounded by a bunch of gals drinking brightly colored concoctions from fancy sugar-rimmed glasses that read ‘Real Housewives of the North Pole‘…cute!). My friend works for Planned Parenthood and I consider her a link to the dark and nefarious underworld of sexually active teens (you know, the part of their lives we all prefer to pretend doesn’t exist?).
PP hands out birth control, condoms, morning-after pills…and the final form of birth control (if all else fails): abortions. The doctors are bound by confidentially no matter how young the patient (thanks, state of California), so it’s not unusual for my friend to see young teenagers on a regular basis…without their parents.
She had a couple of alarming updates – first, the powers-that-be at PP have determined through research that 80-90% of sexually active teens are exposed to Genital Warts. Yummy.
She also tells me that they’re busy – she shows up for a shift and already has 3-4 patients ‘stacked’ in the waiting room. Most of these folks do not have insurance; they are unable to pay for reproductive care. The PP folks don’t need a valid social security number to give treatment, and in instances where patients can’t pay…no problem! Guess who gets the bill? That’s right – the taxpayers. In other words, we do.
PP’s funding comes from some old legislation (Title 10? Don’t quote me on that) that auto-renews each year. I’m told this funding began during a Republican presidency, but don’t quote me on that either. The politics of PP and taxpayer dollars are but a sad and frustrating footnote (I mean, can’t we just opt out if we don’t want OUR money funding certain government initiatives?).
So what’s got me gnashing my teeth?
The thought of a 13 year-old showing up at Planned Parenthood’s door looking for birth control makes me dry heave.
The thought of MY 13 year-old showing up at Planned Parenthood’s door looking for birth control makes me want to jump off a bridge.
What can a parent do? The pull of hormones is like The Force – Luke Skywalker couldn’t fight it…what can my gangly, impressionable 13 year-old do?
I think we need to talk, talk, talk to our pre-teens. We need to share statistics and appeal to their sense of vanity. I’m a big believer in preaching abstinence because it solves the entire risk problem more cleanly and in the most straightforward way possible (no practicing on bananas!). Here’s how (and why):
1. Our bodies are temples (until they’re not): The second we were born, our bodies started dealing with free radicals, artificial preservatives and other unseemly microscopic invaders that challenge our immune systems (I’m exaggerating, you say? I think we all remember that first toxic dirty diaper after our perfect little babies graduated into eating solid foods…need I say more?).
There are certain unpleasant physical risks we can avoid by saying no to sex. Genital Warts (gross); HIV (deadly), pregnancy and hickeys (do people still do that to each other?), to name a few. The simple act of having sex opens the door for these nasty conditions to take up residence in your child’s body.
Does sharing the medical stuff result in glassy-eyed indifference? Try this: Have your kid do some visualization….
…picture your dream partner (please, leave Bieber out of it – gross). You’ve dated seriously for several months, met his parents and exchanged meaningful Christmas gifts. You’ve respected your relationship and future by abstaining from sex. One night, he gets down on one knee and proposes. You accept, thrilled to have found the man of your dreams. You plan the wedding down to every last detail. You share your deepest dreams, fears and wishes for the future (5 kids! A split level! An SUV!) and take a walk down the aisle.
It’s wedding night time.
Who are you? Are you a) the physically ‘pure’ girl you’ve purported to be throughout the courtship? or are you b) hiding a more ‘colorful’ past? Perhaps this isn’t your first time. Maybe you’ve had a few encounters you’re not proud of? Maybe even a past pregnancy or exposure to herpes? You flash back to that greasy 19 year-old with the questionable lifestyle (deduct an extra 10 points if he smoked, drank or worked on his own car) and a wave of revulsion and regret replaces your excitement and anticipation. You’ve hidden it from him thus far, afraid of the judgment that may come…afraid he might find you unclean…afraid he might dump you. Your wedding night (and marriage) is now tainted by an unspoken secret. This is the first betrayal of your marriage…but, you reason, I can’t tell him about my past.
Which one feels better?
2. It’s a one-way journey: Once you give it away, you can’t get it back. Take a look at the intended recipient. Is he worth it? For the rest of your life will you be content that this person deserved the gift of your innocence (and are you OK with him walking around with that badge of honor?…and I promise he will tell his buddies)? When viewed in black and white terms, perhaps long-term sanity will override short-term impulsiveness.
3. Responsibility enters the realm: Sex is an adult event. Once a kid engages in sexual activity – whether they like it or not – they’ve crossed over the threshold into adulthood. Sex comes with responsibilities. Their entire world view changes with this simple act. They’re in on it. It’s worse than finding out the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist (she does – I’m just using that as an example. I mean, who else keeps taking the teeth?). That last wisp of innocence floats out the window and they no longer fit the ‘kid’ mold. Suddenly your daughter needs a gynecologist. She needs to adjust her lifestyle to accommodate this new activity, whether that means different lingerie, hygiene habits, extra prayer the week before her period is due or a more secretive relationship with her parents, everything shifts to a different level.
Aren’t good grades, sports commitments and being a teenager stressful enough? Why would you willingly add more responsibility to your plate for seven minutes (more like 30 seconds) in ‘heaven’ (which isn’t heavenly because you’re just a kid and you have no idea what you’re doing – neither does he – and it’s mostly just awkward, scary, demoralizing, painful and messy)?
4. Peers view you differently: Everyone knew the girls that were having sex in my school. It was painfully obvious – they walked differently; dressed differently; talked to boys differently. It was as though they had a secret and more powerful weapon in their arsenal. There was an air of maturity about them that didn’t blend well with their surroundings. It was incongruous – they stuck out like Santa in a mosque.
The girls that were sexually active felt superior. They flaunted a [temporary] hold over the boys as a social victory over the more puritan girls that weren’t giving it away, and who were therefore viewed as less of an immediate priority.
Eventually, however, there is a power shift. The girls that held out ultimately ended up attracting the quality boys. It just happens. They’re treated with more respect, regard and equality than the experienced girls. The fact is, quality boys like a challenge. They also like girlfriends that exude a sense of class and respectability. It’s the old cow/milk analogy. And, yes, there is a double-standard. Girls get baggage, guys get high fives.
There are biblical reasons for abstaining as well, but I just don’t think it’s realistic to rely solely on faith to pull these kids through a tough time in life. The fact is, many Christians have caved to basic human instinct and engaged in premarital sex. They did so with their eyes wide open and a clear understanding of the sin they were committing.
If kids are consistent with anything, it’s their vanity. Our best approach as parents is to recognize this, get off our soap boxes and stop preaching abstinence as a ‘rule’ or ‘Christian value’. Instead, talk about the unintended consequences – the lonely island of kids that cross over and walk away from their innocence; the disease; the shame.
Get them through high school with their innocence intact. They will be so much better off for it and you will have given them a gift. They will want to [truthfully] tell their future husband that they remained a virgin throughout high school. Do not enable sexual activity by helping them get birth control – don’t convince yourself that somehow you’re guarding them against making a mistake by ‘arming’ them with a handful of condoms. You’re caving in and passively giving them permission. Hold firm. Teach them to respect their bodies and save themselves for when it really means something…when they can emotionally handle the responsibility.
Oh and once they’re in college? It’s no longer your responsibility, so butt out, cross your fingers and hope they make good decisions. I’ve heard a tale or two about unwanted pregnancies [and abortions] in college, and it’s just as devastating then as it would have been in high school…not to mention that it results in dragging yet another uncomfortable secret (coupled with guilt and regret…or outright denial if you’re lucky) around for the rest of their lives.