by Melanie Davis, MEd, CSE
What’s the right response when you discover your teen’s contraceptives? A) a hug; B) saying, “I’m proud of you for using protection”; C) patting yourself on the back; D) saying “Let’s talk” or E) All of the above. The correct answer is E, even though you may feel like breaking out in hives.
You may think it’s wrong for teens to have sexual intercourse, but if a teen has contraceptives, he or she is already sexually active or is planning to be. The contraceptives are evidence that your teen is trying to be sexually responsible, too. Let’s go through the response choices individually.
A). A hug will reassure your teen of your unconditional love and acceptance. That’s important because if your first response is to yell, “WHAT IS THIS DOING IN YOUR ROOM?” your child will clam up and find a better hiding place next time.
B) Saying, “I’m proud of you for using protection,” doesn’t mean that you’re happy about your teen’s decision to be sexually active. It does praise your teen’s interest in being responsible enough to protect against pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted infection (STI).
C) While you may feel you’ve messed up if your teen is having sex, you’ve done something right if your teen has contraceptives. You either taught about sexual responsibility or reared a child smart enough to find answers independently.
D) Saying, “Let’s talk” gives you a chance to discuss some really important issues like these:
- Is the sexual activity consensual, i.e., do both partners want to participate in sexual intercourse, or is one partner feeling pressured?
- Are the contraceptives sufficient? Condoms protect against pregnancy and some STIs, but they can break if used incorrectly. A prescription or over-the-counter contraceptive should be used with the condom if your teen has an opposite-sex partner.
- Has your teen been tested for STIs and/or examined by a healthcare provider? Has the partner? Testing should happen on a regular basis, once someone (teen or adult) is sexually active.
- Is the sexual activity occurring in a safe, private space? Teens have told me about classmates having sex in cars in the school parking lot, behind the stage curtains in the auditorium, in pools at friends’ parties…in short, in locations where they could be caught by authority figures or, worse, by peers with cell phone cameras.
- How did your teen get contraceptives? Some teens share pill packs, which is a risky practice. Grocery stores and pharmacies are fine for condoms and over-the-counter contraceptives. Clinics like Planned Parenthood provide low-cost prescription contraceptives and high-quality care. However, if your child has health issues, a primary care physician might be a better option for contraceptive counseling. Your teen may have forgotten to inform the clinic about allergies and medications.
- Is your teen in a monogamous relationship, or are there multiple partners? Try not be be judgmental, even if you’re not happy with the answer. Explain that the more partners one has in a lifetime, the greater the exposure to STIs, including those that cannot be cured with a dose of antibiotics. Talk about the emotional risks and benefits of different types of relationships.
- Is your teen comfortable with and happy about his or her sexual activity? Explain that you don’t mean to get too personal but you do want to make sure that your teen is having sex because it is both emotionally and physically pleasing, not as a response to peer pressure or to keep a boyfriend or girlfriend interested.
- Has your teen considered what would happen in the event of an unplanned pregnancy? What options are available and acceptable, given your personal values, your teen’s goals and capabilities, and your access to healthcare?
Finding a teen’s contraceptives can be a shock for both you and your teen, but if you handle it calmly, you can protect you child’s self-esteem, health, and future.
Melanie J. Davis, MEd, CSE is the founder of Honest Exchange LLC, a sexuality education consulting firm in Somerville, NJ. Visit her site at HonestExchange.com.She is a blogger and the author of “Sexuality Talking Points: A Guide to Thoughtful Conversation between Parents and Children.” She is the co-founder and Director of Education Services for the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness in Bedminster, NJ., at NJSexualWellness.com.