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How I held it together when my teenage son told me he was ready for sex

I wasn’t ready for my son to begin a sexual relationship with his girlfriend. When he did, I had two choices: deal with it or freak out. I chose to use his admission as a teachable moment for both of us.

It was a cold winter afternoon in January, just after my oldest son’s 16th birthday, when he cornered me in the kitchen and said, “I think my girlfriend and I are going to have sex. Actually, I know we are. We really want to.”

He looked a little scared, a little excited and a whole lot like my baby speaking a strange, foreign language that I couldn’t process.

It took me a few painful seconds to plaster a compassionate smile on my face and speak in a calm, collected tone. “So,” I said, “what are your plans?” Like a detective, I knew better than to say anything that would cause my son to hesitate telling his story.

He told me they had already figured it all out. They would pack a blanket and, because they wanted to be smart, a bunch of condoms. He said they planned to “do it on the beach at night,” because (romance isn’t dead) that’s where they met.

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Let’s pause here for a moment. My son told me he planned on engaging in his first sexual encounter, in public, in winter. I had a few seconds to respond in a way that kept him talking, but didn’t betray my real feelings of, “Holy shit! Are you insane?

“Hmm,” I replied. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” He looked insulted. I could see the light of teenage subterfuge in his eyes. I remembered that look well. It was one I often gave my own parents and it said all I needed to know: He was doing this whether I liked it or not.

I had a split-second decision to make. Should I forbid him from fornicating? Should I say nothing? Should I allow it? All the options seemed wrong. If ever there was a time I felt “damned if I did, damned if I didn’t,” this was it.

Throughout both of my sons’ lives my husband and I had been open and honest about any topic they broached, including sex. From the time they could ask about anything that piqued their curiosity, we answered. This was done with the belief that trust was pertinent to healthy parent-child relationships and that arming our kids with facts, not fairy tales, would help them make smart decisions.

This was especially important to me because I was once a teenage mother and high school dropout. I didn’t want either of my sons to make the same choices as I had and change the trajectory of their lives, just because they got horny.

My kids were both well versed on my views of premarital, underage sex: I didn’t condone or encourage it, but if they chose to have sex, I expected them to be smart enough to wear a condom, every single time. I also wanted them to be picky with who they chose — since even the most careful sexual encounters could lead to pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

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With that being said, I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t stop the inevitable. There comes a point in each parent’s life where he or she has to let go and accept that his or her children are growing up. Sex is a natural progression in everyone’s life. I couldn’t keep my son from pursuing physical intimacy with someone he loved anymore than I could keep him from growing taller.

So I did what every parent at some point must do — I had to accept my son’s decision even if I wasn’t ready for it. One benefit of being open and accepting with my son was that he trusted my advice. It made it easier for me to convince him that public lovemaking in temperatures below 50 degrees F was a dumb idea, for anyone.

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A few weeks later, “it” happened. It wasn’t outside, it wasn’t unprotected and my son felt comfortable enough to talk to me about the experience.

Was it weird to hear my son tell the tale of losing his virginity? Absolutely. But the open line of communication only helped us grow closer.

He has come to me with other adult issues that he may not have felt comfortable sharing had I been more closed-minded or judgmental. Each step has been new and a bit awkward, but ultimately helped me understand who he is as a young man and what he values.

And as for the girlfriend? It’s been two years and they’re still together, still in love and planning a big, grown-up future with each other. Thankfully, I’m included in the discussion of their plans and dreams, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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