“They’re making babies down there,” my brother told my mom after walking in on me and a friend fooling around. Little did I know that he was right. That was the day I conceived my first child. I was only 16.
My mother was blasting Al Green like she did every Sunday when she cleaned the house. “No, we weren’t,” I tried to assure her, but I doubt she believed me. I was usually pretty open about my sex life with her. She had known for quite some time that I was sexually active. I probably could’ve just told her the truth, like I had many times before, but this time was different from the rest. This time I did it in her house, and my heart was still racing from the excitement.
You’d think the experience of being a teen mom would make me want to keep all boys at least 10 feet away from my daughter, or at least ban boys from her room. Certainly, I don’t want her to go through what I did as a teen mom. I want her to wait until she’s ready to experience motherhood on her own terms, until she’s lived life for herself at least a little bit.
But I know that trying to keep teens from having sex is impossible. If they want to have sex, they’ll find a way. I know this because I remember being a teen. I remember a dark moonlit bedroom not being a requirement for fooling around. I remember taking advantage of my boyfriend’s parents being at work. I remember the sex in parked cars, the park and garages. And I remember not being the exception — almost all of my friends were having sex.
Banning boys from spending the night wouldn’t have prevented my teen pregnancy. It won’t protect my daughter either. Not from pregnancy, or the other potential consequences of unsafe sex. If my daughter were to engage in unsafe sex with a person of any gender, she could contract an STD or STI. It would be completely irresponsible of me to ignore the possibility that my daughter isn’t heterosexual. If I am worried about boys, I should be equally worried about girls. It’s either no one can spend the night, or everyone can.
That’s the logic I used when I asked my mother at 15 to have a good friend who happened to be male sleep over.
“You realize I could be sleeping with my girlfriends when they spend the night, right?” I remember asking her. I identified as bisexual at the time, and she knew it. But I could tell she had never even considered the possibility that my girlfriends were anything more than friends.
“Well, have you?” she asked. “No, never,” I responded. “Well, if he’s just a friend and you trust him, I’ll trust you.”
My mom trusted me. After that day, she often let me have boys spend the night. Every male friend I had knew what my bedroom looked like. And although it may seem counterintuitive, this is what she did right. She understood and listened. She never judged or punished me for being sexual. She believed me when I told her that a boy was just a friend and nothing sexual would happen if he spent the night. She created an environment where talking about sex was natural.
But despite her trust in me, she also failed me. She never talked to me about safe sex. I don’t know why. Perhaps she intended to but didn’t know how, or maybe she trusted I was getting accurate information somewhere else. She never once mentioned birth control or condoms; she just vaguely mentioned staying safe a few times.
And it’s not that I didn’t know birth control existed; I did. I just didn’t know how to ask for it. Every time I confessed my sexual activity to her, I hoped she would offer to get me the pill, buy me condoms and teach me about safe sex with both girls and boys. I wanted her to teach me how to be assertive and insist protection be used. But she never did.
I won’t fail my daughter the same way. She’ll have my trust and guidance. She already knows about my own experiences and that I could never be mad at her for being sexual. I’ll give her support and information. She can have boys and girls spend the night just like I did as a teen, but unlike me, she’ll have access to condoms, birth control and information about STIs and STDs. The conversation about sex will be ongoing and comprehensive.
I know I can’t stop her from having sex, but at least I can help her stay safe.
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