Since my sons first talked about their erections (it happens earlier than most parents would expect), my husband and I made a point to be open and frank with them about sex. Much like Gaylord Focker’s parents in Meet the Fockers, our attitudes about sexuality weren’t repressive or based in denial. Sex is a part of being alive, and since I knew that at some point my kids would have sex, I decided to give them as much honest information about it as possible.
We talked about condoms and STDs, and I shared a deeply personal story about the man I knew as a teenager who died of the AIDS virus. We talked about teenage pregnancy, consent and even masturbation.
When the fateful day came that my son decided to begin a sexual relationship with his girlfriend, he let us know in advance. It wasn’t a scary conversation as much as it was him testing the waters and seeing if we really were as open as we said we’d be. I reminded my son to have lots of condoms on hand and trusted that he was 100 percent prepared.
I was wrong.
A little over a year later, my son’s girlfriend had a pregnancy scare.
Pregnancy scare, you may ask? Yes, because stupidly, my son and his girlfriend had been having unprotected sex.
Even with all the information and open discussions, I had failed at preparing my son.
I asked to sit down with him and his girlfriend. Both were technically teens — although she was a year older and a legal adult. Her parents knew that they were having sex and had made sure she was on birth control, but she admitted to often forgetting to take the pill.
I had told them to use condoms even while she was on the pill because one missed dose was all that was needed to open the door to an unplanned pregnancy. I couldn’t understand why they risked having a baby when they had been so thoroughly educated about safe sex.
“I’m just trying to wrap my mind around why you’re not using condoms,” I said.
“We are,” my son replied. His girlfriend looked embarrassed but it didn’t matter to me. I needed to get to the bottom of their decision. “We use condoms the first time, and once we’re done, we don’t have to use condoms the second time,” my son said.
Oh my god.
My son and his girlfriend explained that they thought if he ejaculated in a condom the first time they did it, that he wouldn’t be able to get her pregnant if they had sex a second time that same day.
They also, with bright red faces, admitted to experimenting with unprotected anal sex for the same reason.
I don’t care how open minded you are as a parent, it’s never easy to hear things like this. I questioned my ability to prepare my children for the adult world.
So why am I openly sharing this parental fail with you? Because I recognize something that you may or may not be comfortable with: We can do our best as parents to teach our children the “right way” to do things, and still our children can screw it up.
I don’t care if you’re teaching your children to abstain from sex and wait till marriage, or if you threaten them with boarding school if they get caught screwing around. In the end, we aren’t that different. Our kids are going to do what they choose, and probably aren’t going to listen to us as fully as we’d like.
Thankfully, my son’s girlfriend was not pregnant. The encounter made me understand why, a few months prior, my son had been thoroughly convinced he had an STD (he swore it was bacterial vaginosis, which made laugh because he doesn’t have a vagina).
I considered it extremely lucky that both were STD-free and hadn’t conceived. I asked my son’s girlfriend what she would have done had she gotten pregnant by my son, who was still in high school. Her answer dumbfounded my son and me.
“I’ll just move to Mexico to raise the baby,” she said. Her grandparents lived in Mexico and I could tell she genuinely believed what she was saying was totally OK.
“Sweetie, that would be my son’s child and my grandchild. You can’t just take the baby and leave. That’s illegal,” I said. “And my son would help raise that child. But he wouldn’t be able to do a whole lot if he’s in school still. It’s hard to make enough money and raise a family when you’re a teenager.”
The conversation helped my son realize that his girlfriend and he still needed to do a lot of talking about their versions of the future. Until that day, he hadn’t realized her plans were so different from his.
The moral of my story? Whether you are morally opposed to premarital sex or you have a more relaxed attitude about it, our kids still need to be prepared — and even if you think you’ve done a bulletproof job, you probably haven’t.
I now know that what my son does and what I teach him aren’t always in line. All I can do is give him my best guidance and course correct as necessary to help him navigate his way through his emerging adulthood. This is my job as I see it. Part of that job, I now know, includes talking about safe sex in a variety of ways, even ones that are uncomfortable, so that I can help both of my sons recognize when they’re making gigantic mistakes that could impact the rest of their lives.