At least at home, I know they won’t run out of condoms or be put in a situation where they don’t feel like they can say no.
Like most parents, I try to avoid thinking about my kids having sex. Having been a teenager myself once upon a time, I knew it was likely they’d decide to have sex before adulthood. But it never occurred to me that when my teens did choose to have sex, they’d do it in my house.
Talking openly about sex is one thing. But dealing with my kids actually having sex is another thing entirely. In theory, it’s important not to stigmatize my kids’ sex lives or create shame around it that can last a lifetime. In practice, when I began to suspect that one of my teens was having sex, it was tempting to forbid him from spending time alone with his girlfriend.
My teens aren’t the first ones in their friend group to have sex. They were shocked when their friends began having sex as freshmen—at 13 or 14 years old—and I’ll admit that I was shocked too. The most surprising aspect of their friends’ newfound sex lives was that it was the kids whose parents were the strictest who had sex the youngest. If I was looking for proof that trying to control my kids’ sex lives would be effective, I didn’t find it.
As their friends become sexually active, my kids had questions. Sometimes, those questions were about working through their own feelings about sex, but other times they were far more logistical in nature: Where could their friends get free birth control? What type of birth control was the most effective? And when all else failed, where could they go for an abortion? More than once, they even brought their friends to me to talk about their relationships and birth control options.
I’ve talked to my kids about safe sex many times, but those awkward conversations didn’t prepare them for all of the nuances of having safe sex in practice. It was only when my teens came to me to talk about their concerns about one of their siblings having sex that I realized how many things I still had left to say. I’d told my son to use a condom, of course, but had I emphasized the importance of using two methods of protection to prevent pregnancy? Did my son know that he could always come to me to ask me to buy more condoms if our supply ran out?
But most importantly, would my son still practice safe sex if I made it harder for him to have sex at home? At least at home, I know they won’t run out of condoms or be put in a situation where they don’t feel like they can say no. Switching to an open-door policy began to seem ill-advised rather than sensible.
That doesn’t mean it’s not uncomfortable for me—or my other teens. They’ve asked me to “do something” about their brother’s sex life when they discovered sex toys in his bedroom. But as I reminded them, they probably shouldn’t barge into his bedroom to “borrow” his stuff if they don’t want to see things that make them uncomfortable.
Sex is a natural part of life, and part of me is glad that my son feels comfortable enough to experiment now. Many people don’t feel that confident in their sexuality until well into adulthood. Another part of me is still pretty horrified, but I’m not sure I’ll feel any less horrified by the thought of my kids having sex even when they’re 50.
The reality is that my kids are going to have sex. And so are yours. The average American has sex for the first time at 17 years old. As tempting as it is to hope that preaching abstinence will prevent kids from having sex, we know abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work. Like it or not, your child is probably still going to be living at home when they have sex for the first time.
If given the choice between my kids’ first sexual experience happening in a safe place or at a party, in the backseat of a car or god knows where else, I have to believe that allowing them to have sex at home makes sense. I’m just thankful that I had the good sense to put my teenagers’ bedrooms downstairs.