Too many teenage pregnancies come about through ignorance:
“I’ve not started, so I can’t get pregnant can I.”
“I thought you couldn’t get pregnant if you’re on your period.”
“If he pulls out then you’re safe, right?”
No, no, and no.
If parents are teaching their kids, and teachers are covering this stuff in school, why the misunderstandings? In my early twenties I was an outreach worker employed by schools and youth clubs to discover and cover any gaps in teen sex education. The level of the teenagers’ knowledge was remarkable, but so was their inability to apply their knowledge to real life.
“I just get drunk and forget everything,” was a common plea.
“No way, you can’t talk about condoms, not then anyway, not when you’re just about to…” was another frequent remark.
Teenagers often lack the confidence and the communication skills to negotiate safe sex lives – but use alcohol to get them through.
So if we are truly to educate our children for healthy sexual encounters, it is not enough to cover only the mechanics. Sex is too often taught as a reproductive biological act, rather than a loving expression of intimacy between two people. Learning how to be discerning and exercise choice, how to listen to the rise and fall of desire, and understand our cyclical monthly rhythms are all more important than being instructed upon what goes where – that bit is easy.
We also need to spend time exploring with young people how they are going to make sure they use contraception to prevent sexual diseases and unwanted pregnancy when in an intimate situation. Talking about sex does not make it more likely to happen; forbidding and silence do.
Not everyone finds chatting to their children about sex easy. If no-one did it for you, then this will not come naturally and you may want to draw on the resource of some of the great websites, books, and television programmes that I have listed here.
Now, if your daughter is sexually active and you fear that she is not taking responsibility for her fertility, then take her to meet young girls who have babies. Get them to do the tough talking – and they will – telling her the reality of life with a baby. Your local teen Mum unit will most likely be very willing to show her around and put her in touch with some of their young mothers.
If we expect our young people to take responsibility for keeping safe and having healthy sex lives, then we must take responsibility for making sure that they are equipped to do so. If we expect them to find the courage and the skills to negotiate safe and enjoyable encounters with their sexual partners then we must be willing to find the courage and the skills to talk to them about how they might do that – or find someone or somewhere that they might learn this.
Can you recommend anything that has helped you to prepare your daughter?