My teenage son and I have an after-school ritual where he tells me about his day. It’s nothing dramatic or complicated or all that different from what happens in many homes, maybe even homes like yours. Sometimes the chats are absolutely boring–one day can be very much like the next for a teen–but the chats connect us.
A few weeks ago my son rattled off the day’s events:
“…math was easy, I’m not convinced Shakespeare was all that great, I had lunch in the park, I need new shoes, I have to write an essay tonight, I got this condom today, I have to study for an econ test…”
Did you catch that? He said ‘I got THIS condom today’. And he waved THAT condom in the air when he said ‘I got this condom today’ and he returned THAT condom to his pocket before moving on the mundane details of his Economics class.
And you know what I did?
Well, not exactly nothing.
I tried to convince him that Shakespeare is actually worth studying and I told him we’d buy new shoes on Saturday and I asked him where he got the condom because I’m curious that way.
And because we’ve never made sex a taboo subject in our home he explained it all to me over an after-school snack of chips and salsa.
It turns out he and his friends were hanging at their after-school coffee shop (he’s a city kid) when one of the girls pulled out a bunch of condoms.
But she wasn’t just going to hand them out. Nope. You had to earn the condom.
Intriguing, if not slightly unsettling, if you don’t know the rest of the story.
This young woman came ready to teach. She, along with her parents, had been volunteering at a local Planned Parenthood clinic. She had no doubt witnessed the other side of unprotected sex, STDs, teen pregnancy, and more. She was invested in passing along what she had learned.
In what must have been an interesting conversation to witness, this young woman and this group of strong, independent, and empowered teens talked about safer sex, birth control options, and proper condom use (there was even an inanimate object available for practice).
Someone, somewhere, might find this situation shocking, disgusting even. Someone, somewhere, may question whether or not a group of teenagers are going to get the details right. Someone, somewhere, may even be questioning the morality of the impromptu after-school special.
But to that I say to the someones, somewhere, that you are missing the point, if not completely living in a bubble of naïveté. These kids were and are phenomenal.
These kids are living in the present. These kids are aware of their surroundings. These kids appreciate that a conversation about sex isn’t necessarily an invitation to have sex.
I’ll take a pat on the back for playing my part in that evolution of thought.
Parents who do not shy away from conversations about sex help create a generation of young people who understand that sexual responsibility is shared. Parents who do not use fear as a tactic and parents who keep the communication door wide open will be able to correct any misinformation their kids may receive about sex, sexuality, and biology (and you can paint those conversations with the morality code of your choice.)
That HAS to be better than silence and avoidance.
These kids in the coffee shop are to be commended. They possess a respect for their bodies that is beyond what we could have hoped for. They are not paralyzed by fear or ignorance. They are comfortable with who they are and are ready to have a clear and open dialogue about sex and sexuality. These “kids” do not see blurred lines when it comes to consent—no always means no. These emerging adults grasp the reality that a YES requires accountability and may have consequences.
Yes, my son brought home a condom. And I couldn’t be prouder—proud that he was comfortable talking to me about it and prouder yet that he and his friends are actively invested in their own futures and that they want those futures to be happy, healthy, and met on their own terms.