A new study shows that parents talk to their kids about sex, but not about birth control. Hot tip: if you don’t want to be a grandparent too soon, that’s a conversation you shouldn’t skimp on.
While most parents are having The Talk with their children, the study, commissioned by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, found that talk covers the mechanics of making babies and stops short of explaining how not to make little ones until you’re ready.
Why are parents keeping their kids in the dark about birth control? In some cases, that may stem from a belief in abstinence-only sex ed. Some people really think kids shouldn’t know about contraception.
A lot of us, though, are just squeamish about getting into too much detail with our kids. Or we think they’re too young to know. I am not one of those parents.
Per Jezebel: The Planned Parenthood study found that:
92% of parents talk to their kids about relationships, and 87% share “their own values about when sex should or should not take place.” However, just 74% talk to their kids about how to say no if sex should not in fact take place. And while 94% think they’re influential in their children’s birth control decisions, only 60% actually talk to their kids about birth control.
I totally talk to my kids about birth control, and I believe it’s never to soon to start. No, my 7-year-old does not need to know how to use a condom. But it is much easier to have a conversation with a kid who is mildly curious about how sex works than with a pre-teen who is thinking she might like to do it herself one day. A day that is probably sooner than I’d like to think. If I wait until I’m sure she needs this information, I might well be too late to give it to her.
So we have conversations like this:
First, there was Grease. You know that cute movie from the 70s, about teenagers in the 50s with a goofy penchant for singing and dancing? I remembered this flick as a lighthearted jaunt through high school romance. I’d forgotten the “teen pregnancy” subplot until I was watching it with the kids. This scene rolls around when two of the central characters roll into the backseat of a car in a secluded spot.
“I know what those people are doing!” Rio shouted. “They are going to have sex! In their car!”
“Yep,” I said, suddenly wishing we’d opted for another episode of My Little Ponies.
A moment later, the boy on screen pulls out a condom.
“What’s that?” Rio asked, right on cue.
“It’s a condom. It’s a kind of plastic wrapper you can put over a penis if you want to have sex and you don’t want to get pregnant. It stops you from getting pregnant.”
“And they don’t want to get pregnant, do they?”
“No, they don’t. They are in high school. They’re still teenagers. Having a baby when you’re a teenager is really hard. It’s a good idea to wait until you’re a grown-up, and that’s what they want to do. They want to have sex and not get pregnant.”
The characters, meanwhile, have now discovered that their condom is a crispy bit of dried out rubber, thrown it away, and decided to have sex anyway.
“Mommy! They’re having sex without a condom! That’s really stupid, isn’t it Mommy? What they’re doing is dumb! Are they going to get pregnant?”
“Yes, I think they are,” I say, vaguely remembering (wrongly, it turns out) how this plot thread goes. “And yes, it is really dumb. If you know you should be using a condom, having sex without one is stupid.”
“Daddy! Daddy! These people in the movie are really dumb! Daddy, they had sex without a condom and now they are going to be parents and they don’t even want to have a baby. Daddy, that’s dumb, right?”
I don’t think I handled that conversation with particular grace. There are things I wish I’d done differently. I can’t say I enjoyed having an off-the-cuff conversation about contraception with my 7-year-old. But I’m really glad we talked. She got a small amount of clear, useful information about birth control. She might or might not remember that when she needs it in the unthinkably distant future.
More importantly, she’ll know that she can ask me questions about sex and I’ll answer them honestly and easily. Hopefully that will lead to more questions, and more trust. I know my future 13-year-old won’t ask me questions about sex with the same ease that she has now as a young child. But I hope we’ll keep communication open between us so that she’ll always know it’s safe to talk to me when she needs to.
Do you talk to your kids about contraception? What do you think it’s important for them to know?