“You dropped some.” My best friend, Theresa, pointed to my lap, where there was a sticky blob of Dairy Queen ice cream. We were sitting in the back seat of her Dad’s car. Her sister, Rachel, was in the passenger seat. Their Dad had taken us all for ice cream, and had to pick up something on the way home. He ran in to the grocery store, and we sat and licked ice cream.
“Oops!” I replied, wiping it up with a napkin.
Theresa was 6. I was 7. Rachel was 9.
“Oh my Gosh, look at them!” Rachel shrieked, pointing to a couple of teenagers outside the pizza place, locked to each other by the lips.
“Ewwww!” Theresa and I said in near unison.
“She’s going to get pregnant!” Rachel began to roll down her window to get a better look.
What is she talking about? I thought. I didn’t say anything. I was a quiet kid.
“What do you mean?” Theresa stopped licking her ice cream cone long enough to ask.
“If you touch a boy’s spit, it makes a baby! Duhh!”
I couldn’t help it. When Rachel said this, I let out a chuckle. The two of them took it as a cue to laugh, too, unaware that I was laughing at what Rachel had said, and not the kissing teens.
“I am never kissing a boy!” Theresa squirmed.
I sat in the back in awe of how idiotic the two of them sounded. Thanks to the openness of my parents, I knew it took a lot more than a kiss to get pregnant. I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t much for confrontation back then. I just licked my icy treat until their Dad came back, mouth shut and amused.
Rachel and Theresa’s Dad took us to the park after he returned to the car. We finished our cones and ran around the grass while he chased us, roaring like a dinosaur. We giggled until we fell, exhausted in the dewy grass, and her Dad caught up with Theresa and planted a big one on her cheek.
“Eww, Dad! You’re going to make me pregnant!” She shrieked.
The entire park turned to look at us. My face burned, knowing the implications of what she’d just said. Without explanation, he packed us up and we headed home in a silent car.
The one thing I learned beyond any doubt over the next few years, is that trying to explain to your friends what sex actually is, and how you actually get pregnant, only triggered recoil, disgust and disbelief. They didn’t want to hear it, and they certainly didn’t believe me. If it were true, why wouldn’t their parents have told them?
It was sometime in 10th grade, I think. A friend of mine, Monica, came to me in the hallway, red-faced and sweaty.
“How do you know if you’re pregnant?”
I thought back to the sex ed class we’d both attended in 6th grade which consisted mostly of our goofy teacher, Mr. K, trying to slip a condom over a banana as he giggled. A few years later, he was fired and charged for having a relationship with a 12 year old girl.
I remember my friends and I giggled along with him, and drew caricatures of him with the banana, totally ignoring the few instructive words that slipped out between his own snickers. When Shannon raised her hand and asked what a condom was, it became clear to him that no one was able to pay attention to this pathetic scene of a grown man trying not to split his sides through an explanation of prophylactics. At the time, I was not concerned. I knew what a condom was, I knew what it did, I knew that it and birth control were the only ways outside of significant surgery or total abstinence to avoid getting pregnant and even they weren’t foolproof.
Back to 10th grade, I looked at Monica and asked,
“How late are you?”
We skipped class. I took her to the pharmacy. We picked up a pregnancy test.
Back at my place, both of my parents were at work. Monica slipped into the bathroom with the test. She emerged some time later, crying.
“He told me if he pulled out, I couldn’t get pregnant.” She sobbed.
I felt awful for her. I was becoming closer with my boyfriend at the time. I hadn’t lost my virginity yet, but it was on the horizon. It could have so easily been me, if I didn’t know the truth about preventing pregnancy.
The next day, Monica came to school bruised. Her orthodox Russian father had beaten the holy crap out of her. She stayed at my house for a week, until she disappeared. Last I heard, she was living on the downtown East Side of Vancouver, home to one of the most drug-riddled neighbourhoods and one of the highest HIV infection rates in the entire Western World. I don’t know what happened to the baby.
My stepdaughter is coming this weekend. She’s 12. Her mom had her first child when she was a teenager. Her mother before her was a teen mom. I look at my gorgeous girl and worry if she’s part of a cycle. If she is though, I am determined to break it. When she’s with me, we talk about the gross stuff. We always talk about the gross stuff. We wait until my son is in bed and usually her father falls asleep, and we sit up and talk with ease about the things she will be facing as she gets older. I explain to her, over and over, how to be safe. How to be cautious, and how to respect herself.
There is only one way I can help protect her. And there’s only one way to protect your kids. It’s simple. Just talk to them. Even when they are young.
Here are some of the ways I talk to my step daughter about sex:
1. We watch Teen Mom. Slower folk tend to think this is some kind of glorification of teen motherhood, but if you actually sat down to watch it, you’d know that’s horseshit. Few episodes are happy. The lives of these teens are nothing but turmoil, tears and terror. I’ve covered the stats behind it’s positive impact before. My stepdaughter sees it easily, and she has no trouble whatsoever interpreting what’s going on. The comments that come out of her mouth are profound, thoughtful and involved. I could never sit down with her and tell her how hard it is to be a teen mom, and have her be half as interested in what I am saying. She watches the show, though, and she’s glued to it in horror, sympathy and pity. She does not ever want to be one of those girls, and she didn’t need to tell me that for me to know.
2. I ask her what ways to prevent pregnancy she knows of. This way, I can debunk the incorrect ideas she might have been given by other people.
3. I have made clear to her that if no one else in her life will help her get birth control, she can count on me. I promised her that there will be no judgement, no matter how old she is when comes to me. I hope and am confident that the other adults in her life would do the same for her, but if they fail, I have made it clear that I will be there.
4. I repeat myself. No matter how sure I am that she’s gotten something, the next time I see her, we talk about it again. The more she hears things, the more it will sink in.
5. We talk casually. I never sit her down formally to have “the talk”. Instead, we go about our regular lives and when it comes up, we discuss it openly. Sometimes, as in the case of putting on Teen Mom, I make sure the issue comes up, but it’s always casual, never stuffy and never uncomfortable.
6. When she has a question I can’t answer, I never say I don’t know. Instead, we research it online as best we can.
The other day, my six year old asked what tampons were in the store. I didn’t want to explain it there in the store, because we live in a small town with more churches than schools. I told him we could talk about it in the car. When I finished explaining in the car, he was not put off at all. He was interested and ended the conversation deep in thought with an, “Oh.”.
So far, it has not made him hit the clubs looking for a one-nighter.
If you haven’t talked to your kids about sex yet, I guess I just have to ask why? What’s the reasoning behind keeping info about this very natural, very healthy thing that resulted in their own existence from them? Is this your own selfish attempt to try and preserve their innocence?
You can’t do that, you know. If you try and avert nature to suit your own needs, big Daddy, you’re going to find yourself in a park one day, in the middle of piercing stares from every direction, from dozens of parents, as your 6 year old daughter’s words echo in your mind… “Daddy, you’re going to make me pregnant!”.
Teach your kids. Don’t wait. Do it now.