It came with a free awkward conversation, too.
I marched into my son’s room last year on Christmas Eve and informed him: “For Christmas this year, you are getting an UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATION.”
He’d been seeing his girlfriend for over a year. While my ex and I had given him the "sex talk" years earlier, it seemed time for more of a real-life discussion. First, we talked about consent, safety, and respect. And then, I handed him a box of condoms. Okay, it was more like I threw the value pack of 36 Trojan ENZ (with the “classic reservoir tip”) at him and they landed on the bed with a bounce. I know, I know, I’m very smooth. He was definitely stunned and most likely mortified, and I hadn’t even started the talking part yet. When I did, we talked about the importance of using protection EVERY TIME, and the responsibilities that come with being in a sexual relationship. I reiterated that his dad and I would always be there to help and support him no matter whatever happened in the future, but a pregnancy or STD at this point in his life would change everything.
I can’t say that he said a lot in response. There was a lot of head nodding and “I know”s, but he kept eye contact with me and threw in an “I understand” every now and then. And, if you have a teenager in this day and age, where most of their feedback is texted in abbreviated letters from the next room, you kind of have to take this extent of a response as a win.
I know it may seem that with that box of condoms, I also gave my son the permission to have sex. But I know he will have sex when he feels he is ready — with or without my permission. So I’m doing my best to equip him with what he needs, literally and figuratively, when that time comes. And I don’t want to risk having that conversation too late. I have friends with kids the same age as my son and some thought I was a little crazy for handing over those condoms. “A VALUE PACK?” one of my oldest girlfriends said incredulously. Okay, so maybe that was a little aggressive, but sometimes all you have to go on is your instincts — and my instincts told me it was better to provide more than less.
I’ll never forget watching an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 as a teen: the one where Donna Martin argues (against her mom!) that condoms should be available at the high school. “If you say that kids don’t need condoms because they shouldn’t be having sex in the first place, then you’re overlooking two very important things,” she said. “One is that a lot of kids are having sex, and the other is that they are kids. It’s like if you have a swimming pool in your backyard, you can tell your children not to go in it, you can even build a fence around it, but if you know that they’re going to find a way in to that water, don’t you think you ought to teach those kids how to swim?”
Who would have thought my favorite ‘90s TV show would teach me life lessons greater than “choker necklaces look cool” and “don’t get drunk at prom?”
Sex always felt like a taboo subject with my parents. Really, it was more of a non-issue. There was just no talk about it all, and I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to bring it up. I watched a lot of soap operas with my mom growing up and always had this romanticized idea of what sex was going to be like. Maybe my mom thought I would find the Frisco to my Felicia, to swoop me up and carry me to a room with a million lit candles and a rose-covered canopy bed, where he would lovingly teach me all the things a young girl should know.
SPOILER ALERT: Not even close.
But as a parent myself now, I realize how challenging it can be to find the right words and to push through the awkwardness to have a conversation. And if parenthood isn’t challenging, are you even doing it right? It doesn’t come with a rule book, and there are always going to be tough decisions to make. All we can really do is — say it again for the people in the back — trust our instincts. We know our kids better than anyone else. Maybe you know that giving yours a box of condoms isn’t the right thing. For us, it gave us peace of mind — or as much peace of mind you can muster up with a teenager in your house.
If nothing else, my son will have this experience to reference when he has his own children. And now that he has that box of condoms, hopefully that won’t be before he’s ready.