Teenage Sex and Panic Attacks

by Love Barnett
Originally Published: 
the talk sexually active teen
oneinchpunchto / iStock

The call started like any other call with my best friend.

“Hey! What are you up to today?”

“Nothing much. Just laundry and things. You?”

“Same. Work, work and more work.”

“Haha. I hear ya!”

And there it stalled for a minute, while the gears in my brain tried furiously to churn through the muck of what I wanted to ask her. She waited patiently, knowing in the way that the best of friends just know that something was up.

“Do you…Is Jason…ugh. What I mean to ask is, how would you feel if you knew that Jason was sexually active right now?”

She was quiet for a second or two. Jason is her oldest son. He is almost 17—a year and a half older than my son. She has a house full of growing teenagers, just like I do. We are each other’s sounding board and lifeline in times of teen crisis. I’m sure she is surprised by my question. I normally vent about my 14-year-old daughter these days. I wait for her to tell me in her brash and hilarious way how she’s prepared for the future when her son starts experimenting with sex. I need the reassurance, and I really need the laugh right now.

“Honestly? He already is, and has been for a while.”

Now it is my turn to be silenced. I hadn’t known that, and now I’m not sure how to digest this information or how to phrase what I desperately need to know.

I’m OK with it. If that’s what you’re wondering.” And now I really don’t know where to go from here.

“You are? I mean, you know I’m not a prude, and I know that it’s common at this age. I just… How do you get to be OK with knowing that?”

She chuckles. “You know, it’s funny. I remember having this conversation with you last year. You were the one giving me advice about open and honest conversations and being realistic.”

I know that. I remember those conversations. I remember how secure and confident and proud I was of the choices that I had made in how I intended to handle this situation when it came up. I just wasn’t prepared for it to actually happen this soon, and I kinda feel like I just got hit in the chest with a baseball bat. Now I have to wonder: Am I a hypocrite? Do I really believe all those things that I said, when I was planning how best to handle this? Am I really just a prig in the cool mom costume? Did I really give this woman advice on something that I clearly know nothing about, beyond the theoretical ideas that I had? What a phony I am! No. No. I’m not. I’ve talked to my children. We discussed this already. I know that I was right, and that I can do this. I just desperately need someone to affirm that I am not losing my mind simply because I’m in shock at the moment and consumed with self-doubt. And because there is a reason why I love this woman so much—she gives me exactly what I need without me having to ask for it.

“Look. It’s not that I’m OK with it, like I urged him to go out and get laid or anything. I’m definitely not at the place where I just accept it like some people can. I just know that I’ve done everything as a mother that I feasibly can do, to teach him about safety and responsibility, and now all I can do is pray that anything I’ve said made an impression and that he’s making safe choices. That’s all that I can really do. That doesn’t mean that you won’t worry. A lot. Or that sometimes you will wonder if you could have done something differently. Because you will have that doubt, and that worry, and those thoughts. But do you know what I do when that happens to me?”

“What?” I whisper. “What do you do? What should I do?”

“I remember that it’s my job to worry. I remember that if I didn’t worry, I wouldn’t be much a mother. I remember that I did all the things that I’m supposed to do, and that I went above and beyond to teach him and talk to him and let him know that I’m always here for anything he needs, anything he wants to talk about, at any time for anything. And I remember that our hardest job is letting go and letting them be responsible for their own choices. They’re not babies anymore, and they’re going to make decisions without us. Decisions that we might not like, but that we really don’t have control over at this point. And that’s all just part of it.”

It all sounds great in theory, but even in my fog, I’m aware that my previous so-smart theories are looking pretty ragged right now. “I don’t know if I can make myself remember any of that. I don’t know that I’m capable of having any rational thought right now, to be honest. What happened to me? Dammit all to hell. I had all this figured out already. I had it under control. I wasn’t going to flip out. I knew I wasn’t going to be that kind of parent. So why do I feel like my heart is about to pound straight through my ribcage?”

“Because you’re a mom, and a damn good one. Listen, you know you’ve got this. Take deep breaths. Pretend it’s somebody else’s kid. Pretend it’s my kid and I’m having a panic attack. What would you think I should do?”

“I would tell you to come over here and let’s talk about it before the kids get home. Obviously.”

“And that’s exactly what you did. See? You got this. You don’t have to have this conversation with him tonight. You deserve some time to recover from the shock. Absorb it. Let it marinate. Think about what you want to say. Write it down if you need to. Practice in front of a mirror. Hell, tell it to the dog. Get it all out before you bring it up with him, so that you can be calm, and be your best mom self when it matters.”

“You’re right. I know this. You’re right. OK. I love you. You know that?”

“I know. Could be worse, right? We could treat our kids and teenage sex like our parents did us. Because that obviously worked so well.” We both guffaw at that absurdity.

“Now get off this phone and go smoke a cigarette before you collapse in a pile of raw nerves.”


“Love you.”

“Love you too.”

As I hit the “end” button on the phone, I take a deep, deep breath, and prepare myself for the talk to come. I can do this. I will do this. And I’ll do it right, and hope that it’s enough.

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