When my daughter was about 12, I started thinking about the inevitability of her having sex one day. Contemplating this, I concocted a timetable that went something like this when speculating on how old she might be when she lost her V-plates and how I would feel about it:
at 12 - We’re not going there
at 13 – Physically ill, high level anguish
at 14 – Quite disturbed, medium level anguish
at 15 – I can deal (just), but not ideal
at 16 – Uncomfortable, but I’ll get over it
at 17 – I’m OK with this, I think
at 18 – You have my blessing
at 19 – Now I’m getting concerned
at 20 – OK, you really should get a wriggle on now, is there a problem?
As it turns out, she was – and is – 16 and I’m fine with it. I even went out of my way to prepare for the inevitable when she announced she had a boyfriend, about five months ago, by putting her on the pill with the speed and efficiency of a Japanese car manufacturer.
Actually, it went more like this. We had an updated version of ‘the talk’. This time I didn’t mention things like ‘there’s no need for generosity’ and ‘putting a value on yourself’, however, I did employ phrases such as ‘make sure you’re ready’, ‘don’t feel pressured’ and ‘please be careful’. Advice I believe she heeded, even if she felt ready earlier than I would have ideally liked. Initially, she thought I was jumping the gun with the ‘let’s get you on the pill’ thing, so I left it with her to think about. Less than two weeks later, however, she got back to me with ‘Hey Mum, you know what we talked about…’ and with that I made a doctor’s appointment.
I should mention here, there is a tradition of teenage pregnancy in mine and her father’s family – mostly due to religious influences that advocated abstinence (epic fail) rather than education and contraception – and I have no intention of being a grandmother at 38. I am not even going to make a funny about that. I’d like to have a second child soon, and while a 17-or-so-year age gap between helpings might be unusual, I am adamant all my children will be born before any grandchildren are begot.
Thankfully my daughter is in agreement – even if her current position of never wanting children ever is more strident than absolutely necessary – and going on the pill was a Very Good Idea. But, I’ll admit it, I was not qualm free about actively promoting pregnancy prevention before the horse had even noticed the gate was unlocked. Put simply, was I being sensible and realistic and non-ostrich like by taking a proactive stance on my teenage daughter’s contraceptive needs or was I giving a green light to something that may have stalled for a while if I haven’t given my sort-of-tacit agreement to storm the barricade? Chicken or egg, but ultimately I’d rather the egg wasn’t fertilised.
Unlike myself, my daughter was not threatened with a gamut of dire outcomes from a pox on your private parts to disappointing Jesus if she didn’t have a ceremony with an exchange of vows and rings before consenting to get down with it. I estimate my virginity lasted six months longer than it might without the virtues of chastity – whatever they are – being pedalled like the Tour de France at my school.
Her father’s reaction? My daughter and I agreed that telling Dad she was on the pill would be tricky and the decision to inform him was put off – indefinitely, or at least until the right moment. In the end, he found out because my daughter lost her wallet – where she kept her pill packet – and he was the one who tracked it down at a cafe. He checked, as you would, that nothing had been taken…
His discovery was a ‘dying on the inside’ moment. Did I know about this, he asked? Yes, I confessed, I did. It was my doing. But I soothed the way to acceptance by saying she was having bad periods and I thought the pill might help (a partial truth). I’m not sure if my part in the conspiracy was a comfort or not, but he has come around, even if he is not at the stage of condoning ‘sleepovers’ yet. I didn’t tell him about the condom wrapper I found the day after the school formal. What he doesn’t know etc. Not that I’m totally A-OK with ‘sleepovers’, either – even with the farce of making up a bed in the spare room.
Ultimately, it’s no use pretending your teenager won’t have sex because you don’t think they’re ready. It’s icky to confront – even if they’re mature physically – but I’m glad I took the initiative to be open and honest with my daughter and our relationship is stronger for it. You can’t afford to be willfully naive about your teenager’s sexuality – they’re health and future well-being depends on you confronting it and seriously who wants to be a grandmother before they’re 40?
Melanie is a free range writer, feminist and director of the Reality Bites Literary Festival. When not working on her creative writing thesis, you will most likely find her reading a book.
Did you tell your parents after your first sexual encounter? Would you expect your children to tell you?