Not My Baby: A Gynecologist’s Guide to Raising Sexually Responsible Teens and Young Adults
I have a healthy obsession (is that an oxymoron) with HBO’s Insecure. I think that it’s because I have been black and awkward for my entire life. Minus the potty-mouths, I relate to these characters. The show isn’t just for African American viewers. This show is crossing over. I love you Issa Rae, but Yvonne Orji, this one is for you! #Molly
Recently, I encountered a patient scenario that also has significant cross-over appeal. I saw a teenager who was beginning to explore her sexuality and had started having sex. She was trying to be responsible and safe by discussing safer practices with me, but was reluctant to have STD testing or start taking birth control for fear that her mother would find out what she was doing. This is the inspiration for this post, a plea to mothers.
I care for women of all ages, ethnicities and religious backgrounds. Here is how a new patient virgin talk usually goes:
Me: “Are you sexually active?”
Me: “Have you ever been?”
Her: “No, never.” … Enter small talk and subject change, but the inevitable circle back:
ME: “What led you to that decision, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Ladies have many reasons, the majority being religious. Generally, it is a decision they made within themselves that was a result of faith and belief. Wait, mothers. Hold on. Before you high-five yourselves for teaching these young ladies the right way, you need to know that the numbers of young ladies who I see who are virgins are far outnumbered by women who are not, many of whom were taught the same values and principles of those still wearing their chastity belts. I often find that most mothers of non-virgins don’t know that their daughters have gone “there”. and some talk like they don’t want to know.
I am not challenging the value in teaching children and adolescents how to be sexually “pure”. I am, however challenging the practice of teaching virginity by denying information. Many of my patients who are virgins are not such because they don’t know what sex is. On the contrary, they almost unanimously know what it is and how to be safe while doing it. They have just decided not to do it for the time being.
Re-enter Yvonne Orji. In Season 1 of HBO’s Insecure, her character, Molly, is a very sexually liberated character. She gets down frequently. Ironically, in real life, she is a 33-year-old comedian, actress, and virgin. Here is this beautiful, successful woman who has had countless on-screen romps, and no off-screen ones. She isn’t not doing it because she doesn’t know what it is. She is actually driven by her religious convictions to keep her real-life legs closed. The point is, it’s not because of a lack of knowledge.
I wrote an article years ago for Jet Magazine that was a letter from me to the teens. It was a short list of reasons to not have sex, or at least not have a lot of sex. I called on my favorite thing, logic. As a doctor, informed consent means that you have explained the risks, benefits, and alternatives of whatever you are about to do. I wanted my teens to not just walk into having sex for the “benefits” without understanding those risks, benefits, AND alternatives.
Misinformation is so prevalent. I can’t tell you how many people don’t know how STDs are transmitted, which ones are dangerous, pull-out is an unreliable form of birth control, the clap is not chlamydia (it is actually gonorrhea), and that a person doesn’t need to have a lot of sex to get pregnant. It just takes once.
If you gave your kids a car and some keys but didn’t give them driving lessons or education on the rules of the road, eventually they may learn how to start the car (or their friends will teach them), put it in gear and drive. They will probably run into some things, blow through some traffic signals and get some tickets. Let’s pray they don’t hurt themselves or anyone else. If instead you teach them about the car but give them reasons why they might not want to drive yet (rush hour, etc), they may be a little safer with their actions. If they choose not to drive, it could be because they are fine using another form of transportation (no innuendo there, I promise).
I posed the following question to my teen at the beginning of this post: “Which do you think your mother would dislike more: Finding out that you are having sex, but knowing that you are trying to be as safe as possible, or not knowing that you are having sex and as a result, you contract an undiagnosed STD or unplanned pregnancy?” I have a daughter. I would prefer for her to not have sex until she is either married or at least mentally prepared for the emotional weight that it carries. Damn a hookup! Trust and believe, though, that she will know what’s what, AND know that she can always talk to me or ask me questions, regardless of whether I agree with her decision. For the record, the same thing goes for my sons. #headsoutofthesandmoms