Dear Ate Anna,
I heard my 16-year old son and his friend talking about girlfriends. I gave my son the “facts of life” when he started going through puberty. But now I am thinking I should talk to him about waiting to have sex and birth control - in case he doesn’t wait. What should I tell him?
Thanks for your help,
Congratulations on wanting to educate your son about sex and birth control – and don’t forget about STIs. Many parents deny that their children need this information or hope that they will get it from school.
Yours is also a timely request. February 12th is Sexual and Reproductive Health Day. This year the theme is the 40th anniversary of legalizing birth control in Canada. Ate Anna also wants to congratulate you on your attitude that men need to know about birth control. Too often people think that birth control is only a “woman’s issue”.
Boys and men often feel that they are supposed to know everything about sex, even when they haven’t received a good education about it. Most men don’t have a clear understanding of the reproductive cycle. In fact, most males don’t know that the risk of pregnancy from any act of sexual intercourse is 85% if no birth control is used.
Men and boys often assume that their girlfriend knows the important things about sex and birth control. They believe that she will make sure she doesn’t get pregnant. But this is not always true. What happens is – both partners are thinking that the other person will take responsibility, but they don’t talk about it.
Ross, you can teach your son to take responsibility for his sexual decisions – at whatever age that happens.
Sometimes parents wait to talk about birth control until they suspect their child may be having sex. This can make the discussion more awkward. Try to talk about it before preventing pregnancy becomes a personal issue. You may worry that talking about birth control is like telling your son, “…go ahead and have sex.” Research shows that when youth can talk to a trusted adult about these issues they are more likely to delay first intercourse. They also act more responsibly when they do decide to become sexually active.
Talking to your son gives you the chance to make sure he has the facts he needs about sexual decision-making and birth control while reinforcing your family’s values. You can talk to him about his birth control choices – abstinence and condoms. Not having sex is the only 100% sure way to prevent pregnancy all of the time. Remind him that many of his friends are probably abstaining, even if they say they’re not. Many youth (boys and girls) feel pressured into having sex by their partner, the media, and other friends. The decision to have sex is personal and shouldn’t be based on pressure from other people.
Condoms are a good choice for boys who do have sex. Condoms are very effective when used correctly every time. Condoms don’t cost a lot and they’re easy to get and use. Make sure your son knows how to use a condom properly (including how to use lubricant). Even if his girlfriend is using another method of birth control, condoms help protect both of them from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Make sure your son understands that withdrawal (pulling out before ejaculation) is not a reliable form of birth control. Although it is better than nothing, the risk of pregnancy is high because sperm can be present at the tip of the penis before ejaculation.
Ross, there are important values you can teach your son about men’s responsibilities in preventing pregnancy. When a young man talks to his partner about birth control and/or uses birth control, he takes charge of himself and his future. He gets to choose whether and when to become a parent. And he is choosing to look after his sexual health.
You may feel embarrassed or awkward starting these discussions and it is OK to say that to your son. He may not feel comfortable talking to you either! Ask your son what he thinks and how he feels about these issues. Starting the conversation is the hardest part. And remember – it is a conversation, not a lecture. Once you are talking you may even learn something from each other!
If it is impossible to have this conversation with your son, ask an uncle, older brother, or family friend to talk to him. Or you can give your son a book or some pamphlets to read. SERC has pamphlets related to talking to young men about birth control. Contact them at 982-7800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ate Anna welcomes your questions and comments in English or Tagalog. Please email: email@example.com or write to Ate Anna, 2nd floor – 555 Broadway Ave., Winnipeg MB, R3C 0W4. Information in this article has been adapted from “Birth Control: Talking with your Son by ETR Associates.