Scarleteen Confidential: (Better) BC Invitations
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"How could i tell my mom in the best possible way i wanna be on birth control? help me plzzzz!!!! I need help with this badly."
"i want to start using birth control but who do i consult with first my parents or my doctor and if my parents (specifically my mom) how do i tell her with out saying the wrong things?"
"I want to talk to my mom about starting birth control, but I'm not sure how...she told me when my bf, Nat, and I started dating (over 7 months ago) that I could come to her and talk to her, but I haven't really seen any of that openness since, and I'm scared about how she'll react. I really want this for myself though, the bc that is, because I want to be safe and prepared for when Nat and I decide we're ready for sex."
Quite a few young people have come to us with this scenario: a parent has told their child that they are open to talking about -- and also sometimes helping them to get, though that's not often made as clear -- contraception. Most often, that’s an offer that was made either in advance of a young person becoming sexually active, or when it’s not, but a parent thinks it is in advance.
But when the young people bring this up with us, they sometimes say that even though that invitation was extended, they don't feel comfortable picking it up and asking for that help, or can't figure out how. We've had some voice that though the offer was extended, they feel like they get mixed messages that invalidate it, like a parent making clear they don't approve of them, or young people in general, having sex with partners. When that’s what’s going on, offers of help with contraception can feel a lot like a trap.
"When she found out that I was having sex, first she said she wasn't mad at me and that this was normal for someone my age. Then, when we talked about it in therapy she told me that most teenagers regret having sex later and that I probably just think I'm ready but I'm really not. She told me even if I WAS entirely ready, I still am am technically not ready for sex because I don't have a legal place to have sex at. She ended the whole conversation on the note that even if I've decided I'm ready, she still can't trust that because she can't get inside my head. Even with all that, she still let me get on birth control and said she'd buy me condoms if I ask (but I never ask, I just buy them myself)."
We've also heard youth voice that while they appreciate a parent's invitation with this, ideally, they'd rather have their sexual healthcare, including contraception, or sexual lives be something more private that they don't fully involve parents in, or have to have parents be part of. Some young people aren't engaging in any sex now or yet that contraception is required for, and want to be prepared: but some parents don't support that (this is hopefully where you're saying to yourself: "Oh gosh, why not? Talk about the best timing for getting contraception."). Alternately, some parents don't believe that the teen in their life isn’t engaging in sex when they say they aren’t, or their children don't feel confident they will believe them, and so they worry that they're going to get grilled about having sex they aren't even having (and sometimes would want to engage in, but don’t because they lack contraception).
"I don't have a mother figure in my life. I recently tried to bring up the birth control situation, and Dad believed that if I wasn't having sex then he didn't think contraception was necessary. Thing is though I do want to engage in further sexual activity in the near future but its purely my lack of contraception that's holding me back. I know that if I was taking the pill then I would feel safe and I wouldn't have a need to worry. The whole dad situation is restricting me from getting it."
It's also typical, in any of these scenarios, for a young person to be reluctant to take a parent up on that offer, because they don't feel confident a healthcare provider won't share personal details they don't want to share with parents (which probably explains the number of users we see who do take parents up on this, but only when finding a reason besides preventing pregnancy to ask for a method of contraception, like painful periods).
This can sometimes seem a bit like someone who wins the lottery and never cashes the check: the offer was extended, and a young person wants what’s being offered -- contraception -- but doesn’t accept the offer. Sometimes it may be like that; other times, it's really not. It's often less about a young person not accepting something they want, and help that’s being extended gladly, and more about not knowing how to be the person to then initiate these conversations or requests, about feeling suspicious it's a trap, or feeling like in order to get the contraception or other sexual healthcare they want and need, they have to fill parents in when they'd prefer more privacy. In other words, it can seem like the parent is saying, “I’ll help you, but only because my helping you involves you surrendering any privacy you might want and keeps me in charge.” And again, an offer of contraception all by itself doesn’t send a clear message that a parent will be accepting and supportive of a young person engaging in sex.
I absolutely see what I am sure are usually the best of intentions with this invitation. But I'd like to suggest an alternative that will probably work better.
Offer to get them connected to a healthcare provider -- ideally an OB/GYN, GP who is solid with reproductive health, or an adolescent pediatrician -- or sexual health clinic, cutting yourself out as the middleman, and as someone they may have no choice but to be in charge of all this, whether they like it or not.
One way to do this is to connect them with that person right when puberty is starting, with a consultation visit about those changes, something you just schedule alone or in conjunction with a regular physical, and let the healthcare provider extend to a young person directly and privately, so they can say yes or no to that on their own, and know it’s there for them to pick up later if they aren’t interested now. That can be something you ask a provider to do with a checkup, or schedule all by itself. You can let them know, clearly, that you want your child to be connected with them for any of the reproductive or sexual healthcare they may need in the future.
(By all means, do not follow them into the exam room or conversation unless they expressly ask you to go with them: many of our users who could get sexual healthcare they need don’t because parents won’t leave them alone with healthcare providers. Even for young people who are candid with parents about their sexual lives, many will not want them eyeballing their bodies during an exam if and when it’s time for that: having one adult looking at your genitals when exams are new can be nervewracking enough, and more than one is just going to feel creepy, more like some kind of alien abduction than a positive healthcare experience.)
Make clear that this professional is available to them when and if they need them with these issues. Tell them you support them talking with and getting care from this person, and that it's up to them how much, if anything, they share with you about it: you will respect their privacy, and the provider will, as well. Remind them that if they do want to share any of this with you, or also get help from you -- including when it comes to scheduling appointments with the provider, transportation there, or costs of this care -- you're available, and you'll check in every now and then with them on that (that way, they don't have to try and figure out how to bring it back up, or wonder if you are still supportive months or years after all of this). Follow up by doing that: depending on your sense of their lives and development, you can gently and without fanfare, check in once a year, twice a year, or every few months.
Sometimes young people have anxiety about this kind of healthcare, so for that first visit, it can help to make clear to them it is just about talking, unless there is a need for some kind of exam and it is also something they want. Letting them know sexual health exams aren’t required or something they can’t have choices with is helpful.
Going about this this way gets them right to the kind of care you're offering in the first place, and much more directly. It also doesn't take anything away from you (except some control, but ideally, that's something you need to be gradually letting go of at this time in their lives, anyway), and still has you set up as open and available for them with any of this, including talks. It also sends a crystal clear message that your offer to connect them with this care isn't just talk or a trap: it’s genuine, and you want to help them in ways they are comfortable, not just in ways that make you comfortable. Extra bonus: you both get connected with someone you trust for this, so you know they’re in good hands, and get the relief of knowing that you, and any co-parents, don’t have to go this alone.
Additionally, it’s all going to go a lot better if you let them know that if and when this is about partnered sex for them, in the present, not the future, you’re here for them with that. You can make clear you’ll respect their privacy, but will be available for support if they want it. You can even let them know that you’re going to have your own feelings about that, but your intention is not to judge, freak out, but to just have and process your feelings like a person with some measure of emotional maturity and care for them, while respecting their feelings, so they can know right from the front that is your aim, and you want them to call you out if you lose sight of it. Even if you miss the mark with that sometimes -- and you’re only human, so you probably will -- that gives them permission to tell you if it ever feels judgy or unsupportive to them, and that if they do that, they can probably count on you responding with some work to turn that around.
Like a lot of sexuality or reproductive topics, you can load all this less right from the start if contraception is something you’ve already talked about without it being about them.
Some opportunities to do that may be:
- When they see something in media where a person expresses having more children than they can manage, or when contraception is talked about in media.
- If and when they find a method of contraception at home, or ask what someone is doing when they take a pill, or put on a patch.
- With early puberty or reproduction talks, just by making clear that reproduction is not biologically inevitable, but is a choice, and part of that choice can be medications or devices people can use to prevent pregnancy when they don’t want to, or don’t feel yet ready for, having children.
- If and when they bring up a friend or family member using birth control.
For more information on contraception, when it’s needed, and related information, check out:
- Birth Control Bingo
- The Buddy System: Effectiveness Rates for Backing Up Your Birth Control With a Second Method
- Can I Get Pregnant, or Get or Pass On an STI From That?
- Dealing With Doctors: Taking Control of Your Health Care Destiny
- Human Reproduction: A Seafarer's Guide
- Your First Gynecologist Visit