How to deal with a sexually active underage child?
December 2, 2022 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I have semi-accidentally, but semi-snoopy if I'm being honest, discovered that my son (15 in a matter of weeks) is sexually active with his girlfriend (same school year). They have recently had a pregnancy scare. How should I handle this? Ideally: how did you handle this, and what specifically worked, and what would/could you have done differently?

I have a good overall relationship with my son; he's mature for his age, but is also intensely private. I haven't really spoken to him about his girlfriend, both because he doesn't really want to have a conversation about her, and also when I was his age, I wouldn't have wanted to have any conversations with my parents about it that I didn't start. I believe they've been dating for about 4 months.

My wife has had a conversation with him about how he's too young to be sexually active and she discussed an acquaintance of his of the same age who got his girlfriend pregnant. He reassured her he would never do such a thing.

To be clear: I know I should have a calm, reasoned talk with him. Specific things I'm curious about:

- do I keep it general (which will mean he will deny being active tbh) or do we reveal we know he's been active and they've had a scare (revealing I have read his IG DMs when his phone was unlocked and on that screen - I appreciate this is a breach of confidence people may have strong opinions about. tbh, so do I, in defence, I was somewhat worried about this anyway, and the message I saw by accident made clear the scare, which is why I scrolled up)
- I do think he is far too young at a few weeks shy of 15 and I'm pretty annoyed at him. I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?
- I have no relationship with the girl or know who/where her parents are, and it's impossible for me to contact them without asking her (a girl I have literally seen once and said "hi" to) for her parents' number, which she may well refuse to give me. If I found out (for example) that my 14/maybe 15 year-old daughter's boyfriends parents were providing them with contraceptives, I am fairly sure I would go ballistic, or at least can see that ballisticism is an option for some people. I might also go ballistic if I found out they knew they were having sex and had a pregnancy scare. How to handle that/them?
- do I have any need to provide him privacy now? I've always wanted to provide that as that's what I would have wanted, however, do I now no longer need to provide him with and demand "no closed doors" etc.

In the UK if that's relevant in terms of attitudes and law.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (59 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And if it's any consolation, I had friends who started having sex at age 14, and they turned out fine. So yes, I think it's time to shift to advising your son on how to practice safe sex, and to provide him with condoms. You can explain to him why you think he's not emotionally mature enough yet for sex, but you should still provide access to condoms.
posted by coffeecat at 8:20 AM on December 2, 2022 [94 favorites]

- I do think he is far too young at a few weeks shy of 15 and I'm pretty annoyed at him. I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

Anecdotal - but yes, I think it is too late. Push contraceptives as hard as you can to keep him from being a father.

I don't have really direct experience, because my kids aren't old enough, but anecdotally a girl in my school class got pregnant at 13, Christian parents tried the abstinence method, she got pregnant again at 15, and then they wised up and got contraceptives for their other 2 daughters at a young age.

Underage sex may piss you off, but the medical costs of teenage pregnancy and will straight up burn you down.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:22 AM on December 2, 2022 [36 favorites]

Oh my god yes. It is vanishing unlikely that a horny teenager will stop having sex without contraception because they learned that their parents don’t like it. Please assume you have no ability to stop them from having sex and take a harm reduction approach.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:25 AM on December 2, 2022 [75 favorites]

Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

Yes. They're already having sex. Short of putting your son in house arrest, they are probably going to continue having sex. Or they're going to break up, and he'll be having sex with his next girlfriend.

I don't really disagree that 14/15 is too young for sex, but for many people that's well after they get both the physical capacity and the desire to do so, and long before they develop the emotional control to make choices out of pure reason about it.

In order to have healthy conversations with him about it, you're going to have to process your own emotions around his developing maturity and sexuality. If you approach him with an angry and disappointed tone, he's going to shut down and probably try even harder to keep everything from you. If you instead give him the opportunity to talk about how the relationship is going, how he's feeling, and, most importantly, convey that you love him even if he fucks up, he'll be more likely - not necessarily right in the moment, but over time - to listen to you and come to you when he needs help.

I suspect he hasn't talked about his girlfriend because he knows you don't really approve and aren't really interested. You almost certainly will need to start by showing interest and encouragement. This will be hard! You may need to find some outlets for yourself to process your own (understandable) parental worries and disappointments! But don't do it with him.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:27 AM on December 2, 2022 [15 favorites]

I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex.

Come on. You must realize this is not how it works.

You don't have a relationship with the girl's parents but it sounds like you have at least met the girl? Can you talk to your son and his girlfriend and say, "Look, I'm pretty sure you guys are having sex. I don't think you should be having sex but I also know that I can't watch you every second of the day to prevent you from having sex. What is your birth control strategy?"

Also I'm sure I've read somewhere that it's fairly common for teens to have sex a few times and then not have sex for a long time! So yeah, sometimes the genie just goes back in the bottle.
posted by mskyle at 8:28 AM on December 2, 2022 [36 favorites]

I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

Yes, yes, yes, it is utterly BEYOND too late to put the genie back in. You can and should be having these conversations but you should also be adding condoms to the shopping list and leaving them in the bathroom drawer. I know it is extremely uncomfortable and I'm sorry you will have to feel this way on the regular but the alternative is so much worse.
posted by anderjen at 8:28 AM on December 2, 2022 [12 favorites]

Build your relationship with your son. You may already have a good relationship with him, but it sounds like he's in a time where a wonderful relationship with someone older and wiser would be invaluable.

To overcome the annoyance -- because he will not be able to trust you if he doesn't feel that you sincerely love and respect him -- list ten things to yourself that you love about him, so that that idea is top of mind, then consider how to talk to him so that he will eventually feel safe enough to _ask_ you for advice.

Then maybe read as much as you can, watch as many really good videos as you can, and be as open to information as you can -- about how people trust each other, what makes good decisions possible for people, and the importance of happiness and connection and fulfilling, fun activities for giving meaning to life.

Oh, and also cut yourself a break, and make sure you are giving yourself the joy and fulfilment you yourself need, so that you can wholeheartedly want that for your son.
posted by amtho at 8:44 AM on December 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

Well, I don't know, how do you feel about becoming a "grandpa" (or "grandma", you don't specify your gender)? Because you are about two steps away from becoming one - Mazel Tov! If you're not excited about this prospect, start talking about birth control, now. You are in the UK, but Planned Parenthood will have a lot of online resources about talking to children about sex.

I realize this can be uncomfortable coming from a parent, so is there an older respected (by your son) relative or friend of the family who can have a more frank conversation with him - a cousin, uncle etc. ?
posted by Toddles at 8:46 AM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

Can only add to the pile on to say yes to this. Your belief that they shouldn't be having sex won't stop them having sex, so you need to try and help them to have safe sex. Open, non-judgemental conversations ftw, but if you think conversations would be too awful or counterproductive, seconding anderjen's suggestion to at least put condoms somewhere he can access them and letting him know they're there.

Maybe find an age-appropriate book about safe sex and leave it on his bed with a note saying there are condoms in the bathroom drawer that he's free to take if he ever needs them. You can do that without him even knowing for sure that you know he's sexually active, which might reduce his squirm factor and increase his willingness to open that drawer and take one out. It'll also show him that you're open to discussing this, without actually forcing him into an awkward conversation right away, which might make him more open/trusting down the road than if you steamroller him into talking about it when you're feeling angry with him.

Examining what your own specific concerns are, might help you find the most productive way forward. We worry about young people having sex because they sometimes lack the sense/knowledge/resources to prevent pregnancy, so give him the information and the means to do that. We worry about them because they lack the maturity to deal with the highly-charged emotional demands of a sexual relationship, so model for him what it's like to be a calm, mature adult talking about sex. Etc.
posted by penguin pie at 8:47 AM on December 2, 2022 [8 favorites]

Yes, you should be encouraging safe sex practices. Whether or not he's too young, this is happening, and you can sit with some discomfort about providing condoms or you can sit with the discomfort of supporting him through a partner's decision to abort, adopt, or raise his child. I know which one I'd pick. I don't think he is too young to understand "I don't think this is a good idea and I'm worried for you, but I also want you to know how to keep yourself and your partner safe if you do decide to have sex, and to have what you need to do that" as a message.

I don't think you should try to contact her parents about this; without knowing anything about her or them, that could be an incredibly unsafe position to put her in. By all means, part of the conversation with your son can be about what her situation is, whether she has supportive parents who are making sure she also has protection for herself, etc. You could potentially assess after that whether there are any conversations you need to have with the girl herself and/or her parents. But you can do a lot of harm reduction here by focusing on your own family.

Up to you on the doors; I can see an argument either way here. I do think that this is a bit of another genie situation to some extent - teenagers who want to have sex will have sex, in uncomfortable and unlikely places that can get them in trouble, especially once he or his peers start to have access to cars. I don't think you should kid yourself that by having an open-door policy you will be stopping your son from having sex. But sure you might be able to cut down on the frequency or at least convey a general "no, I really don't approve of this" message, at the cost of potentially introducing some more friction into your relationship with your son at a time when you need to be cultivating more communication and ease with each other. I don't know how to weigh those things for your specific family.
posted by Stacey at 8:48 AM on December 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

In addition to buying condoms for your son, you should ask him to check that his girlfriend would get an abortion if she accidentally got pregnant.

It might be a very good idea to get some mifepristone and misoprostol *now* and give them to your son *now* with printed instructions to pass on to his girlfriend so that she has an accessible way to end a pregnancy if she needs to.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 8:51 AM on December 2, 2022 [7 favorites]

Make sure that your son is aware that oral contraceptive pill doesn't protect against Sexually Transmitted Diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B - only condoms do.

Also, get your son vaccinated against HPV if he isn't already.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 8:53 AM on December 2, 2022 [30 favorites]

As a parent of a 13 yo, I don't consider it a "breach of confidence" to look at your child's phone. Your child is 14. Unless he is working and paying for that phone himself, it is not HIS phone. It is YOUR phone that you allow him to use. You have the right (and the obligation IMHO) to look at that phone and monitor his activities, that is part of 21st century parenting.

And as everyone else has noted, there's no putting the toothpaste back in the tube. Contraceptives, comprehensive sex education materials, and very open and honest conversations start now.

Also, you absolutely need to have an uncomfortable conversation with this girls' parents before you are co-grandparenting with them. Call their school and request their phone number if you have to.
posted by gnutron at 8:58 AM on December 2, 2022 [7 favorites]

I accidentally lost a couple of sentences from my answer up there, had meant to add: part of your conversation with him can be reinforcing that it's okay for him to say no, even to someone he's already had sex with, if she's not on board with starting to be more careful with contraception, or feels differently about what to do in the event of a pregnancy scare than he does.
posted by Stacey at 8:58 AM on December 2, 2022 [8 favorites]

Also, do NOT tell the girls parents.

If they are religious/conservative types, them knowing that she is being sexually active might

a) make them violent towards her

b) make them decide not to pay for her college education

c) make them throw her out of home
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 9:12 AM on December 2, 2022 [40 favorites]

Yes, now is also the time to start having conversations about consent with your son too. I would also make more of an effort to get to know the girlfriend - ask her to stay for dinner, maybe arrange to take both of them on some fun activity with you that they wouldn't be able to afford on their own, etc.

Also, if you don't want to admit to snooping on your son, you don't have to - you can just tell your son you are assuming he might be having sex since he's a teenage with a steady girlfriend.
posted by coffeecat at 9:17 AM on December 2, 2022 [31 favorites]

I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

Yes, it's too late.

For reference here is how it's worked in my house,. At 13 I embarrassed my son and talked to him about birth control and consent and that I hoped he would wait but that I would always have condoms in the linen closet.

We always have condoms in the linen closet.

We talk about consent all the time, not like "are you asking?" but like "oh, here's a pop culture situation that involves consent, what do you think?"

In addition to buying condoms for your son, you should ask him to check that his girlfriend would get an abortion if she accidentally got pregnant.

Absolutely not, it is her body, her choice. What you should do is make your son aware that if he gets his girlfriend pregnant, it will not be under his control whether that pregnancy ends or not, and so he should be thinking about this as he makes choices about HIS behaviour, not his girlfriend's, and also talking to her about what he is consenting to. Good god.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:31 AM on December 2, 2022 [119 favorites]

Like, you can't have a discussion about consent by saying to take away the young woman's ability to consent to an abortion later.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:33 AM on December 2, 2022 [14 favorites]

I am a single mother and when my son did the same at the same age I bought him condoms and told him he's as responsible for contraception and health as any current or future partner, so use them even if she says she's on the pill. I said I'd rather he wasn't doing it yet but since he didn't need birds and bees, we'd talk about consent and mutual respect instead. And we did. Then I told him I was available anytime w/no judgment for him to talk/ask more about that topic or about any other risky-teen topic.

No genies or bottles, and none of the shame I got from my mother either; that nonsense stopped with me.
posted by headnsouth at 9:44 AM on December 2, 2022 [14 favorites]

Do not talk to the girl's parents. The threat of terrible life consequences is not imaginary. I had two cousins thrown out of the house by their father for having merely premarital sex when college-aged.

I don't know if this is the case in the UK, but in the US children that age can potentially run afoul of child pornography laws for sexting or otherwise sending explicit pictures of themselves to each other. If this is the case, you'd better have that conversation, because he wants to avoid those consequences at any cost. Even if not, you should definitely discuss the long-term implications of graphic photos of himself and how he should always treat any his girlfriend sends him as extremely private, to be shown to no one else.

Maybe it's different for the very youngest young people, but in my experience, a kid having sex at 14 is usually in some kind of trouble, or their partner is. Poor relationship with parents, traumatic home/neighborhood environment, mental health issues...I think it would be very wise of you to make a conscious effort to cultivate a closer relationship with your son. Not to be his jail warden, but to at least do your best to be aware of what's going on in his life and what he might need help with. Words like "mature for his age" and "intensely private" make me worry. He's still 14.
posted by praemunire at 9:54 AM on December 2, 2022 [24 favorites]

At 13, my mother talked to me about sex, with this framework: that sex brought people close together when they weren't always ready to be that close, and that the intimacy of sex was its own momentum. So she hoped that I would choose to hold back on that intimacy in order to grow up enough to be choosing people worthy of that intimacy.

Later she told me that she had been pregnant at 15 and that her parents had sent her away. The boy who got her pregnant apparently had sex with her on a dare from his older brother. In retrospect I can hear the pain in the advice she gave me.

Please provide birth control and don't worry about whether the girlfriend's parents would approve of your doing so. You are responsible for setting expectations with your son about how sexual activity proceeds between consenting partners. Contraception and STI prevention are absolutely part of that knowledge!

Your responsibility to the girlfriend is less but not nothing. Get to know her enough that your son may feel comfortable bringing her around the family, and welcome her as you would any of his friends.

You can certainly set "my house, my rules" expectations about no closed doors and no overnights.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 9:56 AM on December 2, 2022 [13 favorites]

You know your child is unlikely to proactively share private information with you. If you try to control or punish or shame him, he'll retreat farther. If he knows you're snooping, he'll find better ways to hide his communications. Talking to his girlfriend's parents without his knowledge or against his wishes will also damage your relationship. The more open your relationship, the more access to information you have and the more you can influence his behavior. Being supportive and kind, asking what he needs and (as much possible) respecting his wishes are critical.

Making condoms available to him is a great idea. My friends keep a cookie jar stocked with condoms and refill it as needed, no questions asked and no comments made. It was uncomfortable when condoms eventually started disappearing and they knew their kids wouldn't want to answer questions, but it was also really helpful to have that signal to pay attention and find opportunities for conversations about birth control, STDs, consent, privacy expectations, emotional health, etc. They require that their kids' friends/girlfriends always have parental permission to come over to the house and know where the kids are (they have a group chat with their oldest kid and the kid's girlfriend and all 4 parents so they can communicate about plans), but the kids are generally afforded quite a bit of privacy when they're there. Because they'd established such good communication, the girlfriend's parents (who are somewhat more conservative) actually let them know when they took her to get on birth control, which was information they didn't expect (and weren't entitled to) but appreciated knowing.

Your son's relationship with this girlfriend likely will not last forever. He may or may not wait before he has his next sexual relationship. He may have bigger problems in other parts of his life. Whatever happens, his life will be better with parents who he feels safe bringing questions and problems to. And that means if they break up tomorrow, you still have work to do in building your relationship with him and keeping communication open.

It's great that you're seeking advice and questioning your first instincts. If it's hard to consistently stay nonjudgmental and supportive in your conversations with your son, make sure you have people (possibly a therapist) you can privately discuss your frustrations and worries with. Raising teenagers is hard. Your son is lucky to have a parent who is thoughtful about how to best support him as he matures.
posted by katieinshoes at 10:05 AM on December 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

You want your kid to stay safe and healthy, and know that you love and trust him. Share the Brook website with him. Let him know that he can access sexual health services for free including receiving free condoms and encourage him to attend a Brook Service or young persons sexual health clinic.
Share the NHS Guide to sexual health services with him. Highlight this part
"All information regarding your visit will be treated confidentially. This means that your personal details and any information about the tests or treatments you have received will not be shared with anyone outside the sexual health service without your permission. This includes your GP.
If you are between the ages of 13 and 16, your details will still be treated confidentially, and nobody in your household will be contacted without your permission. However, staff may encourage you to talk to your parents, guardian or another trusted adult."
Encourage your son to share this information with his girlfriend. Tell him to encourage her to go to a sexual health clinic, maybe with him or with a school friend. They can both get advice about the best contraception for each of them and no-one is going to tell their mums if they start the pill. Tell your son that emergency contraception is available same day for free and that if his girlfriend phones the GP and explains that it's regarding contraception she will get an appointment even if the surgery is fully booked.
posted by boudicca at 10:07 AM on December 2, 2022 [16 favorites]

Ideally you can have the open conversation that many are suggesting, but if that's not your dynamic or you don't feel that it would be well-received by your son, I suggest that you stock a drawer in a bathroom with condoms, emergency contraception, medication aportion pills (if accessible to you), and a list of resources for abortion and STI screening services. Tell your son "I know that you and [girlfriend] have been seeing each other for a while now. At some point you might decide to become sexual. There are sexual health items in the bathroom drawer if you or anyone you know might need them. I'll periodically check and restock it. Please know that you can come to me if you need anything. I promise to listen and help without judgement. Cool?"
posted by mezzanayne at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

I agree with everyone that you must accept the fact that he’s sexually active even if it’s not what you want or support. Telling him don’t have sex is completely ineffective and puts him at higher risk of STIs or an unplanned pregnancy. Yes to condoms and even lube. You can say “While I’d prefer you that you weren’t having sex already because I worry about risk, I want you to be safe if you do and know that your mother and I are here to help no matter what.” Talk about safer sex, consent, contraception, and more. My incredibly hardcore pro-choice mom told my brothers: “Use a condom and other forms of birth control. Ideally don’t have sex with people who aren’t also pro-choice. However, if your AFAB partner becomes pregnant, you must support her 100% on whatever she chooses because it’s her body, her choice. This may mean becoming a parent so be mindful.”

FWIW I don’t think 15 is too young for sex. I agree that older would be more ideal but it’s not an age that’s inappropriate or a sign of something more troublesome. He’s been with his same-aged girlfriend for four months and it sounds like they’re committed and potentially monogamous, which is frankly a safer situation than many other possibilities. I agree that it’s not appropriate to contact his girlfriend’s family about sex unless you fear for her safety or wellbeing. However, it’s completely appropriate for you to get to know the girlfriend by inviting her over for family dinners or outings. I’m not saying you have to allow them to be alone together in his room with the door closed, not at all! But building a relationship keeps your son and her safer. Once you’ve met her, you can always introduce yourself to her parents in a friendly way but again, a conversation about sex should be off the table in most cases.

I know you’re freaking out about this and maybe worried you did something wrong as parent. In reality, I think you’ve done a lot of things right: you have a teenage son who confides in you even when he knows you disagree. You raised a son with social skills and an ability to have a (hopefully) consensual relationship with a peer he (hopefully) cares about and vice versa. Pregnancy scares are quite common for teens young teens who aren’t fully informed about safer sex and the like. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad person or stupid; it just means he’s young and inexperienced. With your help and support, he can start making safer choices. It’s possible he’s scared and may not even went to be in this relationship anymore: if so, you can offer him non-judgmental and loving support with that too. It’s so hard being a parent but you’re on the right track! Sites like are intended for teens but just as helpful for parents. Best of luck to you all!
posted by smorgasbord at 10:16 AM on December 2, 2022 [9 favorites]

When my son starting seeing his first steady girlfriend we told him he was welcome to have her over to our place any time. We also said that she could be in his room but the door had to stay open. He was taken aback. I said "You've just turned 16 and she's just turned 15 and you're going to be sprawled across your bed together for hours, watching movies and hanging out. We're not going to be looking in checking on you, but it will keep things from getting carried away, and her parents will appreciate it too"

I also put condoms in his room and pointed out the expiry date on them. I said, "They're good for a couple of years so don't feel rushed to use them up."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:40 AM on December 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

Parent of three, two of whom were sexually active quite young (they are now all in their 20s).

- do I keep it general (which will mean he will deny being active tbh) or do we reveal we know he's been active and they've had a scare (revealing I have read his IG DMs when his phone was unlocked and on that screen - I appreciate this is a breach of confidence people may have strong opinions about. tbh, so do I, in defence, I was somewhat worried about this anyway, and the message I saw by accident made clear the scare, which is why I scrolled up)

Don't be general, and you can lean on parental intuition. Just tell him you're not dumb, you have ears and eyes, and you know it's time to talk about this. If you get to a point where it's critical for you to disclose you know about the pregnancy scare, do it. You don't need to feel shame for finding this out while your child is a minor and under your care. He can be mad, sure, but none of you can bury your heads in the sand responsibly. Acknowledge reality and deal with consequences as you must.

- I do think he is far too young at a few weeks shy of 15 and I'm pretty annoyed at him. I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

You can have this conviction, but it's not your choice to make. Sexual agency is real. Extremely real. Think of different varieties of this conviction and hear how they land with you. For example, I jsut found out my kid is gay and I don't think he should be having gay sex. It's wrong. Is it appropriate for me to take him to the pastor and make him listen to a talk about how he's doing something wrong?

This genie is out of the bottle and will not go back in. I'm sure you can reflect on your own sexual awakening in similar terms. Deal with today on its own terms, too.

- I have no relationship with the girl or know who/where her parents are, and it's impossible for me to contact them without asking her (a girl I have literally seen once and said "hi" to) for her parents' number, which she may well refuse to give me. If I found out (for example) that my 14/maybe 15 year-old daughter's boyfriends parents were providing them with contraceptives, I am fairly sure I would go ballistic, or at least can see that ballisticism is an option for some people. I might also go ballistic if I found out they knew they were having sex and had a pregnancy scare. How to handle that/them?

How would anyone going ballistic here help? Take the time to sort out this conversation with your son. Talk about her and her family. Get a sense of these people, get a feel for the background. Don't rush into a china shop and expect anything but broken china.

- do I have any need to provide him privacy now? I've always wanted to provide that as that's what I would have wanted, however, do I now no longer need to provide him with and demand "no closed doors" etc.

Yes, within reason. Privacy isn't necessarily a right, but it certainly seems healthy for—maybe even critical for—development in modern society. You still set the rules, but that's a sort of home forum-restricted kind of control. You can ground him, you can set rules for schedule accountability. You can discuss and agree on boundaries and consequences for trangressions.

You can also suggest that being sexually active means (for instance) it is absolutely time to get your HPV vaccination series. That's three shots that you need to volunteer for if you're going to be a responsible, sexually active human with a private life that you can both respect. You can have very, very frank discussions about the realities of pregnancy right now (no matter where you live, it's essential that your son understand what the rules are about abortion locally, and what access to levonorgestrel is like where you are, and how to use condoms, and so on). You can also estabish yourself as a trusted party who will be alerted to any urgencies in the future, because that is so much better than being seen as someone from whom this part of his life must be concealed.

Hang in there, it's a weird time but a foundational part of your kid's transition out of childhood. As best you can, enjoy all this tension and weirdness—you may well miss it once he's out of your household.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:41 AM on December 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

Don't tell him you looked at his phone, at least if you ever want to do it again. As someone who had sexually explicit conversations online at 13/14 (yes, I was an idiot, somehow everything turned out okay), if I had found out that my parents could see those conversations, I would have immediately found another way to have those conversations where it was 100% impossible for my parents to see them. Personally, I do believe it's a breach of privacy, but I'm not a parent so ultimately I am probably not the right person to weigh in.

Provide good-quality sex ed resources, yes provide condoms (and replace them if they expire), let him know that if there is an emergency you will provide no-questions-asked support. I think 99% of didactic advice will be ignored; he's a teenager.
posted by capricorn at 10:49 AM on December 2, 2022

I'm a parent of teens and an adult person whose parents tried to intervene when I was a teen having sex. Please tread carefully. If you don't accept your child's bodily autonomy and make it more difficult for him to have sex with his girlfriend and communicate that you disapprove, two things will likely happen: he will continue having sex; he will learn to keep even more secrets from you and never go to you when something is wrong.

First, let's take a big step back. You are trying to figure out how to talk to your kid about sex and perhaps how to get him to stop having sex. The bigger situation here, to me, is that your son is in a very complex emotional situation, as he and his girlfriend manage a pregnancy scare. Yes, that is a result of his behavior, but now is not the time to start trying to change that behavior. If he played a sport and was injured, or was in a car wreck, you wouldn't start by scolding his behavior, but by helping with the injury, the immediate crisis. And you also have to focus on managing your own emotions right now too.

Your opinion, and your wife's opinion, is completely irrelevant to your son's behavior. It's important to fully understand this: he is a human with his own body, and that he's 14 doesn't matter. He will behave as he chooses, either with your help in getting birth control, or by continuing with even riskier behavior. Humans are pleasure-seeking creatures, and sex can feel very good. Of course these young people want to have sex.

Your opinion and feelings on this aren't irrelevant to you, though, and so I encourage you to consider making an appointment with a therapist or talking this out with understanding parent friends. The important thing is to communicate to your son that you love him and want him and his girlfriend to be healthy and safe. Because that is the most important thing.

I encourage you to give him condoms and like the suggestions above to keep a supply around. If you can't have that conversation, give him the condoms and write a note. I'd suggest having this conversation with just you and him because your wife has already made her opinion and disapproval clear. You might get better communication by addressing this with him one-on-one because he might be reluctant to open up with your wife at this point.

I don't know that you need to tell him about the snooping. That's a big betrayal if he thought he had privacy, and it might derail the whole thing. But, you can certainly get him condoms and have a talk with him about pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted infections, and that needs to happen asap.

Please don't call the girl's parents. I was the girl whose parents were called. It was terrible. My mom and I had a pretty good relationship, and my boyfriend and I were being very careful and responsible, and it was AWFUL when she got the call from my boyfriend's mom, who didn't know for sure, but who suspected we were having sex. What on earth was my mom supposed to say? It blew up with my mom and guess what? It didn't change any of our behaviors at all. My mom was so embarrassed, and I was just horrified by all of it. It didn't bring my closer to my mom, or make me less likely to bring problems to her, or mean I talked to her about more things. It meant I talked to her about less stuff. And this was in the context of a mostly pretty healthy mother-daughter relationship.

I also want to add, as the parent of teens, that you can get closer to your kid and develop your relationship such that they share more with you. It starts by showing them that you accept them, that you trust them, that you respect them. I had a similar relationship as yours with one of my kids when he was that same age, and we have become a lot closer in the past year, and I think that happened with an incident happened in school. It made me look at how I was behaving towards him and I realized I wasn't consistently acting like I was on his team. And yet he made really good choices in a pretty awful situation where at first I was ready to blame him.

You are in the point where you are transitioning to parenting someone who isn't legally an adult but who has more freedom and independence in the world. The way you approach this will impact your relationship over the next few years and perhaps beyond. Go in with love and respect and care for your son and his physical and emotional health.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:49 AM on December 2, 2022 [7 favorites]

Friends of mine started dating (and having sex) at 15, and one essentially moved into the family house of the other. They are currently in their mid-forties, married, with successful careers and still seem very happy together. Another friend did the same thing eventually leading to marriage, ended after about 15 years together. Not saying this is typical, but not really that unusual. Both of these relationships were stable and committed from the beginning. So, as odd as it may sound, they were all essentially in long-term partnerships in their teens and their primary 'family', as it were, had become their partner. At least that is how they describe it.
posted by nanook at 10:53 AM on December 2, 2022

Parent of 20 year old here:
It's too late to close the door on this, but you do need to talk. The goals of the convo are 1) to give him space to process it if he is open to (unlikely but you are still showing him your interest and concern which has an impact) and 2) convey some messages about safety and consent.

I suggest going for a walk or drive (for some reason less emotionally charged than face to face at home) and bringing this up in a direct, calm, straightforward way. so something like,

"Hey, I have to be honest: I know you're having sex. I know this is awkward to talk about, but I want to check in."

and, when the time is right,
"I need to share some information about safer sex. It's essential to use condoms every time you have penetration. Pregnancy and disease transmission can happen even if you don't have an orgasm. What do you think hearing that?"
"As men, we have an extra responablity to make sure that our partners feel safe and respected. Women often don't feel like they can say no, even if we think they can. I can share some ideas about how to do that. What do you think?"
"I know some websites that have really good, factual information about sex, so I am going to send them to you, but you know you can also talk to me or [trusted other adult] any time."

Give lots of space in the convo, including silences, to invite/allow him to speak up. Use open-ended questions, "What do you think about that?" "How does that land with you?" to invite him in.

Buy a lot of condoms and leave the open box in the bathroom where he can access in privacy.
posted by latkes at 11:11 AM on December 2, 2022 [15 favorites]

Well, when I was 14, my mom snooped my diary and discovered that I’d been smoking pot on occasion. My parents were so scared this was the first step on the way to drug addiction that they sat me down intervention-style and gave me a run through the dangers of smoking meth. I can say with confidence that not only did it feel like a massive violation of trust, it did absolutely nothing to change my behaviour.
posted by vanitas at 11:14 AM on December 2, 2022 [8 favorites]

You need to contact her parents based on the simple fact that they are dating. You need to know her, her family, and what type of environment your son is a part of when in their care. They need to know the same about you. That is a basic parental responsibility, same for friends who he is not sleeping with. The call is not about sex but about understanding what is going on with your children and establishing communication. Perhaps invite them to dinner.

These are minors, they are not independent adults and should not be treated as such. You can be respectful of your son's growing independence but at the end of the day, he is a minor and needs guidance and boundaries from home.

And yes, as others have said, education about safe sex is a must. You can do that at the same time as letting him know your beliefs about what you think is appropriate for your children. Its ok to have values about this and they don't have to be "liberal", if they are not. You are the parent and part of your role is to share your values with your child. He may or may not adopt them.

You should not, however, to talk to his girlfriend about it nor to get involved with her contraception/reproductive life. That is for her and her parents relationship.

Best of luck.
posted by fies at 11:20 AM on December 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

Don't make access to contraception conditional in any way on sex talks with you (e.g. let me know if you need condoms). You should do both, independently.

I like the idea of the safe sex drawer mentioned above.

My parents deposited a book somewhere without ever talking to me about it. That's not ideal, but it was better than no information or inaccurate information.

The intense privacy is probably related to your attitudes. I would start with access to contraception and plan b (absolutely essential and irrelevant to whether they will do it or not) and work towards a different relationship once they're safe.
posted by lookoutbelow at 11:27 AM on December 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

I'm totally sympathetic to you feeling alarmed and wishing he'd stop, but as others have said, you can't make him not have sex with this girl. I mean you literally cannot, not that it wouldn't be nice if you could.

That being the case, you have to go with harm reduction. Do chat with him (maybe in the car... not by going into his room and talking at him; that makes teenagers shut down) to explain that sex is for adults because it brings adult consequences both emotional and practical (babies.)

Get him condoms. Offer to show him how to put them on a banana. Tell him you'd prefer he didn't have sex at his age because you think he isn't ready, but that if he feels he is ready, he needs to take responsibility for birth control; because if the girl does get pregnant he will have NO control over what happens next.

And meet the girl's parents. Don't tell them the kids are doing it. Just email them and say you understand the kids are dating and you'd love to have them over for coffee since the kids are part of each others' lives. It's good for your kid to know that you're interested in and positively positioned towards his relationships.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:33 AM on December 2, 2022

OK, so I am in a different country with different norms, and I am probably raised in the left end of that culture. So I find your question completely and utterly confusing. Why would you have an opinion about your son's sex life? Why would you read his IMs?
When we get further down into the details, both yours and those of the commenters, I feel like I am peeking in the window of a weird and foreign world, and my first instinct was to let you all have at it. I have no idea what you are talking about.

BUT, I feel for your son and his girlfriend, so I will comment, with the caveat that I am a foreign lady with foreign norms. But I also want to note that our kids have fewer teen pregnancies and abortions than most other countries and almost no teen marriages.

First of all: when teenagers choose to experiment with sex is very individual. It's about hormones, about physical development, emotional development, social issues. And yeah, vulnerable teens tend to have sex earlier but there is no direct connection there.

Second: sex among equal consenting individuals is a good thing. That is what confuses me about this post. If you were asking about your son having sex with his 30-yo teacher, or even worse, with a younger person, that would make sense. But two teens enjoying life together is just happiness. Give them the space.

Third: those sexing teens need guidance. But you cannot guide them if you condemn them. They need to learn about pregnancy, STDs and the precarious balance of desire and love. And some of it you can teach them directly and some of it you can only hint at. But you can't do that unless you have trust. And trust begins with accepting who they are and where they are: youngsters trying out sex in the best possible way: with someone their own age in their own rooms.

Talking about sex is hard, even for leftist liberals in the most liberal country in the world. But a good way to start is to say it out loud: this is embarrassing and hard for me to talk about, but I really need to make sure you know how this works. Then we all share in the difficulties.

When you build a positive environment, the kids will be at your dinner table. My boyfriends have been at my parent's dinners and I have had breakfasts at their homes (and vice versa). The only reason my first 15-yo boyfriend wasn't with me at our farm for holidays was that he had a job as a bricklayer during the summer. Being included in the family makes you feel loved and respected, the most important things in any relationship. And giving that to your kids builds trust, that carries through if there are difficult situations, like unwanted pregnancy.

My dog needs to have a walk now, but if anyone wants to know, I can explain how this had worked for me as a parent.
posted by mumimor at 11:38 AM on December 2, 2022 [49 favorites]

You tried to teach your child to not have sex; that didn't work. Providing access to condoms will mean that the sex is safer in every way, but you can be clear that you do not condone sexual activity. Unwanted pregnancy is a big deal and worth preventing.

Teens should be taught that photos, even consensual photos, can have serious consequences, and, really, don't. Talk to your son about HPV and consider having your son vaccinated. Talk to your son about why sex at 15 is problematic. About responsibility, consent, mutuality,and, seriously, fun and caring sex between people who respect each other. You don't have to approve of his sexual activity to educate him well and help him stay safer..
posted by theora55 at 11:42 AM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

My wife has had a conversation with him about how he's too young to be sexually active and she discussed an acquaintance of his of the same age who got his girlfriend pregnant. He reassured her he would never do such a thing.

Also, I do want to emphasize that it's possible to have a very different relationship with your child than your wife has. With respect to her, was this a conversation or her sharing her opinion on what she wants him to do and not do? I'm not sure he, a kid who probably wants to be a good kid and get his parents' approval, would have many other options in this conversation than to tell his mom what she clearly wanted to hear.

I'm saying that not to judge her, but to point out that you can develop a different way of communicating around this. You must be upfront with him about whether or not you'll maintain confidences he shares with you, for example (and don't lie! If you'll share things with his mom, then tell him you'll be doing that). One of my kids would get really frustrated with me around age 14 or so when he realized I told his dad things that I thought were relatively innocuous and not secrets. I got into a habit of making sure I kept things he told me in confidence unless I checked in with him otherwise, and that helped build trust. I encourage you to do the same, and also to let your wife know you'll be doing that, so you are quite open about keeping confidences.

A lot of this is about reframing your relationship with your kid. He's moving towards adulthood, and it's better to be in a position where he wants your opinion, because he won't have to listen or follow your rules much longer.

Lots of people here are saying to tell him that you don't think he should be having sex, but here's how to do it safely. I see no value in sharing the first part, and lots of potential harm. You said he's quite private and doesn't share much, and your wife already had that discussion with him. He already knows what you all think about this. Doubling down on this is in opposition to what I hope is your goal to build and reopen some lines of communication with him. When someone is critical of my choices, I'm disinclined to share more and be vulnerable with them. I don't want more negative judgment.

I really discourage you from telling him your opinion on his sex life. Like, what if your parent gave you their opinion on your sex life right now? You'd be insulted and horrified. It doesn't matter that your kid is a teen; he'll react in the same way. So have this conversation with information and love and support, not to tell him what you think about it all. The goal is to find out how he's thinking and feeling.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:51 AM on December 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

A lot of great advice here that I hope you are absorbing. Nobody has mentioned legal implications so far, so just wanted to bring this in:

In the UK, teens are taught at school or have learned from peers/TikTok that the legal age of consent is 16 regardless of gender or sexual identity. (NSPCC link)

Not to bring a big hammer down, but you definitely need to have this conversation with your son, stat. If his girlfriend's parents freak out, they could try to invoke the law and have him prosecuted, although it's probably unlikely that anything will come of that given that they are peers.

And definitely make sure that you ask delicately whether they are sexting, because that is a whole other can of worms for underage teens -- creating and sharing images of under-18s is illegal.
posted by Orkney Vole at 1:16 PM on December 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

If you can get to a place where you can ask with genuine curiosity, "How did you know you were ready to have sex?" can be a illuminating question to ask. It flows nicely into adjacent topics like ensuring enthusiastic consent, and practicing safer sex, which is really where you are at now, as others have noted.
posted by walkinginsunshine at 1:17 PM on December 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

The US, and to a lesser extent, the UK, are more puritanical about sex than many countries, which I think is reflected in some of the question and some aspects of the responses here. I think mumimor's answer is valuable, as a very different perspective. It might be enlightening to read about Dutch attitudes toward teenaged sex.

In any case, I want to point out that 15 isn't actually that young to be having one's first sexual relationship, if you look at the numbers. Depending on the methodology, approximately 1/4 of US boys will be sexually active before they're 16 - making your son a little younger than average, but not an outlier. And these are fast-paced years, in terms of the accumulation of experiences; if he hadn't been sexually active at 15, the odds are that he would be sexually active before 18.

Also, there is a lot less variation in these numbers across countries than I personally would expect, given what wildly varying attitudes (and consequences) there can be. What this tells me is that underage sex is very much a part of normal sexual development and is not going to be stopped because parents (or governments) disapprove.

That doesn't mean that there's no risk, ever, but I really, really do think it's worth considering the cultural aspects of your reaction to finding this out.

P.S. Violating it or denying a child's privacy - especially one in their teens - is a very, very good way to destroy trust and keep a child from sharing with you freely in the future. Children are people, and no amount of "it's my phone, not their phone" or "it's my house, and my rules" will change that.

Violating an older child's privacy especially is not something that should be done casually, under the assumption that you own them or their lives or that you have a "parental responsibility" to watch them 24/7, like some sort of hellish parental panopticon; it should be weighed carefully against the harm it does and done only when necessary to prevent more serious harm. I don't think that this situation counts. What you're worried about won't be prevented by your snooping, and what you could learn by snooping probably isn't going to change what you should do.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:23 PM on December 2, 2022 [9 favorites]

They have recently had a pregnancy scare.
I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

no, it's much worse than "naive." I'm sure you are worried about your son's emotional/sexual health and future prospects, but meanwhile a girl's emotional/sexual health, future prospects, and literal physical life is at stake. all pregnancy is a matter of life and death, teen pregnancy more so, teen pregnancy for a teen uncertain enough about anatomy & contraception & medical care to get pregnant even more so.

playing games with a human girl's human life is unconscionable for your son to do, but he's a kid himself without strong adult guidance on sexual ethics, so he can be forgiven. you haven't got such an excuse. you give your son the contraceptive lecture, and then you give your son the contraceptives. yesterday.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:14 PM on December 2, 2022 [7 favorites]

I would:
* Tell him that you suspect he is sexually active and that while you don't think this is ideal, the most important thing is that they are as safe as they can be.
* Provide information on consent, safer sex, and digital safety (eg. Minors sending certain photos may be illegal where you are)
* Discuss choice and how it is overwhelmingly his partner's decision what happens if she gets pregnant.
* Provide information on where they can access sexual health services for testing, pill prescriptions, emergeny contraception etc
* Keep condoms somewhere in the house that he knows about and where he can discreetly access them

I would NOT:
* Provide medications such as the pill, the morning after pill, or medications for a medical abortion. The other comments suggesting that OP provide medication for a medical abortion are super bizarre to me. Access to sexual health services and abortion is under threat in the US but the OP is not in the US
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:41 PM on December 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

I found it helpful to separate the values question (Is it appropriate for these two people to be having sex together) from the safety question (are they doing things that could have serious negative consequences for their health and safety?)

My approach was appreciate that my kids already knew what my values were about this (they should wait) but I made it clear that I knew that they would make their own choices and that those choices might not be the ones that I wanted them to make. I might feel disappointed but I recognize that they are turning into adults who get to make their own choices about their lives and their bodies.

However, I loved them very much, and much as I want them to share my values, it is far, far more important to me that they stay safe. If they are choosing to have sex, I really, really want them to be using condoms and using them correctly both to prevent pregnancy and STDs and for my daughter also be using birth control that is under her own control. For that reason, anything I can do to keep them safe and healthy, I will do - no lecture provided. Or they can take care of getting their own protection and I told them how to get access without us, as parents being informed.

As I have gotten older and met folks from other culture that are much less puritanical about teen sex some of my thinking has shifted and I might be more sex positive if I was doing it all over. But the best I could at the time was to be as authentic and loving as I knew how. I'm sure they thought I was going to be judgmental about them having sex (because I was) but I tried to keep focus on the big picture - avoiding STDs and unwanted pregnancies was just so much more important to me as a parent.
posted by metahawk at 3:57 PM on December 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

My mother discovered I was sexually active at 16 and insisted I get on birth control. It was a conversation I wished went better, honestly, though I'm not sure how. (We were being careful and using condoms). I've tried to be more upfront with my own kids about sex and consequences and being careful. Without the freaking out part my mom exhibited.

One of my friends used to keep a bowl in the bathroom with condoms in it. She would replenish it every so often (she has two sons and two daughters), no questions asked. She just matter-of-factly informed them it was there for their use, and to please be safe. It was kept in the cabinet, not on the counter, lol. Her kids are all adults now, and no mishaps or unexpected pregnancies.

I haven't read what others have written, as I know I don't speak as well as they do, I just wanted you to have an example of someone else's experience.
posted by annieb at 4:28 PM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

I keep condoms in the bathroom and replace them. Anyone is free to take them. My kids, their friends, my friends, me, anyone. I just refill them.

Teens will be teens. Teens have always been teens. Being safe, knowing about options, and 100% knowing how to ask for enthusiastic, informed consent has always been my focus. And some of us who started early turn out just fine and sometimes we take breaks on our own. :)
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:35 PM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

In similar circumstances, I have quietly stocked the bathroom cabinet with condoms. I also left teen friendly books on safe sex and wrote out the websites like scarleteen for them. With one, I sat the other partner down and went matter of factly through what contraceptive options are available, and how to get them. I have accompanied and paid for contraception and abortions.

I think underage sex is very risky and it conflicts with my personal religious beliefs. But not providing sensible preventive care to people still needing guidance is an even bigger conflict of my personal beliefs. You are not their priest or judge. You are a parent. Parent them.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:47 PM on December 2, 2022 [11 favorites]

ask him to check that his girlfriend would get an abortion

I dare to hope that "that" means "if." as in: he should ask what she might want to do, ask if she thinks she will be practically able to do it, and ask what she thinks is likely to happen when she tries to do it. without presupposing he knows the answer. since we do not support coercive control of the bodies of women, or even girls, who do not belong to us. ha ha, I mean the of bodies of girls who are not our own children. ha.

in any case, even if I am mistaken about what "we" support, talking a minor into making reproductive choices that suit our boys' best interests is too important a job to do by proxy. if one is going to put the heavy pressure on some poor kid, one ought to do the unforgivable thing oneself, rather than stage-direct one's own poor kid to do it.

OP: a better thing to do is to impress upon your son that if she gets pregnant and does not want to get, cannot make her mind up to get until too late, is scared to get, or is forcibly prevented from getting an abortion by her parents, he will be, as we say, fucked. though still more fortunate than her, no matter what choices she has and makes at 15.

but since young teens are not good at being scared of the biggest risks, contraceptives + sober, detailed instructions will be of more immediate practical use. giving birth could ruin her life, but getting pregnant would get them both in trouble. the former is too big to take seriously, is the problem. the latter is much more immediate. he just has to know that forgetting condoms is much worse than having sex. and for him to know that, you have to know it first.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:05 PM on December 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

People have said lots here that is here that very helpful, so I'm just going to share some life information from me:

I come from a family that leans very Christian conservative, was heavily abstinence only values. We were not provided or offered guidance or birth control unless we figured it out on our own. Between me and my nearest aged cousins I am the only person who did not get pregnant before 21.
I was in public school, my cousins were in a smaller regliously affiliated private school. 3 of the 4 had children before 18. I likely only succeeded in this because I was frankly terrified of sex (though I was infrequently sexually active) and my partners had access to birth control because they were outside of my parents social circles and had access to contraception.

This is a short way to say that if your child social circle reflects sets of parents/guardians of other minors that reflect your values of abstinence, it's even more imperative that you are giving plentiful access because he may be more likely to be with people who do not have access to contraceptives.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:22 PM on December 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

I’m stunned at the number of people advising you to contact the girl’s parents. This is a very bad idea, as stated above, this could put her in actual physical danger or irreparably harm her relationship with her parents. Please keep your discussions between you and your son. Please make sure you make the gf feel welcome in your home, and make an effort to get to know her.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:51 PM on December 2, 2022 [8 favorites]

I don’t know what laws your son and his girlfriend might be breaking now by having sex, but as soon as one of them turns 16, that person risks prosecution
Currently, the age of consent for penetrative sex, oral sex and mutual masturbation in the United Kingdom is 16 years. If any individual has sex with someone under this age, then they may be charged with a criminal offence and may receive a 14-year prison sentence or if they are under 18 a 5-year prison sentence.[9]
I think you do need some information about this girl and some advice from a local lawyer.
posted by jamjam at 8:33 PM on December 2, 2022

Get a huge amount of condoms. Not a single box of 12 that's countable, but get, like, 60 condoms and throw them into an opaque cookie jar type container in his room, so he doesn't feel you're counting them. When I was in college a couple I knew once had sex 15 times in 24 hours. A pair of teens going through multiple condoms in a day might absolutely be possible. Condoms run out but the teens keep going. Have way more than you think is reasonable.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:41 PM on December 2, 2022 [11 favorites]

When you have a discussion about consent, it’s important that he knows he has the option not to consent too. A few commenters above mentioned that some teenagers have sex a few times and then don’t again for a while; or perhaps they do with one partner but not with the next.

Letting your son know you will support him if he chooses to have sex, but you will also support him if he chooses not to as well, and that both choices are well within the range of normal, seems pretty important.
posted by nat at 11:49 PM on December 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

OK wow. People go through puberty starting sometimes as early as like...what, 9 years old?
Which means they are going to begin being interested in sex not too long after. I got sex education, including information about not just pregnancy, but STI's, consent and sexual pleasure in grade 7, at the age of 12. Therefore, I was aware of the need to protect myself right at the outset of my introduction into teenagerhood. Not that I needed it right away because I didn't date for another 8 years, but that's beside the point.
If you don't give them good information, they will find bad information themselves. Do you think they would have had a pregnancy scare had you openly and honestly talked to them about contraception and destigmatized it for them? You're not protecting them from anything by withholding information or looking away from the problem.
posted by winterportage at 9:54 AM on December 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

I’m an NP and midwife and have worked in sexual health. It’s great that you’ve come here for advice. Your son has already started having sex and will likely continue to do so. The genie is indeed out of the bottle so the best thing to do is make sure that he will have sex in ways that are safe, consensual, and respectful of himself and others.

It’s important that he have a safe place to access information and sexual health care. If you don’t feel able to provide that for him (which is totally fine as we all have our own comfort levels), he can get care at a sexual health clinic. They are all free under the NHS, I believe.

As a mother myself, I can understand how jarring it must be to have a child become sexually active. But, I’ve also worked with—honestly—tens of thousands of teens at this point. And they will have sex, no matter which parent/adult/etc is against the idea! So I’d say it’s better to have open access and education and safe places for sex and privacy than to push it away. The kids who come to clinic are doing responsible things by getting symptoms investigated and seeking information and care.

If you’re able to mull it over a bit and let him know either directly or indirectly that you can be a safe place for him, it would make a world of difference, I think.
posted by stillmoving at 10:35 AM on December 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

Reiterating that Brook are the organisation to direct him to for advice for teenagers about sex. This includes information and support on contraception, abortion and other safe sex advice.

I feel like aside from making sure that he has condoms and either knows how to use them properly, or knows how to find out, the most important thing to stress is in relation to consent. Understanding and navigating consent, including recognising that if he doesn't want to do something then he shouldn't and that's ok. Sexting and explicit photos can be a big problem at his age, because the law is particularly strict on those under 18. Try and make sure he understands the consequences.

14 nearly 15 is young, but not horrifically so. I bet it feels like only minutes ago it was his first day at school. If you can retain a good relationship with him now, and help him ensure he keeps himself safe, then in the several years time you'll be able to laugh about this (it's possible he may face the same problem himself one day).
posted by plonkee at 10:59 AM on December 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

Your unease about his being sexually active is NOWHERE NEAR AS STRONG as millions of years of biological conditioning. His hormones are stronger than your disappointment - now that he's started, he's going to keep having sex. That ship has sailed, friend.

So "stopping him from having sex" isn't an option any more. Your choice is now "am I going to make it easy for him to keep himself safe from STDs, or not".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on December 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think you should handle this by largely by leaving your teen alone. (And no, I don't think he's too young.) Providing him with contraceptives and good information is a great idea. I'm not sure you can have a good conversation with him right now with how you feel, though. Your wife already had an acrimonious discussion and you don't want to make things worse. If you want to keep and build on that good relationship you have right now, having your house be a safe space to have a relationship is a great way to get there.

I had one parent who gave me a safe space and made it clear that my happiness in relationships was important. I was allowed to have people sleep over. It made it much easier to figure out what my boundaries were and what I wanted and to develop a lot of closeness besides just sex.

I had another parent who lost it at the thought of sex and dating. He didn't meet any of the girls or boys I dated after that in high school or college. He only got to meet my fiance a little before we got married. You may think you just mean sex at 14, but it may not feel that way to your kid. What you say now sticks. If you want him to bring home girlfriends in his twenties, keep encouraging him to bring them home now. If you don't, discourage them now too.

For the record, one person I dated had parents with an open door policy. I had no less sex at that house then at mine. It was a lot more rushed, less relaxed, less time to talk afterwards and snuggle. But sex, yeah we could definitely manage that and get dressed when we heard someone on the stairs and make sure the door was open again by the time someone was at the top. I don't think that policy is preventing what all of you people recommending it think it is.
posted by blueberry monster at 7:59 AM on December 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

I do not feel it is appropriate to encourage safe sex practices (e.g. by providing contraceptives) as I don't believe they should be having sex. Is this naive to push the genie back in the bottle?

Well, they're having sex. They're not going to stop. Your choices are to come down on him so hard that he gets even sneakier about it, or to deepen your relationship so that he trusts you enough to tell you if something is wrong. And +1 to providing him condoms.

I had multiple teen pregnancies. All hidden from my parents at the time. I feared them and their reactions. They didn't make it safe for me to talk to them about perfectly natural feelings and desires. So I didn't tell them when I started having sex, and I didn't tell them when I got pregnant. You know what happens when you're underage and you have a poor enough relationship with your parents that you're trying to hide a pregnancy? Nothing good, I assure you. I had an abortion under general anesthesia in a hospital under a fake name. It would have been better for me had I trusted my parents enough to tell them.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:37 AM on December 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

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