This afternoon a mother asked me this question:
“When do I teach my 13-year-old son about birth control?”
Regrettably, the answer is much more complicated than the question. Because really, it depends. And on pressing her, it was clear that the boy knows how babies are made, and probably knows that there are ways preventing pregnancy. He also knows that you can catch diseases from sexual intercourse, and so probably knows that there are ways of preventing that too.
So this mother’s question wasn’t so much about when to tell her son about birth control, it was about when she should start providing higher levels of knowledge – like how to use a condom and where to get them.
And when a teenager needs to know these things is just a very individual situation. But here’s what I said she should tell her son sometime before he starts high school in the fall:
“There are lots of ways of experiencing your love for someone sexually besides sexual intercourse. These other ways do not include a risk of pregnancy and they generally have reduced risk of STD transmission. Right now, you should probably stick to those. At some point you’ll decide you are ready to experience intercourse with your partner. At that point I expect you to come and ask me for condoms, which I will happily provide for you. If you prefer, you are welcome to leave me a note asking for them rather than asking me in person.”