(This is part 2 in my series, “What I Want My Teenage Daughters to Know about Sex.” Click here to read it from the beginning.)
There’s a story that continues to permeate even modern society. If you have sex, you might get pregnant, and that would be a disaster. After you get married—or in some versions of the story, after you’re an “adult”—then it’s okay to have sex.
(This is just one of the stories we tell about sex, and I’ll be going into other sex myths in another blog post.)
There’s obviously a kernel of truth in the story. But this story oversimplifies the truth so badly that you almost can’t even see it buried within the mythology. And so when you do get married, or become an “adult,” you’ll probably have no idea how to think about sex and to protect yourself from sexual risks.
Firstly, getting married is not about getting pregnant. After your mother and I married, we waited several years before we got pregnant. And if we had gotten pregnant earlier, it would have completely changed the course of our lives, even though we were married. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but at least I knew how to read the condom instructions.
In today’s world, marriage has only a passing connection to pregnancy, and pregnancy has only a passing connection to sex. A woman might be married to one man, be sleeping with a second, and get pregnant by a third (a sperm donor) with whom she has never had sex. I’m not advocating that sort of arrangement: it can get really complicated really fast, and it’s usually not necessary, and could even be unethical. But it does show how the risks of sex are not all about teen pregnancy.
You don’t have to rely quite as much as we did on pure luck. You have a wide array of contraceptives available to you, and you should know about all of them. Some will protect only against pregnancy, and others will also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).
Sex is risky. So know the risks.
The biggest risk is that of STI’s. Many STI’s have no obvious symptoms, and you need to be tested by a doctor or at a clinic. And if you don’t detect them fast enough, some can silently become incurable and cause permanent damage, make you infertile, or even kill you. Meanwhile, if you’re having sex with multiple partners, you could be spreading these diseases to people you love.
Before you have sex with a new partner, be sure to ask all the important questions, and share answers between the two of you— There’s that dang blasted “communication” thing again. If you two can’t share answers to questions about sex, then you aren’t ready to have sex with each other. This counts, whether you’re getting together with a new boyfriend, marrying your first and only husband, or bed-hopping with lesbians. It’s a general rule you can apply anywhere, with any partner, in any situation.
(There’s a handy-dandy sexual-history form you can use.)
When were you last tested for STI’s?
Have you ever tested positive for HIV, Hepatitis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, any kind of HPV or HSV, or Trichomoniasis. (And share with him the results of your latest PAP Smear.)
How many partners have you had sex with? When? How many currently? What kind of sex, and with what kind of contraception?
Would he be willing to use a condom? And would you be willing to have sex with him if he won’t? (And if either of you are allergic to latex, you can use a latex-free condom.) The condom is a marvel of modern invention. Cheap, reliable, readily available. It protects against both pregnancy and STI’s. You can pick up a box for very little money at any drug store. And you need neither a prescription nor an ID. Use them.
Are you planning to have children? What time frame?
What happens if the condom fails? Will you use emergency contraception?
What will you do in case of unwanted pregnancy? (This is something your mother and I never discussed. We really lucked out. There are many couples who are nowhere near as lucky.)
What will you do if one of you tests positive for STI’s? Or if someone one of you has had sex with tests positive for STI’s? How will you tell everyone who needs to know?
Before you have sex, decide whether you’re comfortable taking on the risk with the new person, or whether you need him to get a new STI test first. For yourself, do you need regular STI testing? (Especially if you’re sleeping with multiple partners.) Do you have the means necessary to get those tests and to get treatment if you test positive? And remember that some STI’s won’t show up on a test for several months after someone is infected.
And agree on your expectations, what will happen after you’re having sex: Will you have sex exclusively only with each other? What will he do to protect you from indirect infection from new partners? And what will you do to protect him? What is your exposure to future risk? Being exclusive is obviously a powerful way to limit how widely STI’s spread. But that’s no reason not to discuss it and say so.
I believe that you want what’s best for you, and that whatever else happens, you’ll do what you think is right, however you reckon it. That’s why I want to impress on you how important it is to do get good information, know what questions to ask (and ask them), do the hard research, and plan out what actions you will take ahead of time, and under what conditions.
And more about these conditions next week…