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[OPINION] How about abstinence?

I see so many queries from parents about how to manage teenagers and contraception. I don’t see many conversations about how to talk to teens about sexual intimacy, their self-image, their ability to have a romantic relationship without sex. Surely this is a conversation worth having.

Recently on a Facebook page someone asked who should pay for contraception, the parents or the daughter? This is seemingly a pretty average and ordinary question. The replies were vast and diverse. Some said, “definitely the parents should pay”. I pay for our family to go to the gym, that doesn’t mean my four children go. Other parents said the daughter should pay from her allowance. Exactly how much of an allowance are teenagers getting? Surely this is the cost of a lot of data every month? Another group of replies were suggesting the daughter and parents split the costs of the contraception.

My take on this is that we should be talking to our children about the value of a relationship where you are appreciated, acknowledged, nurtured, loved and independent. Your value and contribution to the relationship must not be dependent on whether or not you are or are willing to be sexually active.

I find the levels of promiscuity among our youth outrageous and defiant. Sex is like machinery, anyone can do it. Sex with love is a completely different realm.

I think if adults want to have sex purely for pleasure, go ahead! Teenagers, I don’t think so. We have an enormous teen pregnancy pandemic. There are reality shows about teen moms and dads, and as in adulthood it is common that the relationship disintegrates and the parents of the teen mother often have to step in and take care of the new baby. The young father is then more or less absolved of all responsibility as he teeters on with his young life and often new and more fun relationships. I do not believe these reality shows mean anything to young people who are not already in that situation of teen parenthood and it is all with hindsight that they agree.

My mother fell pregnant with me and got married when she was 19. At the end of her life she said she would do it all again. During her life all she encouraged her four daughters to do was get educated, be financially independent, then married and then have babies. In that specific order, we heeded her advice and now with 4 children of my own, I see the significant differences between her life and mine.

My advice to our three sons and our daughter is exactly the same. I don’t talk to them about contraception. I don’t talk to them about their private lives, if they want me to know, they tell me. We are not buddies, we are their parents. Their safe and go-to place when they need protection, love, sounding boards and mostly money and shelter!

I don’t want to know if my adult children are sexually active, that is their private business. I do want them to know that they are responsible for any consequences.

A lot of people respond to this view by saying, “But it happens. Teenagers are sexually active.” Yes, they are. I’m suggesting we give them access to more relevant and appropriate information about love and sex.

Many teenagers are too emotionally weak, immature or uninformed to make wise decisions about sexual activity. My answer to the question about who must pay for birth control is “the man and woman having sex”. It is that simple. How can you have sex with someone with whom you can’t have a conversation about contraception and you may have to call him up and tell him that you are pregnant?

There are no unplanned babies, only unplanned pregnancies. I have seen many young women, sometimes teenagers, surrounded by broody friends in the circumstance of an unplanned pregnancy. Once the novelty of the new baby wears off and the reality of that baby’s dependence on its mom and dad sets in like bubblegum in hair, real friends are hard to find. Young people are not all ready for the responsibility of sexual intimacy, let alone parenting.

It is up to us as adults, parents and peers to change the narrative from safely sexually active to abstinence until mature enough to make an informed choice.

It is time to get back to basics. Abortion is a choice, but is not contraception. How many young women have the emotional resilience to terminate a pregnancy? They need the emotional intelligence to make wise, informed choices that suit them, not a fly-by-night sexual partner who may have no other interest in her than a one-night stand. All young women should be encouraged to save sex for a special relationship; I am suggesting for much more than a minute that there must be a commitment to the relationship. Condoms are freely available, you don’t have to be!

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn

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