August 27, 2023
by Dr. Plastic Picker
This has been a topic I’ve been thinking of for the last year. It’s natural for me since we got our son off to college at UC Berkeley successfully and we are still navigating with our 15-year-old daughter the joys and pangs of being a teenage girl in our modern society. I’m also a pediatrician for now almost 20 years, and I’ve given “the talk” to more teens than I can imagine that come in and out of my clinic exam rooms. But when your own children are around the same age and going through the same, it hits differently. And honestly I counsel my children and my patients completely differently than when I was a younger pediatrician with just infants in my own house. Sex, consent, intimate partner violence, gender issues – all of it isn’t as pressing when you are changing diapers at your own home. But when you have two awesome teenagers yourself and a pretty 15-year-old girl at home – sex very much is in the back of our minds as parents.
For the first time ever, I had a teenager just having entered high school ask me after hemming and hawing for a bit “When do you think I should have sex? Beginning of high school? End of high school?” I was very proud of this said teenager for having asked me this question. We connected because this teenager had begun watching Kdramas and we just chatted about popular titles. Kdramas are so popular now beyond the Asian-American community, and I think a good thing mostly for representation of a more diverse cast of heroes and heroines. So with that connection, this teenager was brave to ask me this question and I am not the primary pediatrician. This was a chance visit with a doctor that said teenager will never see again.
I usually ask the teens what they know from school and reading themselves. I ask them if they know about birth control and different forms, so I don’t have to repeat myself. I ask them if they know how common chlamydia. I go over the numbers and how it’s easier to test now, just urine and blood for all the STDs. We used to do cervical swabs and urethral swabs, and I assure them it’s so much easier now whenever they need us to test them. I talk about planned parenthood, and confidentiality and that I’m here to not judge and be a resource for them. I give them all the information and I’m so comfortable doing it. I use funny stories from my own life, to make it more relatable to them. I’m honest with my own patients about my own life and decisions, to hope to be an example to keep them safe in loving relationships. I tell them I met my boyfriend when I was a freshman in college, and we were friends and dated after a year of being friends. So between 19 and 24 (when we were married during medical school), we had lived in the same dorm buildings and at some point “things happened.” I told them I got on birth control for acne initially and to regulate my period because I was so stressed as a Harvard freshman that I didn’t have my period, but at some point the birth control was there for birth control because I wanted to have children at the time I decided. I emphasize that as young teens for the girls that they are very fertile, and I joke around that “a boy will walk by you and you’ll become pregnant!” which is not true. But that I do have several cases where I’m not sure if there was actual vaginal penetration and I think I may have had 2 cases in my career, where the young boy ejaculated somewhere very close to the girl and the young teen girl got pregnant. In both cases, the two young teens actually did love each other and the families decided to keep the babies. Those children are healthy, but I tell them – gosh that was really hard for those kids and one was an AP Chemistry student too. So be careful, it can happen to you!
But what I told this patient and what I’ve told my own children and all the children that are thinking about sex or may have sex or are hanging out in the teenage social media mileau that have oversexualized everything is this:
You deserve to be loved. Whether that be after you are married or before, you 100% deserve to be loved. That you want to be close with someone you care for sexually is very natural. And whenever you make that decision, I am here for you as a pediatrician not to judge but to make sure you are safe. But sex is not just sex, it’s such a beautiful thing that should be shared with someone who cares for you. It’s like anything you do for the first time, if you kind of do it “right” initially – like brushing your teeth or flossing – you do it better forever after and there won’t be as many issues later on. It’s such a private thing, that try to have some privacy and comfort. My own children I hope they will wait, but I told my son who is in college, use a credit card and get a hotel room or call your uncle for advice if you are embarrassed to talk to us. And that’s it. You deserve to be loved in every way, and isn’t love such a beautiful thing?
For my own daughter, I’ve told her the same. Her own pediatrician actually gave her a very different talk in the privacy of a confidential visit. But my daughter is very open with me, and told me afterwards the broad strokes of that talk. I so appreciate the different pediatric perspective but that talk was very different.
But for my own daughter and the patients I’ve had since they were young, I add a wistful little ending. The beauty is in the waiting. The perfect boy, he becomes your husband (Mr. Plastic Picker) and a wonderful partner. But enjoy today however old you are. 14, 15, 16, 17, and maybe even 18. 19. The beauty is in the anticipation, the waiting, the yearning.
And again for my own daughter, I told her honestly you are so busy right now. You have to continue develop your sense of self – emotionally, professionally and physically. And having a boy (or girl or whatever gender of the person that you love) there with his opinions , no matter how wonderful he is, complicates things. It’s about you now. And girl, you got so much awesome stuff going on!
But the summer she goes off to college and I’m not there to keep an eagle eye on things? 100% she’s getting a nexplanon placed (long term implantable birth control). I’m a romantic, but I’m not stupid. LOL. And that’s my story and I’m sticking with it! Have a wonderful rest of your weekend from your local litter picking pediatrician. I’m going to the beach to pick up trash this morning, and I’ll be with my teenager this afternoon getting curtain bangs so she can look cute for herself. She’s super excited about the curtain bangs!