By Lonna Gordon, MD, PharmD
**Note: Of course, some men have uteruses and not all people with penises are men. While this article mostly addresses gender norms and their effects on boys’ sexual health, many of these conversations are useful for teens of all genders and sexual orientations. Parents should tailor these conversations to their child’s unique identity. If you have a trans teen, know that puberty may be an especially difficult time for them, and learn how you can support them.
Even though it takes two to tango, many people still see boys as “innocent bystanders” when it comes to unplanned pregnancy. Of course, that’s far from the truth. Reproductive health and family planning aren’t just girls’ responsibility. Conversations about pregnancy prevention need to involve both partners.
Parents often assume that the only way that boys can participate in family planning is through using barrier methods. This means that the conversation about birth control often begins and ends with condoms—if it happens at all. While talking about condoms with your teen is incredibly important, teen boys also need to understand how reproduction works and what other methods of birth control are available. This is important because it enables them to take control of their own sexual health and become a valuable partner in pregnancy prevention.
- If your teen is familiar with the different birth control methods and how they work, they’ll know to check in with their partner about whether they take their birth control pill at the same time every day.
- If they know what emergency contraception is and how to get it, they can take steps to prevent pregnancy even if the condom breaks.
- If they understand that withdrawal isn’t an effective birth control method, they know to not rely on it.
Plus, family planning is about so much more than pregnancy prevention. It’s about overall reproductive health and how to take care of your body. This means understanding the importance of routine STI testing, using condoms to prevent STIs, and having honest conversations about STI testing and history. It also means that these conversations are just as important to have with boys who only have sex with other boys.
How parents frame these conversations will influence how teens treat their partners. It’s important to emphasize that having an STI does NOT make someone “dirty” or “slutty,” and that it is never ok to shame someone for having an STI or becoming pregnant. Teens also need to understand that what birth control methods to use is ultimately the decision of the person using that method. It’s not ok to guilt trip someone into changing their method just because you can feel the IUD strings, or are bothered by irregular spotting.
In addition, talking about men’s role in family planning can combat aspects of toxic masculinity, like objectifying women, engaging in risky behavior, and feeling like they need to be emotionally distant from their sexual partners.
Ultimately, talking about sexual health with teens will help them have safe, healthy, consensual and enjoyable sexual experiences. Let’s keep the conversation going.
Lonna Gordon, MD, PharmD is a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center who is fellowship trained in adolescent medicine. In addition to general adolescent care, Dr. Gordon sees obese adolescents who are interested in comprehensive medical and reproductive health care through a structured, multidisciplinary approach to weight loss.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.