Care and Feeding

I Caught My Teen Son Having Sex. Uh, I Think I May Have Overreacted.

I didn’t know how to answer.

Middle-aged man looking out at something from behind a door.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Koldunova_Anna/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Ljupco/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Care and Feeding, 

I caught my 17-year-old son having sex in his room with his 17-year-old girlfriend with the door cracked open and music loud. His younger sister (11) and brother (13) were just down the hall and could have walked in on them. But the situation really deteriorated from there.

I told my son he cannot have sex in my house and we attempted to discuss protection (which he was using), STDs, pregnancy, and abortion but he was so upset at having to discuss it with me that he walked off. I didn’t have a chance to let him and his girlfriend know I would be talking to her parents about the incident. I texted my son after I spoke to the girl’s parents.

My son went ballistic that I told his girlfriend’s parents what happened. My son said it’s none of their business and that everyone is having sex. I have two questions: 1) Should I have told her parents? If she were my daughter or son, I would want to know if my children were having sex so I could have additional conversations with them. 2) My son asked if he can’t have sex at the house and doesn’t have a driver’s license, where should he have sex and I didn’t know how to answer. 

—Failing Father

Dear Failing,

Please don’t think of yourself as “failing” just because your son did something incredibly normal for a kid his age. Do realize that you need to circle back regarding the STD and pregnancy conversation; it is incredibly important that boys, too, understand exactly what is at stake when it comes to sex, as well as the challenges that may exist when it comes to obtaining birth control and abortions. You should emphasize the importance of him doing his part by wearing a condom, as opposed to relying on a partner to take responsibility for that (and remind him that only condoms provide protection from sexually-transmitted diseases). It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it makes him, he needs to sit down and listen.

It isn’t for me to determine if you were right or wrong for contacting your son’s girlfriend’s parents; there is a good case to be made for telling them (as you mentioned, many parents would want to be able to talk to their kids about safety) and one for keeping it to yourself (there are parents, particularly of girls, who can be very heavy-handed in their judgment regarding sex and there are kids who could be made vulnerable to mistreatment if found out). You did what you thought was best and you must just stand by that. Let your son know that you only wanted to give his girlfriend’s parents the opportunity to talk to her that you would want if the tables were turned.

As far as your son’s question, he’s probably not going to like my answer. Parents have no obligation to facilitate teen sex and if you don’t want him doing it at your house, then he’s just stuck and out of luck. He doesn’t have an apartment of his own, he doesn’t have a car… Sounds like he’s going to have to get creative, which is his business insofar as he doesn’t get caught, or he’s going to have to wait.

That sucks for him but that’s part of being a kid who lives at home. When he is older, he will have time and space for his sex life. At this point, he has to either get much better at sneaking around (which is for him to figure out, not for you to explain) or he’ll have to wait until he’s moved out. As he figures out what he plans to do after high school, he will likely take his interest in sex into consideration and make plans that will allow him to entertain as he sees fit. He’s not there yet, he’s living under your house and under your rules. Explain this as lovingly as you can; he may not want to hear it, but that’s simply what it is for now.

—Jamliah

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