I am sure my son is looking for sex with gay men. He is only 17. He is meeting strangers, who are much older than him. I read his emails sometimes when he is not around. I definitely disapprove of this activity at such a young age. I want to talk to him about it, but how should I bring up sex? -S.
Conversations About Sex
Dear reader: I also began exploring my sexuality around your son's age. I was certain that I understood my physical attractions for men, but I had no clue how to deal with the emotional bonds or the complexities of being with a sexual partner. These particular conversations did not happen in my home. Growing up with my dad, our conversations about sex centered on his desires for me to be safe with heterosexual partners. I wasn't ready to come out, so as far as gay sex was concerned, I was left to my own devices and explored without guidance.
Even though I understood the basics of safety, such as condom use; I knew little about much else. I searched for information where I could find it. My home, however, was not an option because, to me, the silence surrounding gay sex meant it was somehow forbidden or inappropriate. I was confused enough and didn't need to be reprimanded for exploring my curiosities.
This is where you come in as a parent. Few teens want to talk about sex with the adults in their lives. This does not mean, however, they are not looking for guidance. In order to open dialogue, there must be trust. To build trust, first your son has to know that you are open about sex enough that you are willing to the create a safe space for conversation. Once this trust is established, you'll have the opportunity to talk about the appropriateness of sex as he begins to explore.
Nonetheless, speaking of trust: I understand the temptation to read his emails. Obviously his safety is of great concern. But, doing so disrupts his privacy and breaks any trust that has already been built. Resist the temptation and instead let share your personal experiences that may connect with how you think he may be feeling.
On Building Trust...
That said, I would log off of his account and forget his password. Instead, build trust by showing your concern face-to-face. I wouldn't bring up his sexual relationships with older men right away. As a parent, you know better than I that the quickest way to get a teen to shut down is through accusation. Opt for conversation instead. I'd start with the basics of sex, what it really means, how it can empower and disrupt, and how he explore responsibly.
Open conversations by being affirmative. My most fruitful conversations with my mom happened when she took a role as my mentor as opposed to an authority figure. Be direct, but humanize the situation by letting him see you as a person who also once explored their sexuality. Tell him what worked and what didn't and how some actions led to others. Help him make the best possible decisions and leave a door open for him to come to you for support if things don't go as expected.
Also, understand that he may not come around right away. I've learned after many years mentoring LGBT kids that just because they're not talking doesn't mean they're not listening. It's quite the opposite in most instances. So, be proactive and create a safe space for him to get the support he needs at home.
GAY LIFE HACKS (tools and tips to help you get involved):
- Many parents of gay kids find guidance, support and advice in the Gay Life forum and with organizations like PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). PFLAG has local chapters that provide support services for parents with LGBT kids. I also recommend the personal accounts of Deborah Hawkins at Is Your Child Gay? for additional tips from the perspective of a mother with a gay son.