Maybe my mother could see the hormones coursing through my thirteen-year-old veins or maybe she took my first period as the official start of me losing my teenage mind and all self-control. But as we sat on the front porch that one summer day all those years ago discussing something completely unrelated like what we’d be having for Sunday dinner, she blurted out, “You know you’re too young to be having sex right?” and then moved onto whether we wanted the chicken baked or fried. That low key warning that my mother attempted to shape as a question was the first and last time we ever had a “discussion” about sex and the first time I recognized that the “sex talk” was probably more awkward for parents than their children.
Many parents feel the only role they should play in their children's sexuality is to tell them what NOT to do. So I was relieved to hear the bomb that comedian Chelsea Handler dropped in a recent essay for Playboy when she revealed that she had two abortions at the age of 16 after getting pregnant by her boyfriend at the time. In the essay, Handler paints herself as the typical teenager who was rebelling against her parents and making some of their worst fears for her come true:
"I hated my parents and I was having unprotected sex with my boyfriend, who was not someone I should've been having sex with in the first place, never mind unprotected sex.”
"I wasn't really playing with a full deck of cards, and when I got pregnant I just thought, Why not? I can have a baby. Maybe I'll have twins and give them rhyming names! Of course, the idea that I would have a child and raise it by myself at that age, when I couldn’t even find my way home at night, was ridiculous."
Handler recalls that her parents stepped in and offered support at a time that can be overwhelming for most adult women, let alone a high school junior:
“They acted like parents for one of the very first times in my life and took me to Planned Parenthood. I felt parented, ironically, while I was getting an abortion. And when it was over, I was relieved in every possible way.”
The admission featured in Playboy’s "Freedom" issue comes at a time when abortion continues to be a popular political issue. Last week, the Supreme Court threw out a Texas abortion access law that abortion rights supporters argued would have shut down almost all of the clinics in that state. Handler expresses that having laws that allow women to legally have access to safe abortions saved her from bringing a child into an unhealthy relationship:
"Getting unintentionally pregnant more than once is irresponsible, but it's still necessary to make a thoughtful decision. We all make mistakes all the time."
“We have 7.3 billion people on this planet. Anybody who carefully decides not to become a parent — let alone a bad parent, which is what I would have become — should be applauded for making a smart and sustainable decision.”
Chelsea also revealed that twenty years later, she has no regrets about the choice she made:
I happened to f-ck up twice at the age of 16. I'm grateful that I came to my senses and was able to get an abortion legally without risking my health or bankrupting myself or my family. I'm 41 now. I don't ever look back and think, God, I wish I'd had that baby.
In a world where women are instructed and shamed about what they do with their bodies on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that social media immediately was filled with criticism from those that felt like Handler was “bragging” about the situation.
Honestly, I admire Handler’s willingness to be honest about the circumstances surrounding her two abortions as a teen. There’s a stigma that follows abortion where the implied message is, “You really shouldn’t have an abortion in the first place, but if you do you should never speak of it and reflect on it with guilt and regret.” Handler responded to the criticism by simply stating, “When I agreed to write an article on a woman's right to choose, I certainly wasn't bragging. I chose to tell the truth. #shouldbemoreofit”.
[Tweet "Choice is so much more than whether to carry through with a pregnancy or not"]
It’s about being empowered with the knowledge to make the best decisions for yourself. Even after that summer day on the porch, when my parents caught me sneaking boys out my bedroom window on a few occasions, I was always told the same, “Don’t have sex.” When we don’t teach our kids how to advocate for themselves and their sexual health, we do them a disservice.
I want the sex talk to be about more than a momentary flash of fear I get while staring at my daughter one summer day when I notice she’s no longer a little girl for the first time. My job as a parent is not to tell my daughter what NOT to do, but to give her the knowledge to choose what’s best for her body, and what’s best for her life.