Today, while passing by lemon trees and giant aloe plants on my way home from Berkeley Bowl, a patch of white wildflowers growing on a street corner innocently brought me back to 2003, when I was 16 and thought I was pregnant.
My then boyfriend and I decided to start having sex after months of blow jobs and dry humping. Both of us agreed to use a condom consistently and correctly and to have an abortion if it ever came to that. One night, he took a condom out from his wallet, and despite my hesitations, I consented. The next day, during our nightly phone conversations, I nervously pointed out that the condom had been in his wallet, and couldn't there have been tiny tears that would have let sperm pass through. He said something half-assed about checking the condom for leaks. After that, he stopped carrying condoms in his wallet or pocket and we continued to have sex, even though I began to internally panic about being pregnant.
During the two months following that night, I took 6 pregnancy tests, all of which came back negative. However, my period had never skipped two months in a row before. This fact overrode everything I had ever learned, about how condoms were extremely effective when used correctly, that sperm could only live in my body for about a week. I was so anxious that not only did I research Planned Parenthood, but also remedies such as Queen Anne's Lace, which can induce abortion. Queen Anne's Lace is a weed that flowers with a cluster of small white blossoms. Whenever I walked anywhere, I always looked for white flowers.
My parents were pretty obviously absent from this experience. In the end, of course I got my period, but the white flowers always stuck with me because of how messed up it was that I seriously thought about self-inducing an abortion rather than talk to them. Looking back, five years later, I realized my anxiety was not over whether or not I was pregnant—week after week of negative results should have convinced me. Instead, I was terrified of my parents' reaction to me having sex. My parents are middle class Chinese professionals who immigrated here in the 1980s, and retained conservative cultural views towards sex. (However, I am not implying that my experience speaks for everyone with this background.) We rarely talked about any aspect of sexuality. If it ever came up, my mother would vocally send a message along the lines of, “Don't. Or else.” For example, when I told her I had a boyfriend, the first thing she said was that I was not allowed to kiss him or hold his hand, much less anything about sex.
Here, I recognize my lack of judgment and also my immense privileges concerning this situation. I had the money to buy pregnancy tests, my parents would have been able to afford a safe abortion and I would have been physically safe. Regardless of what would or would not have happened, my fears and anxieties were real. However one may feel about this topic, the fact is that some teenagers do have sex; the silence and stigmatization of this issue in our communities does not mean that APA teens magically never have sex until the “appropriate” time. It is extremely hard for many of our parents and families change their beliefs about sex and sexuality overnight. However, it is also crucial to ensure that these beliefs do not bar young women who need health services from receiving them. Starting from a perspective of promoting young women's health and welfare, we need to work together to create culturally appropriate and empowering ways to address sexuality.