Teenage Sexuality: What Should Parents Do?
A close friend shared this story with me. David and his brother went backpacking every summer, and took along David’s teenage daughter, Sally. When she was a junior in High School she wanted to bring along her boyfriend and her Dad agreed. They went on a 5-day backpacking trip, and Sally slept in the tent with David while her boyfriend, Bill, slept in the tent with Dave’s brother.
The next weekend, Sally asks her Dad if she can go backpacking with her boyfriend. David, naturally, says “no way.” Sally turns towards her Dad and quips—“Why not? If you worried that we will have sex, don’t worry, we are already having sex!”
David’s jaw dropped. He was speechless.
I hear many stories like this one. A recent column in the New York Times (Aug 9, 2013) titled “Sex in a Teenager’s Room” by Henry Alford chronicled a variety of stories of parents allowing teens to sleep together in their homes. One parent described her 17 year old teenager daughter has having a committed loving relationship with her 19 year old boyfriend. She allowed the couple, with the permission of his parents, to sleep together in her home. Her mom said “I didn’t want to think, ‘Where are they tonight?’ ” These are the real life scenarios that parents have to ponder today.
The obligatory “birds and bees” conversation that parents have with pre-teens has been replaced by overt sexual situations on television and in the movies. Watch one of your kid’s PG-13 movies and you may be surprised. Youngsters are exposed to explicit sexual behavior throughout the media. It is everywhere.
It’s natural then that teens will speculate—“I wonder what this is all about? Sex must really be great if it is everywhere!” Unsurprisingly, this is going to lead to experimentation and more, regardless of what parents say or do. Add alcohol into this mix, and you can end up with a pregnant teen. Now we are talking about every parent’s nightmare.
Another story. Joe and Mary’s daughter, Sarah, a senior in high school, has a boyfriend who is a freshman at the University of Washington. He has his own apartment. Do Joe and Mary let Sarah “sleep over” at her boyfriend’s or have her drive home to Marysville at midnight? These are the parental conundrums of modern life.
What about contraception? Does making sure that a sexually active teen doesn’t get pregnant condone adolescent sexuality? Do we want to make it difficult for teenagers to obtain contraception? What do we need to tell our sons about their sexual responsibility?
Regardless of your views on sex, we do know that frequently adolescent sexual experiences tend to be both negative (especially for girls) and unfulfilling. They can also lead to emotional distress, confusion, and anxiety. Kids are often unable to cope with the intense emotions that early sexual experiences may kindle. And these early relationships can have a big impact on future relationships.
Parents with religious beliefs that prohibit sexual intercourse before marriage can face challenging questions from their inquisitive teen—“What about oral sex? Is that okay?”
So what can parents do? What should parents do? How do parents talk to their children about sexuality circa 2013? How do parents balance their beliefs with current standards and practices? These are thorny and difficult questions.
What do you think? Lets hear from you!