I respect the fact that different people have different opinions about sex, ranging from "whoever, whenever, wherever" all the way to "put a ring on her before you sleep with her". I also respect parents wishing to share their values with their children. However, I don't think that forbidding something from happening in your home is the best way to ensure that your teen adopts your values. I think a loving, mutually respectful, open and connected relationship is the best way to do that.
Here are a few things that I know about teens and sex, from first or second hand experience:
- Teens who decide that they are ready to have sex are going to have sex, whether you allow it in your home or not (they'll find somewhere else to do it and that may not be a safe place or with a safe person)
- Teens who are not ready to have sex, will not have sex, just because you allow it in your home
- Teens who give into pressure to have sex when they are not ready are going to do that whether you allow it in your home or not
- If teens of the opposite sex have a sleepover, that doesn't necessarily mean they are having sex
- If teens of the same sex have a sleepover, that doesn't necessarily mean they are not having sex
I reject the idea that "teens are going to have sex anyway, so you might as well allow it in your home", because I don't think that is entirely true. Some teens do opt not to have sex. That said, I also reject the idea that allowing your teen to have opposite sex sleepovers is encouraging them to enter into sexual relationships before they are ready.
These aren't just my crazy ideas. In the book Not Under My Roof, Amy Shalet looks at parents, teens and the culture of sex in the United States and the Netherlands.
For American parents, teenage sex is something to be feared and forbidden: most would never consider allowing their children to have sex at home, and sex is a frequent source of family conflict. In the Netherlands, where teenage pregnancies are far less frequent than in the United States, parents aim above all for family cohesiveness, often permitting young couples to sleep together and providing them with contraceptives.
I haven't read the book yet, but it certainly fits with both my experience and my worldview on parenting and sex.
If you don't want your children to have sex before they are ready and don't want them to practice unsafe sex, I think the best way to do that is:
- Instill self-confidence and a sense of self-worth in your children
- Teach them to respect themselves and to respect others (that means teaching them to say 'no' when they want to say 'no' and teaching them to hear and respect 'no')
- Teach them about safe sex and be open to answering their questions
- Share your opinions about sex with them, but be sure to tell them that they are free to form their own opinions and make their own decisions
- Tell them that they can come to you with any questions that they have, but also make sure there are other people they can go to with questions if they are not comfortable talking to you (doctor, older sister/brother, aunt/uncle, school guidance counselor, anonymous teen help phone, etc.)
- Ensure they have an easy way to get condoms and other forms of birth control if they decide that they need it
Then, after you have done that, trust your child. There really isn't a huge difference between 16 years old and under the shackles of the parental roof versus 18 years old and in a college dorm. If you haven't given them the skills to make good decisions by the time they are 16, then you probably have bigger things to worry about than just this issue.
I hope that if I teach my kids well, that they will make good decisions. But if they don't and if one of them does end up with a revolving door of lovers coming in and out of our house, at least I may know about it and have an opportunity to talk to them about it. The parents who make sex sound dirty and forbid sex at home -- they may (unknowingly) have the same problem, without the opportunity for dialogue.
Photo credit: michi003 on flickr