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A Teen Weighs In on Co-Ed Sleepovers (Guest Post)

A while ago I wrote a post about co-ed sleepovers, asking whether you would let your teen's boyfriend/girlfriend sleep over and sharing my perspective on the issue. A lot of people weighed in on the post and on facebook with a wide variety of thoughts on this issue. But there was something missing -- the perspective of teens themselves. I shared my post with Vanessa Van Petten from Radical Parenting, a parenting advice blog written by teens and she agreed to have one of her writers weigh in on the topic. Please welcome Sabrina to the blog.

Co-Ed Sleepovers: A Teen's Perspective

Ask any teenager what they think about the concept of sleeping over at their boyfriend or girlfriend’s house, and you’ll likely hear some variation of one of these responses: “my parents would never allow that!” or “what’s the big deal?” In my experience, every teenager between the ages of 15-18 sees themselves as mature enough to be allowed to sleep over at the house of their boyfriend or girlfriend, which equates to being responsible enough to make their own, well-reasoned decisions about sex.

To be frank, whether or not someone’s parents permit sleepovers with members of the opposite sex is not going to make a difference in the couple’s decision to have sex. If a teen wants to have sex, they will, parental consent or no. If anything, the expressed sentiments of staunchly anti-sleepover (and, oftentimes, anti- premarital sex) parents will only increase the probability that a teenager will want to have sex with their significant other. There’s no doubt that this is due to the desire most teenagers harbor, however subconsciously, of defying the expectations of their parents. When you couple that desire with the excitement intrinsic to “sneaking around” behind their parents’ backs (sorry, mom and dad, it’s true), teenage couples who must go to great lengths to get any measure of privacy are usually more likely to actually have sex than those whose parents are more permissive and more open to discussing sexual boundaries.

Teenagers with those more open, progressive parents are certainly less likely to practice unsafe sex, as they can easily procure contraceptives without fear of reprisal, which teenagers who are forbade from any sexual activity can’t do. When parents are flexible and open-minded about their children’s sexuality—as difficult as it might be for them—they actually promote their children’s intelligent decision-making. As a teenager myself, I have witnessed this phenomenon firsthand time and time again: teenage couples whose parents are open-minded are much more relaxed and willing to take things slow than those whose parents expressly forbid them from sexual conduct of any kind. Truth be told, it is in those conservative parents’ best interests to at least feign flexibility in their viewpoint towards teen relationships. No matter how stringent or numerous parents’ rules, two teenagers who wish to be together will find a way to accomplish that goal!

High school students are just a few scant years from entering college and leaving home, and the teens whose parents enforced the strictest rules on relationships while they were in high school tend to go wild when they’re free to do whatever they want in college. And, yes, it’s true that teenagers are young and impulsive, and don’t always make the best decisions, especially sexually. That’s why it’s so important for parents to be accessible to their teenagers and willing to discuss matters like relationship boundaries with their kids. I’m by no means saying that I expect all parents to stock condoms in the bathroom or invite their teen’s boy or girlfriend to spend the night. Sleepovers aren’t really necessary for any teen couple, and usually promote more awkwardness than openness, as many teens are uncomfortable with the prospect of sleeping over at their significant other’s house when it isn’t very clear what exactly the parents at the house expect by issuing such an invitation.

I believe allowing members of the opposite sex to sleep over isn’t that big of a deal one way or another—what’s far more important than this one parental policy is a teen’s parents’ attitude towards their child’s relationships and sexuality. If permitting sleepovers with a significant other is a way for parents to show respect for their teen and their teen’s ability to make independent decisions, then that’s great! But if parents who wish to be supportive of their teen simply cannot reconcile themselves to the idea of permitting a boyfriend or girlfriend to sleep over, there are many other actions those parents can take to express their support for their child. After all, allowing opposite-sex sleepovers for teenagers is a pretty progressive idea no matter how you slice it. Essentially, teens will do what they want sexually, but parents can help guide them to make better decisions by sharing their own values and beliefs with their children and— this is important!—sharing why they harbor those views. Parents hoping to deter their kids from having sex will do much better to discuss the reasoning behind that belief than to simply lecture about the innate immaturity and impulsivity of the teenage brain. Trust me; we know just how immature and spontaneous we are! You won’t change any teen’s mind about sex by simply telling them not to have it, but by sharing your own knowledge gained from your own life experience, you might make your teenager think twice about taking that significant next step in their relationship with their partner.

When it comes down to it, parents need to know that their teen’s decision to have or refrain from having sex is not really going to be affected by their parents’ willingness to let their significant other sleep over. Parents on the fence about whether to permit those sleepovers or not need to realize two things: permitting co-ed sleepovers doesn’t make them advocates for teenage sex, and not permitting sleepovers probably won’t keep their teen from having sex if he or she wants to. When parents know the significant other well, and when the relationship is serious, parents might consider permitting sleepovers if only because teens are far more likely to practice safe sex at home than in, say, the backseat of a minivan at a drive-in movie theatre!

Sabrina is a teen writer for Radical Parenting.com, a parenting website written from the kid's perspective with 82 teen interns! She is an 18-year-old senior from Bellevue, WA. She loves to figure skate, eat vast quantities of frozen yogurt, and jump in lakes in the middle of the night! Her favorite subject is English, because she loves to write and read anything she can get her hands on. For more articles by teens please check out RadicalParenting.com.

Image credit: Ashley Harrigan on flickr
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Reader Comments (35)

Do you happen to know of any research that could back up the idea of progressive parents' children being less likely to engage in unsafe sex? I see this trend too, and we are "progressive" with our young ones as well. I just wondered if you had some research to back up the statements in the post. Thanks!

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKarissa

I don't think that it's true that people with 'progressive' parents do have safer sex. Sometimes they do and other times it just means that they end up with a laid back attitude to it. I think the notion that being open with your children means that they will always be open with you does not always work. Teens will always push the boundaries, however wide you set them. I was not allowed to sleep in my boyfriends bed growing up and I was fine with that.

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRona

Sabrina is clearly an intelligent and well-spoken teenager. My husband once said he heard a sexual health educator saying that families with teenagers should keep a bowl full of condoms on a table near the front door, and that he couldn't imagine himself doing that. I can imagine myself doing it, but I still don't know if I would trust teenagers to use them every time. Regardless, I'm willing to be open about it with my kids when they're the relevant age, because there are just too many damaging things that can happen if they're left to figure things out on their own (or even if they aren't, I guess.... agh).

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterallison

Karissa, overall in countries where parents are more progressive, there is a lower teen pregnancy rate: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/nov/20/teen-pregnancy-low-in-sleepover-country-of-the-net/?page=all

My concern is one of boundaries: I wouldn't want any child, my own or their siginificant other, to be pressured into sex by circumstances. Sleepovers are one thing if both kids have previously discussed having a sexual relationship and the possible consequences of it, and the feelings of both parties involved. I think it's another thing if parents allow circumstances that invite sex to "happen" without this discussion, whether that be sleepovers or camping trips or quiet afternoons.

Entering a sexual relationship should be a decision, not an afterthought.

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichele Hays

You're correct on an individual scale, every family and teenager is different. However by looking at public health data, countries that have more progressive sexual mores and parenting styles have lower rates of STIs and teenage pregnancy (Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are all examples).

We plan on making condoms and Plan B available, plus offering any form of BC/contraception that our daughter would like to use - preferably a long term form such as an IUD or implant. Sleepovers would be allowed if its clear that both partners are comfortable with and have discussed the sexual aspects of their relationship (though obviously they needn't have discussed it my husband and I...as open as my parents were I think that would be too open!)

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

Regarding leaving a bowl of condoms out: When I was a teen I remember my father having this type of discussion, in front of me, with our pastor. I was, needless to say, very offended. I was not sexually active at that time and had no plans to be yet. I think it is much more important that your kids feel they can talk to you and get condoms if they need them. I think leaving out a bowl of condoms implies that you don't care who they are having sex with and makes the assumption that they *will* be having sex (which is probably mostly true, but you can break trust by assuming that too). Otherwise I have no problem keeping your kids supplied.

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlisa d

Hi Sabrina: First of all, you have a terrific ability to write, and this is a challenging subject. That being said, I have limited time and the fact that I read your blog all the way through says a lot (to me anyways). I recently wrote a blog about this topic from my point of view (see 2/19/12 on www.mymothersfootprints.com please), as a mom of 5 kids, the first one born when I was 18, it is difficult for me to condone under my roof my child having sex. I absolutely want to have open dialogue about tough subjects like alcohol/drugs/sexuality, I want to educate my children to make informed choices. I never want to come off as judgmental or critical and I respect my kids 100% when they discuss any subject openly and respectfully. But since I know how difficult it was for me to become a parent at a young age I just cannot bring myself to allow it under my nose. Every family has their own system. Thank you for writing about a very important topic and for doing so with much candor and taste.

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly Muench

This is an interesting topic. I can say that it would be one thing to say that we would provide privacy for our children, but something else to say that we would allow sleepovers as something that would occur on a regular basis.

I think having a sleepover with one's significant other is about much more than sex. My mom sort of had an interesting situation with boundaries with one of my sister's boyfriends(she was an adult at the time, and visiting). It was quite the odd situation, and this person expected that he basically had free rein of my mom's house....when that wasn't at all the message she had conveyed. I think allowing a boyfriend/girlfriend to sleepover can convey many expectations besides just sex.

I think Sabrina's post is interesting. I think when and if we'd ever get to a point where one of our children would want a regular sleepover guest, it would entail much discussion about what the expectations might be, besides just sex.

My kids aren't old enough yet that this is an issue. However when the time comes, I'd also have to wonder what the younger sibling might think of this.

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

This is definitely a topic that causes much debate. As a mother of 4, I can not imagine ever allowing a boyfriend/girlfriend sleepover. My oldest is just now turning 15, so this is all just really getting started for me. I just feel at 15 you are still figuring yourself out and getting completely comfortable with your body and the changes that seem to always be taking place.

Like Kate, I have to think about how this would look to the younger siblings and what kind of precedent it sets. It may make them start thinking of sexual relations at an even younger age trying to out-do the older sibling.

I am not sure there is a definite right or wrong here. Each child and parent are different and a parent has to make the decision of what's best for the kids. I definitely believe in being open about everything with my children. My two oldest come to me often asking questions about various things. I try to always be open minded and take their questions and thoughts seriously and I encourage open discussions. With 4 kids it is hard to get one on one time, but they know all they have to say is "Mom I need some just us time" and I know they need to talk.

Sabrina, you are definitely right that whether a parent condones sex or not, is not going to stop it from happening if it's what they want. Coed sleepovers are definitely about more than just sex. I would think it would create an awkward situation for everyone involved. No matter how progressive I may try to be, I definitely can't see sex being something I could condone under my roof for my teenagers.

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Why would younger siblings think anything of it? If it is never something that is presented to them as taboo or off-limits, then it wouldn't seem strange.

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I don't know that younger siblings would necessarily think that a sleepover = sexual relations unless it has been presented that way to them. In many parts of Europe it is normal that a teen's significant other would spend the night and there isn't an age at which it becomes magically okay. It is just always okay and those kids will start having sex when they are ready to have sex, even if their significant other has been sleeping over for years before they decide to have sex.

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I didn't necessarily mean it in that sort of a taboo way, more of a there is one extra person in our house every Friday night sort of person that isn't quite houseguest but not really a family member either. Given that younger sibling and older sibling's bedrooms are adjacent though...I'm not sure that it means that younger sibling necessarily needs to hear/compromise some of his space for this person.

My kids are at an age where they have some sleepovers, but I'm not really sure that when the time came I'd be ready to say, yeah, it is okay for so and so to sleepover every Friday.

I'd read a piece by Amy Schalet, who I think you referenced in your other blog piece. I don't think the idea of the sleepover and teenage sex have to be linked.

And back to the younger sibling, I think that yes he and everyone in our house would have a say if we changed our family dynamic into one of the college apartment every Friday night.

I think if I ever did allow sleepovers, the person involved would have to be tremendously aware of other people's boundaries.

I'll admit it I'm a little weird, and I like my space. We also have odd work/sleep schedules which might influence the whole sleepover thing.

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

I think that is a great point about the inviting sex to "happen".

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

I definitely understand what you are saying about the family dynamic, personal space, etc. I guess from that perspective, I would simply apply the same guidelines to teenage sleepovers with a significant other that I would to sleepovers with other kids who are "just friends".

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I think that my kids already get that the "friend" sleepovers are only going to occur so often...and not every week.

I can't help but feel though that if my kids were in a romantic relationship that there would be much more pressure to have the sleepovers much more often, once one started consenting to them.

Maybe something that I should get worked up about later.

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

See, now the question begging to be asked: do you question sleepovers between same sex couples? Is the question really about pregnancy? Or about sexuality? Sex is a big decision, no matter what gender you are or practice with. If you know your child is gay: do you dissallow same sex sleepovers as you would opposite sex for straight children?

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I had a similar reaction to Jennifer. While I completely understand why this might be the case, this article focused entirely on opposite sex relationships. A friend's brother had sleep-overs with his best male friend for years and it turns out they were a couple for eights years, throughout all of high school and early university years.

I think that pregnancy is the big fear for a lot of parents and that sex as is actually the lesser concern (though I'd be happy to be told otherwise). As the lesbian mother of a two year old, I would never assume that my child is straight and so whatever decision I came to - sleep-overs or no sleepovers - it would apply in the same way to a gay child.

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFiona

I was that younger sibling....my brother was 18/19 and had his girlfriend come over and spend the night often. It was usually pretty ackward...i can't say it made me think I wanted to have a boy sleep over too at a younger age but that is because I was kind of a loser in high school and that kind of thing was not even in the works at the time. I did remember being surprised and a little confused as to why my parents "let" that happen. Now, being a mom of two very young kiddos I am currently saying "Hell no!"

March 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKellie


I'm curious what made it confusing for you. Your brother was an adult at that point, not even just a child. Was it because your parents had sent you the message of "no sex before marriage"? If that was the case, I could see it being confusing. But otherwise, I don't understand why it would be an issue at all.

March 31, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


I'm not sure who your question is directed at. As for me, I would apply the same rules to same sex and opposite sex sleepovers. I don't see any reason to treat them differently. Even if you don't know whether your child is gay, the teenage years are a time when they are figuring out who they are and may be experimenting with their sexuality if they are unsure. If they are unsure themselves, then they are probably unlikely to have explicitly shared their sexual orientation with their parents.

March 31, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

It was a just a question to the stars. ;-) I think you are right, and would like to think I would follow just that.

March 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I really liked this post. One of the things that I appreciate to this day is that my mother never made a big deal about a lot of "taboo" issues. Drinking, smoking, and sex were never made into behaviours that I would want to engage in to rebel from her. I was allowed to have co-ed sleepovers (and did, several times, even with a boyfriend) and there was never anything sexual about it.

I think keeping open lines of communication are extremely important to facilitate children and young adults making the best, safest decisions when they are facing them on their own.

April 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobbin Abernathy

i agree that kids will have sex if they want to whether you as the parent consents to, are accepting of the fact or not. however, I believe accepting the fact your kid may be having sex, and providing explicit opportunities to have sex, are two different things and as a fear for what our children will do behind our backs we are swinging the pendulum in the exact opposite direction. This is what happens when we operate from fear of what we do not know. the fact is, teens will do what they want behind our backs. no matter how lax you are a parent are, they will still violate the things you are non-accepting about if they want to. the point is to use the formative years to teach them to make good decisions for themselves, teach them to respect their bodies and to be able to look to a future beyond the high school years and to have self-respect and aspirations beyond sex with their boyfriend and then hopefully as they internalize what you teach them you can trust them to make good decisions. I did not have sex in high school (theminority I'm sure), because I didn't have a monogamous relationship and I had standards for how I wanted to lose my virginity and all that. I did date the football captain, hot guy etc who really really wanted to but I thought no, because I don't want him to go back and tell his buddies about it. I have standards for how I want to be talked a bout, I thought about after high school, hell no I wasn't going to put myself in the position to get pregnant. had I been in a long-term monogamous relationship, I probably would have had sex in high school but it still would habve been on my own terms, making sure I hadn't sabotaged my future, gotten pregnant etc etc. why? because I had self-respect (and still do). No one had to restrict me (my parent's didn't know about my love life) for me to make these decisions about the circumstances under which I would have sex. But given the strong sexual desires I had in high school, believe that had I the opportunity easily to have sex, ie. my hot football captain boyfriend could sleep over whenever etc, we would have had sex. Because my tactic for keeping myself out of those tempting situations was to avoid a situation where I would feel like going for it, ie. late night, its dark, he's in my bed etc). I made sure I only hung out with him in the living room or out. If my mom had let me have him in my bed etc. it would have happened, maybe even in spite of my standards (meaning I would have succumbed to the temptations). So no i will not be creating opportunities for my kids to have sex, though I will be accepting if they do and I will be there fgor them if they want to talk about it and I will give them contraceptives if they ask and encourage them to ask if I suspect they are thinking about it. that is all.

April 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbee

As someone who is not comfortable with pre-marital sex (and abstained until I was married) I could not be comfortable letting my child's girlfriend/boyfriend sleep over. This doesn't mean I wouldn't make sure they were sexually educated and aware of contraceptive options ( I take no issue with contraception, at all), but I just can't condone that sort of behavior. If my kid was having sex, I would make sure that they had the tools to keep it safe, but allowing sleepovers is saying that sex in high school is okay and I don't feel that it is. I don't want to create opportunities for my kids to have sex.

I'll also add that the "well, they'll have sex anyway" isn't true for a lot of kids. Plenty wait until college. Tons of my closest friends my freshman year of college hadn't had sex and were comfortable waiting until they felt ready. I think if you teach your kid the right attitudes about sex and to surround themselves with friends who have similar standards (or respect those standards, even if theirs are different) your kid will wait for sex until they
ready, not because they're wildly hormonal and irresponsible teenagers.

April 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrequent Lurker

I don't think the argument is "they'll have sex anyway" period. I think the argument is that if they are going to have sex, they'll do it whether you allow it at home or not.

I also don't think that sleepovers have to mean sex and in a lot of European families, sleepovers are probably happening long before sex is.

April 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I see the point of the article, I really do, but I think it's a position that irreconcilable with those who don't believe in/don't want to encourage premarital sex. I don't take issue with people who are alright with premarital sex and this might be a good approach to take with their kids, but for those of us who don't believe in sex before marriage, I can't see it working at all.

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrequent Lurker

Very well written post by a very mature and intelligent teen. I am one of those that allows the sleepovers and I do have a younger daughter who is 8. The sleepovers have not been an issue with my youngest and she has always understood that sleeping together is something that is done in long term committed relationships between two people who are in love, whether it be different sex or same sex relationships.

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertheresa laraway

Co-ed sleep overs is an issue for the new age parents. There was a time when this was unheard of. Parents of the new age seem to be trying to accommodate each and every aspect of a young person's life, while they are still at home.
Most of the time the adults are interjecting what they would do or what they might like to do,
which is not always a reflection of the young person's thoughts.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersandra

People's biggest problem lies within our tendency to rationalize our desires. Cognitive dissonance, if you will. If there is an opportune moment, say a sleepover or similar, teens will rationalize their approach to sex the way we taught them in schools, from movies, and even from sharing our own teen experiences (!?). We explain that sex is a natural thing to do, and give them a go-ahead in forms of condoms and pills, without blinking and giving it the slightest thought. What about the psychological consequences? What about physical side effects of pills? Just like alcohol is ok from time to time (i.e. party), sex should be reserved for married couples, or engaged at least. At that point, we would not end up with unwanted children, abortions, bad psychological effects, especially on girls, as well as conflicts in families. Wake up people! We are NOT animals. We do NOT need sex. It's a very pleasant addition to a good relationship. But when you think of consequences of sex, maybe you'd realize that it should be reserved only for those stable relationships. Values should be taught at schools. Not ways to get to our most basic desires. That is called self regulation.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIna Kulczynska

I honestly think that parent's now-a-day's aren't that trustworthy and don't trust their child or tween/teen with having a co-Ed sleepover. Just putting my opinion out there.

August 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGian

I myself am a teenager. I read this article because I was curious about a parent's view on co ed sleepovers. I honestly don't think sleepovers encourage sexual behavior, especially if you share a room with a sibling or have a bedroom right next to your parents. I would never engage in behaviors like that with my parents right next door. My dad is old school about relationships, as most dads are. No parent wants to think of their children as being sexually active ever. Since my mother is more progressive, she always makes sure that I'm aware of the consequences of my actions. She's very big on prevention and protection because her parents never taught her, which led to her having a miscarriage her senior year of high school. I do agree with the article stating that sex does happen, like it or not. But I also believe that being educated on the subject will influence your actions and the consequences that follow. We're teenagers. We're dumb and we do irresponsible stuff. The more you try to control us, the more we'll want to rebel.

August 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikaela

If its a bf/gf then no cuz they will probably have sex but ifs its a group of close friends then I say go for it nothing will happend if there's an odd number

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarney's bro

Barney's bro:
I wouldn't assume nothing will happen if there's an odd number. Potentially even more interesting things will happen then.

October 21, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

Couldn't a parent always go in the direction of, "I really don't condone it, but if you do choose to have sex, please use contraception or ask me for a condom, I would rather you be safe than have a pregnancy or STI." I have no intention of being sarcastic, but is it really all that difficult? My dad did this when he found that I was spending large amounts of time at my girlfriends house (we were not, in fact, having sex, we were usually watching movies or cuddling or something of that sort) He took me out to a restaurant and gave me the talk (wasn't too appetizing) and never once said that he did not want me to have sex. I feel that in some way this has given me the will to actually abstain from it, but that being said, If my current girlfriend asked me to do so with her I wouldn't deny it. I think that the whole idea needs to be reworked and rethought, since after all, no two teens (or a better word, 'people') are the same.

December 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMatt (teen)

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