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August 16, 2013

Teen sex under your roof

Teensex_blog_BBy Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

“Mom, they’re asleep in the same bed!” My 23-year-old brother, eight years my senior, had come home from college in the middle of the night to get some maternal succor after seeing his girlfriend kissing another guy. His romantic crisis happened to coincide with a night that my 16-year-old boyfriend and I had a “sleepover,” with my boyfriend camping out in my brother’s former bedroom, now our guest room. When my brother went in to occupy his room’s second bed, he found me asleep in bed with my boyfriend, instead of in my own bedroom.

Alarmed, he woke up my parents. “I trust Carol to do what is right for her,” my mother responded. My father rolled over between sleep cycles to mutter: “She’s in there with no contradiction.”

I was 15.

Now that I have a daughter who is pushing 14, who still calls me Mommy and requests to be “put to bed,” I find myself regarding this once amusing tale from my youth with increasing consternation. Last week Henry Alford’s New York Times column about the etiquette and ethics of allowing teen children who have girl friends or boy friends to sleep together (or some don’t-ask/don’t-tell version my parents ascribed to) reignited a debate that has swung back and forth since the 1960s. How should parents respond to their teen’s sexual relationships? What’s kosher? What’s out of bounds? And what do you allow under your own roof?

For many parents this is a no-brainer. Religious or moral guidelines lay down a clear line: no sex until after marriage. Or for parents who don’t want to disown their children, no sex under our roof until after marriage. Or for parents who don’t want to condone teen sex but don’t adhere to marital litmus tests, no sex until you move out of our house… and so the variations continue with each family sorting out their own set of spoken and, just as often, unspoken rules.

Alford explored the trend among some families where parents go out of their way to make their children’s flames feel especially welcome – one woman went so far as to buy her daughter and her boyfriend a new bed. Angelina Jolie has recounted how her own mother allowed her at the age of 14 to live with her boyfriend “as man and wife,” which Alford deems far too young, as opposed to 16 when he argues kids in a committed relationship should reasonably be allowed to spend the night under the parental roof as long as they do so with consideration, discretion, and help out with household chores.

In the Huffington Post, Soraya Chemaly also weighs in on the "sex is awesome” side of the debate, citing the comparative study of Dutch and American families around this issue where Dutch children end up having closer relationships with their parents and bringing their boyfriends/girlfriends home versus the American teens who also have sex, but end up keeping it a secret from their families and creating more boundaries. Chemaly encapsulates this argument with a rhetorical question: “Why would you create a situation where your children are forced to hide, sneak around, be dishonest, be uncomfortable, take unnecessary risks and make uninformed decisions about their physical and emotional health?”

This was my mother’s position. After raising my older brothers with more old-school 1950s rules (and it not working in the sense that they engaged in risky activities like drinking, drugs, sex with inappropriate partners, and one even moving out before he was really ready), with me she cleaved by the Alfie Kohn school of parenting: focusing on internal motivation, building personal responsibility, and nurturing a sense of inviolable trust between us. As a serious student who regarded risky activities like drinking, drugs, smoking, and driving carelessly with abject horror, I needed little behavioral management. At least, that’s my version of events: my mother’s version was that I was remarkably strong-willed from a young age and so she had to learn to cultivate my cooperation rather than my obedience.

Now as a parent, I realize I haven’t nailed down my attitudes on teen romance and sexual activity, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be following in my mother’s permissive footsteps. It’s not that anything really negative came of my early (and sanctioned) romance. I was cautious with birth control and developed deep emotional ties before engaging in so much as a kiss. After this first relationship, which lasted two years, I decided I was too young to be having sex and drew stricter lines with future boyfriends.

If I hew to more old-fashioned mores with my two daughters, it will be an attempt to allow them to be children for a little bit longer, to not have to make so many decisions about things they shouldn’t have to worry about. Call me an educational prude. Given the global reality, our teens need to focus, focus, focus. Romance and sex – like drinking and drugs (and, to a lesser extent, teen social drama, excessive screen time, obsession with fashion or sports or pop culture) – is a huge distraction from where kids should be pouring all of their powers of concentration, and what children in high-performing countries around the world do focus on: their education.

In the olden days (before it became clear that America was lagging behind a lot of other countries in preparing its high school students), American high school was considered the time when individuals were expected to explore romance, mad social fun, and yes, even sexuality. But I think that antiquated thinking is passé. In countries where high school students regularly outperform the United States (and not just cutthroat cultures like South Korea, but liberal meccas like Finland), high school students focus on school first – not social life, sports, or jobs.

Now I wonder if even parents who want to teach their children that “sex is awesome” shouldn’t rethink their sex-under-my-roof guidelines. Now that getting into college requires more hoops, higher standards, and more rigorous classes, it’s my job to help my daughters keep their line of sight clear towards distant aspirations not immediate (and possibly perilous) pleasures. It may not make me as popular as the mother who folds down her daughter’s pre-conjugal bed sheets, but someday I’m betting they’ll thank me.


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I would beat their behind for even thinking about sleeping with anyone before they are married. That is, if knew about it.

Great article. I have a younger daughter than you and feel the same way you do about sex and under my roof but I did not think of it in a concentration on school issue. I was thinking of it as a "I am not going to be a grandmother until you are 25 way!". Right now, I am very thankful that when my daughter hears the word sex, she runs and hides but I know that down the road, it won't be like that. I have hopefully prepared her for the future and have hopefully drilled into her that sex is for very serious couples who going to spend the rest of their life with each other. I am not one of those parents who buries their head in the sand though. I know that it my wish and may not be my future reality, but I will stick to the "not under my roof" line until she is of age and is married!

I am with your mom on this. @Dora I bet your kids do a ton of things behind your back too, you sound like what they describe in this article, one whose kids are forced to hide things because their parents find it necessary to scare the hek out of them on things such as this instead of trying to at least be mature enough to know you absolutely do not under any circumstances control your kids, like at all!! So why not accept that and move on, inform them, it won't kill you or them for that matter. Kids run around doing god knows what behind their parents backs because they are scared as hell to tell their parents squat, lame really and does not need to happen! My daughter is 17, sexually active and while I would of rather she waited, I am accepting of it and will not under any circumstances condemn her for it! Sex is awesome!! It is not a bad thing, believe it or not. I actually bought her and her boyfriend condoms because the first time it almost happened they had none and I not dumb enough to believe it won't happen again and I was not going to let it happen without protection! I am not like most parents, I am very different and I actually know about just about everything my kids do, especially my daughter who quite literally tells me everything! I use those stories she tells me to give her life lessons if need be. I am glad my kids and I are so close and that they have no problems telling me things and are not scared of me! Anyways that is my 2 cents.

I can't believe this is even a debate! I have three daughters. I've taught them the facts that premarital sex leads to worn out hearts long before they're ever married. I want them to have happy marriages, not serial divorces, STDs, emotional wreckage, possibly babies they can't take care of. I talk to them about this a lot, and they get it. Teenagers aren't brainless animals, at least they won't be if we don't think of them that way. They can control themselves, and they deserve the truth from their parents. That's love. The author of this article is right in saying that sex and the emotional turmoil that goes with it is a major waste of time and energy as far as academics, but there's more than that at stake. Parents who love their children won't ruin their kids lives by encouraging them to have sex at home or anywhere else.

Are you kidding me!!!!!!

On what planet is this ok????????

Jenny, I am afraid you are ruining your children's lives and should say that countless parents would think like me....Believe me your children will not appreciate you when they grow up -probably with STDs etc.- and distinguish the right from wrong. Enjoy your life!!!

This is the best article I have ever read about this situation. All others fight for total abstaining or provoking sex. I am 16 i am sexually active with my girlfriend of a year just about now we have been having sex for 7months now much less now than then . All the adults around me treat me as an adult including my parents whom we have a don't ask don't tell relationship. But I can assume they know. I hide things from them but I don't do things they would disapprove of because they made those mistakes and equally giving me the experience to avoid those mistakes. It is a gift that they trust me that they teach me not just hold me back till it all hits me at one time. That's when bad things happen because I wouldn't be able to focuse neither my peers. I am a cross country co captain and have a job as a high school sophomore. My Parents made me strong but not to strong school is everything.

Sex is awesome? FOR KIDS?

It's a crime in most places.
The fact that such a discussion is even taking place is a clear indication of the immense hypocrisy of the hippie generation.

Sickening stuff.

I have been telling my 18 year old son since about age 13 that sex is good and natural, but that the intimacy issues it creates can be a real distraction from his long term goals. I have suggested that he wait until he is in a serious relationship with someone he might marry. But I have also drilled in the fact that no matter whether he follows my advice or not, he has to wear a condom until he's ready to support a child for 18 years.

My 18 y/o daughter was raised and taught to wait until marriage. Armed with knowledge, self-respect and values, she made the decision herself. Disease and birth-control "protection" are NOT 100% effective; she does NOT want a STD (or worse). She's not yet ready to be a mother; she wants to FIRST marry the man that will father their child/ren. She believes the right time (marriage) with the right person is worth waiting for, and there's NO RUSH to get there. She knows that ultimately her behavior is her choice and freedom of choice comes with responsibility. She understands a boyfriend unwilling or unable to respect her decision is not one that would VALUE and APPRECIATE that which VERY FEW YOUNG WOMEN are able to give a husband. She knows she's someone's future wife and she wants a man that respects himself and honors her.

My 16 y/o son was also taught the same values as his sister. He knows that birth control and protection are not 100% effective, he does not want to be a daddy yet or take the chance of ending up a 'weekend dad'. He has been taught "that girl is someone's daughter and someone's future wife; respect those two very important persons and respect yourself". BOTH kids are INFORMED about disease and pregnancy protection AND the emotional involvement, PERSONAL COMMITMENT, integrity and sacrifice a healthy relationship requires. They ARE NOT PERFECT, they may make a mistake; they ARE UNCONDITIONALLY LOVED, REGARDLESS.
SEX is GREAT!! At the right time, with the right person, it's EVEN BETTER!

This is the most rational thinking I've seen on this subkect. I really like how you tied adolescence to learning 21st century skills that are essential for children to have in order to compete in the global market. I was brought up putting school and education first. I had a boyfriend who was from another town and he was only allowed to see me in the living room of my home and there was a curfew. I was not sexually active until my mid-twentities after getting my master's degree. Those values have served me well and I am by no means a prude. As a sex wducation teacher, I offered my stidents in inner city schools alternatives to teen pregnancy, drug use, and gang violence. The emphasis was on preparing for their futures and thinking about the kind of life each would like to have as an adult. I don't have children, but if had I been a parent this would have been my stance.

I concur with the above post from Geneva Chapman, that this was a very rational approach to a curious topic. Our oldest is just cresting into this arena, and we, so far, are trying to approach it from a land of very open dialog, and acknowledging that he's going to have a lot of curiosity around being sexually active. How that will play out in practice -- for lack of better, non-graphic way of phrasing it -- will most likely be a little wink and a nod coupled with a don't ask / don't tell.

What I always marvel at around questions like this is the level of moral relativism, and hypocrisy that American culture applies to sexuality. The horror voiced by some so far is...well, curious. I will not criticize the reactions, because we all come to this crazy world with our own histories, and moral authorities.

For my parenting style, however, I see that anything that is potentially building walls, shutting off communication between me and my kids, is very dangerous. Communication with kids coming from concerned adults is what prevents STDs and pregnancy: not driving kids into secretive behavioral patterns.

Am speechless about how to approach this. My beliefs tell me no sex before marriage and had I realized what a gift virginity is I would not have been in such a hurry to give it away. I did not have an open relationship to discuss sex with my parent. She was older and that may have been the key to my actions. But now i must take responsibility for my own actions. I talk to my 12 year regularly and this article lead to yet another talk. I am still adamant about sex before marriage. He hears me as he goes back to watch the Muppet movie(smile) but he knows what I wish for him. Sex is a bonding situation and some ties are not meant to be broken. Heartache afterwards can be devastating and children are to young to see the big picture. We are the parents talk with them. And when they do make mistakes pray first about your response.

So for the parents saying it's ok to explore sex as a teenager - maybe are the same ones saying that it is ok for their daughter to say 'math is hard'- maybe the same parents hosting co-ed sleepovers with alcohol being served - nice way to prepare them for college, a job, independence, self-confidence; sigh... anyone can have kids but you need a license to fish.

Great article on a hard topic. Before I had kids, I was far more liberal than I am now on topics such as sex, drugs, drinking...you name it! I think back to being sexually active myself at 14, and would NOT be comfortable if my own son of the same age were doing what I was at his age. And... that boy I was with is my husband of 30-plus years.

A couple of things come to mind. Because we both came from backgrounds that strongly prohibited sex before marriage, we freely explored lots of other, "non-intercourse" ways of having fun and developing an intimate relationship for. . . years actually. I think being open about different ways to experience intimacy should be a part of the "sex is awesome" equation; sex is not always intercourse.

Also, I think it matters a lot that we were very close to the same age; he was not a guy years older than I was, which leads to an icky imbalance of power in the relationship which I would consider abuse. He really respected and treated me wonderfully and became my best friend. How important it is, whether we stay with that person or not, that our first sexual experience and/or true love be one that is sweet and loving, not exploitative or abusive. So, the "who" and the "how" might sway my opinion or become a part of the conversation about the "should" or "shouldn't".

I talk opening about these issues with my kids when it comes up, or at least prepare myself for the need to do so. I also recognize that my daughters who are younger and I will feel even more conservative and protective. Let's face it: sadly, the world is not really yet an equal place for young women in terms of sexual empowerment, physical safety or protection from exploitation. Better they be with a sweet kid whose parents I know, kissing or groping in the family room, than out in a car with some twenty year old guy who is offering her a beer.

Fast forward me and my first boyfriend. Now we are now both in our 50's, raising three kids ages 11-14 We wear ourselves out, honestly, keeping them focused on their education, involved in healthy activities, hosting things at our house so we know their friends and their families and can supervise (Sure, they will do things behind my back, but maybe they will be 17 instead of 12 :) All this parenting on top of our jobs has us so tired out that I am honestly glad we had some good years of sexual fulfillment while we were young :)

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