Recently, I saw a client who was very concerned about her teen daughter getting closer to a boy she was spending time with. She suspected they were having sex. She was completely panicked about it and started preventing her daughter from seeing her boyfriend. Her daughter was 16 years old and had been seeing this boy for over a year. I asked my client why she was worried and she didn’t really know how to answer. In her mind, teen sex was out of the question. Teens should not have sex and that’s it.
My client had many issues with sex that she never had a chance to discuss with anyone in her life, not even her husband. It was one of those things she never believed she would ever discuss with anyone. It was private, done behind closed doors, quietly, so no one would hear or know. Especially not the kids.
I told her about a story I wrote. It was about a group of teens discussing the topic of parents having sex. One of them discovered, by accident, that his parents were having sex and the story is about how they deal with this “discovery” as a group. I wrote this book (to be published yet) after listening to my then 15 year old daughter and her friends having this same discussion: do parents have sex? I was very proud of my daughter, who was the one saying, “of course they do”. Most of the other kids felt sick just imagining it.
I had a very interesting conversation with this client about her attitude towards sex (not just teen sex). She learned about sex from her mother, who learned it from her own mother, and so on. The cycle was long and with it, the same philosophy got passed down: sex is a duty, to be done when you are married. I asked her, “Why do you have sex?”.
She went totally red in her face as she replied, “I don’t know. It is just what married people do”. That made it sound more like a chore rather than something for enjoyment or fulfillment of need. She had never had a chance to discuss “sex” with anyone so in her mind it was a taboo topic and something to be ashamed of. It was no wonder she was concerned for her daughter.
I showed her an article I wrote about a study (PDF) I saw which was done by two psychologists at the University of Texas. They found that people have many different reasons for having sex and that women and man are not that different in their motives.
Their top ten reasons for having sex were:
- I was attracted to the person
- I wanted to experience physical pleasure
- It feels good
- I wanted to show my affection to the person
- I wanted to express my love to the person
- I was sexually aroused and wanted the release
- I was horney
- It’s fun
- I realized I was in love
- I was in “the heat of the moment”
When I showed her that list, I asked her if she thought the reasons for having teen sex at age 16 were different to what the reasons for sex were at age 47? She smiled and said “Well, my reasons did change over the years”.
Fair enough! So did mine, but only for the better.
I asked her if she thought those thoughts and feelings were like a switch in the brain that you can turn on and off at will. She smiled and said, “No”.
We went through all the fears parents usually have when their child is starting to venture into teen sex: fear about pregnancy, AIDS, diseases, “being a slut”, “sleeping with everyone”. She realized that she did not have any of those fears for her daughter. Her 16 year-old teen, much like the majority of other teens, was mature enough to be in a relationship with the same person for a year, stay healthy and safe, continue to do well at school and not get pregnant.
My client was still worried because someone at some point in her life told her sex was not for teens, it is for grownups. When we talked about it some more, she said she thought it was bad for teens and that she was not 100% sure it was always good for grownups either. It was easy to see that if she did not change her attitude towards sex, she would start influencing her daughters mind too. The cycle would continue to her daughter and onwards if she wasn’t careful.
Sex is something very natural and healthy for us as humans. Starting in our teen years, our need for physical affection occupies much our existence. Not all, but quite a lot. It is healthy and good for us to want sex and to have someone close to us to share it with.
It is important to remember that your teens will have a sexual life for many years to come and it is in your interest for them to enjoy it and make the best of it. Talking about sex as something that needs to be hidden, avoiding the issue of teen sex altogether, or giving your teens the impression that they need permission to do it will affect their sexual life negatively for years to come.
Trying to control your teens’ sexual life for the 2-3 years that they are still living with you will not make them enjoy it more in the future. You are just going to make them worry about it.
You might be thinking, “They are going to do something stupid if I don’t guide them!” The idea is not to send them out into the world with no guidance at all. It is to teach them to take care of themselves – to care for their body and soul. Whatever you teach them at home, will be what they carry with them into the future.
Control, however, requires you to be there, and you cannot and will not be there with them every second of their lives. That means insisting on abstinence until they turn 18 is not going to do the trick. If they fear sex at 18, they will fear it even when they are 32. That’s not to say they should not or will not abstain. Maybe they will, but they need to choose that for themselves. That is how you know that your values have really passed on to them and they will carry them forever.
Take the time to learn something about teen sex education. It might be uncomfortable to discuss with your teen, but it is definitely part of your job descriptions as a parent. It is much better to talk to them about it as a natural and healthy thing. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing it, ask someone else to talk to them about it. Real teen sex education will save you and them lots of heartache and pain in the future.