Do parents have a say in when their teens start having sex?

Do parents have a say in when their teens start having sex? thumbnail

“When will you let your daughters have sex?” asked a friend who has teenage daughters and is mulling over her own policy on the subject.

It’s not an uncommon question for parents to discuss. Just last week I saw a parent boast on Facebook that she had managed to maintain her daughter’s virginity into adulthood.

The boast struck me as awkward — and odd. It’s not as if teenage sex is a matter of one day deciding to hand over the keys to the chastity belt. As anyone who has ever been a teenager could attest, if a teenager really wants to have sex then they will, regardless of their parents’ policy.

My daughters are eight and three so I can only think of the issue of teen sex in the abstract. But I’d like to think that when my daughters do become interested in sex, I will be more concerned in the “why” rather than the “when”.

If my daughters are making an authentic and informed decision, if they are having sex because they genuinely want to and feel ready, then who am I to stop them?

I do not own my daughters’ sexuality. The idea that parents, and most often fathers, do own it and then pass it on to another man he’s approved of, is to take us back to the dark ages.

Teaching girls that other people control what they do with their bodies is far more dangerous than teen consensual sex could ever be. It makes girls easy targets for people who want to use and abuse their sexuality. The most important lesson I can teach my girls about sex is that they are in charge; the only person who gets to decide what they do with their body and when, is them.

CEO of SEED Workshops Catherine Manning says that there is a misconception that allowing teenagers to make their own decisions means they’ll choose to have sex before they’re ready.

“The opposite is true,” says Manning who delivers in-school self-esteem and respectful relationships programs. “When they’re empowered with knowledge and encouraged to be responsible and think for themselves, they’re far more likely to make wise decisions.”

And let’s not forget that for all the preaching of abstinence and sexuality policing in the US, teen pregnancies are among the highest in the developed world.

If my daughters know that their father and I will be non-judgmental and supportive of their decisions about sex, then I expect this will lead to more open conversations about contraception, STDs and consent. They also will never have to sneak around, keep secrets, or use their sexuality as a source of rebellion.

“Teenagers aren’t waiting for parental permission, but they would like their parents’ trust and guidance,” says Manning. “Students we work with report they crave open, honest conversations with their parents about sex and sexuality. They want to feel safe to talk to their parents about their relationships. One of the dangers of placing a blanket ‘no sex’ rule on your teenager is that they won’t feel they can come to you if they do break your rule, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.”

This discussion about parental control over daughters’ sexuality is also thoroughly sexist. I bet parents of sons don’t fret nearly as much about when their boys become sexually active. We don’t tend to frame boys’ sexuality in moral terms. Like most teen boys’ behaviour, it’s often put into the basket labelled “Boys Being Boys”. The guidance, such as it is, starts and ends with “Don’t get her pregnant, son”.

Boys are sowing their wild oats rather than ruining their reputations. Sexually active boys are adventurous and having fun. Girl who have sex, by contrast, are off the rails and must come from bad homes.

Even before my daughter started school people joked about my husband needing to buy a shotgun to keep the boys away. Not once have I ever heard anyone joking about acquiring a firearm to police a boy’s sexuality.

In answer to my friend’s questions, when will I let my daughters have sex? When they want to.

Daily Life

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