Let’s Try to Calm Down About Teen Sex

Parents, I know it’s hard to let your kids grow up and make their own decisions. You can’t just flip that switch from being omnipotent protector to laissez-faire bystander. Specifically, it’s hard to realize – I mean, really realize – that your child has grown into a sexually mature person.

There has been a lot of pearl-clutching and hand-wringing over the past few years about the so-called “hook-up culture” sweeping college campuses. Oh no! Promiscuity! Casual sex! All the bad things ever!

It turns out that we might be working ourselves into a tizzy for nothing. A recent study indicates that campus hook-up culture may not be a thing after all.

Researchers at the University of Portland collected data from 1,800 18- to 25-year-olds who have completed at least one year of college from 2001-2010 and compared that data to data collected from 1988-1996. They found that students in the more recent group are, in fact, not having any more sex than the earlier group.

That’s not to say that some things haven’t changed. As Hanna Rosin of Slate points out, young adults today are having sex differently than the previous generation:

What has changed is how they choose partners. They are more likely now to have sex with a “casual date” or a “pickup” or a “friend.” (Which might explain why they don’t have sex once or more a week–that’s what boyfriends or girlfriends are good for). That’s how “hookup” 2010 is different from “hookup” 1996.

Even before college it’s good for teens to take control of their sexuality and, if parents or guardians can get over the taboo, it can bring families closer.

It may seem like an anathema, but letting your teenager have a sleepover with his or her significant other might not be a bad idea. As Amanda Marcotte reported in the USA Today, bringing the existence of sex right out in the open and having honest discussions about it is really quite beneficial:

Letting your teenager have a boyfriend or girlfriend sleep over, or even move in, takes away the “sneaking around” aspect of teenage romance, and that also is a good thing. The research overwhelmingly suggests that the more secretive a teenager feels she has to be with her parents about her sex life, the higher her chances of having unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection. Various studies compiled by Advocates for Youth show that parents who frequently talk about sexual health and relationships with their children have kids who take fewer sexual risks.

In addition, parents who were accepting of their children’s sex lives and who refrained from judgmental lectures had kids who were more likely to confide in them and were less likely to have unprotected sex. Though letting your kids have romantic sleepovers doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having these important conversations, research from the Netherlands shows that sleepovers and healthier communication correlated with fewer pregnancies.

Notice, of course, that you can’t just let your teenager’s S.O. sleep over and everything will be fine and dandy. You need to talk about sex and acknowledge that it’s a natural part of life. Pretending that those desires and urges don’t exist doesn’t help the matter.

The teenage years are difficult. Everyone involved is forced to go through a lot of changes, physically, socially and emotionally. We don’t need to make it harder by enforcing the sexual taboo, whether it manifests as warnings against the non-existent “hook-up culture” or demanding that teens be abstinent until marriage.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Lindsey O.
Lindsey O3 years ago

Kathy P, parents do indeed look back on their own teen years - and often shudder at the risks they foolishly took when they were too young to have developed a fully-mature judgment.

And not all teens have sex - some are actually able to see that the risks of pregnancy and STDs - risks that can completely alter the rest of their lives - aren't worth taking when they're too young to deal with the situation entirely on their own. And that's another reason parents worry - because they know if the worst happens they'll be responsible for looking after their child's problems (and potentially their new grandchild as well.) Parents shouldn't have to be "open and accepting" about things they don't approve of and know to be major problems in the making - it isn't their job to be your best buddy, it's their job to be your guide and protector until you're grown and on your own.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

I am not sure why parents freak about older teens having sex anyway. We ARE sexual beings, don't they remember what they were doing at that age? The best solution is to realize teens will have sex, and be open and accepting

Amanda S.
Amanda S3 years ago

Of course that comment was not only sarcastic but completely facetious.... but the facts were true.
Teens, if so inclined, WILL have sex - like it or not. Most of them will keep it a secret.
* A responsible parents duty is to insure that their child is thoroughly and properly prepared to make rational decisions about sex. *
The teen must know:
- Sex is a natural and normal act - nothing to be ashamed about,
- He/she must discern who is a "good" partner,
- Sex is NEVER an act of "obligation" to someone for any reason. Sex is never "owed''.
- Wicked will pounce at the opportunity just to USE you for their own selfish pleasure,
- ALWAYS practice contraception plus good condoms (never be ashamed to discuss it). -
- People get pregnant all the time even when they "pull out" or putting in "just the tip" . Don't be dumb.
- Sex will NOT make a partner like you, stay with you, or love you any more. It's usually the opposite!
- Recognize the symptoms of STD's and pregnancy. If there's a possibility of pregnancy/disease following an "accident" - have it tended to right away - etc.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Amanda S.
Amanda S3 years ago

That's right, parents. Lock away your teen daughters.
Install utter terror and guilt into their hearts about their sexual urges.
She needs to know she's sinning against God if she is a "filthy" tramp is she can't "keep her legs closed" Jesus will turn his eyes away from her since she has now lost her purity.

Yep, this is the onoy sure-fire method of preventing your teenaged daughter from one day becoming a prostitute or being labeled as the "town bicycle". Remind them daily. Force them to read from the bible. Effective 100% of the time. If you've been "good parents" and have done all of this... sexual education of your child is completely unnecessary.

One day, a good Christian virgin man will come into her life, and deflower her in a holy way - but only after following the Godly act of matrimony. AMEN!

My BFF's parent's did this, but I guess that they just didn't pray hard enough. I guess they didn't restrict their daughter enough... that little "tramp" became pregnant at 16 and at 17 years old she gave birth to unholy twins. Of course, these ''children of shame'' were promptly adopted out. My friend must of learned her lesson by then, or not, because she proceeded to contract HPV and had several more unplanned pregnancies in the following years.

Karen H.
Karen H3 years ago

I remember somebody equating Sleeping Beauty with puberty. Put the girl to sleep when she hits puberty and wake her up when Prince Charming comes along to marry her.
Having a serious and open talk with your teen about sex, birth control, STDs, pregnancy, etc. is vital. Unfortunately, a lot of parents are uneasy talking about sex with anybody. It’s important to tell your teen that “sex” isn’t “love”, and that “oral sex” really is “sex”. It’s important to talk about masturbation and sexting. And it’s critical to talk about rape, sexual harassment and the difference between non-consensual and consensual sex.
Granting permission to have a significant other spend the night can open a whole can of worms with the SO’s parents.
Sorry, Scot Roberts – I’ve sent my limit on stars to you. You deserve one for your comments.

Kit B.
Kit B3 years ago

Of course parents need to be honest with children about sex, that does not begin at a given age but is an ongoing process, as is age appropriate. If you have not talked about sex before your children are in high school, then you are behind their learning curve.

Having a "sleep over" for your child, is a rather bizarre and casual term for what one hopes is relatively serious decision about who your child will or will not be sharing a bed. It is not puritanical to expect your son or daughter to have a very strong sense of the weight of the decision to chose a sexual partner and to be fully responsible for the proper care in prevention of sexual diseases and birth control.

Inviting each casual boy/girl friend to spend the night is not teaching or modeling responsible behavior.

I believe no matter what the issue, honesty is the only policy between parent and child

Lindsey O.
Lindsey O3 years ago

And as for those sexual urges kids feel? Talk to them about the benefits of masturbation once they hit puberty. It harms no one in any way and it allows for the release of sexual urges safely.

Lindsey O.
Lindsey O3 years ago


Yes, we need to be open about talking to children concerning sex. And no, we don't need to go bonkers if a child has sex (since it's likely in many cases it will happen and it's not the end of the world.) But we certainly don't need to be encouraging our teenagers to have sex and we certainly don't need to be facilitating it for them. Parents are both legally and ethically responsible for the actions of their minor children and are supposed to try and protect them from things that can adversely affect the rest of the child's life (and even cause medical harm - remember those nasty STD's?)

And any divorced parent would be wise not to facilitate sex for their child. Because most judges would take that into account when considering a custody change request from the other parent (and in my own state it's almost guaranteed such a parent would lose custody).

Lindsey O.
Lindsey O3 years ago

This author advocates that children (before college, so we're speaking of high school children) "take control of their sexuality" and that parents allow sexual activiy from those children in our own homes.

What a ridiculous concept. Even if the teen is using birth control unwanted pregnancies can result. And how many high schoolers are capable of, and happy to, "take control" of a baby? Usually the parents of the girl who get the fun of helping to support and care for an unexpected grandchild. Or else a young girl may be struck trying to deal with the emotional consequences of an abortion or adoption.

Sex is something that causes emotional bonding as well. And high schoolers certainly don't need to be encouraged to bond at their age - they need to be keeping their emotional needs open.