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.
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