My 15-year-old son has been in a relationship with a girl the same age for about a year. We like her a lot, and we think their relationship is healthy and loving. They were friends for a long time before they started going out. I have two questions: 1) We think he’s too young to have sex, but we don’t know how to explain that to him and also, without condoning the decision, tell him that if they do they must use birth control. 2) We don’t want them to be alone in our house, but his girlfriend’s parents seem to allow it. Friends have told me that if the girl’s parents don’t care, we shouldn’t—that it’s the girl’s parents who have to worry not us. What do you think?
There are so many important issues in here. Communication, responsibility, values, double standards….I’ll do my best to respond to your concerns without writing a doctoral dissertation on the subject.
I’ll start with your second question first, because that’s a bit more straightforward. Because of the immense double standard that exists—even today—regarding male vs. female teen sexuality, it is apparently common for parents of heterosexual teen sons to follow the lead of the girlfriend’s parents regarding what is allowed in terms of these issues. While it might be argued by some that statistics show that girls (and women) and their parents have reason to be wary—and even fearful—of boys (and men), I don’t think this convention stems from a fear of rape/violence. Rather, it has to do with the idea that parents need to look out for their daughter’s virginity and “reputation.” The thought is that while parents of sons may worry about pregnancy and disease and even about the idea that their son may “take advantage” of a girl or “ruin her reputation,” they do not have to guard their son’s virginity or reputation. There also tends to be a belief that it’s really the boy who wants “it,” and the girl will be either fending off his advances or giving in to them. For a parent of a daughter, assuming that she does not have sexual desires is at best, likely a false supposition and at worst, harmful. Denying an acknowledgment of teenage girls’ sexual desire can lead them a) to view themselves as the objects of boys’ desire, and b) to a lack of preparation in terms of birth control. I can write about this forever, so I’ll move on to the first part of your question.
The vast majority of teens don’t want to talk to their parents about topics related to sex. They also don’t want to clean their rooms, do their work, and fill the car up with gas. But there are certain things we make them do. In this case, it’s sit and listen to what we have to say, even if they don’t actively engage in the conversation. So Part One: Although it’s difficult and uncomfortable, you will need to talk to your son in an open and honest way. Part Two: Before you talk to him, figure out what you believe and why. Different parents have different feelings and levels of comfort. If you believe he’s too young, figure out why. My feeling is that 15 is usually too young because sex is far more complicated than one can understand it to be before it happens. In the case of heterosexual sex, it’s not just about a penis going into a vagina. It’s about emotions and vulnerability and communication. People aren’t born knowing how to have good sex, so partners need to share with one another what feels good and what doesn’t. And that’s hard to do. Sex can make us feel vulnerable and needy and attached. Sex can alter a relationship—for good or bad. So, ideally, a certainly level of maturity will be attained before it happens. And once we start having sexual intercourse within a relationship—or any of a variety of related acts—it’s hard to decide to stop doing them, even if that’s what we may want. Also, there can be a rush to have sexual intercourse as if it’s a Holy Grail of some sort. The focus on virginity—losing and keeping it—is ridiculous. It’s about one act at one moment in time and has little, if any, bearing on the meaning we make of our sexual life and enjoyment. Your son should understand that are a world of other “activities” that can be quite enjoyable—sometimes even more so.
Part Three: After you’ve told him how you feel about waiting, talk to him about how vital it is to respect his partner and her wishes and desires. And tell him about the necessity of using a condom—and that a condom should be used with some other form of birth control. Look up the statistics on the effectiveness of condoms when no other form of contraception is used and share those with him. I would also consider handing him condoms and some forms of spermicide.
It’s likely that your son will roll his eyes and laugh about you with his girlfriend and other friends. So what’s new? But he’ll also have heard you, will clearly know your feelings, and will have learned that this is a topic of conversation that he can come to you about if he wishes. Seems worth a little behind-the-back ridicule to me.