Thursday, November 24, 2011

Should Parents Allow Teens to Have Sex in the Home?

In a recent Daily Dose piece in the Boston Globe, Deborah Kotz poses the question "Should parents allow their teens to have sex in their house?"
It's an unwritten rule in America that teens don't discuss their sex lives with their parents--except, perhaps, to obtain contraception--and that they don't invite their boyfriends or girlfriends to sleep over in their rooms, at least when mom and dad are at home. yet in Holland, two-thirds of dutch teenagers ages 15 to 17 in committed relationships reported in a national survey that their parents allow their significant other to spend the night in their bedrooms, and girls were just as likely as boys to gain this permission.
NEWSFLASH -- your teens are likely already having sex. They are probably having it in your house and you don't even know it.

The problem with unwritten rules is that they are generally stupid. They are also generally based on misinformation, prejudice, and otherwise unexamined beliefs. 

We here in the United States have been busy teaching (or at least complaining we should be teaching) abstinence only sex education. This form of "education" teaches that the only appropriate choice for unmarried teens (and presumably adults) is complete abstinence from sex. Also notable is what abstinence only sex education doesn't teach: it excludes information about sexual and reproductive health education including birth control and safer sex.

Since it is illegal in most of the United States for gay and lesbian people to be married, I suppose this means that gay and lesbian people are presumably never supposed to have sex. 

Check out the trash that the state of Florida puts out under the guise of sex education. The "It's Great to Wait" website points out that one study of one high school show that 50 percent of teenagers dont' have sex. Do you suppose the other 50 percent of teens that are having sex will get the information they need to develops safe, healthy, and loving relationships from this website?

Let me be unequivocally clear about this: the evidence simply does not support the use of abstinence only sex education. Tell kids to wait doesn't decrease unplanned pregnancy, it actually increases it. Conservative Republicans who have demanded we teach abstinence only sex education in Africa as a requirement for HIV funding has failed as well--abstinence only sex education has increased rates of HIV infection.

Here is one great article that reviews the research. There are many other research reports out there demonstrating that the "Abstinence-only was an experiment it failed." 

This, however, is not really my point today. Back to the article from the Boston Globe:
And there’s no worry that young teens in passionate love will leap into early marriages before they’re ready -- a notion that propels American parents to urge their teens not to have serious relationships in high school and college. “Very few Dutch parents think that teens will marry the first person they fall in love with,” she said.They’re comfortable with the idea that their kids may be ready to have sex but not start a family. As a result, they make sure their teens adequately protect themselves from pregnancy.
This nudges me a little closer to my point. How do teens learn how to have healthy loving relationships?

They practice. They watch. The model.

Our earliest opportunities to practice is with our first relationships. Our parents give us our original model for how to have relationships. What do some parents teach their children about relationships? In 2010 more than 5 children were killed every day by child abuse. We teach that relationships kill. Every 10 seconds in the United States a case of child abuse is reported. That's over 6,000,000 children every year. That's just what's reported. We teach that relationships hurt.

Here a real parent, also a family court judge, is teaching a child about relationships. It's graphic, awful, and difficult to watch. Many argue that this child is being spanked and it is an appropriate form of discipline. What do you think? What do you think she was taught about the world and how to relate?

How children feeling about spanking: Their own words and images

17.6 percent of women in the US have survived a completed or attempted rape. Of those, 21.6 percent were younger than 12 when they were first raped, and 32.4 percent were between the ages of 12 and 17. We teach that relationships are about violence.

It is a twisty path I've just taken you on. Sex education, to child abuse, to rape, and now back to sex education. It's important, and it's related. We can't pretend that we can naturally figure out how to have healthy, peaceful, and loving relationships. We learn now to do them within the context of the relationships we form through our lives. We can't pretend that telling kids to wait and  not providing them with skills at saying no and saying yes to sex will actually help anything. It only hurts.

Back to the Globe article:
Dutch parents have been educating their teens on these concepts since the sexual revolution, according to Schalet, though they emphasize that sex should only spring from committed, loving relationships -- not hookups. “It’s never just pure sex, but sex within a relationship.”
This isn't to say that some Dutch don't abuse their children. It isn't to say that some Dutch don't experience sexual violence. I'm sure they do. They are, however, having a dialogue about something important. The Dutch are onto something. They teach about sex. They teach about relationships. They show kids the way, the kids can find that way, and everyone is just a little bit better.

We have to talk openly with our kids. Their lives depend on it. 

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