This is one of the most frequently asked questions sex educator, Dr. Karen Rayne receives from parents. Most American parents are squeamish and concerned about their teens having sex. The thought of teen sex “under the parent’s roof” is even more unappealing. But Dr. Rayne argues that allowing teen “sleep overs” may actually open the way for more responsible sex education and healthy parent-child relations. Because if a teen feels safe telling a parent what they are doing and feeling, then they are more likely to ask parents for advise and help. This allows parents to have more positive influence.
If you are grappling with this issue as a parent, Dr. Rayne suggest by starting with a few basic, yet personal question for your teen.
Here are some ways to prepare for and approach the dreaded sleepover question:
- Talk with your teen about their gender identity, their sexual orientation, and that of their friends.
- Asked them who they are romantically interested in and discuss the differences between romantic and friendship-based relationships.
- Discuss the benefits of sleepovers. What makes sleepovers fun? How can you help them achieve those benefits?
This article was originally published on UnHushed.net
BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com
I’ve been asked about sleepovers through two channels in the last few days, so it seemed the right time to finally write a post about it.
This question comes up all the time – first in the wake of the sudden awareness in the US that in other countries parents actually allow their teenagers to have sleepovers with boyfriends and girlfriends (see Dr. Amy Schalet’s 2011 book, Not Under My Roof, her NYTimes piece on the topic, and the millions of blog posts/articles/insanity that followed) – and as more and more youth come out to their parents as gay, queer, bisexual, trans, etc.
“WHAT DO WE DO??” is the stressed-out question from so many parents, and I wish I had an easy answer.
This question really speaks to a feeling of unsettlement that comes with relinquishing clearly defined gender norms and the associated assumptions about sexuality that parents have been so accustomed to falling back on throughout their adolescents and even now in their adult lives.
Our cultural assumption is that girls and boys have sleepovers in single-sex groups. With children, this is because children are primarily friends with kids of the same sex, and so is driven by the children themselves. As children grow into teenagers there is another cultural assumption that they will continue to be friends with same-sex peers and date opposite-sex peers, thus making the sleepover decision easy.
Young people, however, are re-making the meaning of so many of the words in that last, italicized sentence as to make it sound old fashioned, to say the least. The line between friendship and girlfriend/boyfriend/boifriend/partner is getting thinner. Opposite-sex becomes a misleading term, at best, when you’ve acknowledged the wider range of gender identities. Many teenagers spend at least a short amount of time pondering their attraction to others across a range of gender identities rather than assuming from the start that they are heterosexual.
So what’s a parent to do in a world that, from the outside, appears to have gone crazy?
The goal of single-sex sleepovers among teenagers was generally to provide a sense of safety to parents of both young people that the teenagers wouldn’t be having sex. That sense of sexual safety is no longer there regardless of the sex or gender of the young people – but it wasn’t really there before either. Ask many adult gay men and lesbians whether they had sex with their same-sex friends as teenagers. While not all of them took advantage of this, enough did to make a notable sample!
So now, parents, you are aware that your teenager could, in theory, be sexually attracted to someone they’re asking for a sleepover with. Or that person could be attracted to your teenager. The answers are no longer cut and dry.
It is time to face that musical ambiguity and embrace it. Talk with your teenager about their gender identity, their sexual orientation, and that of their friends. Ask them who they’re interested in romantically and how that’s different from being interested in friendship with someone. Acknowledge that these are not one-time questions because the answers are likely to be evolving. Understand that your teenager is likely to have sex – that most people have sex – and that having sex for the first time in the context of a sleepover in your parents’ home is generally better than first time sex in a car.
I could go on and on about the things you should talk with your teenager about. But they all come down to this: What are your fears? STIs? Pregnancy? Heartbreak? Being sexual in ways they aren’t ready for? Assault? Pin them down, those fears, and then address them specifically with your teenager.
You can also talk about the benefits of sleepovers with your teenager. What’s fun about them? How can you help them achieve that goal of fun? (The answer might be to stay out of the way and have fun on your own. This is not an insult.)
Both of you will be better off for the conversation.
DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne