When hormones start to bloom, the libido is quick to follow. So what do you do if your teenager wants to have sex at home? Do you let him or her do it under your roof? Or do you categorically forbid it? If you allow it, are you promoting promiscuity? If you forbid it, are you driving your kids to have sex in a car, at a party or in some other unsavory public place? Doesn't that make sex both more dangerous and enticing? These unavoidable questions are hot buttons for parents all across America.
Last year ABC's Elisabeth Hasselbeck took on the subject and interviewed a separate panel of teens and parents on an ABC segment called "Teen Sex At Home: 'Staying Safe' In The Room Next Door." The results paint a picture of a nation of parents as divided as our political system. Some parents are categorically opposed to the idea of teens having sex at home for religious reasons. Sex before marriage is wrong, never mind teen sex, so the idea of where it takes place is a moot point. Others believe it endorses the wrong message, particularly for a girl -- in their view, it ruins a girl's reputation and labels her a slut (underscoring the old double standard that's been around ever since Eve and her apple). Such was the view of one father on the panel, who added: "I draw the assimilation between sex in the home and drinking ... You don't drink in my home. You know, you don't bring home a girl or a boy, you know, and close the door and run around in my home. You know, it's the decency and sanctity of what we call home."
This makes one wonder about the sanctity of a parking lot. Because if teens want to have sex, they'll find a place to have it and quite possibly take risks they might otherwise avoid if their parents were more forthcoming. As one commenter put it in response to the ABC segment, "Being a high school aged girl, I've seen plenty of girls get pregnant. The reason for one girl was because her parents said she wasn't allowed to have sex, so she sneaked off with her boyfriend in the middle of the night and had unprotected sex in the back of his car. Apparently, he 'forgot' to bring a condom and since she had already snuck out, she thought she may as well just get it over with. If her parents had been open-minded people and talked to her about sex and birth control instead of just saying she couldn't have sex, she may not have had her baby."
Those "open-minded people" make up the second camp of parents out there who prefer that their teens have sex in the home because it's a less risky and more natural way to develop a healthy sense of sexuality. My friend, who has three teen daughters, summed up the views expressed by that camp: "After I've ascertained that my daughter is in a relationship that's based on love and trust, and that it's not about a booty call, then I'm okay with it. In fact, I want her sexual experience to be positive, pleasurable, even fantastic. Teens are entitled to have sex and sexual pleasure, and there's no better place than home, which is clean and safe. I don't want to interfere. But of course, if my daughter has a rotating band of boyfriends, on the other hand, then no. There's no way I'm going to let her have sex at home."
This latter view is more or less endorsed by psychologists and parenting experts, who are quick to emphasize the importance of communicating the risks of sex (pregnancy, STDs, etc.) but just as quick to endorse open discussions and attitudes about it. "Sexuality becomes a significant part of the adolescent life," Anthony Wolf writes in his book "I'd Listen To My Parents If They'd Just Shut Up." "Ready or not, teens at this age become far more sexual beings - and hence are far more likely to engage in sexual activity. And with that sexual activity, comes far more potential problems. Sexuality is not bad. It is part of being a human. It can be one of the great pleasures of life. Besides, we cannot make sexuality go away. Though some parents might prefer it that way."
Conversely, some teens might prefer the sexuality of their own parents go away, because there's nothing more off-putting than the idea of their parents having sex, never mind talking about it with them. ("Mom," my son said to me when I had "The Talk," "I'm not five years old. Please. End of subject.") Hard to cut through the resistance here, never mind allowing our children to express their sexuality at home, which brings up the ancillary issue of letting the parents of our teen's boyfriend or girlfriend know what's going on behind closed doors. All grey zones for parents here, but as Wolf bottom lines it: "Do you purposefully teach your child ways to develop attitudes within them that allow them to enjoy a richer and fuller sex life? Isn't good sex one of the true joys of life? Don't we want to do all that we can for our teen so that they will experience that joy? Or are most parents ambivalent about that, too?"
That last question opens up a different Pandora's box. It might be hard to imagine that our kids, who were once sweet little babies, grow into sexual beings. But it might be equally hard not to project our own attitudes and perceptions of sex onto our kids, whether we're having mind-blowing sex every night or our libidos have gone into early retirement. As Hasselbeck joked about the responses to her segment, "A lot of parents on a lighter note on Twitter were saying, 'look, if I'm not having sex in the home, my teens aren't having sex in the home.'" That got a big laugh out of her co-anchors George Stephanopoulos and Yunji de Nies, probably because it's true.
Watch ABC's segment on teens having sex at home: