Reader question: Teens having sex at home

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Photo: Carlos de Toro @carlosdetoro on Unsplash

Reader question:

I’ve read a lot about talking to kids about sex, but mostly it’s aimed at people who have small children, so I’m hoping you can help. My husband and I share custody of my 15-year-old daughter with my ex. Generally, we can all get along and our daughter has no doubt she is loved by all of us.

About 6 months ago, she started dating a female friend of hers. We were all fine with her dating a girl, but we were forced to have a conversation about knowingly allowing her to have intimacy in our house.  They had been friends for a while and had already had sleepovers when my daughter revealed they were dating. My husband and I agreed that it’s pretty much impossible to prevent a motivated teen from having sex, and that it’s much better to make it safe for her to be honest with us. My ex wasn’t super concerned, although they didn’t stay over at his place together much anyway.

A month or so ago our daughter and her girlfriend broke up, which she took pretty hard until she started seeing a boy in the grade ahead of her. She likes him a lot and understandably wants the same privacy with him that she was allowed before. He seems like a nice boy but my husband and my ex are both very opposed to letting him stay the night.

I don’t know what the right thing to do is here. I’d like to think we’re progressive and raising her to be honest with us and sex-positive, but I can’t get over whatever social programming it is that tells me I should treat this relationship differently. What’s the modern parent supposed to do in this situation?

Easy slam dunk answers are rare when it comes to parenting, and sex can especially feel like a minefield. You want to be the Cool MomTM, chill in the face of the reality that your teen is queer and sexually active. While you may be completely supportive of her apparent bisexuality, that doesn’t make it any less weird to know that your kid is down the hall knocking boots, especially now that it’s with some dude you met weeks ago.

When it comes to the controversy of letting kids have sex in the family home, there are significant considerations, some of which you have already mentioned:

  • If teens want to engage in sexual acts with each other, they will usually find a way. It’s not unusual for them to turn to semi-public spaces to get frisky. It’s usually more safe — both sexually and generally — inside a home.
  • The legal age of consent in Pennsylvania is 16, which you probably know is a number that is greater than 15, your daughter’s current age.
  • They are more likely to get busted having sex in a car or park than they would be in your home. Again — and more importantly — it’s much more dangerous for them in general.
  • This boy likely also has parents, who probably have their own opinions about this. Hell hath no fury like a parent who believes they should have been told about something.

There is a completely cogent argument to be made either way. Plenty of adults look back at their own teenage years and realize that they would have been far better off having an open and honest relationship with their own parents about sex. They recognize that teen relationships are powerful and completely valid, even if they are brief and don’t have the full context of wisdom and experience.

They also point out that it’s much easier to make sure condoms and lube are nearby when you’re banging in a bed than the back of a car and that it’s much easier to call for back up (if anything should go hinky consent-wise) if someone else is nearby.

Psychiatrist Lea Lis provides pointers to parents about allowing sex in the home, including setting ground rules that all sauciness must happen behind closed doors and with respect for noise levels, and that kids should expect to maintain all their school, family and extracurricular responsibilities. I hope you’re already openly discussing consent, pleasure, STI prevention and contraception with her.

As I mentioned, there is a potential legal component to all this because she’s underage. I can’t really encourage anyone to break the law, but when you agreed to let her sleep with her girlfriend, you already took a side on that issue. If you switch up the game now, there better be a very real conversation with her about why — a genuine back and forth discussion — on the rationale for your choices. Otherwise you are quite literally saying that sex with girls doesn’t count and sex with boys is a much bigger deal.

Whatever happens, I think it’s fantastic that your daughter has three whole adults who love her so much. If you all work together (and with his parents as well), this can be another piece in the bridge of your open, honest relationship.

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  • Timaree Schmit Headshot

    Timaree Schmit is basically an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, but in the shape of a person. She has a PhD in Human Sexuality Education and years of experience in community organizing, performance art, and finding the extra weird pockets of Philly.

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