How can a parent cope with their teen's first romance?
I have been thinking long and hard about what parents are really expressing when they say their main concern about their kids learning about sex is, "a loss of innocence." We will offer some free parent discussions about this topic, so look for them to pop up on the calendar, once we get the details nailed down.
In the meantime, I want to share this email conversation, from our in-box this week:
My kids took your wonderful class a few years ago.
To make it brief, my daughter has her first boyfriend. She turned 16 this past April. SHE'S YOUNG. Anyway, things are heating up between her and this adorable boy who my husband and I both think is a great kid. They haven't done too much YET, but it's around the corner. I'm telling her to hold off from the sex and to do "other stuff" because of how young she is. They've been dating only two months. I'm also telling her that kids are engaging in oral sex like it's second base, and not to cave in to "what the other kids are doing" That oral sex is VERY intimate. So with all this being said, I'm also telling her that if she decides to engage in sexual activity with this boy, I want her completely safe and protected. I'm not being naive about it. We speak very openly together she tells me everything. Maybe that's weird. So....with your expertise and words of wisdom, is there anything I can tell her that you would advise me to say, or have I said it ALL....too much probably. This boy and my daughter speak very openly about their feelings and are super communicators together. He really seems to be the ideal first boyfriend....has never had sex himself BUT he is a year ahead and an older kid for his grade (gulp) 17 and a half.
I'm sorry to go on and on. I'm a little calmer today, but I've been feeling sick about my baby girl.
Thank you for giving me any advice you can.
It sounds to me like you are doing a great job!
You have open communication with your kids, and that is so huge. You are sharing your values and support.
For many parents the main issue seems to be concern for their child's "loss of innocence". Which is a rather ill defined ideal, more of a sense of distress over our inability as parents to protect our kids from all harm. Perhaps if you can list for yourself some concrete fears that you have, whether they are realistic or not, you can ask yourself how you would react, should your worst case scenarios occur. Often this exercise is enough to convince us that we and our kids can survive this developmental stage.
I love hearing that your daughter and her boyfriend share good communication. That is really what true intimacy is all about!
One of the concepts in our curriculum is the difference between intercourse and "outercourse". Outercourse is a made-up term to describe sexual behavior that is less risky in terms of STIs and pregnancy. We drill the kids regularly to understand that oral, anal, genital to genital contact, and penis vagina sexual intercourse are all considered intercourse and all have inherent risk. We want to dispel the myth that somehow kids who engage only in oral or anal are somehow choosing to to remain virgins. The term virgin is not one we use, since there is no actual way to tell if a person is one, and it comes loaded with negative baggage about girls and their worth as property.
We encourage them to think in terms of outercourse behavior and to consider what their boundaries might be before they find themselves in a sexually charged situation. (Because no one can think rationally when their teenage brain is in emotional overdrive. I think this is the main strength of our program. Giving kids time and space to articulate their values. We all make lousy decisions in the heat of passion, adolescents especially. The more time a young person reflects upon who they are as a sexual being, what their sexuality means to them, the truer they can be to themselves with their sexual behavior. The operative idea here is that they are looking deeply within themselves to express their values, adults aren't just feeding them platitudes and clever comebacks.)
It's really better to be thinking that engaging in any type of sexual behavior is something each person needs to be enthusiastically consenting to, at each step, and at every time. Otherwise the behavior needs to stop. Intimacy isn't an all or nothing game, and no one is required to do anything just because the other person is super turned on... It may be uncomfortable, but no one ever has ever sustained injury because they have blue balls.
I like this consent video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGoWLWS4-kU
Kids who have had comprehensive sex ed tend to be able to delay the time of their first intercourse experience. We know that the social and health outcomes, including mental health, are better when kids delay until adulthood. And this is actually the national trend. So the idea that everyone is doing it is actually wrong.
It's great that you are reinforcing that taking things slowly makes for a healthier relationship for teens. There are lots of new feelings for these kids to process, and to enjoy. New feelings for a loving yet concerned parent, too.
You've got this!
Thank you Jill for this!
Thank you for giving me a little confidence in my parenting, and thank you for so brilliantly filling in my missing gaps. I am definitely making a mental list of all the things I'm uncomfortable with....such great advice!