Parents Think All Teens Are Having Sex--Except Their Own

A researcher finds many parents are still in deep denial about their kids' sex lives

Remember when you were in high school, and you had absolutely no interest in sex whatsoever? Meanwhile, all of your friends were hormone-crazed? Your boyfriend, who would invite you over to watch a video, wanted to make out all the time, and you were like, “Kissing? That’s gross. Could you please pass the popcorn and let me enjoy the movie?” Yeah, that’s not really the way I remember high school either. But that is the way mom and dad like to think of it.

According to a North Carolina State University study published in this month's edition of the British journal Symbolic Interaction, which covers social issues, while many adults believe their kids' friends are sexually active, they're in denial about their own kids' sex lives. More to the point, they believe their teenaged sons or daughters haven’t engaged in intercourse and have little interest in it. That’s in spite of data from the National Center of Health Statistics that finds the average age girls start having sex is 17.

How do parents explain the discrepancy? Easy. Those who have faith in their child’s chastity think every other teenager is out to corrupt their own. The study’s lead author, Dr. Sinikka Elliott, PhD, from North Carolina State University, conducted in-depth interviews with 47 parents for her upcoming book, Not My Kid: Parents and Teen Sexuality. She discovered that parents have highly contradictory views about teen sex. Namely, that their children are ambivalent about sex, while their kids' peers are "hypersexual" and even "sexually predatory."

Elliott says that parents of teenaged boys are afraid that girls are going to lure them into sexual situations, while parents of teenaged girls fear sex-hungry guys are going to take advantage of their daughters. Hmm, not exactly the way my first time went down, but, Mom and Dad, I’ll let you believe whatever you want if it helps you sleep at night.

My parents were in denial until my senior year in college. Had I not slipped up, they would still be wondering when to talk to me about the birds and the bees. During a visit home, my parents and I went out to dinner at an immensely popular place in Rhode Island called Wright’s Chicken Farm. Because it’s a family-style restaurant that’s always packed, you end up sitting shoulder to shoulder with strangers. As we settled into our seats for dinner, I was telling my parents about the biography class I was taking at school, and how I used my grandmother’s name instead of my own when I didn’t want people to know I was writing about myself.

“What on earth could you possibly have to write about that you want to be kept secret?” my mom asked. “Well… sex,” I said.

“What? You’ve had sex?” my mom shrieked.

“Mom, I’m 21,” I said.

“Rolly! Did you hear that? Your daughter’s had sex!” Her voice was getting shriller with each exclamation. People were beginning to stare. “When?”

“Um, when I was 16.” “With who?” “Well… Andy,” I said. Andy was my first serious boyfriend who my mom adores and, to this day, refers to as, “My little Andy.”

“Andy! I didn’t think he did those kinds of things!” My mom was entering into some interior monologue phase, which, no doubt, had her wondering where she had gone wrong.

“Mom!”

“I just can’t believe this!”

“Dad!” I looked over to my father, who had been silent up until this point, pleading with him to calm my mom down. “Joanie, eat your chicken,” he said. And with that, the conversation was over. We haven’t talked about sex since. And, knowing them, they probably think I haven’t had sex since then either. But I'm not about to correct them.

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