Source: Ezra Katz: ParentChild Wikimedia
Many parents would likely agree with a recent study by Cheshire and colleagues regarding the parent-adolescent relationship: the goal should be to curb a child’s sexual trajectory from adolescence into adulthood. That is, it is good to reduce the youth's lifetime number of sexual partners. The authors identified “possible targets for intervention,” both what not to do and what to do.
Is Sex Good for Us?
What Not To Do
Do not communicate with your child with words or content that “focuses on scare tactics or emphasizes the possible negative consequences of sexual activity.” Such talk will not be an effective intervention technique for families. That is, alarmist tactics will not likely frighten your child away from engaging in sex.
What To Do
Do establish connectedness with your child because “having a positive relationship with parents is protective for reasons beyond internalization of parental disapproval [of sex]. Rather, adolescents may be internalizing values and attitudes about intimate relationships that transfer to having fewer and more committed adult partnerships.” That is, a positive parent–adolescent relationship serves as a “protective factor associated with fewer lifetime sexual partners.” Rather than scare tactics, model “good” values and your child will realize that having a monogamous loving relationship is superior to having lots of sex partners—or at least that is my interpretation of their point.
Put your baby to bed drowsy but still awake. This helps your child learn to soothe himself to sleep and prevents bedtime problems down the line.
Problems Not Considered
Sounds good but there are problems with the research. Most notable is the explicit assumption that having a “larger” number of sex partners during adolescence and young adulthood is worthy of intervention (read: reduction). I wonder whether there is an “ideal” number or is it any number larger than zero?
Perhaps it is not necessarily a good idea to reduce the number of sex partners an adolescent has. Perhaps it is not necessarily true that having a positive parent-adolescent relationship will cause the youth to forsake sex for love. Here are other possibilities:
- One might have both many loving relationships and many sex partners; one does not preclude the other.
- One might have polyamorous relationships with multiple sex partners.
- One might desire many trial sexual relationships in order to better discover the person(s) that will become a long-term romantic relationship.
- An aromantic youth might want sex that will not lead to romance because they do not want romance.
- An asexual/aromantic youth might want neither sex nor romantic relationships.
Besides, where is the evidence that having many sex partners during adolescence and young adulthood is necessarily bad or worse than having romantic relationships?
Bias in Measuring Connectedness and Sexual Communication
There are several problems with the research that the authors note—such as equating sex with vaginal intercourse thus essentially deleting bi-gay youths and other forms of sex (such as oral sex). Also, relative to peers’ influence on sexual matters, how persuasive are parents on sex partner number (my guess: less)?
Remember that discipline is not punishment. Enforcing limits is really about teaching kids how to behave in the world and helping them to become competent, caring, and in control.
How parent-adolescent connectedness was assessed is also problematic—totally from the perspective of parents and not the child (who might disagree with parents on such matters). The parent responded to these questions (from never to always):
(1) “You get along well with him/her.”
(2) “He/she and you make decisions about his/her life together.”
(3) “You feel you can really trust him/her.”
(4) “Overall, you are satisfied with your relationship with [name of adolescent].”
Adolescents might have a very different view than their parents regarding how connected the two are.
Likewise, scare tactics were assessed from the parent’s perspective, not the youth’s. Asked was the frequency that parents communicated about:
(1) the bad things that would happen if the adolescent had sex
(2) the dangers of getting a sexually transmitted disease
(3) the adolescent’s loss of respect from others
(4) the moral issues of not having sexual intercourse
It is not difficult to agree with the authors that scare tactics are ineffectual methods if the goal is to keep one’s child from engaging in sex—or, for that matter, about almost any issue between parent and child. However, as evident from my last post, I deplore the assumption that sex is bad. Again, sex researchers are giving us sex-negative messages, whether this reflects their own values or those of their funding agencies is unknown.
Katie Holmes (mom to daughter Suri): “I’ve never met a 2-year-old who is terrible. I’m so cool with every stage my daughter goes through. I just think she’s amazing. I hope she’s not looking at me thinking, Mom, are the terrible 30s coming on with you?”
My final question: Is anyone conducting research on how parents can encourage their child to have sex, especially healthy, consensual sex? Just to add a personal note, I have interviewed young men who had such parents—and their lives were not destroyed but enhanced.