I have been following the media coverage of Not Under My Roof very closely. I have been especially intrigued by two articles. The first is Amanda Marcotte’s article on Slate in which she points at several signs that “truly comprehensive sex education [is] an idea whose time has finally come.” The second is Laura Stepp’s suggestion in the Huffington Post that the recent decline in teen births can at least in part be attributed to more and more parents addressing the topic of sexuality and relationships with their teenage children.
In a blog on Huffington Post, I weigh in on the controversy about the episode in which two Glee couples make love for the first time. I think the Glee episode is important because it shows teenagers exercising self-determination, making conscious choices and having sex in the context of romantic, but not necessarily life-long, love. Readers share experiences and viewpoints. A mother of younger children writes:
I’d tell my girls that they should wait at least until they are emotionally intimate with someone before they become sexual, and why that feels better to many women. No one told me that. I just got the vague lesson “good girls don’t” from my parents. As the writer says, that’s not the message that was needed. I needed to be told that it works better to be in love, and why. I would have felt better about waiting.
In response to one reader’s comment that chastity until marriage works best, another writes:
I think your forgetting one thing. Waiting for Sex after marriage is OK I guess, but lets not forget … Gays could not get married. [D]oes that mean they should never have sex their entire life …….waiting on this regressive society to come to fruition? I think not. That would mean millions of people would never know the wonderful experience of sharing physical love with the special one their hart has melted for.
The first post-publication reviews of Not Under My Roof have come in. A review by Doug Ireland in Gay City News (Nov. 9) places the book in the context of the post-sexual revolution battles over sex education in the United States. Ireland recounts the intensely hostile political organizing in response to Judith Levine’s 2002 book Harmful to Minors (University of Minnesota Press) and then US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders’ thoughts on sex education. The result of these battles has, he points out, been “particularly nefarious for queer youth” whose needs for protection from harassment are rarely met within high-school hallways and classrooms.
In this context, it’s courageous of Amy Schalet, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus, to offer up her fascinating and wise new book, “Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex”…. Based on a blending of meticulous scholarly research and extensive interviews with both Dutch and American parents and teenagers — mostly tenth-graders — Schalet’s book, although not as deliberately incendiary as Levine’s a decade earlier, nonetheless amounts to a ringing rationale for the sexual autonomy of adolescents.
Check out my oped, “The New ABCD’s of Talking About Sex with Teenagers,” published today at the Huffington Post. In it, I address the following question:
How can American parents and other adults talk with teenagers about sexuality and romantic relationships in more positive terms, while bolstering young people’s capacities to protect themselves against potential negative experiences and consequences?
Wondering where Canadians stand on matters of teen sexuality, gender and parenting? Read Macleans Magazine’s “The Sleepover Dilemma.” Journalist Anne Kingston interviewed me about my book, Not Under My Roof, talked with parents, youths and other experts, and captures the many complexities of the topic. She quotes me saying about “the Dutch model”:
It provides a context that “not only allows young people to develop their emergent sexuality and selves within a larger social fabric but it also gives parents the opportunity to provide guidance and exercise oversight.”
Kingston also interviewed Karen Rayne, an Austin Texas-based psychologist, who provides consulting to parents of adolescents. Rayne makes some great points:
Adolescents, like all human beings, have “skin hunger,” the need to be touched and to touch, Rayne says. “But many teenagers have only one model for this: intercourse. So having conversations about sensuality rather than sex can go a long way.” And parents want to forge close bonds with their teenagers, and to have influence over them, she believes. “But they do all of these controlling things that put them at odds with their teenager rather than drawing them in closer.”
One of the young people interviewed shows what an impact good parent-teen communication about sex and relationships can have:
Rockman’s daughter, Casey Fulford, says she’s fortunate to have had open rapport about sex with her parents. “I loved that I could tell my mom anything,” the 20-year-old, third-year Queen’s University student says. “I’m meeting people now, some of them never have talked about sex with their parents—that they’re even having sex. Which is weird because it means they can’t go to them with questions.” The big lesson her mother imparted was, “You can always say no,” Fulford says. “And that was even before I started having sex. And that really benefited me. I know a lot of girls have gotten into situations they wished they hadn’t, but I’ve never done anything I’ve regretted.”
There has been a lot of interest coming from journalists in Canada in the topic of adolescent sexuality, parenting and culture, and in the public discussion sparked by my research and oped in last July’s New York Times. This week Canada’s Macleans Magazine — which, I am told, is like a cross between the New Yorker and Time Magazine — will be running a story on the topic, for which I was recently interviewed. I have several radio interviews scheduled over the next month with Canadian hosts, and I look forward to learning more about the Canadian perspective.
Tomorrow I leave for the Healthy Teen Network Conference in Pittsburgh, PA: Lots of great workshops and plenaries, including by Elizabeth Schroeder (Answer), Richard Garland (One Vision, One Life), and Ernestine Heldring (Scenarios USA). The HTN conference is also hosting a “From Pop to Hip Hop” art exhibition/performance at the Andy Warhol Museum.
Together with Veenod Chulani (MD), I’ll be leading a workshop for educators and providers on exploring the new ABCD’s of adolescent sexuality. I’ll also be doing a book reading and signing for Not Under My Roof. Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran an article on my research and conference participation, quoting Pat Paluzzi, CEO of the Healthy Teen Network:
“[The] book is very relevant to the national conversation we should be having in this country,” said Paluzzi. “We have a very schizophrenic view of sex. … It’s everywhere, yet we don’t like to talk about it, especially if it’s involving kids.”
In the NYT Sunday Review (Sept 25), NPR’s Gregory Warner, citing Census data, notes: “Adults between the ages of 25 and 34 are living in multigenerational households at a rate not seen since 1950.” For large segments of the American population, having adult children move back in with their parents signals failure. However, as Warner explains, this stigma simply is not present in many immigrant communities, including the family of his Russian wife. There he observes parents who hold pride in children who remain at home while saving for the future, and who relish their time spent together. Warner writes:
And then I think of so many American parents, who struggle to hide their disappointment when they tell their friends that their adult children have — oh dreaded words — “moved back in.” What child wouldn’t want to escape from that shadow into the trappings of independence, even if it meant tumbling into indebtedness?
In my book, Not Under My Roof, I find that many American parents not only see financial independence as a yard stick for adulthood; they also believe that “breaking away” from home earns youth the right to engage in sex. But what happens when it becomes harder and harder for young people to attain financial independence, even after completing college? Will this change lead to a re-evaluation of our criteria for adulthood, success, and autonomy? And what happens when multigenerational living becomes more common. Might that change, diminish the power of the “eeuw factor” of teenage sex, as Kep at Youthink suggests, and make it easier for parents to provide guidance?
I think that the sex issue with parents is primarily motivated by “eeeeeewwwww” factor more than anything, and I think because we’re entering into an era that’s more likely to have multigenerational living, I think those rules and norms will probably recede in favor of parents taking a more of a mentoring role for older teens as far as establishing normal, healthy adult relationships.