Pretending it doesn’t happen isn’t the answer.
My daughter is about to turn 18, and will attend college this fall. I know she’s had casual sex with two partners and coupled sex with one. The Center for Disease Control reports that over half of teens have sex by age 18, so pretending that casual sex isn’t happening in this age group is delusional.
I prefer to parent in a more realist sort of way, so even if these conversations get awkward and uncomfortable, I pull on my big girl pants and get to it. During a conversation about her recent breakup, she said she was glad she’d refrained from having sex with this new boyfriend. After asking her to explain, I learned that she had regrets about sleeping with one of her partners.
This set off alarm bells in my mom-brain.
I don’t care that she’s had casual sex.
I don’t care that she’s hooked up with people at a party.
I don’t care that she had sex in a car and narrowly escaped being caught.
I do care about the regret.
Regret feeds self-hatred, and I don’t want that nasty disease anywhere near my daughter’s mind.
As sex-positive parents, we want our children to embrace and celebrate their sexuality. We want them to own their bodies and take care of them. We’ve educated our children about birth control and barrier methods. We’ve had conversations about masturbation, consent and boundaries. We’ve even discussed casual sex Vs. intimate sex.
I made a mistake. When we were discussing casual sex, I forgot to have a conversation about regret.
Teenage brains make it easy for regret to seep in
Teenage brains aren’t always capable of long term planning. Teens have trouble assessing risk and thinking situations through to conclusion. My daughter had regrets about one sexual adventure because she’d failed to consider the ramifications of sleeping with a particular person before she jumped.
Here’s what she and I have learned about regret, and how teenagers can avoid it, as we unpacked her sexual decision making.
Having sex with people you go to high school with is messy
Teenagers are in constant contact via social media. There isn’t a single thing that happens in the lives of her friends that my daughter doesn’t know about immediately. We can debate whether this is good or bad, all we want, but that doesn’t change the fact that social media is ever-present in their lives. We have to teach our children to live in the world as it is while working to improve it.
Having sex with someone they attend high school with means that their sexual proclivities will be broadcast to the school community. The amount of slut-shaming that still comes with this is astonishing. While I have no problem with people having (safe, consensual) casual sex, I encourage them to keep their sex lives private, at least while they are navigating the hellish halls of high school.
For this reason, my daughter has decided against sleeping with people who attend her high school. Sure, she may be attracted to someone, but as humans we have the power to avoid entanglement despite any feelings we may have.
There are better ways to take care of the need for human connection
My daughter mentioned that when she slept with the person she later regretted, she wasn’t necessarily into him but, instead, was craving touch and human connection. Those are my mid-thirties words, not hers, but the sentiment is the same.
She had sex with someone while attempting to fill an emotional gap. Now she knows that when she’s considering sleeping with someone, she needs to do a deep dive into her mind. Teens can excuse themselves to the bathroom, take a moment to think about where they are and what they’re feeling. Giving yourself that moment of pause can be the difference between making a sexual decision that leaves you feeling empowered and one that makes you cringe in disgust afterward.
If what teens crave is human connection and intimacy, they can reach out to a group of friends (probably easier to do for young girls than young men, thanks to societal forces). My daughter has what she calls cuddle friends, friends who will spend the night snuggled up and watching movies. She also knows now that she can come to me. My job as her parent is to provide the emotional support she needs so she can make informed decisions.
Parents may consider buying their daughters a vibrator
This point may be controversial, and I admit I almost eliminated it. But, my readers count on me for being honest so I left it in.
My daughter had sex which she later regretted because, like so many women, she sometimes has trouble achieving orgasm through digital stimulation. In other words, teenage girls get horny (surprise! Women have a libido!) and masturbating isn’t always enough.
Upon hearing this, I gave my daughter my Amazon Prime password and an online guide to picking the right vibrator for your needs. If I’m comfortable discussing masturbation with her, I should also be comfortable talking about masturbation aids.
The idea that something as simple as a vibrator might keep her from having sex she later regrets was enough for me to get over the discomfort of that conversation.
Regret is a useless emotion
Regret and guilt are the refined sugar of the emotional realm. They are useless. They don’t spur us into action like fear and stress, and they don’t help us process life events like sadness and anger. Regret and guilt just sit in your gut, causing you to ruminate on your choices and wallow in self-hate.
The only use of guilt and regret is to help you learn from your behavior and do better the next time you encounter the same situation. Rather than ruminate, I urged my daughter to use this as a learning opportunity and be grateful to her past self for making a misstep so she could learn how to take care of her needs better.
The bottom line here is that our teenage and young adult children will most likely have casual sex. We can’t stick our heads in the sand just because the idea of them growing up makes us uncomfortable. Parents need to be a safe place to discuss all of the pieces of their lives that are rapidly growing more complicated. I’d rather deal with a few moments of discomfort than my daughter have a hefty therapy bill because she needs a listening ear.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash.