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Teen sleepovers: Yea or Nay?

A Facebook friend recently asked her friends if teen sleepovers with significant others was a common thing now. I don’t have any data on this, so I don’t know if it’s a trend, but it is probably more common now than it was 50 years ago. Just about 99.9% of the people replying to the post answered with a variation of “Hell to the No.” I responded, “Well, it depends.” Only one other mom agreed with me and she had lived in Europe for a time. I was not surprised.

Most of the time, adults want to protect children from making unhealthy decisions that result in early pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Parents may have other goals. For example, helping their children avoid intense relationships early on, or prohibiting sex before marriage. They may want to prescribe what is acceptable in terms of sexual orientation. But I think most parents can agree on pregnancy and STI prevention. It’s how we achieve our goals that opinions vary greatly.

How it works in the USA

So what does the evidence show us about what works? Many Americans have the “Not in my house!” attitude. I get it. Most people don’t want to condone teen sex, “They should be focused on school” or “I’m not going to make it any easier for them.” So to go along with this attitude, this is current state of the union for teen sexual health in the USA:

After a long stall, teen pregnancy rates declined between 2008-2011, however we still have the highest teen pregnancy rate when compared with other comparable countries.One in 4 teens have an STI in the USA (from what I could find those rates are far higher than rates for comparable countries in Europe)

The European way

Many European countries look at teens, sexuality, and sexual behavior in a different way. They see it as part of their normal development. They expect sex to happen eventually and so they make sure to give their kids access to the skills (communication, negotiation), information (anatomy and physiology, birth control, sex ed), and tools (birth control, sexual healthcare services) to be sexually healthy.

What is comes down to is, the more say you want to have regarding your child’s sexual health and behavior, the more you need to embrace and affirm that they are sexual beings– from birth to death.Emi Canahuati

And guess what, teen sleepovers notwithstanding, European teenagers don’t have sex any earlier than American teen sod. And, teens in Europe have lower rates of the things we want to avoid in the first place.

The conversation I would have if my child asked me for a sleepover

If my child asked me whether their partner could sleep over it would be the continuation of a on-going conversation that we started long ago about decision-making and being sexually healthy. Among the things I would want to make sure to talk about are:

  • What makes you feel like you are ready to have sex?

  • Have you discussed what you are going to do to prevent a pregnancy (if hetero) and STIs?

  • Are you able to talk about sex comfortably?

  • Have you discussed what you would do if you were to become pregnant (assuming that is an option)?

  • How well do you know your body and what makes you feel good/pleasure? And how well does your partner know their own body?

  • Are you able to communicate what you like and don’t like and is there mutual respect for setting limits?

  • How would you feel if had sex and then eventually were to break up?

  • What are you expectations for what sex will feel like? How do you want to feel? How do you think you will feel after having sex?

  • Do you feel like you care about this person and that they care about you, regardless of whether you have sex or not?

  • Is the relationship going to end if you don’t have sex?

These issues can be considered whether it’s the first time having sex or the 300th!

Sneaking around isn’t better

I would not want my daughter sneaking around or having to lie to us or to be in an unsafe place having sex. I’d ensure she knows that generally the longer she waits, the better. I also want to make sure she knows what she needs to know if she were to make a different decision than I would want for her. These conversations are about increasing the possibility that she would come to me with any concerns or problems (or celebrations!) she is having. If I can’t acknowledge that she is having sex, how would she be able to access me as a resource if she needs help?

The bottom line on teen sleepovers

What is comes down to is, the more say you want to have regarding your child’s sexual health and behavior, the more you need to embrace and affirm that they are sexual beings– from birth to death. This doesn’t mean you have to let them have sex in your home. It’s worth asking yourself what you think about teen sleepovers and why you feel this way. And, more importantly, is your current attitude likely to yield open, honest communication between you and your teen. It’s possibly an uncomfortable subject to delve into, but it’s worth it. For your child’s sake.

If you want to book a workshop on raising sexually healthy children, contact me at

Talk and thrive,

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