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Teenage Sexuality and Parenting Perceptions

“We’ve done a really good job of constructing sexually active teens in a highly negative way, in a way that really emphasizes the risks, the peril — and not the pleasure. When’s the last time you heard anything about teen sexual activity that was positive? Parents aren’t hearing anything positive about teen sexuality, they’re hearing about the profound physical, psychological and social consequences of sex. So of course when they look at their teens they don’t want to imagine their kid encountering those risks.” – Sociologist, Sinikka Elliott, North Carolina State University

Dr. Elliot is interviewed by Salon.com’s Tracy Clark-Flory about the new book, “Not My Kid: What Parents Believe About the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers.”

In the interview, Elliott refers to a professor I studied with while completing my Master’s degree in Sexuality Studies at SF State, Dr. Jessica Fields. Professor Fields text, “Risky Lessons,” is about sex education and problematizes how we as a society too narrowly define sexuality to intercourse. We ignore the inherent sexuality of all human beings in favor is something transactional. Elliot describes Fields’ thesis as, “Why are we talking about sexually active teens as only those who are engaged in some form of sexual activity? We’re all sexually active because we all have bodies and we all live in a culture that’s imbued with sex. It challenges us to fundamentally rethink how we’re talking about teens and sexuality.”


Read the interview with Dr. Elliot. I’ve already referred to the Slate.com review of the book here. But in this Salon piece, the author gets to speak for herself. I recommend Elliot’s book for parents as a way to create context for yourself. These texts can help you situate yourself within some very extreme poles. I also recommend reading the cultural commentary it is producing in this moment.

As for sex-positive parenting, both of these sociology texts speak to what I am trying to teach parents; how to have conversations about sexuality that are expansive, ongoing and include the good stuff… like pleasure and bonding and those feelings of belonging that teens are searching for. We have to speak up about those aspects of sexuality too.

And believe it or not, fellow parents, more of you want to have those conversations than not. Wanting to have in depth ongoing conversations about sex, sexuality, and gender is normal. We just don’t have enough examples about how to go about it that aren’t creepy. We have a way too high creep quotient in our society. Just referring to an adult, any adult, talking to kids about sexuality can be triggering. There are so many inappropriate comments made towards kids by adults who have an ulterior motive… nobody wants to be that creepy boundary violating adult. But that desire to avoid being creepy is preventing us from educating our kids. We need to face down that fear that having these conversations is the same thing as being sexually inappropriate.