Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Have a grownup conversation about a grownup subject: sex
Small Town, USA: My 15-year-old daughter is thinking about having sex with her 17-year-old boyfriend (her first). She says she has only two friends who are still virgins, she and her boy are "in love," and people shouldn't look at girls who have sex as sluts. I think she is naive, emotionally unprepared for this step, wanting to not be the odd virgin out, and has a bad case of "consequences won't happen to me."
Any thoughts on approaches I can take to show her this is not a good idea? Or alternatively, ways to keep myself from freaking out over this possibility?
Carolyn: She is talking to you about this, honestly — I hope you have given her the credit and respect she deserves for that.
That will, not coincidentally, go a long way toward establishing you as someone who has her interests in mind, not just your own. It's an important distinction especially to someone who's 15, and therefore deeply invested in distinguishing herself from you.
Agree with her that girls who have sex aren't sluts — but this isn't about reputation. Besides being true, that will also put you on the same side where she likely expects opposition. That gives more weight to anything else you say.
Then explain what it is about: making big decisions for the right reasons.
What society thinks isn't relevant. What her friends do isn't relevant. (Though both have the power to make her miserable, if she'll let them.) Whether she's ready to take responsibility for her sexual health is relevant. (Can she remember to take medication regularly, or use a barrier method correctly and/or in the heat of the moment?) Whether she's ready to raise a child, abort one or place one for adoption is relevant, since birth control isn't perfect. When you're doing things that will potentially create a life, your life has to be at a stage where you can handle that responsibility.
Whether she's ready to say to a future boyfriend, "I have herpes," is relevant. Whether a breakup with this guy will make her wish she'd waited is abstract, but relevant.
You can add to the list, I'm sure. And if she resists discussing such implications, then that's relevant, too: "I can't give you my blessing to do adult things if you won't even talk about adult things."
D.C.: Re: Small Town: A frank chat between the daughter and her doctor might also be helpful, especially to the extent s/he can talk about the reality of consequences happening all the time to people who "never thought it would happen to them." Having a very sweet college roommate who got herpes from her first sexual partner really hit home with me back in the day.
Carolyn: Good to add to the list, thanks. A disinterested, professional source of information can't easily be dismissed as having an agenda, as parents often are. That's especially true for kids who've built their fledgling identities on a platform of Anything Not Mom and Dad — though this doesn't seem to be the case here.