Question: We have been lucky to have open communication with our boys about sex over the years. Now they are 16 and 17 and have girlfriends. The 16-year-old has opted for "everything but" because that makes him feel safest. The 17-year-old is having sex and wants me to allow his 18-year-old girlfriend to spend the night. I have persuaded them to get on the pill, but I feel like they should be having sex in the backseats of cars like the rest of us had to. (Ha, just a little humor there!)
But seriously, I have given a lot of weak-sounding reasons why they can't have sleepovers, like "You can't handle the emotions of that kind of thing," but I really need some heavier artillery. They have thoroughly rejected my arguments for abstinence, by the way.
Should I stand my ground, or do you think I should just go ahead and host their sex lives?
Answer: Not unless you think it's a good idea. You're the parent and this is your house and that does come with privileges.
That doesn't solve the problem you touched on with your sorta-but-not-really-a-joke. You're hardly the first parent to do the 2-plus-2 on "allowing" an older teenager to have sex, which is really just accepting that forbidding it is impossible to enforce. So, logically, the backseat is the next place this argument goes: Your son is having sex, you know he's having sex, but where?
It's a huge leap from "It's his life" to "It's his bedroom," though, one a lot of parents rightly don't feel comfortable making, even while acknowledging the practical absurdity of the result: "You have my blessing to sneak around and get a little wherever you can — responsibly! — without getting busted."
This brings us back to the head-of-household privilege. No matter how free the country, we're all subject to certain restrictions. Laws are the big ones, but we're also limited (or liberated) by our physical abilities; our acceptance by and responsibilities to schools, employers, and other institutions; and our financial means.
Your 17-year-old boy not only is still a minor, but also does not have the financial and institutional standing to support himself. Instead, he lives at home, becoming an adult incrementally on his parents' dime. It makes no sense for parents to absorb the money and decision-making burdens of adulthood while just handing their kids the perks. If Junior wants to play house, then he can rent house. If he doesn't like the backseat, then he can be resourceful, or abstinent.
Remember, he's already living within these limits in ways he isn't contesting, affecting everything from what he eats and drinks, to when he drives, to where he leaves dirty socks. If he wants to go on a spontaneous road trip, crack a noon beer, hang socks on the chandelier, and have sex in his own bed — i.e., if he wants to enjoy the full privileges of autonomy — then he's welcome to become fully autonomous. Or at least go to sleep-away college.
Meaning: Your reasons were fine — just "weak-sounding" for lack of conviction.
There's nothing "lucky," by the way, about your open communication with your kids about sex. That was and is always a choice.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.