Dear Your Teen:
My 13-year-old daughter says she’s bisexual and has a crush on a girl, but we don’t know who it is. My husband and I are very okay with her sexuality, but we are wondering whether sleepovers with girls are appropriate, especially ones with the girl we suspect is her crush.
I think she’s too young for sex and will talk to her about that, but what if things go there? I’m a little less concerned knowing that there’s no chance of pregnancy and less risk of STIs, but is it okay? Is it a double standard to be okay with it if we’re not okay with a coed sleepover? What are appropriate limits?
EXPERT | Jennifer M. Grossman, Ph.D.
It’s great that you’re supportive of your daughter’s sexuality and that she feels comfortable communicating about this with you. It’s understandable that you have concerns about same-sex sleepovers. It can be tough to figure out how to set boundaries in a situation like this without being overbearing or creating a double standard.
Though it may not seem like it when teens are rolling their eyes and trying to escape the kitchen table, research shows they value open and honest conversations with family about sex and relationships. However, teens who identify as LGBTQ report that parents talk with them less about dating and sex than parents of straight teens do. When they do talk, parents tend to focus on heterosexual situations and don’t discuss issues specific to the teen’s sexual orientation and experience.
This is a great chance to talk with your daughter in a way that recognizes how this situation is different because of her sexual orientation.
4 Things to Keep in Mind as You Address Your Daughter’s Sexuality:
1. Be open and honest—let her know that this is uncharted territory for you.
Tell her that you want to think and talk through how her request for a sleepover fits with her identifying as bi. Remind her that your ultimate goal is to make sure she’s safe and healthy. It’s okay to acknowledge your uncertainty and to let her know that you want to talk through this together.
2. Ask what she expects from a sleepover.
Is the girl just a friend or is this someone she has a crush on? Let her know that a sleepover with someone she has a crush on can be tricky depending on her readiness for something physical to happen. Tell her you’re not making any assumptions, but you want to make sure she’s emotionally and physically prepared if and when a romantic or sexual situation arises.
3. Like any aspect of parenting, it’s okay to set rules and limits for behavior.
While this situation is unique, you can still approach this issue in ways that fit your parenting in other aspects of her life. If you don’t think she’s ready for sex, talk to her about why you feel that way and give her a chance to express how she feels. Even without a risk of pregnancy and low risk of an STI, the emotional consequences of sex shouldn’t be overlooked. Though you can’t control your daughter’s actions, you can let her know what you expect from her and why.
4. Talk to her about issues of consent.
Ask her about what she feels she’s ready for in terms of sexual activity. Suggest that she think about what she wants and what would be too much for her. Talk together about how to say what she wants (or doesn’t want) to a potential partner. These are important tools for her to take care of herself in future relationships, even if they aren’t an issue right now.
Though discussions about sexuality can throw parents for a loop, remember that this is a parenting process like any other. Being open with your daughter and listening to her perspective are great places to start.