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What Happens on Prom Night? Concern With Prom Night (and Prom Sex)

As prom season approaches, parents begin to worry about their kids and prom sex – oral sex, sexual intercourse and the consequences thereof. I decided to interview some high school students and get their take.

One said, “Prom doesn’t have this, like, huge sex focus. A friend of mine had sex with a different guy the night before prom so her date broke up with her, kind of ruined Prom.”

Another said she always just goes with friends and has a blast.

Others said that they know guys expect things to happen on Prom night – and some girls do too.

My unscientific polling reveals that opinions vary. For kids who are sexually active, Prom is just another night. For others, it is a spectacular night of fun with friends, or one of sexual expectations realized or dashed.

How to Address Prom Night (and Prom Sex)

We, as parents and the community, often play large roles in creating this ceremonial, wedding-like night. We buy gowns, rent tuxedos, hire limousines and photographers, and we do this all for our kids. But what sort of expectation does this huge night create for our kids?

We may see Prom as an opportunity for some fancified fun. Our kids may see it differently. We should ask them just that. Ask your kid what Prom means. Why the fuss? Is it ridiculous or is it what they want? Are there unspoken expectations of sexual contact, sexual intimacy, or sexual intercourse on Prom night?

Be open to hearing what this discussion may bear. It might expose expectations among kid-culture that would make us want to torch the dance hall we just decorated. On the other hand, your teen may truly see Prom as a fancy, fun night out with friends.

If this conversation makes you uncomfortable, as it does for so many parents, here are some dialogue suggestions.

It is hard for me to initiate a conversation about sex – and I can only imagine that it is awkward for you, too. Before we begin the conversation I just want you to know that I love you. (Take a breath.) Part of being human is being sexual – okay, I am blushing – I am not here to give you a lecture, just to talk. Prom is coming up.

I remember my Prom night 600 years ago. I went with (my neighbor, your father, a creep, no one). For some of my friends this was the night they planned on losing their virginity. I don’t remember even hearing about anyone using condoms then – we actually called them ‘rubbers’ back then. This was before the age of HIV/AIDS. I bet you have learned all about this stuff in Health class? At this point, even if they are not talking they will hear that you are willing to talk and listen.

Puberty happens, thus sexual activity happens. Hopefully, from a very early age we have been talking with our kids about being sexual beings, and how to navigate in this powerful, looming, compelling terrain. By doing so, we are preparing them – we are helping them see around the bend ahead.

If we help Prom night materialize by purchasing a dress that looks like lingerie, by financing numerous tanning session or even just a chipping in for tux rental, we need to create discussions around this wedding-like event and the expectations that inevitably go along with it.

Regardless of your preference or opinion, we hope that a young couple with prom plans is using the tools we taught: planning, forethought and protection.

Jane Esselstyn, RN

Jane Esselstyn is a nurse and married mother of 3 kids (pre-teen and teenagers). She has been a sex ed teacher to middle and high-schoolers for 20 years and she is still standing.