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Mixed Signals: My Mom Is Sex-Positive, So Why Can’t I Share My Bed?

What happens when a teen feels one way about a particular issue or problem and the parent has a very different take? At Your Teen, we understand that sometimes you need to look at a problem from multiple perspectives. It can also be helpful to hear from a neutral third party. That’s when we bring in a parenting expert to provide the practical advice you need to bridge the divide and help restore harmony.

TEEN | Jaden Jones

My boyfriend and I started dating in eighth grade and have been together for two years. To many adults, this is astonishing. All my friends who are in relationships have also been with their partner for at least six months, another supposedly astonishing fact. My friends and I constantly feel that adults refuse to take us or our relationships seriously or treat us as equals.

My parents are very open to talking about sex and consent, and they’ve made my household a very sex-positive environment. However, when my boyfriend started going on overnight vacations with my family starting about eight months into our relationship, my mother made it very clear we were never allowed to sleep in the same bed.

I haven’t had much of an issue with this rule, as I merely enjoy the presence of my significant other. But I also challenge the rhetoric and belief that lies behind it, because of course I would one day love to have the privilege of sharing a bed with him.

My mother’s first instinct was to argue that “a bed should only be shared during marriage, or when you’re married. It’s… like… a marital bed!” While she thought this was strong reasoning, I mostly wanted to guffaw.

She herself has agreed that marriage is a social construct, and she readily advocates for the practice of cohabitation that all her Swedish friends take part in. And in no way do I want to live with my boyfriend at this age—we simply would like to try sleeping side by side.

Even psychologists have found that sharing a bed with your loved one increases intimacy and happiness, improves sleep, and decreases the risks of depression and anxiety.

I could understand her discomfort if she was heavily against people our age having sex, but she isn’t. Besides, not a single teen I know would try to have sex while their parents are sleeping just a few feet away. So what is the harm in our sleeping next to each other, if the harm doesn’t come from sex?

Jaden Jones is a sophomore in high school and enjoys theater, dance, and travel blogging on www.middleschooldropoutblog.wordpress.com in her free time.


PARENT | Kim Kraft-Jones

My husband and I consider ourselves relatively liberal parents. When it comes to talking about relationships and sex with our 16-year-old daughter, we are both committed to having open communication, remaining supportive, and being open-minded.

We talk about safe sex and informed decision-making, and we try to avoid a lot of the negative messaging that we grew up with that often led to associating sex with shame or fear. Inspired by Peggy Orenstein’s book, Girls and Sex, as well as in response to the #MeToo movement, we have talked to our daughter and her boyfriend about “enthusiastic consent,” and we have tried to give them space while still maintaining some boundaries.

This is uncharted water for us, so sometimes (usually) we make up the rules as we go along. For example, while we have told our daughter that we respect her and think she is mature enough to make her own decisions regarding relationships, we do not allow her to be home alone with her boyfriend or to close the bedroom door if they are hanging out. And when we invite him on overnight trips, we require that they sleep in separate beds.

I am not really sure myself why we have these specific rules; instinctively, it feels like good parenting, but, maybe ironically, I am the one who is influenced by societal norms.

None of my American friends would ever let their kids sleep with their boyfriends, but several of my Swedish friends are much more open to the idea. In fact, way back in the early ‘90s, when I was an exchange student in Sweden at age 17, my host sister often had her boyfriend stay the night.

I can see (and our daughter points out) that our rules sometimes contradict our messaging around respect for her right to be sex-positive and explore her sexual identity. At one point I even tried to justify that I thought of the bed as marital space, but that is not really in line with anything I believe. The bottom line might just be that I have my limits of comfort with witnessing my daughter grow into a woman, and for now, those limits include not waking up in my hotel room next to her in bed with her boyfriend.

Kim Kraft is an academic adviser and Swedish instructor at the University of Washington. In her free time, she loves planning her future travels but also enjoys spending time with family and friends near her home in the Pacific Northwest.


EXPERT | Dr. Sanam Hafeez

Jaden, I know it can be confusing to reconcile your mom being sex-positive with what you are hearing from her about the idea of sharing a bed with your boyfriend. In the end, though, this situation is about what your mother is comfortable with letting you experience at your age. It is not about what she believes in general.

Kim, even though your views may be liberal in terms of teen sex, it is okay for us to worry and concern ourselves with the emotional and physical bonds our children develop with their boyfriends or girlfriends. As a responsible and loving parent, there should be no remorse in delineating your rules for your child.

Tips for the Conversation You Need to Have

Here are some simple things to keep in mind when approaching this conversation:

1. Temper your desire for authority.

Don’t be overly authoritative. Teens are often in the fast lane of hormonal and psychological growth. They may become infatuated with the idea of independence. They can feel frustration that they can’t yet do everything they want to do. At the same time, parents are in the tricky spot of enforcing rules without letting rules divide them from their children.

2. Watch your tone.

It doesn’t help to come at this conversation with a rigid and forceful tone. “My house, my rules!” or “I am the parent, and you are the child!” These types of phrases can ramp up tension in the conversation. Ultimately it interferes with the child understanding the purpose of those rules.

3. Be willing to be vulnerable.

Share personal experiences and lessons. Being open and vulnerable with your teenager can help them relate to you more and understand your point. Sharing anecdotes and lessons that you have learned in your own life can help them see that you are making informed decisions about the restrictions you place on them—and that ultimately, you want them to have great experiences without growing up too fast.

4. See conversation as an opportunity.

If both mother and daughter can look at this situation as a journey of understanding between the two, it could allow for vulnerability without judgment. It even offers the potential for a closer mother-daughter relationship.

5. Be firm but trusting.

Many parents feel that even after they have difficult conversations with their child, they have to hover over them in case the teen attempts to break any rules. In this case, I would suggest cautiously trusting your teen. It is not a good feeling for the teen to have difficult conversations and understand why certain rules are in place—and then still not be trusted or allowed to spend time with their crush without scoldings or warnings. Trust them and be vigilant, but most importantly be there for your child with open arms.

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Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., is a New York City-based licensed clinical psychologist, teaching faculty member at the Columbia University Teacher’s College, and the founder and clinical director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C.