Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Dating Does Not Mean Sex

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Just a friendly reminder to parents that dating does not equal sex. I cannot tell you how many teens have shared with me that the first lecture they got from their parents when they started dating was about sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and unwanted pregnancy. Their reactions were "what?"

When young teens start dating it is because they have found themselves twitterpated (which is apparently not a real word), and attracted to someone. Chances are good it is more of an emotional attraction than a sexual one, and one that will wax and wane, usually end with tears, but not kill them.

It is easy to understand why parents panic and worry about sexuality and the risks associated with that sexuality - we live in an extremely over-sexualized culture that can make us believe that everyone is having sex - which is not true. Please remember that only half of teens start being sexual before they are 18, but most fall in love at least once before leaving high school.

Dating is about learning how to be in a relationship, and you will be doing your children a great service if you talk with them about relationships, not sex. It is a good idea to make the difference really clear for them, and make your expectations very clear, too! If you expect your teen to not become sexual, tell them that, and why. Ask them to tell you what there limits and expectations about relationships and sex are. Here are some topic suggestions:
  • What do they think dating includes?
  • What does sexual pressure look and feel like?
  • How would your child resist sexual pressure?
  • How long do they think people should date before the topic of sex even comes up?
  • How will they know if someone is the "one?"
  • What would have to happen before they did think about sexual behavior?
If the possibility exists that they will be sexual, then, you can have the conversation about sex - but not if they tell you they will not be swayed and are not interested - you have to trust them.

Many teens are afraid of dating or choose not to date because a partner may expect sex, so they find a friend or pseudo partner to attend events with and protect them from having to resist sexual pressure - which is a great strategy, but keeps them from trying on relationships.

Oh the conversations that we might have ... keep talking and make sure they know you are open to talking - even about things that make you squirm.
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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