Would Americans increase peace in family life and strengthen family bonds if they adopted more accepting attitudes about sex and what’s allowable under the family roof? I’ve interviewed 130 people, all white, middle class and not particularly religious, as part of a study of teenage sex and family life here and in the Netherlands. My look into cultural differences suggests family life might be much improved, for all, if Americans had more open ideas about teenage sex.
Amy Schalet is a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, via an education at Berkeley and Harvard and a postdoctoral fellowship at UC San Francisco. So it’s safe to say that I’m not surprised that she’s staked out some ground somewhere on the far left of left in her new book. As the father of a newly minted (one week ago) teenage daughter, however, this one has my head spinning around. And not in the fun head spinning around kind of way.
While I haven’t read the book, I am using some of the points that Dr. Schalet chose to illustrate her conclusions. Some of these conclusions seem more like generalizations based on what she picked out from her own book to make her case.
Kimberly and Natalie dramatize the cultural differences in the way young women experience their sexuality. (I have changed their names to protect confidentiality.) Kimberly, a 16-year-old American, never received sex education at home. “God, no! No, no! That’s not going to happen,” she told me. She’d like to tell her parents that she and her boyfriend are having sex, but she believes it is easier for her parents not to know because the truth would “shatter” their image of her as their “little princess.”
Natalie, who is also 16 but Dutch, didn’t tell her parents immediately when she first had intercourse with her boyfriend of three months. But, soon after, she says, she was so happy, she wanted to share the good news. Initially her father was upset and worried about his daughter and his honor. “Talk to him,” his wife advised Natalie; after she did, her father made peace with the change. Essentially Natalie and her family negotiated a life change together and figured out, as a family, how to adjust to changed circumstance.
It is quite unfortunate that “Kimberly” didn’t receive any sex education at home. As this article is laid out, she is supposed to be indicative of the American teenage experience. And she may very well have been if this was written in 1965. It’s true that I haven’t conducted any research on this subject. I am, however, fully immersed in the child-rearing experience, which, at the very least, gives me a legitimate frame of reference from which to form a somewhat informed opinion about this subject.