Dear Dr. G.,
I think I may be making a fool of myself here, but I need your input. I'm wondering if every time someone says that they are in love that that means they are involved in a sexual relationship. I'm almost scared to hear the answer.
Here is what is going on: My 16-year-old daughter says that she is in love with her boyfriend of three months. She does not spend all of her time with him. In fact, she has good friends and she does not appear to be ignoring them since this boy came into the picture. She also continues to get decent grades and is going to dance classes as usual. The point that I am trying to make is that while she tells me that she is in love with this boy, she continues to do well in the other areas of her life as usual.
I must tell you that this is my daughter's first boyfriend. He is a nice boy, as far as I know. I have allowed my daughter to go on dates with him as long as she checks in with me so I know their whereabouts and that she gets home by curfew. I've asked my daughter what she means when she says she is in love and she just says that she really really is crazy about this boy.I can't bring myself to ask her if she's sexually involved because the thought of my daughter in that sort of entanglement frightens me to death.
Here are my questions for you:
1. Can love exist without sex?
2. Should I talk to my daughter about sex, and how?
3. Is it OK for a 16-year-old to date, or am I making a dreadful error?
Please help me Dr. G.
-A Freaked Out Mother
I'm here to give you support and to answer your questions. I am delighted that you wrote to me. Let me start with your first question.
1. Can love exist without sex? There are many definitions of love, but my favorite is to describe it as a deep and intense feeling of affection. I am fully convinced that love can and does exist without sex for some teens, adults and even those in marriages. I am not suggesting that love should exist without sex or that love is enhanced by avoiding sex. Instead, I am telling you what I have learned in my three decades of work with teens and adults in all sorts of relationships and their phases. Of course love is more often than not associated with sex and even tremendously enhanced by sex for many, but that does not mean that the two always go hand-in-hand or body-to-body.
2. Should I talk to my daughter about sex, and how? I'm afraid that despite your anxiety about sex, it is necessary to talk to your daughter about this sensitive topic. You may be worried that if you talk to your daughter about sex that that will give her the idea that you are encouraging it. That is unlikely to be the case. Instead, your daughter may be both relieved while at the same time a bit anxious. Treat it like any other topic. While I understand how sensitive a topic it is, sex is a natural part of the human condition. Talk to your daughter about both the emotional and physical aspects of sex. All of our kids need to be aware that sex is very emotionally connecting. Too often, we forget to teach our kids that emotional and physical intimacy are very deeply connected. Perhaps you would like to take your daughter to her pediatrician to talk about STDs and contraception. Perhaps she is not at all ready for sex, but nonetheless, she is at the age where she should be talking about it and and getting her questions answered. Believe me, you will be doing her a great service. Discuss your anxiety with your friends and find out what has worked for them. My guess is that they all have some degree of anxiety about this sort of conversation.
3. Is it acceptable for a 16-year-old to date? It depends on the 16-year-old. If he or she is mature enough to handle curfews and limits, then that is a good sign that he or she is ready to begin dating. Teens who are starting to date should also be expected to maintain their friendships and other aspects of their lives. I am very much aware that many parents feel that 16-year-olds are too young to date, but I, on the other hand, feel that there is a great deal to be learned from dating. This is especially beneficial while your kids are still under your roof and you and they can talk about healthy vs. unhealthy aspects of dating.
I know that you may learn that your daughter is sexually involved or at least that the thought has entered her mind. Take some deep breaths and then ask her about her feelings and what other sources of support might be helpful for her. By 16, many, but not all teens in the U.S. have been sexually active. I am not trying to alarm you. I am trying to prepare you. Now go talk to your girl and please get back to me.