this one time? at my mom's house?
September 7, 2012 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Should I let my kids' girlfriends sleep at our house?

My kids are 18 and 16, in their last year of high school. I have a very open-door kind of house and having their buddies (guys) sleep over has always been ok. My rule with regard to girls in the house has always been the typical not in the bedrooms, not in the house when I'm not there, etc.

The 16-year-old had a girlfriend for about a year and a half and I had no problem with the rule of no shenanigans on my watch as they were young and her parents were definitely disapproving of any shenanigans whatsoever (two of her sisters already had babies as teens!). It never occurred to me to "accommodate" them, then they broke up, and that was that.

Now my 18-year-old has his first real girlfriend. She is 18 also. Same rule at my house, but at her house, he is allowed to sleep over. I am ok with it, he goes over there once or twice a week, and the biggest problem is that he doesn't drive and she's across town with just a scooter & public transport is minimal so it's a hassle getting him where he needs to be all the time.

But, I'm thinking, if I don't really have a problem at all, in principle, with my kids being sexually active, then why not allow it in their own rooms? Is a no-shenanigans-in-the-house rule just maintaining a pretense that they aren't sexually active? If I let go of the rule, then this girl would spend more time at our house & I would get to know her (I like her influence on my son but I think she feels unwelcome, it's hard for them to spend time on our side of town at all since she then has no way of getting home at the end of the night). A year from now, at least one of them is going to be away at college. I would like for them to feel as comfortable bringing their girlfriends home as they always have bringing their buddies home.

I'm having trouble articulating my thoughts about this ... I think I have some cognitive dissonance going on between what I've always "known" to be the way things are, and the way things really are! Any parents out there who have some experience with this? Please share whatever pros & cons you have on the subject. Thanks.
posted by headnsouth to Society & Culture (60 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you well and truly are okay with your kids being sexually active, then I don't see a problem. I'd sit them down and give them a talk about safe sex, responsiblity and not keeping up anyone else in the house.

You can also call the girl's parents to understand how the arrangements are over there, so that you don't step on their toes. If they're cool with it.

You can buy a shit-load of condoms for your son. Better than diapers.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:41 AM on September 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

18, fine. 16, NO.

I remember a story a few years ago where a 17 year old girl (I think in Georgia?) was undergoing inappropriate-sexual-contact-with-a-minor charges for giving her 16 year old boyfriend a blow job. That is not the only story like that out there. Even if I know it's bullshit, and you know it's bullshit, and pretty much any reasonable person would know it's bullshit, that is something you really don't want to be involved in.

But sure, if you're cool with it, I don't see any reason why your 18 year old kid and his 18 year old girlfriend can't have a sleepover in your house.
posted by phunniemee at 10:41 AM on September 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

Shenanigans are already going on. There is literally nothing you can do, save being tethered to them 24/7, to stop it.

I think the 18 year old should be able to, the 16 year old is too young.

Use the opportunity to talk to your son about safe sex and make that a requirement for any goings-on.
posted by inturnaround at 10:44 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

if I don't really have a problem at all, in principle, with my kids being sexually active, then why not allow it in their own rooms?

If they're 18, they're not kids. Surely that makes the decision for you and leaves a watershed - if both participants are 18 or over, then they just have to be discreet, surely?
posted by Brockles at 10:44 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

The only problem with you allowing teens and adult children to have their SOs spend the night regularly is that they have, in my experience, a tendency to stay over more or less indefinitely. If you're ok with having a new roommate, go for it. If not, set some ground rules, 2 nights a week only or something like that.

Other than that, just keep the parents of the 16 y.o. in the loop about this, and you should be fine.
posted by Garm at 10:44 AM on September 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm not a parent, but a few parents of my friends had basically this setup. The girlfriend of my closest friend whose parents allowed this became very close with his parents, as she spent a lot of time at his house, which, I can only assume, made things more harmonious for everyone involved. He became rather close with her parents for the same reason.

Their logic was the same as yours, in that they really couldn't pretend like they weren't sexually active, so they might as well allow it so they don't end up doing something stupid (this was also their approach to our drinking in high school.)
posted by griphus at 10:45 AM on September 7, 2012

MetaFilter's own Maias has done a bunch of journalistic work looking at the differences between how Dutch parents and American parents deal with this issue that you might find enlightening.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:46 AM on September 7, 2012 [33 favorites]

I think I have some cognitive dissonance going on between what I've always "known" to be the way things are, and the way things really are!
Your dissonance can be easily harmonized: your son didn't use to be 18. Now he is.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:47 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think that if you were to establish ground rules, the ground rules would be that they would do it during the day when you're not trying to go to bed.

My younger brother lives at home and it drives me insane being woken up to them doing it at 3 AM after he comes home from the bar when I go to visit my parents.
posted by DetriusXii at 10:47 AM on September 7, 2012

Now my 18-year-old has his first real girlfriend. She is 18 also.

They're adults, why do you care? I get the whole "my roof, my rules", but why do you care? If you don't have a problem with this in priciple, it seems like you are doing it just to delay the acceptable that they are about to be, or are, officially adults.

I would like for them to feel as comfortable bringing their girlfriends home as they always have bringing their buddies home.

Well, they won't, because you've made it clear that in your house, regardless of their real age, they are 12.

The 16-year-old had a girlfriend for about a year and a half and I had no problem with the rule of no shenanigans on my watch

"Watch" is the key word. It just happened while you weren't watching.
posted by spaltavian at 10:48 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

er, they might as well allow it under their roof so the kids didn't end up doing something stupid. In this case that "something" being lying, renting gross cheap hotel rooms, getting caught by cops in cars, and all sorts of other crap.
posted by griphus at 10:48 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think by the age of eighteen, yeah, it's safe to let them stay over. My parents never pretended that teenagers aren't at least trying to be sexually active so by the time it got to that point, they were fine with it. Saying they can't do things in the house is just maintaining a pretense since they probably are doing something in the house anyway (seriously, teenagers are basically wizards when it comes to furtive banging) and you already know they're up to something at her house so your in-the-house rule is just lip service paid to The Done Thing.

What I can tell you is that the relaxed attitude my parents had meant that I lost my virginity in a goddamn bed instead of the backseat of something (Dear past generations: I don't know if cars were just bigger then or what but I have no clue how you managed to screw back there) and I never took stupid risks out of a lack of safer environment.

That said, I think that polite fictions are important, and I think it'd be worthwhile to establish with your son (not in front of her, my God the ghastly embarrassment that would result) some ground rules about it: Sleepovers are fine but must be accompanied by discretion; whatever they're doing is fine as long as you don't hear it happening. Also a limit to how many sleepovers a week, lest she wind up basically de facto living there - these things happen. Et cetera.

For the 16 year old, I mean, I wouldn't say to give the kid handjob tips or anything but if it were my kid I'd at least make sure they had condoms and anything beyond that, you don't want to know about. This is what my parents did and it worked out pretty well. Some part of you might balk at the feeling that you're enabling them but, as said above, if they're gonna do it they're gonna do it and you might as well rest easy knowing they'll be doing it safely.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:49 AM on September 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

I was in my early thirties and my girlfriend at the time was in her late 20s, and when we visited her parents' house, we weren't allowed to sleep together because that was the house rule (it applied to her brothers and their girlfriends as well). It would have been okay if the brothers had been married/we had been commitment-ceremonied (no gay marriage in MA at that time).

But other parents have other rules. If you want to change the rules for your house, that's okay. I think that having it be a way to get to know his girlfriend better is a good one, though you should definitely check in (with her? her parents? I dunno) about what the setup really is at her house.
posted by rtha at 10:51 AM on September 7, 2012

If you're worried about the precedent you're setting for your younger son, you might also mention that you wouldn't be comfortable having the girlfriend as an overnight guest if you hadn't already met her so many times.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:52 AM on September 7, 2012

The only problem with you allowing teens and adult children to have their SOs spend the night regularly is that they have, in my experience, a tendency to stay over more or less indefinitely. If you're ok with having a new roommate, go for it.

This is definitely something to consider. My 20-something brother currently lives at home and his girlfriend has essentially moved in, even though she doesn't *technically* live there.

So, yeah, if they're both 18 then I think it is fine, but you should definitely establish some ground rules regarding frequency, just to ensure that you don't end up with her pretty much living there.
posted by asnider at 10:52 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

My high school boyfriend (we were both 18) lived a few towns over. My parents were worried about me taking the bus late at night, so they let me stay spend the night with my boyfriend. His parents were also super relaxed about the whole thing, and I could sleep in his bed when I stayed over and they gave us a lot of privacy. When he stayed at my house, my parents insisted that he sleep on a futon on the basement.

We were good kids, we were legally adults, and we weren't sneaking around and getting into trouble (well, most of the time).
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:01 AM on September 7, 2012

There is a not very fine line between recognizing the realities of teen behavior, quite another thing to condone it. Sex, Alcohol, Drugs. You know its going to happen and you can't stop it and you should do what ever you can to minimize risk, but you shouldn't be encouraging it.

This isn't to say sleepovers should be verboten, but rather they should not be standard operating procedure and I agree with the idea of polite fictions being important. You shouldn't be making her breakfast in the morning.
posted by JPD at 11:03 AM on September 7, 2012

Well, in my extended family, when a teenaged paramour has been located across town, he or she has been allowed to spend the night when it would be inconvenient to get back home so long as he or she had some actual sleeping arrangement that was not conducive to, ah, shenanigans. If the paramour wanted to stay over, you slept on an air mattress in your parents' room and he or she slept in your room if, for example, you two had stayed up late studying and both had to go to school the next day and she or he lived a commute away.

In retrospect, it was more an extremely polite fiction that allowed everyone to get what they wanted than an actual preventative measure, but something similar might work for you.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:04 AM on September 7, 2012

My dear aunt had the rule that no one unmarried could sleep in the same bed (which became hilarious to my brothers and I when my father and his live-in girlfriend came with us to stay for a week at christmas.) All of us kids were adults, but the rule was in place for the benefit of our much younger cousins.

Now that all the cousins have come of age, the rule has expired. We know that when the next generation pops up, she's going to reinstitute the rule.

The point is- there are lots of different ways to handle this. we were always aware that the rules were somewhat arbitrary, but the reasons for drawing a line in the sand were always clearly presented by my parents and family. Clear rules and consitancy.
posted by Blisterlips at 11:07 AM on September 7, 2012

Adding to the 18 yes, 16 no bandwagon. At my parents' house it was once you're in college, it's OK for significant others to sleep over.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:08 AM on September 7, 2012

My son, back from college, had his then girlfriend for a visit. We assumed they slept together now and then away from home so we allowed them to do so at our home. Under 18? no way.
Oddly, I am old and therefore old fashioned so that what a young man would do is ok but then I might get a bit queasy if my daughter did it. She is now off at college and is 18. Yes: a double standard. After all, I was in the Army hen I was 18 and it was then other men's daughters.
posted by Postroad at 11:09 AM on September 7, 2012

I think you need to think about the details of the new rule. For instance, you'll probably feel quite happy having a nice girl you already know stay over, but what if somewhere down the line you're waking up with a different young woman in the house every morning? Or you become aware he's cheating on the girlfriend you know with someone else? How will you feel?

So it's not just the teens-having-sex issue, it's about who you are comfortable having stay in your house, and how well do you have to know them. Presumably the parents of their same-sex friends are just a phone call away: this might not be the case for future girl-friends. I'd suggest you really think about what you would and wouldn't be comfortable with, and have a discussion with your 18-year-old to negotiate reasonable guidelines.
posted by glasseyes at 11:10 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was 17-19, my then-girlfriend's mom was absolutely fine with me sleeping over, with everything that entailed. She was a single mom whose approach was to treat us as essentially adults, and formatively, that meant a lot—she was probably the first person to do so for me, pre-college. I don't remember specifics, but the family was extraordinarily open about safe sex and other matters of similar importance, and sex in general. My then-girlfriend responded in kind: acted as responsible as was expected of her, and so did I by extension.

This contrasts starkly with my parents, who expected unmarried couples to sleep in separate rooms well into my 20s, and even my sister and her fiancé when both were living at my parents' house.

There was a bond between my then-girlfriend and her mom that went along with that trust that I never had with my parents, and while it's hard to say if the trust came first or the bond came first (chicken-and-egg-like), it was a really wonderful dynamic that I'm envious of to this day.

Once later in our relationship with both of us on the older end of the age range, while laying in bed in post-coital repose, her mom walked in on us and totally saw me naked. I was mortified. She said "OH, SORRY." and left, and when we went downstairs later, she told us to help ourselves to some grilled cheese and chatted with us with no awkwardness whatsoever. Damn she was a great mom.

Would this work with your kids? Maybe, maybe not. If they're preternaturally mature and you have that bond, then it's more likely than if they're immature and you don't really trust them. I know plenty of kids who I'd lock in the trunk of a car before letting them in the same room as somebody of the opposite sex. But if it works, it's a really powerful, positive thing.
posted by S. Puppet Sockefeller IV at 11:16 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sex, fine. I'd be more worried about the emotional side. If they're always sleeping at her house or your house, when will they be apart? I'd want to make sure that my son was getting some time to himself, to be himself.
posted by that's how you get ants at 11:17 AM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

if I don't really have a problem at all, in principle, with my kids being sexually active, then why not allow it in their own rooms?

Because teenagers are not always as considerate about their sexual behavior as adults, especially in shared spaces, and because you don't know what you're exposing your younger child to by writing your older child a blank check for sexy funtimes in the house.

Between his girlfriend's place and yours, what they're headed into is a sort of Cohabitation Lite. Not that this is a bad thing, but it certainly lays the track for a MUCH more serious relationship, and one that is more likely to involve both parties' families (compared to, say, if they were living together in an apartment).

You can tell your child, "I respect your relationship very much, but I don't think our household is ready to accommodate a situation where you and she can spend the night together here. I'm not sure it would be good for (younger child) and I'm afraid you'll just have to humor me for a while as I sort this out."
posted by hermitosis at 11:17 AM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think it depends on where the eighteen year old is at. Just turned eighteen and a first-semester senior in high school? No.

I don't think it's a matter of being OK with them being sexually active. I think that high school is a time for being somewhat still a kid under your parents' supervision, and concentrating on being a high school kid. Part of the deal with being a high school kid is that you're not out forging a life as an adult, you're nominally still a "child" in some ways. Even if you are an eighteen or nineteen year old high school student. There is a socio-cultural line drawn between high school and college, and in my experience there's not much room for grey areas or blurring those lines. Most of the kids I knew as a teenager who were encouraged to live a more adult-style life as high school students did not do well going forward.

I don't get the concern/sympathy for the fact that the girlfriend lives across town and neither of them has wheels. C'est la vie. That's what being a teenager in high school is about. High school is not about easy access to fucking your girlfriend. Presumably they see each other during the day at school, during social hangout time, at activities you and the girl's parents drive them to, etc.

If it's a huge priority for your eighteen year old to spend private time with his girlfriend, maybe he should get a drivers license/save for a vehicle/whatever the barrier is to him driving.

Also, what if Girlfriend gets pregnant? It's one thing to put college on hold to care for a baby (well, not ideal, but not a death blow), but high school is not for being a parent. Period. Another great reason for you not to facilitate your son's sex life right now.

Sixteen? Are you crazy? This is another great reason not to allow your older son to have his girlfriend sleep over as a matter of course -- this way you have one standard for everyone.
posted by Sara C. at 11:25 AM on September 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

When I was a teenager, in the 1970s, I often spent weekends at my girlfriend's house. I was probably 15, 16, 17 at the time. We spent the summer together between junior and senior years of high school. One month we were with her family traveling, the other month we were on Martha's Vineyard with my older sister.

This felt totally normal at the time, and it was great. I really can't imagine having to sneak sex. Sex and relationships are already so fraught when you are just learning about it, why add sneaking and dishonesty and inconvenient locations into the mix? To my mind that just creates an atmosphere of risk-taking which in turn could lead to other unnecessary risks.

I now have my own kids. The oldest is 6, so I'm a long way from having to make decisions like this for him. I hope, though, that with the agreement of the other parents involved, we'd be able to take the same approach.
posted by alms at 11:26 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

One thing to remember that sleeping in separate rooms means that they will get up in the middle of the night, engage in hanky-panky and then sleep in their respective beds. If you are going to allow sleepovers, allow them to share beds. The need to sneak around for sex drops when you are older, so separate sleeping arrangements may be respected then, but for teenagers, they will be doing whatever they are comfortable with in one of the beds.

(I am speaking from more experience than I care to admit here, although I think that at least a few of the families knew what was going on- in one of the cases I think the mother did it to mollify the father (the parents were divorced but on good terms).)
posted by Hactar at 11:29 AM on September 7, 2012

Coming back to reinforce the last two comments - beware of the emotional side to teenage Lurve. It won't be funny if they end up telling you they're too much In Lurve to go away to college! That is a very good reason to not make it too easy for them.

Think and discuss, think and discuss! Parenting is always by the seat of your pants. If you're the sort of parent whose children speak the truth to, that is.
posted by glasseyes at 11:29 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would be fine with the 18 year old's girlfriend staying over once or twice a week, but the 16 year old would have to survive the next two years sleeping alone.

I would also let it be known that this all hinges on their ability to be discreet, and that his bedroom door closes for a reason.
posted by crankylex at 11:32 AM on September 7, 2012

When my now-husband and I were 17 and 16 1/2 respectively, both families let us sleep over, once we'd been together for a good while. I don't know how my mom or his parents came to their decisions, but I'm glad they did. It prevented a lot of sneaking around, was a clear, frankly inspiring show of their trust in us and our ability to make good decisions.

We weren't sexually active as early as I imagine they thought we were. But they did know we had thorough educations about safer sex, and I guess they figured, it just wasn't any of their business. If teenagers want to have sex, they're going to have sex. Indeed, it's their right. I know my mom was always happier to have me at home where I couldn't die in a car wreck.

So, from my experience, if your kids and their girlfriends are responsible and mature, I say go for it.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:32 AM on September 7, 2012

Not the last two - hermitosis' and that's how you get ants.
posted by glasseyes at 11:33 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

No one underage. Talk to your sons about protection and about active consent. And everything famous monster said.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:37 AM on September 7, 2012

Also, if he's in high school, I'd limit it to weekend nights. School nights, maybe, but really studying and sleeping should be happening then. If you have a responsible kid who gets his stuff done, the weekend/weekday thing wouldn't be such a big deal. You know your kid.

I actually think that learning to balance a serious relationship with other activities while under your watchful eye is a good thing. Too many people go to college and have no idea what to do now that they can spend unlimited time together. I agree with commenters above that high school and college are very different, but I don't think that's a good thing. In fact, I think it leads to a lot of mistakes being made at a crucial (and expensive) time.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:47 AM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

On the other end of the scale: it was expected that my wife and I would be sleeping in separate rooms when we went to visit her parents (before we were married) even though we're both in our late 20s. My wife made a point to tell her mom that she thought the rule was a bit silly, especially since we were going to be staying in a hotel together later that same week, and so it was that we slept in the same bed. However, I would have been perfectly fine respecting that rule, just as I was in my teens and early 20s living under my parents' roof (of course, that doesn't mean that I didn't sneak a couple of girls home...they just didn't stay the night).

I think that, generally, kids are fine with respecting (or pretending to respect) whatever rules you put in place around this. I think once you're over 18 it's cool, with the caveats mentioned in my previous comment, but I think it is fine if you decide to remain on the side of "no sleepovers at my house."
posted by asnider at 11:55 AM on September 7, 2012

No way! That would be taking all the joy out of clandestine teenage seks. He has his whole life to cohabitate, but only a few precious years to do it in a car.
posted by yarly at 12:26 PM on September 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

You're going to have to think about the details on this one. It's your house, so whatever rules you decide on for overnight guests are fine. Whether you choose to allow it or not, lay out ground rules clearly and enforce them.

I can only tell you what I would do in your position: the 18 year old can have his girlfriend stay the night on weekends while school is in session. His focus on school cannot drop below a certain expected level (whether that's a 3.5 or a 2.0 or doing well on SATs/ACTs). He needs to maintain his contribution to the household, i.e. chores or other familial tasks. Once they've graduated, she's welcome to stay the summer, but perhaps she needs to contribute to the household in some way (chipping in on groceries and chores, something of that nature). If he were my son, I would also try to talk to him about their plans for college. Do they intend to go to the same school or region? Caution him that high school romances tend to fall apart during college, but be gentle. This is not a topic he's likely to receive well, and he may throw up some resistance to it. Just try to assure him that you have his best interests at heart.

As for the 16 year old, I would say no to girlfriends staying the night. Don't be naive and think he's not having sex at all, and of course you should talk with him about it, but save the overnight stays until he too is 18.

Discussing consent is critical whether you allow girlfriends to stay or not. Age of consent, intoxication interfering with ability to consent, etc. These are things young people need to hear.
posted by asciident at 12:27 PM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

in my life, the older adults who had strict rules about "no unmarrieds share a bed under my roof not matter what their age!" seemed to also have a rule about how you always refer to aunt so&so's partner as her best friend. both of these rules were supposedly for the kids. in my experience, it's more damaging to the kids.

i think i would let my 18 year old have his partner stay over (with rules about grades and discretion). i would not extend that same graciousness to the 16 year old - the point above about legalities is an important one and an easy place to draw the line.
posted by nadawi at 12:28 PM on September 7, 2012

It sounds like you have a good and thoughtful approach to this, and I was glad that my own mom was realistic and approachable about sex--that way I came to her with questions and concerns and got reliable info. Also, she allowed me to sleep at my boyfriend's once or twice, but he wasn't allowed to sleep at ours when I was in high school.

The one caution I would add to the "new roommate" warnings, and is partly purely anecdoctal: Lots of people are saying that your son is a grown up, which is technically and legally true, but 18 is still so super young, and they are in high school. It might be good to keep checking in and making sure that you (and her parents) are not enabling your kids to grow up and engage in grown up stuff like shacking up way too fast. Your "buy-in" of the relationship could be misinterpreted as an expectation of longevity that can be stifling. Just about everyone I know whose parents had a lax attitude about sleepovers ended staying in those relationships--for better or for much worse--through their late teens and early twenties, as the boundaries between family and partner were erased much very early, which really impacts perspective.

Be welcoming and allow sleepovers here and there, but maybe try to set and keep boundaries that give your kid space and encouragement to keep growing up and maintaining some independence, if you can.
posted by sundaydriver at 12:38 PM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Are your sons in high school? If so, school is their job and on school nights, their time should be spent getting their school work done and a good nights sleep to be ready to focus the next day. No to anything that interferes with that.
posted by MelissaSimon at 12:39 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the 18 year old should be allowed to the 16 year old is too young in my opinion, in the USA as the age of consent thing seems a lot stricter there and it saves any problems.

I was raised in a no unsafe sex in the household (or anywhere else rule) as opposed to a no sex in the household rule which worked for both my brother and I.

You might want to bring in a few ground rules with it. Safe sex, good grades, weekend nights only or what ever works for your family.
posted by wwax at 12:47 PM on September 7, 2012

I didn't read all of the responses, so I'm sorry if it's been said, but:

You would have to hear them having shennanigans.

posted by windykites at 1:32 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was a junior and senior in high school, I was allowed to spend the night at my boyfriend's house, though only on the weekends. We were already having sex, but this enabled us to have sex comfortably, in a bed, without it being a big deal, and it kept us in at night on the weekends, hanging out with his family. Honestly, it probably didn't increase the amount of sex we had; it just made it less sketchy. All in all, it gave us a much more adult relationship. I became much closer to his family, and while it certainly didn't keep us from breaking up when I went off to college, it did mean that I kept visiting his mom around the holidays every year for quite a while, and she and I are still facebook friends. The thing that made this all so easy for everyone was that both his and my parents already had a sensible, no-nonsense attitude about sex, and weren't freaked out by the fact that we were becoming adults.

As others have said, make sure that he understands the importance of quiet and discretion, and set some kind of limit on the number of nights per week, and how well he's doing in school. But if all of that goes well and you generally trust your son and his girlfriend, which it sounds like you do, why not try it out? You can always say that you're going to try it for a month, and then talk about it at the end of the month to see if everyone's happy or if the system needs to be tweaked or if it just totally doesn't work for you. 18 should be old enough that he can appreciate your willingness to try something you're not 100% sure about it, and understanding if it turns out that it won't work for you.
posted by dizziest at 1:35 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keep it to 18-year-olds and up. Your older son is now 18, so he's okay, but the younger son can just wait two more years. Ditto for their girlfriends: 18-years-old and up only, but added to that make SURE the girls are legal..... this is not something your boys need to risk!

Oh yeah, and make sure (no matter how embarrassing the conversation gets) that everybody is using some form of birth control and/or condoms.
posted by easily confused at 1:42 PM on September 7, 2012

Oh, also-

There was a few guys I was kinda-interested in during high school. In both instances, they guys had guardians that were very sweet, understanding, relaxed folks who let shennanigans happen without making a big deal out of it and made me feel super welcome- watching movies together, eating dinner as a group- with a little friendly teasing but nothing really off-putting. Very frank and open, gave their kids condoms.

Both of those guys had kids, unmarried, before they hit 21. One is now single with TWO kids, and the other is single with one kid.

Just sayin'.
posted by windykites at 1:46 PM on September 7, 2012

And just as a counterexample to windykites's experience, I'll say that neither I nor any of my high school friends who were allowed to sleep over at their partners' houses ended up as accidental single parents (and we're all in our 30s now, so I'm not too worried). The only ones who have babies are happily married, and the rest of us are happily doing things like getting PhDs.
posted by dizziest at 1:59 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I mentioned consent above because I think that parents teaching values about sex is important, it's just that the old school stuff we think about as "values" is not what I think is important. For me, sexual values include maintaining one's sexual health and avoiding unwanted pregnancy and all sex being enthusiastically consensual. It might be good to think about what your sexual values are and about how you want to impart them to your sons.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:18 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

My mom's refusal to let my boyfriend sleep over at 18 didn't stop me from having sex, but it did lead me to driving home while I was way too tired to be doing so on a regular basis. Like nodding-off-while driving. I cringe to think about it. It's a wonder I didn't get hit by a truck. On the NJ Parkway, no less!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:21 PM on September 7, 2012

Under Commonwealth of Virginia Law, as long as the 16yo's GF is 15, 16, or 17 years old, they're fine. If they're still together when one of them turns 18, it's a class 1 misdemeanor on the 18-year-old.

Virginia does have a Sex-offender registry, but only violent sexual offenders are on it for life, while others may be on it temporarily, so that's a small thing to worry about as far as consensual sex among young adults and nearly adult minors.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:23 PM on September 7, 2012

I was advised by a friend not to let my kids bring their lovers home because then they would never be motivated to move out. It made sense to me, then at some point I realized that my teenaged daughter was having sex with her boyfriend anyway and what I was doing was preventing them from having the intimacy of actually sleeping together. This didn't feel right to me. For me the issue hinged on the nature of the relationship. If it was long term relationship that was serious I was okay with it. I was always more bothered with the combination of teen sex and casual sex.
posted by InkaLomax at 2:50 PM on September 7, 2012

I have to say that your son is not an adult, he is a boy. He doesn't drive? Does he have a job? If so, how does he get there? An adult has a job, buys their own groceries, does their own laundry, takes care of themselves and pays for their own condoms. It seems like your "cognitive dissonance" is really because you don't feel its right for your son's girlfriend to sleep over, but you are going to allow it because its inconvenient for you to go pick him up, and what the heck they're doing it anyway at her house. Do what you think is right. If that means she sleeps in the guest room. then that's your rule and he should stick to it or get his own apartment. I think its a bad idea and it would bother me.
posted by mikedelic at 2:54 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is the 18 year old still going to school? I'd allow it on Friday and Saturday nights. Make sure they have access to condoms. Tell them to keep it quiet (have respect for the other members of the household).

I'd say no to the 16 year old, that I'd prefer he abstain until he's 18, but I'd still make sure he had access to condoms.
posted by deborah at 5:01 PM on September 7, 2012

I'd take this as a great opportunity to talk with both of your sons (who for the purposes of this comment I'm going to name Jeff and Mike, after my older brothers and in the interests of clarity and brevity.)

So Jeff is already sleeping over with his girlfriend, which means that they're serious enough for that and working out how that arrangement, well, works. They're both adults, but also still sort of kids, and that's fine. This is the time when people become sexually active and you seem understanding about that. I'd let them sleep over at your house as well. You can take the moment to lecture him about safe sex in a way that (while of course mortifying because of course) will be couched in an action wherein you're proving to him that you respect his adulthood and his ability to make choices, that you care more about his safety than about preserving a fiction, and that you want to know his girlfriend more and for the two of you to trust each other more as well. You can also, by being there, teach him about respect for others in the house, and make sure that he's respecting her (and vice versa.)

You are not, however, under any obligation to facilitate underage shenanigans in your house, and I'd advise against it. Mike might be sexually active, and he might not be. He might be feeling it out. But at this point opening up your doors to that could also put pressures on him that you haven't considered and that he isn't ready for. On the other hand, you don't want to be making a show of respecting Jeff's choices and keeping him and his girlfriend safe while forcing Mike to sneak around and be unsafe. That IS a double standard. So what do you do?

My advice would be to talk to both of them together about the rules and why they work the way they do. Talk to them both about the safe sex, the respect, everything. Then, rely on Jeff to make sure Mike is safe. Jeff can make sure Mike's got condoms - he doesn't have to talk to you about them. Jeff can help Mike "sneak around" your rules without breaking the spirit of them. Jeff can know what's going on with Mike and give you the lowdown, so that when Jeff is heading off to college and Mike is turning Jeff's age now, you can hit the ground running with whatever's next.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:28 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Also, what if Girlfriend gets pregnant? It's one thing to put college on hold to care for a baby (well, not ideal, but not a death blow), but high school is not for being a parent. Period. Another great reason for you not to facilitate your son's sex life right now."

I disagree, everything else aside, this is an excellent reason to facilitate your son's sex life; condoms and education galore.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:27 AM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not a parent, but I was like your son. My mom decided that since we were already having sex, there was no reason to even discuss where we were having it. It was assumed we would be polite, but there were no restrictions. In reality, we were so tired of having sex in cars and other awkward places, a bed was a delightful luxury.

My house became a nice place to hang out and we had dinner and watched movies with my family. My mom got to know my boyfriend a lot more and he became more comfortable with my close-knit family. We did have plenty nekkid-times at the house, but only when it was vacant. After all, it was weird with my mom in the next room watching CSI.

Later, my boyfriend moved into the house (and my bed) when I was 17. My 15 year old sister was upset that we now had a guy roommate into our female-only house, but she wasn't harmed by our relationship. (She paid me back by bringing her own boyfriend around a few years later.)
posted by Vysharra at 6:42 AM on September 8, 2012

I'm from the UK, where we tend to do this at least a bit differently, and I can't for the life of me imagine a good reason to forbid your children from having legal (so not underage), ethical (so no cheating) sex in your house. What you want, right, is for them to be able to talk to you about it and listen when you tell them to be considerate of the other people in the house and practice safe sex and make sure it's good sex that everyone involved enjoys and be responsible and non-neurotic about it? Right? Telling them that they have to do all their sex on the down-low seems to me like a recipe for STDs, massive mistakes, pregnancy and a lifetime of being unable to talk in a confident, articulate way about sex. It's displaying a really irresponsible attitude to decide that rather than dealing with the hard stuff and the awkward conversations and your kids actually letting you know about their activities or their emotions, you will brush all that under the carpet and leave it to your kids to figure out on their own. There is nothing in my view that is better for a 16 year old than seeing their older sibling engaged in a mature, caring, responsible sexual relationship that their parents are fully aware of and are able to discuss in a respectful manner.
posted by Acheman at 7:49 AM on September 8, 2012

Sara C.: Also, what if Girlfriend gets pregnant?

Which has nothing do with where they have sex. Women aren't more fertile in a house than a car.

Sixteen? Are you crazy?

Just so you know, sixteen year olds are having sex. All the time.

This is another great reason not to allow your older son to have his girlfriend sleep over as a matter of course -- this way you have one standard for everyone.

There is no virtue in having "one standard" for people in completely different situations. An 18 year is an adult, regardless of level of education, and the only restriction you can place on their behavior is the petty "my house" argument. If parents want a relationship with their adult children, they have to accept that they are adults.
posted by spaltavian at 7:53 AM on September 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

What a good opportunity to talk to your kids about your values. Like how to treat your partner, what makes a good relationship, monogamy, loyalty, trust, respect. Also, birth control and STDs. I talked to my son about my values; sleepovers ok in an exclusive, caring relationship. I brought home condoms and talked to him about sex, and got him some books, for the issues he just didn't want his Mom to tell him about. Your kids will make up their own minds, but you'll both benefit from the discussion.
posted by theora55 at 4:16 PM on September 8, 2012

> But, I'm thinking, if I don't really have a problem at all, in principle, with my kids being sexually active, then why not allow it in their own rooms? Is a no-shenanigans-in-the-house rule just maintaining a pretense that they aren't sexually active? If I let go of the rule, then this girl would spend more time at our house & I would get to know her (I like her influence on my son but I think she feels unwelcome, it's hard for them to spend time on our side of town at all since she then has no way of getting home at the end of the night). A year from now, at least one of them is going to be away at college. I would like for them to feel as comfortable bringing their girlfriends home as they always have bringing their buddies home.

Everything you wrote above would also be great questions to raise with your older son. You can tell him that you reserve the right to still be the one to make the rules about "under your roof," but with him being 18, it's appropriate to involve him in a discussion, and it gives you an opportunity to model responsible adult decision-making behavior for him.

You could share with him the reasons behind your current decision, how he feels about it, and let him give you his rationale for why you might reconsider. He should also be considering things like how his girlfriend sleeping over might impact his relationship with her either positively or negatively. And he should be giving some serious thought to how his little brother might react (difficult questions? peeping/listening? snitching condoms?) and whether or not he would recommend that his little brother's girlfriends should also be allowed to sleep over, and why or why not.

(And if he isn't mature enough yet to handle the opportunity for this kind of adult conversation, that's okay too, but in that case he also might secretly not mind so much that Mom is still calling some shots.)
posted by desuetude at 8:38 PM on September 16, 2012

Thanks to everyone for their thoughtful input on this. The 18-year-old has 3 more credits to finish high school so I am going to hold off on allowing this until he is done so he can just focus on that. Then it will be conditional on him staying on top of other young-adult expectations. I never intended to allow it for the 16-year-old, I was thinking more about when he's in college and comes home to visit with a girlfriend. Marking this one resolved.
posted by headnsouth at 12:40 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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