Ready for sex?

‘I was caught one time. My mom wasn't cool about it. I was too young to be in bed with a girl, so she was upset,’ says Justin Timberlake on Channel24.

It’s hard to imagine that Sexyback Timberlake was once a teen whose mom disapproved. But in truth we all do start somewhere, and none of us suddenly blossoms into a fully-fledged sexual being at the age of 16 – or even 18, 21, or 30.

Developing sexuality is a slow, gradual process of learning, trial and error that starts way before we’re in a compromising position that would make our moms uncomfortable.

In South Africa, the age of consent is 16 for both males and females. The older I get, the more it seems that this is very young, especially for girls who may fall prey to the manipulation of older men.

On the other hand, for two teens mutually exploring their sexuality, it may seem an arbitrary line to wait for a specific age to pass.

Results from the 2003 South African Demographic and Health Surveys (SADHS) showed that around 12% of boys and 6% of girls in South Africa had their first sexual intercourse before the age of 15. By the age of 18, 63% of men, and 42% of women had had sex for the first time.

Judging from this, 16 doesn’t seem such an unsuitable age for consent. Certainly making the age of consent older wouldn’t be likely to deter many teenagers from following their urges into a sexual liaison. But physical and emotional readiness don’t necessarily keep pace, says parenting expert Megan de Beyer.

‘There is no doubt that a 16-year-old girl is physically ready to enjoy the sensuality of sex. She responds with intense desire and a heightened sensual awareness. For most girls of this age, boys become 'everything' and this shows in their preoccupation with their bodies, their dress, grooming and conversations. This is all enhanced by the flood of sexualised images from magazines and films causing a girl to believe that sex is 'the' most important aspect of a relationship.

‘Yet I do not believe that most 16-year-olds are emotionally ready for the emotional and spiritual intensity of sex. A decision to have sex for the first time is one of the most defining moments of our teenage life.’

The role of parents

‘I would recommend that parents share information about the intensity of sex and how it creates a deep emotional and spiritual bond to another. One can never predict the outcome of a sexual experience. Although it can be endlessly pleasurable, I think the rule of thumb is: if you are ready and able for the responsibility of having a baby with someone than you are ready for sex.’

While Justin Timberlake didn’t say how old he was when his mother surprised him in bed, her reaction would probably be the one most of us would have if our underage child was having sex. But ultimately as parents we can only share our attitudes and opinions about sex with our teens, and give them the information they need to stay safe – physically and emotionally. They will decide for themselves how to use – or ignore – our advice and warnings.

Is there an age at which you would accept your teen having sex? Is it a case of not-under-my-roof or not-until-marriage? Or do you feel that whatever they do you would rather they were safe at home than somewhere else?

Read more by Adele Hamilton

How do you talk to your teen about sex?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.
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