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Book Review

Not My Child: What parents believe about the sex lives of their teenagers
Author: Sinikka Elliot
NYU Press: 2012
Reviewer: MA Sullivan, M.Ed.

The author is an assistant professor of sociology at NC State. Presented in the book is qualitative research: interviews with 47 parents of middle school-aged and high school-aged students. Her primary interests lie in how parents perceive the sexuality and sexual activity of their children, how parents communicate with their pre-teens and teens about sexuality, and how cultural messages can frame what parents believe and say.

She begins by providing historical context for how we think about teens and sexual activity and what we provide as sexuality education. She describes what she calls “sex panics,” which contributed to abstinence-only-until-marriage education, initiated in 1996 by welfare reform and strengthened when Bush expanded federal funding for Community-Based Abstinence Education. She notes that in 1988, only 3% of school-based sexuality education was abstinence-only; by 2003, 30% of school-based sexuality education was either abstinence-only or focused on contraception failure rates. She describes the current discourse of teen sexuality as this, “Sexuality is dangerous and immoral for the young, the unmarried, and those marked as other.” I assume that “other” refers to LGBTQ teens.

She criticizes the binary nature of the discussions/arguments surrounding teens and sexual activity. The title refers to a theme Elliot gleaned from her interviews; my child is asexual/ innocent/ not interested, BUT other teens are hypersexual, even aggressive and predatory. She also learned that parents over-estimate the amount of sexuality education they provide to their kids, and that parents often assume that teens get all they need to know in school. Parents also seem reluctant to frame sexual activity in a positive light and do not address sexual desire or pleasure.

In conclusion, she recommends that parents and educators acknowledge teens as sexual beings and as sexually active. She writes, “We need policies that recognize this reality, and we also need affirming ways to talk about teen sexuality that do not divide young people into neat categories of good or bad, asexual or hypersexual.”

Recommended sites for parents and educators: