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Dad’s fear of daughter dating keeps myths alive

Updated: July 7, 2012 8:03AM

The thought of his daughter dating terrifies him, actor Will Smith told People.

Smith told the magazine he wants her to wait to put off dating until she is at least 40 years old, and he also went on to say “Having two boys and a girl, I realize that boys take trouble to other people’s houses, and girls bring it home.”

Smith’s sentiments are commonly expressed among dads everywhere. And, he is right, dating and sex can come with more extensive ramification for teenage girls. Girls are more likely to contract STDs than boys, and they also are more likely to be taken advantage of and pushed beyond their comfort zone. And, should pregnancy occur, they often are the ones who will bear the brunt of raising the baby while any boys involved might take the easier route and simply disappear.

All of these potential pitfalls explain why so many parents are more comfortable with the idea of their teenage boys dating rather than their teenage daughters. This can perpetuate potentially damaging social messaging:

It reeks of “boys will be boys.” Whenever you hear this old chestnut, it generally means that the boy (or man) in the equation is getting away with something a female never would, whether it’s fighting, playing dirty, or having one-night stands. It implies that men have strong animalistic desires that they cannot control, while women are expected to behave in a more controlled and chaste fashion. Most dads expect their sons to sow wild oats and play the field, but they want their daughters to delay sex as long as possible .

The underlying message that teens get from this is that boys are “macho” and “studs” if they hook up, but girls who follow the same behavior are not “nice” girls and don’t deserve respect. It’s a double standard that has existed in our society for hundreds of years, and sadly, it causes many females to feel ashamed and disenfranchised by their own bodies and sexual experiences. (Not to mention, it makes boys feel like wimps if they ever have fears or doubts when expressing so-called masculine behavior like sexual desire.)

Most of us wouldn’t expect a guy to delay sex until well into adulthood, but it’s something many parents half-jokingly, half-threateningly ask their teenage girls to do. This anxiety comes from a good place, especially when it comes to dads — after all, they were teenage boys once, so they know exactly what teenage boys are thinking. However, they were never teenage girls so they don’t know what teenage girls are thinking. The reality is that many of their thoughts are quite similar. Raging hormones and budding sexuality make sex a mysterious and attractive possibility regardless of one’s gender.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that teenage girls or boys are ready to be sexual, but it does mean that we should be careful when talking with our daughters about sex. We don’t want them to feel embarrassed or ashamed of their sexual thoughts, or to feel as if their body’s natural desires and hormones are dirty or wrong. We also need to instill in all of our children the intimacy and the importance of sex. Instead of making it a dirty, shameful thing, we can explain that is it a precious and life-altering act that should be treasured and cherished, not rushed, or coerced. By teaching them about the beauty and the power of sex, we can instill in them a desire to wait and a desire to make their initiation into sexuality as special and memorable as can be. And, it’s something that boys need to hear as well as girls .

And remember, parents, you always can couch these talks with your kids around your own moral guidelines. Discuss your expectations for them and the reasons behind your beliefs, but make sure that you also provide them with information and tools rather than simply shame and fear.

Dr. Berman is the star of “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on OWN and director of She also is the author of Talking to Your Kids About Sex.

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