Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex

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Winner of the Healthy Teen Network’s Carol Mendez Cassell Award for Excellence in Sexuality Education and the American Sociological Association's Children and Youth Section's 2012 Distinguished Scholarly Research Award

For American parents, teenage sex is something to be feared and forbidden: most would never consider allowing their children to have sex at home, and sex is a frequent source of family conflict. In the Netherlands, where teenage pregnancies are far less frequent than in the United States, parents aim above all for family cohesiveness, often permitting young couples to sleep together and providing them with contraceptives. Drawing on extensive interviews with parents and teens, Not Under My Roof offers an unprecedented, intimate account of the different ways that girls and boys in both countries negotiate love, lust, and growing up.

Tracing the roots of the parents’ divergent attitudes, Amy T. Schalet reveals how they grow out of their respective conceptions of the self, relationships, gender, autonomy, and authority. She provides a probing analysis of the way family culture shapes not just sex but also alcohol consumption and parent-teen relationships. Avoiding caricatures of permissive Europeans and puritanical Americans, Schalet shows that the Dutch require self-control from teens and parents, while Americans guide their children toward autonomous adulthood at the expense of the family bond.

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Editorial Reviews

Healthy Teen Network
Winner of the Healthy Teen Network’s Carol Mendez Cassell Award for Excellence in Sexuality Education
American Sociological Association
ASA Children and Youth Section's 2012 Distinguished Scholarly Research Award
Frank Furstenberg
“With grace and style, Amy Schalet presents a forceful and convincing argument about the divergent cultural approaches to sexuality, socialization of adolescents, and conceptions of citizenship in the United States and the Netherlands, probing deep-seated value differences that play out in the management of sex. Nuanced, well documented, and remarkably persuasive, Not Under My Roof is an exemplary study.”
Joshua Gamson
“In Not Under My Roof, Amy Schalet mines the radically different American and Dutch understandings of adolescent sexuality—their different takes on lust, love, gender, hormones, control, and selfhood—and comes away with scholarly gold. Carefully researched, wicked smart, and filled with the voices and stories of parents and teenagers, Schalet’s is one of the best books on sexuality and culture in years.”
John Santelli
“Schalet’s insightful analyses—grounded in history, sociology, and adolescent development—provide a roadmap for normalizing sexuality and guiding social policy. Taking adolescent sexuality out of the darkness of the back seat and into the light under the family roof has the power to transform adolescent and adult sexuality and family relations.”
Jillian Henderson
“Not Under My Roof is a thought-provoking sociological treatise rooted in the lives and words of real people. The material is sophisticated, but the writing is clear and direct, which makes it a pleasure to read.  Dr. Schalet’s meticulous research gleans the perspectives of teens and their parents in both the U.S. and Holland, offering poignant insight into the struggles over emerging sexuality that occur in the transition from adolescence to adulthood.  Hers is a lucid window into another culture that may help us to more clearly see ourselves.”
American Journal of Sociology - Christine Williams
"Not Under My Roof is a fascinating book. I have told all of my friends who have teenagers to read it. I also recommend it for classroom use. College students will immediately grasp how society shapes their experiences of sex, drugs, and alcohol."
Gender and Society
“[An] engaging and informative monograph. . .  .Lucid and highly attuned to the complexities of human experience, Not Under My Roof should find a welcome place in advanced undergraduate and graduate courses on sexuality, gender, and culture and should be required reading for scholars in those areas, as well as for makers of public policy."
“This is a thorough and intriguing look at how attitudes about sexuality have developed in each country since the 1970s. The author presents a brief but convincing discussion of how the economic and political systems in Holland and the US evolved to create the cultural frameworks that led Dutch parents to normalize teenage sexuality and US parents to dramatize it. Schalet has juxtaposed US and Dutch cultural histories, family values, and societal attitudes about such seemingly diverse issues as sexuality, immigration, and the intersection of individual autonomy and state sovereignty to produce a fascinating look into the origins and consequences of two diametrically opposed paradigms of adolescent sexuality. . . . Highly recommended.”
Ann Swidler
“Combining intimate personal stories with brilliant sociological insight, Schalet challenges our assumptions about teenage sex and the inevitability of conflict between teenagers and parents. American adolescents rebel, and their parents impose harsh discipline because they prize individual autonomy and fear the social disorder it implies. Dutch parents expect their children to be reasonable because they see self-regulation as a natural attribute of a cohesive society. This far-reaching and enthralling cultural analysis puts flesh on the bones of theories of modern individualism, and, perhaps more importantly, it offers American parents a new, hopeful—if at times unsettling—sense of how we might better love, respect, and care for our children.”
“Amy Schalet’s book compares the sexual attitudes of American and Dutch parents and her findings are nothing short of staggering: Whereas most American parents panic about the idea of allowing their kids to have sex with other kids under their roof, for many Dutch parents, it’s not only fine — it’s responsible parenting. . . . Schalet’s extensively researched, fascinating work . . . is a startling wake-up call about America’s largely misguided attitudes toward sex and growing up.”
Financial Times
"Her book starts in the adolescent bedroom, and ends up explaining why the US is so conservative on social issues and the Netherlands so liberal."—Financial Times
“This is a thorough and intriguing look at how attitudes about sexuality have developed in each country since the 1970s. The author presents a brief but convincing discussion of how the economic and political systems in Holland and the US evolved to create the cultural frameworks that led Dutch parents to normalize teenage sexuality and US parents to dramatize it. Schalet has juxtaposed US and Dutch cultural histories, family values, and societal attitudes about such seemingly diverse issues as sexuality, immigration, and the intersection of individual autonomy and state sovereignty to produce a fascinating look into the origins and consequences of two diametrically opposed paradigms of adolescent sexuality. . . . Highly recommended.”
Lynn B. Barclay
“I just finished reading Amy Schalet’s wonderful book, “Not Under My Roof”, and can’t say enough good things about it. It’s easy to read and understand. As the CEO of an almost 100-year-old nonprofit, the American Social Health Association, whose purpose is to educate American’s about how to be sexually healthy, this book is spot on. We tell people every day that parents are critical in starting a child on a sexually healthy life. It is my sincere hope that every parent will read this book.
As the parent of a 23 and 17-year-old, I am humbled by how very much I had to learn. From the first time I heard Amy speak, I was forever changed as a parent. Thank you Amy!”—Lynn B. Barclay, Parent & President and CEO, American Social Health Association
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226736181
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2011
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Amy T. Schalet is associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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Read an Excerpt

Not Under My Roof

Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2011 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-73619-8

Chapter One

Raging Hormones, Regulated Love

Karel Doorman, a soft-spoken civil servant in the Netherlands, keeps tabs on his teenage children's computer use and their jobs to make sure neither are interfering with school performance or family time. But Karel would not object if his daughter Heidi were to have a sexual relationship: "No," he explains. "She is sixteen, almost seventeen. I think she knows very well what matters, what can happen. If she is ready, I would let her be ready." If Heidi were to come home and say, "Dad, this is him," he says, "well, I hope I like him." Karel would also let Heidi spend the night with a steady boyfriend in her room, provided he did not show up "out of the blue." But Karel thinks that he would first "come by the house and that I will hear about him and that she'll talk about him and ... that it really is a gradual thing." That said, Karel suspects his daughter might prefer a partner of her own sex. Karel would accept her orientation he says, though he grants, "the period of adjustment might take a little longer."

Karel's approach stands in sharp contrast to that of his fellow parent, Rhonda Fursman, a northern California homemaker and former social worker. Rhonda tells her teenage son and daughter that premarital sex "at this point is really dumb." It is on the list with shoplifting, she explains, "sort of like the Ten Commandments: don't do any of those because if you do, you know, you're going to be in a world of hurt." It comes as no surprise therefore that Ronda responds viscerally when asked whether she would let her fifteen-year-old son spend the night with a girlfriend. "No way, José!" She elaborates: "That kind of recreation ... is just not something I would feel comfortable with him doing here." She ponders her reaction: "I tried to be very open and modern ... but I am like, no, I'm not comfortable. I don't think I want to encourage that." She has a hard time imagining changing her position on permitting the sleepover, although maybe "if they are engaged or about to be married ..."

Karel and Rhonda illustrate a puzzle: both white, middle class, and secular or moderately Christian, they belong to the one hundred and thirty Dutch and American parents and teenagers, mostly tenth-graders, whom I interviewed between the early 1990s and 2000. Despite the fact that both groups of parents are similar in education, religion, class, and race—features that often influence attitudes toward sexuality and childrearing—the vast majority of American parents oppose a sleepover for high-school-aged teenagers, while most Dutch parents permit it or consider doing so under the right circumstances. This book seeks to solve the puzzle of this striking difference, which is all the more surprising given the liberalization in sexual attitudes and practices that took place throughout Europe and the United States since the 1960s. Given similar trends, why do the Dutch and American parents respond so differently? How do the parental approaches affect teenagers' experiences of sexuality and self? To answer these questions, we must look beyond sexuality at the different cultures of individualism that emerged in American and Dutch societies after the sexual revolution.

Not Under My Roof will take us beyond our usual perspectives on adolescent sexuality. Medical and public health literatures conceptualize adolescent sexuality primarily in terms of individual risk-taking and the factors that augment or lessen such risks. American developmental psychologists tend to view adolescent sexuality as part of adolescents' separation from their parents and as an aspect of development that is especially perilous given the disjuncture between teenagers' physical and cognitive development. American sociologists have generally bypassed the parent-teenager nexus to focus on relationships and networks among teenagers—in romance and peer groups. They have examined how peer cultures and networks and the status hierarchies within them impact adolescent sexuality. Finally, gender scholars have examined how teenage girls' and boys' experiences of sexuality are profoundly shaped by gender inequalities—including the sexual double standard.

This book takes a different approach. It focuses on the negotiation of adolescent rights and responsibilities within the parent-teenager relationship as a particularly fruitful, and often overlooked, site for illuminating how youth come to relate to sexuality, themselves, and others. This crossnational comparison shows how much of what we take for granted about teenage sexuality—in American folk, professional, and academic wisdom—is the product of our cultural constructs and institutions. Indeed, the apparently trivial puzzle Karel Doorman and Rhonda Fursman introduce is not just a puzzle but a window onto two different ways of understanding and shaping individuals and social relationships in middle-class families and in the societies at large, which constitute nothing less than two distinct cultures of individualism. Each culture of individualism comes with freedoms and sacrifices: the Dutch cultural templates provide teenagers with more support and subject them to deeper control, while the American cultural templates make the experience of adolescent sexuality particularly conflict-ridden.

Adolescent Sexuality in America after the Sexual Revolution

Today most adolescents in the United States, like their peers across the industrial world, engage in sexual contact—broadly defined—before leaving their teens, typically starting around age seventeen. Initiating sex and exploring romantic relationships, often with several successive partners before settling into long-term cohabitation or marriage, are normative parts of adolescence and young adulthood across the developed world. In the Netherlands, as in many countries of northwestern Continental Europe, adolescent sexuality has been what one might call normalized—treated as a normal part of individual and relational development, and discussible with adults in families, schools, and health care clinics. But in the United States, teenage sex has been dramatized—fraught with cultural ambivalences, heated political struggles, and poor health outcomes, generating concern among the public, policymakers, and scholars.

In some respects, it is surprising to find adolescent sexuality treated as such a deep problem in the United States. Certainly, age at first intercourse has dropped since the sexual revolution, but not as steeply as often assumed. In their survey of the adult American population, The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States, Edward Laumann and colleagues found that even in the 1950s and 1960s, only a quarter of men and less than half of women were virgins at age nineteen. The majority of young men had multiple sexual partners by age twenty. And while women especially were supposed to enter marriage as virgins, the majority of those who came of age in the late 1950s and early 1960s had sexual intercourse before they married. Still, a 1969 Gallup poll found that two-thirds of Americans said it was wrong for "a man and a woman to have sex relations before marriage."

But by 1985, Gallup found that a slim majority of Americans no longer believed such relations were wrong. Analyzing shifts in public opinion following the sexual revolution, sociologists Larry Petersen and Gregory Donnenwerth have shown that among Americans with a religious affiliation, only fundamentalist Protestants who attended church frequently remained unchanged. Among all other religious groups acceptance of premarital sex grew. This growing acceptance of premarital sex did not, however, extend to teenagers: in their 1990s survey, Laumann and colleagues found that almost 80 percent of the American population continued to believe sex among teenagers was always or almost always wrong. Since then, two-thirds of Americans have consistently told interviewers of the General Social Survey that sex between fourteen and sixteen is always wrong. Interestingly, disapproval has remained widespread even among youth themselves: six in ten fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds, surveyed in the National Survey of Family Growth, said it was not right for unmarried sixteen-year-olds who have "strong affection for each another" to have sexual intercourse.

Part of the opposition to, and discomfort with, adolescent sexuality is its association with the high prevalence of unintended consequences, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In the United States, the rate of unintended pregnancies among teenagers rose during the 1970s and 80s and started dropping only in the early 1990s. However, despite almost a decade and a half of impressive decreases in pregnancy and birth rates, the teen birth rate remains many times higher in the United States than it is in most European countries. In 2007, births to fifteen- to nineteen-year-old girls were eight times as high in the United States as they were in the Netherlands. One reason for the different birth rates is that while condom use has improved among American teenagers, they remain far less likely to use the most effective methods of birth control, such as the pill. Another reason is that, once pregnant, American girls are far more likely than their Dutch peers to carry their pregnancies to term.

Nor are high rates of unintended pregnancies the only problems. Many American teenagers have positive and enriching sexual experiences, yet researchers have also documented intense struggles. Sharon Thompson found that only a quarter of the four hundred girls she interviewed about sexuality talked about their first sexual experiences as pleasurable. Among the girls Karin Martin interviewed, puberty and first intercourse decreased self-esteem. Psychologist Deborah Tolman found that most of the girls she interviewed struggled to fully own their sexual desires and experiences in the face of cultural constructs such as the double standard and the "slut" label that stigmatize and deny girls' desires. Laura Carpenter illuminated another side of the double standard, finding that many of the young men she interviewed experienced their virginity as a stigma which they often sought to cast off as rapidly as possible. And in her ethnographic study Dude, You're a Fag, C. J. Pascoe found that teenage boys were encouraged to, treat girls as sex objects and risked social derogation if they openly expressed affection for their girlfriends.

These qualitative studies are corroborated by national surveys that show that American teenagers feel widespread ambivalence and misgivings about their first sexual experiences, which suggests that they do not feel control over, or entitled to, their sexual exploration. In a national survey, a minority of young women and a small majority of young men in their early twenties reported that their first heterosexual intercourse was "really wanted." Almost half of the women and a sizable minority of the men surveyed said they had mixed feelings. In another poll, a majority of American girls and boys said they wished they had waited longer to have sex. Research has also found that if girls are young relative to their peers when they first have sex, they are more likely to experience negative emotions afterward, especially if their relationship breaks up shortly thereafter. But even without intercourse, first romance can bring girls "down" because their relationship with their parents deteriorates.

American teenagers have received uneven, and often very limited, support in navigating the challenges of sexuality and first relationships from adult institutions outside the family. Despite rising pregnancy rates, in the early 1970s American policymakers and physician organizations lagged in making contraception easily available to teenagers, and even today American youth face multiple barriers in accessing contraception, including confidentiality concerns. With few other venues for discussing sexuality, the media has been an important, although often unrealistic, source of sex education for many American teenagers. Describing the 1960s and 1970s when sex permeated the media, historians D'Emilio and Freedman write, "From everywhere sex beckoned, inciting desire, yet rarely did one find reasoned presentations of the most elementary consequences and responsibilities that sexual activity entailed." Since then, researchers have noted that some media including magazines and Internet sites provide good sexual health information but not the interactive dialogue with adults that teenagers seek.

Teenagers have been unlikely to find such dialogue in the classroom. Along with fights over the legal age to consent to contraceptive and abortion services, battles over sex education have been among the most heated sexuality-related political struggles in America. Politically organized religious conservatives succeeded in institutionalizing a federal sex education policy that has required the schools it funded to teach "abstinence only until marriage." Initiated in the early 1980s, federal support for abstinence-only policy was institutionalized in the 1996 welfare reform bill. Generously funded for many years, this policy dictated that schools teach that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is likely to be damaging, and it prohibited them from teaching about the health benefits of condoms and contraception. Even in school districts not funded by this federal policy, sex education about contraception, pleasure, sexual diversity, and relationships has often been greatly constrained.

Few survey findings have been as consistent as the finding that the general public supports sex education in schools. In keeping with surveys of the past three decades, a 2004 national survey by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University found that most parents wanted their children to learn about contraception and condoms. Yet, the same survey also gives some insight into why the abstinence-only policy nevertheless prevailed: while most parents did want their children to learn the information they needed to protect themselves, most respondents also wanted students to be taught that they should not engage in intercourse or other intimate sexual activities. And they accepted the "marriage only" framework: two-thirds of parents of middle and high-school students agreed that teenagers should be taught that abstaining from sexual activity outside of marriage is "the accepted standard for school-aged children." Abstinence, most agreed, includes refraining from oral sex and intimate touching—sexual activities that most American youth, in actuality, start experimenting with in their mid-teens.

Adolescent Sexuality in Dutch Society after the Sexual Revolution

In a late 1980s qualitative study with one hundred and twenty parents and older teenagers, Dutch sociologist Janita Ravesloot found that in most families the parents accepted that sexuality "from the first kiss to the first coitus" was part of the youth phase. In middle-class families, parents accepted their children's sexual autonomy, though lingering embarrassment kept them from engaging in elaborate conversations. Working-class parents were more likely to use authority to impose their norms, including that sex belonged only in steady relationships. In a few strongly religious families—Christian or Muslim—parents categorically opposed sex before marriage, which meant "no overnights with steady boy- or girlfriends at home." But such families remain a minority: a 2003 national survey by Statistics Netherlands found that two-thirds of Dutch teenagers, aged fifteen to seventeen, who had steady boy- or girlfriends, said that their parents would allow their boy- or girlfriend to spend the night in their bedrooms; girls and boys were just as likely to say that they would be granted permission for a sleepover.


Excerpted from Not Under My Roof by AMY T. SCHALET Copyright © 2011 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


One / Raging Hormones, Regulated Love

Two / Dutch Parents and the Sleepover

Three / American Parents and the Drama of Adolescent Sexuality

Four / Adversarial and Interdependent Individualism

Five / “I Didn’t Even Want Them to Know”: Connection through Control

Six / “At Least They Know Where I Am”: Control through Connection

Seven / Romantic Rebels, Regular Lovers

Eight / Sexuality, Self-Formation, and the State

Conclusion / Beyond the Drama

Methodological Appendix




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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2011

    smart and a great read!

    Not Under My Roof is a thought-provoking sociological treatise rooted in the lives and words of real people. The material is sophisticated, but the writing is clear and direct, which makes it a pleasure to read. Dr. Schalet's meticulous research gleans the perspectives of teens and their parents in both the U.S. and Holland, offering poignant insight into the struggles over emerging sexuality that occur in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Hers is a lucid window into another culture that may help us to more clearly see ourselves.

    Jillian Henderson, PhD, University of California, San Francisco

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 4, 2011

    A must-read for anyone who cares about teen sexuality

    "Not Under My Roof" is a must-read for any parent who cares about what the sexual development of their children will mean to the family, any doctor who works with teens, and any policy maker who wonders how to navigate the dicey waters of teen sexuality, pregnancy, and STDs.  It also breaks new ground by making us think about the role of culture in shaping what we take most for granted: how our children become adults. "Not Under My Roof" is the rare book that presents original, research-based findings that also have real-world relevance.  It's also written in nice, clear language and filled with great stories.

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