What is a step-parent’s role in educating a partner’s kids?

Dear Sex Educator,
As a step-parent, what responsibilities do I have to teach my teenage step-daughters about sex? I just married a woman with 11- and 13-year-old daughters. I have two sons, and know absolutely nothing about girls. The girls seem to be sexually active – their talk, dress and companions indicate that. Is that possible at this age? My wife laughs at my concern as a parent, and tells me not to worry. Should I? Is it possible for girls this age to be sexually active? My wife says they will not become pregnant, will not get STDs or ruin their reputations. My wife says they are just curious. I am at a loss as to what my responsibilities are here and what suggestions you may have.

This is a tough situation for you. Yes, young women are becoming more and more “sexualized”. Clothing styles and our culture support the grown-up look that girls are sporting. They may or may not actually be sexually active. If they are being sexually active, it’s early, but not unheard-of in their age group. Whether we like it or not, youngsters are exploring sex very early.

The real question is what your role is in relation to these girls. That is something you’ll have to work out with your wife. It’s important for you to make your perceptions known, and to discuss how the two of you will parent these girls. If your parenting styles are very different, you will have to decide what’s most important to you. You have a challenge ahead in deciding what role you have, if any, in parenting these girls. If your wife believes her daughters are behaving normally, it’s going to be tough to enforce any other perspective. You may decide that what’s most important is the girls’ safety (rather than their reputations) and make sure they know about how to be safe sexually. That way you can help make certain that they won’t become pregnant or get sexually transmitted infections. Yes, girls that age can and do get pregnant and get infections, so providing information on safety is not unreasonable.

You may want to have a discussion of appropriate boundaries for the girls’ behavior. Many young teenagers are really looking for guidelines and boundaries, not permission to endlessly explore the world. They want to know what their parents think is right and wrong, and will seek out those boundaries by behaving in certain ways to see how you’ll react. So you should talk with your wife about what values the two of you want to impart to the girls, and how you want to go about doing that.

The best thing to do is to try to approach parenting as a team effort, where the girls get consistent messages from both of you. Start there, and see where it takes you.

The Sex Educator