Young love finds a way in the parental home

How should you deal with a child who has become accustomed to sexual freedom at college? By Lara Kilner
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THE LAST essay has been handed in, the final exam paper completed, the summer balls are over. It's the time of year when students pack their bags and have nowhere to go but home. And what have their parents to look forward to? In many cases the sound of creaking floorboards, unzipping jeans and banging headboards.

Research suggests that 40 per cent of men aged 20-34 still live in the parental home. Sixty years ago the average age for women to lose their virginity was 21. In the 1990s it is 17. A recent survey suggested that only 3 per cent of young people think sex should be saved for the wedding night.

The result is a generation who find themselves juggling mature sexual relationships with the moral concerns of their mothers and fathers. For young people returning home after their college days, living with parents after years of enjoying their independence can be very difficult. And sex is one of their main concerns.

Rachel Parsons, 23, lives with her parents in Buckinghamshire. She was in Spain for a time after university, but returned home when her cash ran out. She has recently started a relationship with an old friend, Billy, who lives in the same town, also with his parents.

"We don't have much chance to spend time alone together because of the parent thing, and also because we have the same group of friends," says Rachel. "The only time we're alone is when he comes back to my house for coffee and my parents are in bed. I think they respect that and give us time alone."

But it wasn't, er, the coffee that brought Billy home to Rachel's after a night at the pub. "When we first did it, I couldn't believe I was considering having sex in either of our parents' houses. But you can't go on thinking, `Well, we'll get the opportunity eventually.' And we've been getting gradually braver. The other night, my mum was still up watching TV upstairs, but we went ahead and had sex anyway."

Despite the risky nature of Rachel's sexual encounters, she has never been caught "on the job". Yet.

Robert Pearson, a 22-year-old student, hasn't been so lucky. After graduating from Leicester University, he moved to London. He was broke and had no option but to move in with his girlfriend, Jane, at her parents' house. Jane's father caught them in the act: "We were both completely starkers in Jane's room. The door opened and her dad came in. I just hid down the side of the bed. He looked so shocked, he just said sorry and closed the door. It was never mentioned but we were all embarrassed."

How do parents deal with a child who has become accustomed to the independence of living away from home? Eileen Bates, mother of a 24-year-old daughter who is a recent graduate, adheres to the "not under my roof" policy. "When my daughter brings her boyfriend home, he sleeps in the spare bedroom. I have no control over what happens elsewhere, but when he comes to my home, I expect them to respect my wishes."

Andrea Jones has a teenage son whose girlfriend stays over at the family home on a regular basis. She feels it takes a long time for many parents, and especially single parents, to come to terms with the fact that their children are having sex: "It's more than just the realisation that your children are grown up. It's like the end of a chapter in your own life. You were always the sexually active member of the household and now your children are doing it."

Robert feels his sex life with Jane suffered while he was living with her parents: "It was very hard. She felt generally guilty about having sex in her parents' home and I felt I was abusing their hospitality. Intense and loving sex goes out of the window and you're reduced to having quickies. We would be jumping on each other as soon as they popped out to Safeway for ten minutes."

Rachel and Billy suffer from the "quickies only" problem, too: "There's something about the scenario that makes you feel like a 16-year-old all over again, which isn't the best really. We've even taken to having sex in my mum's Mini Metro on occasions. But I think the relationship would only suffer if it were built out of less solid stuff. Sex is a bonus but it's not the main thing."