Adolescent sexuality

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Prevalence of sexually-experienced 15-year-olds
CountryBoys (%)Girls (%)
Austria21.717.9
Canada24.123.9
Croatia21.98.3
England34.939.9
Estonia18.814.1
Finland23.132.7
Belgium24.623
France25.117.7
Greece32.59.5
Hungary2516.3
Israel318.2
Latvia19.212.4
Lithuania24.49.2
Macedonia34.22.7
Netherlands23.320.5
Poland20.59.3
Portugal29.219.1
Scotland32.134.1
Slovenia45.223.1
Spain17.213.9
Sweden24.629.9
Switzerland24.120.3
Ukraine47.124
Wales27.338.5
 
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Adolescent sexuality refers to sexual feelings, behavior and development in adolescents and is a stage of human sexuality. Sexuality is often a vital aspect of teenagers' lives.[1] The sexual behavior of adolescents is, in most cases, influenced by their culture's norms and mores, their sexual orientation, and the issues of social control such as age of consent laws.

In humans, mature sexual desire usually begins to appear with the onset of puberty. Sexual expression can take the form of masturbation or sex with a partner. Sexual interests among adolescents, as among adults, can vary greatly. Sexual activity in general is associated with various risks including unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. The risks are elevated for young adolescents because their brains are not neurally mature; several brain regions in the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex and in the hypothalamus important for self-control, delayed gratification, and risk analysis and appreciation are not fully mature. The creases in the brain continue to become more complex until the late teens, and the brain is not fully mature until age 25.[2] Partially because of this, young adolescents are generally less equipped than adults to make sound decisions and anticipate consequences of sexual behavior,[3] although brain imaging and behavioral correlation studies in teens have been criticized for not necessarily being causative and possibly reaffirming cultural biases.[4]

Adolescent sexual behavior[edit]

Prevalence of sexually-experienced 15-year-olds[edit]

Prevalence of sexually-experienced 15-year-olds
CountryBoys (%)Girls (%)
Austria21.717.9
Canada24.123.9
Croatia21.98.3
England34.939.9
Estonia18.814.1
Finland23.132.7
Belgium24.623
France25.117.7
Greece32.59.5
Hungary2516.3
Israel318.2
Latvia19.212.4
Lithuania24.49.2
Macedonia34.22.7
Netherlands23.320.5
Poland20.59.3
Portugal29.219.1
Scotland32.134.1
Slovenia45.223.1
Spain17.213.9
Sweden24.629.9
Switzerland24.120.3
Ukraine47.124
Wales27.338.5

In 2002, an international survey was conducted, with the aim of studying the sexual behavior of teenagers. 33,943 students aged 15, from 24 countries, completed a self-administered, anonymous, classroom survey, consisting of a standard questionnaire, developed by the HBSC (Health Behaviour in School- aged Children) international research network. The survey revealed that the majority of the students were still virgins (they had no experience of sexual intercourse), and, among those who were sexually active, the majority (82%) used contraception.[5]

Loss of virginity[edit]

Conceptions about loss of virginity[edit]

Researchers found that adolescents generally think of their loss of virginity in one of the following ways: as a gift, as a stigma and as a normal step in development. Researchers found that girls generally think of virginity as a gift, while boys think of virginity as a stigma (meaning they often seek to cover up the fact that they are virgins).[6] In interviews, girls said that they viewed giving someone their virginity like giving them a very special gift. Because of this, they often expected something in return such as increased emotional intimacy with their partners or the virginity of their partner. However, they often felt disempowered because of this; they often did not feel like they actually received what they expected in return and this made them feel like they had less power in their relationship. They felt that they had given something up and didn’t feel like this action was recognized.[6] Thinking of virginity as a stigma disempowered many boys because they felt deeply ashamed and often tried to hide the fact that they were virgins from their partners which for some resulted in their partners teasing them about their limited sexual techniques and criticizing them. The girls who viewed virginity as a stigma did not feel this shame. Even though they privately thought of virginity as a stigma, these girls believed that society valued their virginity because of the stereotype that women are sexually passive. This, they said, made it easier for them to lose their virginities once they wanted to because they felt society had a more positive view on female virgins and that this may have made them sexually attractive. Thinking of losing virginity as part of a natural developmental process resulted in no power imbalances in the genders because these individuals felt less affected by other people and were more in control of their sexual experience.[6]

Motivations for loss of virginity[edit]

Studies found that adolescent girls were less likely to state that they had ever had sex than adolescent boys. However, among boys and girls who had experienced sexual intercourse, the proportion of girls and boys who had recently had sex and were regularly sexually active was the same.[7] Researchers think that fewer girls say they have ever had sex because girls viewed teenage parenthood as more of a problem than boys and were generally more restricted in their sexual attitudes; they were more likely than boys to believe that they would be able to control their sexual urges. Girls had a more negative association in how being sexually active could affect their future goals. In general, girls said they felt less pressure from peers to begin having sex, while boys reported feeling more pressure.[7]

When asked about abstinence (the choice to not engage in sex), many girls reported they felt conflicted by what society was telling them to do; they were trying to balance maintaining a good reputation with trying to maintain a romantic relationship and wanting to behave in adult-like ways. On the other hand, boys viewed having sex as social capital; many boys believed that their male peers who were abstinent wouldn’t as easily climb the social ladder as sexually active boys. Some boys said that for them, the risks that may come from having sex were not as bad as the social risks that could come from remaining abstinent.[8]

Adolescent sexual functioning: gender similarities and differences[edit]

Lucia O’Sullivan and her colleagues studied adolescent sexual functioning; they compared an adolescent sample with an adult sample and found no significant differences between them. Desire, satisfaction and sexual functioning were generally high among their sample of participants (aged 17–21). Additionally, no significant gender differences were found in the prevalence of sexual dysfunction.[9] In terms of problems with sexual functioning mentioned by participants in this study, the most common problems listed for males was experiencing anxiety about performing sexually (81.4%) and premature ejaculation (74.4%). Other common problems included issues becoming erect and difficulties with ejaculation. Generally, most problems were not experienced on a chronic basis. Common problems for girls included difficulties with sexual climax (orgasm) (86.7%), not feeling sexually interested during a sexual situation (81.2%), unsatisfactory vaginal lubrication (75.8%) anxiety about performing sexually (75.8%) and painful intercourse (25.8%). Most problems listed by the girls were not persistent problems. However, inability to experience orgasm seemed to be an issue that was persistent for some participants.[9]

The authors detected four trends during their interviews: sexual pleasure increased with the amount of sexual experience the participants had; those who had experienced sexual difficulties typically were sex-avoidant; some participants continued to engage in regular sexual activity even if they had low interest; and lastly, many experienced pain when engaging in sexual activity if they experienced low arousal.[9]

Another study found that it was not uncommon for adolescent girls in relationships to report they felt little desire to engage in sexual activity when they were in relationships. However, many girls engaged in sexual activity even if they did not desire it, in order to avoid what they think might place strains on their relationships.[10] The researcher states that this may be because of society's pressure on girls to be "good girls"; the pressure to be "good" may make adolescent girls think they are not supposed to feel desire like boys do. Even when girls said they did feel sexual desire, they said that they felt like they were not supposed to, and often tried to cover up their feelings. This is an example of how societal expectations about gender can impact adolescent sexual functioning.[10]

Same-gender attractions among adolescents[edit]

Rainbow flag, a symbol for gay pride

Adolescent girls and boys who are attracted to others of the same gender are strongly affected by their surroundings in that adolescents often decide to express their sexualities or keep them secret depending on certain factors in their societies. These factors affect girls and boys differently. If girls’ schools and religions are against same sex attractions, they pose the greatest obstacles to girls who experience same sex attractions. These factors were not listed as affecting boys as much. The researchers suggest that maybe this is because not only are some religions against same-gender attraction, but they also encourage traditional roles for women and do not believe that women can carry out these roles as lesbians. Schools may affect girls more than boys because strong emphasis is placed on girls to date boys, and many school activities place high importance on heterosexuality (such as cheerleading).[11] Additionally, the idea of not conforming to typical male gender roles inhibited many boys from openly expressing their same-sex attraction. The worry of conforming to gender roles didn’t inhibit girls from expressing their same-gender preferences as much, because society is generally more flexible about their gender expression.[11]

Researchers such as Lisa Diamond are interested in how some adolescents depart from the socially constructed norms of gender and sexuality. She found that some girls, when faced with the option of choosing "heterosexual", "same-sex attracted" or "bisexual", preferred not to choose a label because their feelings do not fit into any of those categories.[12]

In the United States[edit]

Changes in the expression of adolescent sexuality in the United States find their origins in the sexual revolution and was the focus of the "culture wars". The U.S. federal government policy under George W. Bush emphasized sexual abstinence or chastity, particularly in sex education with a focus on abstinence-only sex education rather than the harm reduction approach of the safe sex focus. It extended this approach to foreign policy, using the threat to withdraw foreign aid to press NGO's into ending condom education and distribution in third-world countries. There is ongoing debate between those advocating comprehensive, medically accurate sex education and those who regard only abstinence-based education as accord "the values held by most Americans".[13]

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2007 47.8% of U.S. high school students reported having ever had sexual intercourse. This number has shown a downward trend since 1991, when the figure was 54.1%.[14] According to a survey commissioned by NBC News and People magazine, 87% of 13- to 16-year-olds report having never had sexual intercourse, and 73% report having not been sexually intimate at all. Three quarters of these respondents say they have not because they feel they are too young, and just as many say they have made a conscious decision not to.[15]

The same survey found while 27% of 13- to 16-year-olds had been involved in intimate or sexual activity, 8% had had a casual sexual relationship,[15] which has been described by one journalist as a "profound shift in the culture of high school dating and sex".[16] In his book, Why Gender Matters, researcher Leonard Sax states that teenage sexual encounters are increasingly taking place outside the context of romantic relationships, in purely sexual "hookups".[17]

In 2002, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health reported a "dramatic trend toward the early initiation of sex".[18] According to the American Academy of Pediatrics "early sexual intercourse among American adolescents represents a major public health problem. Although early sexual activity may be caused by a variety of factors, the media are believed to play a significant role. U.S. teens rank the media second to school sex education programs as a leading source of information about sex".[19]

The U.S. teen pregnancy rate is higher than in many other developed countries.[20] After declining steadily since 1991, the teen pregnancy rate rose 3% in 2006, to 41.9 births per 1,000. This followed a 14-year downward trend in which the teen birth rate fell by 34% from its 1991 peak of 61.8 births per 1,000.[21]

Public health officials express concerns that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and risky behaviors that include "anything but intercourse" are "rampant" among teens.[13] Of the 18.9 million new cases of STIs each year, 9.1 million (48%) occur among 15- to 24-year-olds, even though this age group represents one-quarter of the sexually active population.[20] According to a 2008 study by the CDC, an estimated 1 in 4 teen girls has at least one STI at any given time.[22]

Increasing rates of oral sex among teens have been reported. However a study released in 2008 by the Guttmacher Institute found that, while oral sex is slightly more common than vaginal sex among teens, the prevalence of oral sex among teen opposite-sex partners has held steady for the last decade.[23] According to the study, slightly more than half (55%) of 15- to 19-year-olds have engaged in heterosexual oral sex, 50% have engaged in vaginal sex and 11% have had anal sex.

Among sexually active 15- to 19-year-olds, 83% of females and 91% of males reported using at least one method of birth control during last intercourse.[24] The most common methods of contraception are condoms and birth control pills. In 2007, 61.5% of high school students reported using a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse, up from 46% in 1991.[14]

The CDC also tracks the percentage of students who say they used drugs or alcohol before sex. While this risk behavior increased between 1991 and 2001, the trend has been declining since then.[14] In 2007, 22.5% of high school students reported this risk behavior, down from 25.6% in 2001.[14]

Most teenagers (70%) reported that they received some or a lot of information about sex and sexual relationships from their parents. Other sources of information included friends at 53%, school, also at 53%, TV and movies at 51% and magazines at 34%. School and magazines were said to be used as sources of information more by girls than by boys, and sexually active teens were more likely to cite their friends and partners as information sources.[15]

In the U.S., 431 schools in fifty districts (0.35% of all districts and 2.2% of all high schools nationwide) have established school-based condom availability programs. These programs involve condom distribution, condom-use education and information, peer support, sex and STDs education within the curriculum, and involvement of parents, staff, partnerships, and health care providers. Studies have shown that condom availability programs in high schools may lower the risk of HIV, STDs, and teen pregnancy. In all schools, condom use increased while sexual behaviour remained the same among high school students following the implementation of condom availability programs.[25][26][27][28]

In the United Kingdom[edit]

In 2006, a survey conducted by The Observer showed that most adolescents in Britain were waiting longer to have sexual intercourse than they were only a few years earlier. In 2002, 32% of teens were having sex before the age of 16; in 2006 it was only 20%. The average age a teen lost his/her virginity was 17.13 years in 2002; in 2006, it was 17.44 years on average for girls and 18.06 for boys. The most notable drop among teens who reported having sex was 14- and 15-year-olds.[29]

A 2008 survey conducted by YouGov for Channel 4 showed that 40% of all 14- to 17-year-olds are sexually active, 74% of sexually active 14- to 17-year-olds have had a sexual experience under the age of consent, and 6% of teens would wait until marriage before having sex.[30]

Of Western European countries, Britain has been stated to have a teenage pregnancy rate as high as America's, and sexually transmitted infections in Britain are on the increase.[31] One in nine sexually active teens has chlamydia and 790,000 teens have sexually transmitted infections. In 2006, The Independent newspaper reported that the biggest rise in sexually transmitted infections was in syphilis, which rose by more than 20 per cent, while increases were also seen in cases of genital warts and herpes.[32]

In Brazil[edit]

The average age Brazilians lose their virginity is 17.4 years of age, the second lowest number in the countries researched (first was Austria), according to the 2007 research finding these results, and they also ranked low at using condoms at their first time, at 47.9% (to the surprise of the researchers, people of lower socioeconomic status were far more likely to do so than those of higher ones). 58.4% of women reported that it was in a committed relationship, versus solely 18.9% of men (traditional Mediterranean cultures-descended mores tend to enforce strongly about male sexual prowess equating virility and female quality being chastity and purity upon marriage), and scored among the countries where people have the most positive feelings about their first time, feeling pleasure and more mature afterwards (versus the most negative attitudes coming from Japan).[33]

In another research, leading the international ranking, 29.6% of Brazilian men lost their virginity before age 15 (versus 8.8% of women), but the average is really losing virginity at age 16.5 and marrying at age 24 for men, and losing virginity at age 18.5 and marrying at age 20 for women.[34] These do not differ much from national figures. In 2005, 80% of then adolescents lost their virginity before their seventeenth birthday, and about 1 in each 5 new children in the country were born to an adolescent mother,[35] where the number of children per women is solely 1.7 in average, below the natural replacement and the third lowest in independent countries of the Americas, after Canada and Cuba.

A 2013 report through national statistics of students of the last grade before high school, aged generally (86%) 13–15, found out 28.7% of them already had lost their virginity, with both demographics of 40.1% of boys and 18.3% of girls having reduced their rate since the last research, in 2009, that found the results as 30.5% overall, 43.7% for boys and 18.7% for girls. Further about the 2013 research, 30.9% of those studying in public schools were already sexually initiated, versus 18% in private ones; 24.7% of sexually initiated adolescents did not use condom in their most recent sexual activity (22.9% of boys, 28.2% of girls), in spite of at the school environment 89.1% of them receiving orientation about STDs, 69.7% receiving orientation of where to acquire condoms for free (as part of a public health campaign from the Brazilian government) and 82.9% had heard of other forms of contraceptive methods.[36]

In Canada[edit]

One group of Canadian researchers found a relationship between self-esteem and sexual activity. They found that students, especially girls, who were verbally abused by teachers or rejected by their peers were more likely than other students to have sex by the end of the Grade 7. The researchers speculate that low self-esteem increases the likelihood of sexual activity: "low self-esteem seemed to explain the link between peer rejection and early sex. Girls with a poor self-image may see sex as a way to become 'popular', according to the researchers".[37]

In India[edit]

In India there is growing evidence that adolescents are becoming more sexually active outside of marriage. It is feared that this will lead to an increase in spread of HIV/AIDS among adolescents, increase the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and give rise to conflict between contemporary social values. Adolescents have relatively poor access to health care and education. With cultural norms opposing extramarital sexual behavior "these implications may acquire threatening dimensions for the society and the nation".[38]

Motivation and frequency

Sexual relationships outside marriage are not uncommon among teenage boys and girls in India. By far, the best predictor of whether or not a girl would be having sex is if her friends were engaging in the same activities. For those girls whose friends were having a physical relationship with a boy, 84.4% were engaging in the same behavior. Only 24.8% of girls whose friends were not having a physical relationship had one themselves. In urban areas, 25.2% of girls have had intercourse and in rural areas 20.9% have. Better indicators of whether or not girls were having sex were their employment and school status. Girls who were not attending school were 14.2% (17.4% v. 31.6%) more likely and girls who were employed were 14.4%(36.0% v. 21.6%) more likely to be having sex.[38]

In the Indian sociocultural milieu girls have less access to parental love, schools, opportunities for self-development and freedom of movement than boys do. It has been argued that they may rebel against this lack of access or seek out affection through physical relationships with boys. While the data reflects trends to support this theory, it is inconclusive.[38] The freedom to communicate with adolescent boys was restricted for girls regardless of whether they lived in an urban or rural setting, and regardless of whether they went to school or not. More urban girls than rural girls discussed sex with their friends. Those who did not may have felt "the subject of sexuality in itself is considered an 'adult issue' and a taboo or it may be that some respondents were wary of revealing such personal information."[39]

Contraceptive use

Among Indian girls, "misconceptions about sex, sexuality and sexual health were large. However, adolescents having sex relationships were somewhat better informed about the sources of spread of STDs and HIV/AIDS."[38] While 40.0% of sexually active girls were aware that condoms could help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, only 10.5% used a condom during the last time they had intercourse.[38]

Media influence[edit]

Modern media contains more sexual messages than was true in the past and the effects on teen sexual behavior remain relatively unknown.[40] Only 9% of the sex scenes on 1,300 of cable network programming discusses and deals with the negative consequences of sexual behavior.[41] The Internet may further provide adolescents with poor information on health issues, sexuality, and sexual violence.[42]

A study on examining sexual messages in popular TV shows found that 2 out of 3 programs contained sexually related actions. 1 out of 15 shows included scenes of sexual intercourse itself. Shows featured a variety of sexual messages, including characters talking about when they wanted to have sex and how to use sex to keep a relationship alive. Some researchers believe that adolescents can use these messages as well as the sexual actions they see on TV in their own sexual lives.[43]

The results of a study by Deborah Tolman and her colleagues indicated that adolescent exposure to sexuality on television in general does not directly affect their sexual behaviors, rather it is the type of message they view that has the most impact.[44] What really affected adolescents was what type of societal gender stereotypes they were seeing enacted in the sexual scenes they saw on TV.

What made girls feel they had less control over their sexuality was when they saw women attracting men by objectifying themselves and when they observed men behaving as if commitment wasn’t important. The consequences of this, are that these girls may believe that they should present themselves as sexual objects, comply to the demands of boys and not listen to their own wants and needs. On the other hand, girls who saw women on TV who refuted men’s sexual advances usually felt more comfortable talking about their own sexual needs in their sexual experiences. They were more able to set sexual limits and therefore held more control over their sexual experiences. Findings for boys were less clear; those who saw dominant and aggressive men actually had less sexual experiences. Perhaps there were less effects on boys because this Heterosexual Script does not affect them as deeply as it does girls.[44]

However some scholars have argued that such claims of media effects have been premature.[45] Furthermore, according to US government health statistics, teens have delayed the onset of sexual intercourse in recent years, despite increasingly amounts of sexual media.[46]

Teenage pregnancy[edit]

Adolescent girls become fertile following the menarche (first menstrual period), which occurs in the United States at an average age of 12.5, although it can vary widely between different girls. After menarche, sexual intercourse (especially without contraception) can lead to pregnancy. The pregnant teenager may then miscarry, have an abortion, or carry the child to full term.

Pregnant teenagers face many of the same obstetrics issues as women in their 20s and 30s. However, there are additional medical concerns for younger mothers, particularly those under 15 and those living in developing countries; for example, obstetric fistula is a particular issue for very young mothers in poorer regions.[47] For mothers between 15 and 19, risks are associated more with socioeconomic factors than with the biological effects of age.[48] However, research has shown that the risk of low birth weight is connected to the biological age itself, as it was observed in teen births even after controlling for other risk factors (such as utilisation of antenatal care etc.).[49][50]

Worldwide, rates of teenage births range widely. For example, sub-Saharan Africa has a high proportion of teenage mothers whereas industrialized Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan have very low rates.[51] Teenage pregnancy in developed countries is usually outside of marriage, and carries a social stigma; teenage mothers and their children in developed countries show lower educational levels, higher rates of poverty, and other poorer "life outcomes" compared with older mothers and their children.[52] In the developing world, teenage pregnancy is usually within marriage and does not carry such a stigma.[53]

Legal aspects of adolescent sexual activity[edit]

Worldwide ages of consent.

Sexual conduct between adults and adolescents younger than the local age of consent is illegal, and in some Islamic countries any kind of sexual activity outside marriage is prohibited. In many jurisdictions, sexual intercourse between adolescents with a close age difference is not prohibited. Around the world, the average age-of-consent is 16,[54] but this varies from being age 12 in Angola, age 13 in Spain, age 16 across Canada, and age 16-18 in the United States. In some jurisdictions, the age-of-consent for homosexual acts may be different from that for heterosexual acts. The age-of-consent in a particular jurisdiction is typically the same as the age of majority or several years younger. The age at which one can legally marry is also sometimes different from the legal age-of-consent.

Sexual relations with a person under the age-of-consent are generally a criminal offense in the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed, with punishments ranging from token fines to life imprisonment. Many different terms exist for the charges laid and include statutory rape, illegal carnal knowledge, or corruption of a minor. In some cases, sexual activity with someone above the legal age-of-consent but beneath the age of majority can be punishable under laws against contributing to the delinquency of a minor.[citation needed]

Society's influence on adolescent sexuality[edit]

Social constructionist perspective[edit]

The Social constructionist perspective (see social constructionism for a general definition) on adolescent sexuality examines how power, culture, meaning and gender interact to affect the sexualities of adolescents.[55] This perspective is closely tied to feminist and queer theory. Those who believe in the social constructionist perspective state that the current meanings most people in our society tie to female and male sexuality are actually a social construction to keep Heterosexual and privileged people in power.[56]

Researchers interested in exploring adolescent sexuality using this perspective typically investigates how gender, race, culture, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation affect how adolescent understand their own sexuality.[57] An example of how gender affects sexuality is when young adolescent girls state that they believe sex is a method used to maintain relationships when boys are emotionally unavailable. Because they are girls, they believe they ought to engage in sexual behavior in order to please their boyfriends.[58]

Developmental feminist perspective[edit]

The developmental feminist perspective is closely tied to the social constructionist perspective. It is specifically interested in how society's gender norms affect adolescent development, especially for girls. For example, some researchers on the topic hold the view that adolescent girls are still strongly affected by gender roles imposed on them by society and that this in turn affects their sexuality and sexual behavior. Deborah Tolman is an advocate for this viewpoint and states that societal pressures to be "good" cause girls to pay more attention to what they think others expect of them than looking within themselves to understand their own sexuality. Tolman states that young girls learn to objectify their own bodies and end up thinking of themselves as objects of desire. This causes them to often see their own bodies as others see it, which causes them to feel a sense of detachment from their bodies and their sexualities. Tolman calls this a process of disembodiment. This process leaves young girls unassertive about their own sexual desires and needs because they focus so much on what other people expect of them rather than on what they feel inside.[59]

Another way gender roles affect adolescent sexuality is thought the sexual double standard. This double standard occurs when others judge women for engaging in premarital sex and for embracing their sexualities, while men are rewarded for the same behavior.[60] It is a double standard because the genders are behaving similarly, but are being judged differently for their actions because of their gender. An example of this can be seen in Tolman’s research when she interviews girls about their experiences with their sexualities. In Tolman’s interviews, girls who sought sex because they desired it felt like they had to cover it up in order (for example, they blamed their sexual behavior on drinking) to not be judged by others in their school. They were afraid of being viewed negatively for enjoying their sexuality. Many girls were thus trying to make their own solutions (like blaming their sexual behavior on something else or silencing their own desires and choosing to not engage in sexual behavior) to a problem that is actually caused by power imbalances between the genders within our societies.[59] Other research showed that girls were tired of being judged for their sexual behavior because of their gender. However, even these girls were strongly affected by societal gender roles and rarely talked about their own desires and instead talked about how "being ready" (rather than experiencing desire) would determine their sexual encounters.[60]

O’Sullivan and her colleagues assessed 180 girls between the ages of 12 and 14 on their perceptions on what their first sexual encounters would be like; many girls reported feeling negative emotions towards sex before their first time. The researchers think this is because adolescent girls are taught that society views adolescent pre-marital sex in negative terms. When they reported positive feelings, the most commonly listed one was feeling attractive. This shows how many girls objectify their own bodies and often think about this before they think of their own sexual desires and needs[61]

Researchers found that having an older sibling, especially an older brother, affected how girls viewed sex and sexuality.[62] Girls with older brothers held more traditional views about sexuality and said they were less interested in seeking sex, as well as less interested responding to the sexual advances of boys compared with girls with no older siblings. Researchers believe this is because older siblings model gender roles, so girls with older siblings (especially brothers) may have more traditional views of what society says girls and boys should be like; girls with older brothers may believe that sexual intercourse is mostly for having children, rather than for gaining sexual pleasure. This traditional view can inhibit them from focusing on their own sexualities and desires, and may keep them constrained to society’s prescribed gender roles.[62]

Social learning and the sexual self-concept[edit]

Group pressure can have strong effects on self-concepts of adolescents

Developing a sexual self-concept is an important developmental step during adolescence. This is when adolescents try to make sense and organize their sexual experiences so that they understand the structures and underlying motivations for their sexual behavior.[63] This sexual self-concept helps adolescents organize their past experiences, but also gives them information to draw on for their current and future sexual thoughts and experiences. Sexual self-concept affects sexual behavior for both men and women, but it also affects relationship development for women.[63] Development of one’s sexual self-concept can occur even before sexual experiences begin.[64] An important part of sexual self-concept is sexual esteem, which includes how one evaluates their sexuality (including their thoughts, emotions and sexual activities).[65] Another aspect is sexual anxiety; this includes one’s negative evaluations of sex and sexuality.[65] Sexual self-concept is not only developed from sexual experiences; both girls and boys can learn from a variety of social interactions such as their family, sexual education programs, depictions in the media and from their friends and peers.[63][66] Girls with a positive self-schema are more likely to be liberal in their attitudes about sex, are more likely to view themselves as passionate and open to sexual experience and are more likely to rate sexual experiences as positive. Their views towards relationships show that they place high importance on romance, love and intimacy. Girls who have a more negative view often say they feel self-conscious about their sexuality and view sexual encounters more negatively. The sexual self-concept of girls with more negative views are highly influenced by other people; those of girls who hold more positive views are less so.[63]

Boys are less willing to state they have negative feelings about sex than girls when they describe their sexual self-schemas[67] Boys are not divided into positive and negative sexual self-concepts; they are divided into schematic and non-schematic (a schema is a cluster of ideas about a process or aspect of the world; see schema). Boys who are sexually schematic are more sexually experienced, have higher levels of sexual arousal, and are more able to experience romantic feelings. Boys who are not schematic have fewer sexual partners, a smaller range of sexual experiences and are much less likely than schematic men to be in a romantic relationship[67]

When comparing the sexual self-concepts of adolescent girls and boys, researchers found that boys experienced lower sexual self-esteem and higher sexual anxiety. The boys stated they were less able to refuse or resist sex at a greater rate than the girls reported having difficulty with this. The authors state that this may be because society places so much emphasis on teaching girls how to be resistant towards sex, that boys don’t learn these skills and are less able to use them when they want to say no to sex. They also explain how society’s stereotype that boys are always ready to desire sex and be aroused may contribute to the fact that many boys may not feel comfortable resisting sex, because it is something society tells them they should want[68] Because society expects adolescent boys to be assertive, dominant and in control, they are limited in how they feel it is appropriate to act within a romantic relationship. Many boys feel lower self-esteem when they can’t attain these hyper-masculine ideals that society says they should. Additionally, there is not much guidance on how boys should act within relationships and many boys do not know how to retain their masculinity while being authentic and reciprocating affection in their relationships. This difficult dilemma is called the double-edged sword of masculinity by some researchers.[69]

Hensel and colleagues conducted a study with 387 female participants between the ages of 14 and 17 and found that as the girls got older (and learned more about their sexual self-concept), they experienced less anxiety, greater comfort with sexuality and experienced more instances of sexual activity.[66] Additionally, across the four years (from 14-17), sexual self-esteem increased, and sexual anxiety lessened. The researchers stated that this may indicate that the more sexual experiences the adolescent girls have had, the more confidence they hold in their sexual behavior and sexuality. Additionally, it may mean that for girls who have not yet had intercourse, they become more confident and ready to participate in an encounter for the first time[70] Researchers state that these patterns indicate that adolescent sexual behavior is not at all sporadic and impulsive, rather that it is strongly affected by the adolescent girls’ sexual self-concept and changes and expands through time.[70]

Sex education[edit]

Sex education, also called "Sexuality Education" or informally "Sex Ed" is education about human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, human sexual behavior, and other aspects of sexuality, such as body image, sexual orientation, dating, and relationships. Common avenues for sex education are parents, caregivers, friends, school programs, religious groups, popular media, and public health campaigns.

Sexual education in different countries varies. For example, in France sex education has been part of school curricula since 1973. Schools are expected to provide 30 to 40 hours of sex education, and pass out condoms to students in grades eight and nine. In January, 2000, the French government launched an information campaign on contraception with TV and radio spots and the distribution of five million leaflets on contraception to high school students.[71]

In Germany, sex education has been part of school curricula since 1970. Since 1992 sex education is by law a governmental duty.[72] A survey by the World Health Organization concerning the habits of European teenagers in 2006 revealed that German teenagers care about contraception. The birth rate among German 15 to 19-year-olds is 11.7 per 1000 population, compared to 2.9 per 1000 population in Korea, and 55.6 per 1000 population in US.[73]

According to SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, in most families, parents are the primary sex educators of their adolescents. They found 93% of adults they surveyed support sexuality education in high school and 84% support it in junior high school.[74] In fact, 88% of parents of junior high school students and 80% of parents of high school students believe that sex education in school makes it easier for them to talk to their adolescents about sex.[75] Also, 92% of adolescents report that they want both to talk to their parents about sex and to have comprehensive in-school sex education.[citation needed]

Almost all U.S. students receive some form of sex education at least once between grades 7 and 12; many schools begin addressing some topics as early as grade 5 or 6.[76] However, what students learn varies widely, because curriculum decisions are quite decentralized.[77] Two main forms of sex education are taught in American schools: comprehensive and abstinence-only. A 2002 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 58% of secondary school principals describe their sex education curriculum as comprehensive, while 34% said their school's main message was abstinence-only.[77] The difference between these two approaches, and their impact on teen behavior, remains a controversial subject in the U.S.[78][79] Some studies have shown abstinence-only programs to have no positive effects.[80] Other studies have shown specific programs to result in more than 2/3 of students maintaining that they will remain abstinent until marriage months after completing such a program;[81] such virginity pledges, however, are statistically ineffective,[82][83] and over 95% of Americans do, in fact, have sex before marriage.[84]

In Asia the state of sex education programs are at various stages of development. Indonesia, Mongolia, South Korea and Sri Lanka have a systematic policy framework for teaching about sex within schools. Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand have assessed adolescent reproductive health needs with a view to developing adolescent-specific training, messages and materials. India has programs that specifically aim at school children at the age group of nine to sixteen years. These are included as subjects in the curriculum and generally involved open and frank interaction with the teachers. Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan have no coordinated sex education programs.[85]

Some educators hold the view that sexuality is equated with violence. These educators think that not talking about sexuality will decrease the rate of adolescent sexuality. However, not having access to sexual education has been found to have negative effects upon students, especially groups such as adolescent girls who come from low-income families. Not receiving appropriate sexual health education increases teenage pregnancy, sexual victimization and high school dropout rates. Researchers state that it is important to educate students about all aspects of sexuality and sexual health to reduce the risk of these issues.[86]

Sex education condom use demonstration

The view that sexuality is victimization teaches girls to be careful of being sexually victimized and taken advantage of. Educators who hold this perspective encourage sexual education, but focus on teaching girls how to say no, teaching them of the risks of being victims and educate them about risks and diseases of being sexually active. This perspective teaches adolescents that boys are predators and that girls are victims of sexual victimization. Researchers state that this perspective does not address the existence of desire within girls, does not address the societal variables that influence sexual violence and teaches girls to view sex as dangerous only before marriage. In reality, sexual violence can be very prevalent within marriages too.[86]

Another perspective includes the idea that sexuality is individual morality; this encourages girls to make their own decisions, as long as their decision is to say no to sex before marriage. This education encourages self-control and chastity.[86]

Lastly, the sexual education perspective of the discourse of desire is very rare in U.S. high schools.[55] This perspective encourages adolescents to learn more about their desires, gaining pleasure and feeling confident in their sexualities. Researchers state that this view would empower girls because it would place less emphasis on them as the victims and encourage them to have more control over their sexuality.[86]

Research on how gender stereotypes affect adolescent sexuality is important because researchers believe it can show sexual health educators how they can improve their programming to more accurately attend to the needs of adolescents. For example, studies have shown how the social constructed idea that girls are "supposed to" not be interested in sex have actually made it more difficult for girls to have their voices heard when they want to have safer sex.[87][88] At the same time, sexual educators continuously tell girls to make choices that will lead them to safer sex, but don’t always tell them ‘how’ they should go about doing this. Instances such as these show the difficulties that can arise from not exploring how society’s perspective of gender and sexuality affect adolescent sexuality.[89]

See also[edit]

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External links[edit]