Teen Sexual Behavior: Issues and Concerns

When you talk with your teen about sex and sexual behavior, you’re really talking about relationships, boundaries, health, morals, and values.

Healthy teen relationshipsThe change from child to adult is an especially dangerous time for teenagers in our society. From their earliest years, children watch TV shows and movies that insist that “sex appeal” is a personal quality that people need to develop to the fullest. Teenagers are at risk ― not only from AIDS and STDs ― but from this sort of mass-market encouragement.

Sexual content is regularly marketed to younger children, pre-teens, and teens and this affects young people’s sexual activity and beliefs about sex. According to the fact sheet, Sexualizing Childhood, from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, children are bombarded with sexual content and messages.

  • More than half of teens report getting some or most of their information about sex from television.
  • On average, music videos contain 93 sexual situations per hour, including 11 “hard core” scenes depicting behaviors such as intercourse, oral sex, and bondage.
  • Girls who watched more than 14 hours of rap music videos per week were more likely to have multiple sex partners and to be diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Boys exposed to violent sex on TV, including rape, are less likely to be sympathetic to female victims of sexual violence.

TV, movies, and music are not the only influences ― the Internet provides teens with seemingly unlimited access to information on sex as well as a steady supply of people willing to talk about sex with them. Teens may feel safe because they can remain anonymous while looking for information on sex. Sexual predators know this and manipulate young people into online relationships and, later, set up a time and place to meet.

Teens don’t need a sexual predator to introduce them to online pornography. It comes to them through porn spam on their e-mail or by inadvertently clicking on a link to a porn site. Through pornography, young people get a twisted view of what constitutes normal relationships. In fact, pornography is directly related to sexual abuse, rape, and sexual violence.

Sexual deviations are learned behaviors, with pornography having the power of conditioning into sexual deviancy. Pornography can be addictive, with the individual becoming desensitized to ‘soft’ porn and moving on to dangerous images of bondage, rape, sadomasochism, torture, bestiality, pedophilia and other sexual violence.

At the very least, addiction to pornography destroys relationships by dehumanizing the individual and reducing the capacity to love. At worst, some addicts begin to act out their fantasies by victimizing others, including children and animals.

Teens also have their own cultural beliefs about what is normal sexual behavior. Although most teenage girls believe that sex equals love, other teens ― especially boys ― believe that sex is not the ultimate expression of the ultimate commitment, but a casual activity and minimize risks or serious consequences. That is, of course, what they see on TV. The infrequent portrayals of sexual risks on TV, such as disease and pregnancy, trivialize the importance of sexual responsibility.

Other misconceptions include:

  • all teens are having sex
  • having sex makes you an adult
  • something is wrong with an older teen (17-19) who is not having sex
  • a girl can’t get pregnant if she’s menstruating
  • a girl can’t get pregnant if it’s her first time

Clearly, parents are in a tough spot. But there are some key ideas that help make sense of things.

Teenagers should learn the facts about human reproduction, contraception, and sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Of the over 60 million people who have been infected with HIV in the past 20 years, about half became infected between the ages of 15 and 24. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25% of sexually active teenagers get a sexually transmitted disease (STD) every year, and 80% of infected teens don’t even know they have an STD, passing the diseases along to unsuspecting partners. When it comes to AIDS, the data is even more chilling ― of the new HIV infections each year, about 50% occur in people under the age of 25.

Young people need to know that teens who are sexually active and do not consistently use contraceptives will usually become pregnant and have to face potentially life-altering decisions about resolving their pregnancy through abortion, adoption, or parenthood.  

Health classes and sex education programs in the schools typically present information about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy risk, and contraception. However, evidence shows that traditional sex education, as it has been offered in the United States, increases sexual knowledge, but has little or no effect on whether or not teens engage in sex or use contraception.

Parents, too, need to know important information, such as the younger the age of first sexual intercourse, the more likely that the experience was coercive, and that forced sexual intercourse is related to long-lasting negative effects.

The following is all related to later onset of sexual intercourse:

  • Having better educated parents
  • Supportive family relationships
  • Parental supervision
  • Sexually abstinent friends
  • Good school grades
  • Attending church or place of worship frequently

The challenge for any person is to make sense of facts in ways that are meaningful in life ― in ways that help them think and make wise choices. Schoolroom lessons leave much to be desired in this regard.

Commitments and values differ so widely in society that schools cannot be very thorough or consistent in their treatment of moral issues. According to a growing body of research, parents and religious beliefs are a potent combination when it comes to influencing a teen’s decisions about whether or not to have sex.

Teen and motherParents can best help their teens from becoming sexually active by maintaining a warm and loving relationship with open communication. Parents who are involved in their children’s lives, and who confidently transmit their principles and moral values to their children, have the greatest success in preventing risky and unhealthy behavior.

For this reason, it’s more important for teens to see real-life examples of people who understand and deal responsibly with their sexual natures.

Morals are not abstractions. Morals have to do with real-life commitments to people and things that have value. Parents and other influential adults (at school, at church, and in the community) need to show teens the difference between devotion and infatuation and help them make the distinction in their own hearts.

Teens need to understand that healthy and satisfying relationships require careful thought and wise action based on principles and values.