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Teen Sexual Behavior

Issues and Concerns


Support, Education, Advocacy  -  The Range of Teenage Sexual Behavior

Teen Dating Violence  -  What Is Your Teen Posting Online?


The change from child to adult is an especially dangerous time for teenagers in our society.  From their earliest years, children watch television 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, Marketing Sex to Children, from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, children are bombarded with sexual content and messages:

  • In 2003, 83% of the episodes of the top 20 shows among teen viewers contained some sexual content, including 20% with sexual intercourse

  • 42% of the songs on the top CDs in 1999 contained sexual content -- 19% included direct descriptions of sexual intercourse

  • On average, music videos contain 93 sexual situations per hour, including eleven "hard core" scenes depicting behaviors such as intercourse and oral sex

  • 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

  • Before parents raised an outcry, Abercrombie and Fitch marketed a line of thong underpants decorated with sexually provocative phrases such as "Wink Wink" and "Eye Candy" to 10-year-olds

  • Neilson estimates that 6.6 million children ages 2-11 and 7.3 million teens ages 12-17 watched Justin Timberlake rip open Janet Jackson's bodice during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.

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.


A.A.B. Counseling for Teens & Adults


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 U.S. 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 donít 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 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 one-two combination when it comes to influencing a teenís decisions about whether or not to have sex.


According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, parents can best help their teens from becoming sexually active by:

  • maintaining a warm and loving relationship with their children

  • letting teens know that they are expected to abstain from sex until marriage

Parents who are involved in their children's lives, and who confidently transmit their religious and moral values to their children, have the greatest success in preventing risky and immoral behavior.


For this reason, it's more important for teenagers 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 valueParents and other influential adults (at school, at church, and in the community) need to show teenagers the difference between devotion and infatuation and help them make the distinction in their own hearts.


Teenagers need to understand that satisfying sexual relationships -- like other relationships -- require careful thought and wise action.


NEXT:  The Range of Teen Sexual Behaviors



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Read All The Books


Boundaries with Teens:  When To Say Yes, How To Say No

by John Townsend

This book offers help in raising your teens to take responsibility for their actions, attitudes, and emotions. 



But I Love Him: Protecting Your Teen Daughter from Controlling, Abusive Dating Relationships

by Jill Murray

One in three girls will be in a controlling, abusive dating relationship before she graduates from high school ó from verbal or emotional abuse to sexual abuse or physical battering.  Is your daughter in danger?  Visit Teen Dating Abuse.



Support, Education, Advocacy


Fact Sheets on Sexually Transmitted Diseases ~ English and Spanish fact sheets.


Healthy Teen Network ~ National organization focused on adolescent health and well-being with an emphasis on teen pregnancy prevention, teen pregnancy, and teen parenting.


National Abstinence Education Association ~ Serves, supports, and represent individuals and organizations in the practice of abstinence education.


National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy ~ Education, support, and advocacy organization that promotes values, behavior and policies that reduce both teen pregnancy and unplanned pregnancy among young adults.


National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention ~ One of the centers of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), NCHHSTP works to prevent and control HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STDs, and TB through prevention research and programs.


PFLAG - Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays ~ Support, education, and advocacy to promote the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, their families, and friends.


Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention ~ ReCAPP provides practical tools and information to effectively reduce sexual risk-taking behaviors.  Teachers and health educators will find program materials to help with their work with teens.


Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) ~ Disseminates information, promotes comprehensive education about sexuality, and advocates the right of individuals to make responsible sexual choices.


Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health ~ Dedicated specifically to helping those who suffer from out of control sexual behavior, SASH provides up-to-date research and information to members, many of whom are professionals and work with people who struggle with sexual addiction and compulsion as well as information and education to the general public.


Teen pregnancy closely follows the contours of America's Bible belt


Your Brain on Porn ~ Free e-book.


Youth-Friendly HIV Counseling, Testing and Care Services in the USA ~ A listing of resources throughout the United States.

© 2008