Adolescent sexual behavior

Adolescent sexual behavior refers to the sexual behavior of adolescents.

In the United States

Changes in the expression of adolescent sexuality in the United States find their origins in the sexual revolution and is a focus of the culture wars. The U.S. federal government policy under George W. Bush has emphasized sexual abstinence or pre-marital 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 has extended this approach to foreign policy, using foreign aid to pressure NGO's into ending condom education in third-world countries.

Both boys and girls in the U.S. are "entering puberty at least two years earlier than previous generations." According to one commentator, this means "they are ready for sex earlier physically, but not emotionally or cognitively." In his book Why Gender Matters, researcher Dr Leonard Sax states that teenage sexual encounters are increasingly taking place outside the context of romantic relationships, in purely sexual "hookups." According to a survey commissioned by NBC News and PEOPLE Magazine, while only 27% of 13-16 year olds had been involved in intimate or sexual activity, 8% had had a casual sexual relationship", which has been described by one journalist as a "profound shift in the culture of high school dating and sex."

In 2002, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health reported a "dramatic trend toward the early initiation of sex." 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. In film, television, and music, sexual messages are becoming more explicit in dialogue, lyrics, and behavior. In addition, these messages contain unrealistic, inaccurate, and misleading information that young people accept as fact. U.S. Teens rank the media second only to school sex education programs as a leading source of information about sex."

Between 1991 and 2001 the number of high school seniors in the United States who reported that they have had sexual intercourse dropped from 54% to 46%. The vast majority, 87%, of 13-16 year olds have not reported having sexual intercourse and 73% report having not been sexually intimate at all. Three quarters of them say they have not because they feel they are too young, and just as many say they have made a conscious decision not to. 14% more girls than boys (81% vs. 67%) say they have made a conscious decision to wait and 15% more say they believe they are too young (82% vs. 67%). Girls who date or hang out with older boys are said to be "more likely to be pressured into having sex, more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease, and more likely to experience an unwanted pregnancy."

Relative to vaginal intercourse, oral sex has reportedly increased in popularity. Teen pregnancies in the United States decreased 28% between 1990 and 2000 from 117 pregnancies per every 1,000 teens to 84 per 1,000. Based on interviews with legislators, U.S. News & World Report wrote in 2002 that opinion was divided between those advocating "medically accurate sex education" and those seeing anything other than abstinence-based education as opposed to "the values held by most Americans," but there was a general agreement among public health officials that STDs and risky behaviors that include "anything but intercourse" were "rampant" among teens.

Of sexually active 15-19 year olds almost all (98%) use at least one form of contraception. The most popular form, at 94% usage, are condoms and the birth control pill is second at 61%.

The CDC found that between 1991 and 2005, there was a significant linear increase and a significant quadratic change in the number of students who use drugs or alcohol before sexual intercourse. Among the 33.9% of high school students nationwide in 2005 who had had sexual intercourse with one or more persons during the three months preceding the survey, 23.3% had drunk alcohol or used drugs before last sexual intercourse. Among the 33.9% of students, 14.1% of Black students, 25.6% of Hispanic students, and 25.0% of White students reported using alcohol or drugs the last time they had intercourse. Overall, the prevalence of having drunk alcohol or used drugs before last sexual intercourse was higher among male than female students.

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.

In Britain

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 legal age of consent of 16; in 2006 it was only 20%. The average age a teen lost their 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.

Of Western European countries, Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase. 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.

In Canada

Canadian researchers have found that students, especially girls, who were verbally abused by teachers or rejected by their peers were more likely than other students to engage in sex by the end of the 7th grade. For these girls, "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."

Girls in India

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.

In the Indian socio cultural 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. 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."

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." 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.

Sex education

Sex education is a broad term used to describe education about human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, and other aspects of human sexual behavior. Common venues for sex education are parents or caregivers, school programs, and public health campaigns.

However, the degrees of sexual education given vary worldwide. 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.

In Britain and the United States there has been a significant amount of controversy over what should and should not be taught by schools and other venues. In the United States the Bush Administration has backed abstinence only sexual education which makes up a large part of United States school taught sexual education.

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 involves open and frank interaction with the teachers. Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan have no coordinated sex education programs.

Legal aspects of adolescent sexuality

The age of consent is the minimum age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to any contract or behavior regulated by law with another person, specifically laws regulating sexual acts rather than the age of majority, age of criminal responsibility, or the marriageable age.

Sexual relations with a person under the age of consent are generally a criminal offense, 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.

See also

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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