Sexual Behavior among Teenagers in the US




Sexual Behavior among Teenagers in the US


Adolescents within the United States experience a difficult time especially in terms of dealing with sexual matters. The adults responsible for facilitating this dialogue and environmenthave completely avoided addressing the thorny themeof teen sexuality.This social issue is centralto the youth in the United States especially when looking at the statistics. Approximately 46% of students in high school and 62% of seniors haveengaged in sexual intercourse. In the nation, over nine million teenagers havealready hadtheir first sexual encounter.Considering these figures,it then becomes important to prioritize the need to sensitize teenagers and the public in general on sexual lifestyles, attitudes, and decisions. This essay seeks to elaborate the effect of different factors such as life experiences, family, race, academicachievement, and socioeconomic position on teenager’s behavior. Th paper will also discuss the implications of risky sexual behavior and propose relevant solutions towards the social problem.

Contributory Factors

Television and Internet

The average teenager in America encounters up to three hours of visual and audio content daily. Most of the material shown on TV contains approximately average to heavy insinuations or enactments of sexual situations such as petting, kissing, sexual slurs, and conversations about sexual procedures including actual intercourse. The power of media in influencing the behaviors attitudes of American teenager cannot be disregarded (RAND Corporation 56). While it is impossible to completely eliminated sexual content from the screens, and a negligible section of studies propose this, it is making the adolescents a target groups that worries different stakeholders (Collins, Martino and Shaw 33). Adolescents encounter a barrage of sexual content from the media during a growth phase when sexual behaviors, sexual stands, and gender roles are being created. This makes teenagers particularly at risk since they have underdeveloped cognitive skills to allow for vital analysis of messages in the media (RAND Corporation 41). Therefore, they are unable to make decisions concerning the best sexual orientation and behavior to adopt. Peer-reviewed studies have connected socio-demographic elements such as age and ethnicity to adolescents’ television preferences and to their comprehension and internalization of sexual material (Collins et al. 44). The results of these studies show that teenagers have a high prevalence for television programs.

            The internet represents one of the modern forms of media that has been embraced by the younger generation typically between the ages of 9 and 35 (RAND Corporation 17). Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter have increased the access to different media content with little supervision and control form parents or other authorities (Vandenbosch, Van, and Peter 701). The rapid prominence of Internet use particularly through social media sites has exposed teenagers to online sexual contact with perverts has come under the scrutiny of different watchdog agencies and individuals (Vandenbosch et al. 699). Teenagers who have had early experience with the Internet at a tender age have reported higher case of psychological complications including trauma, violence, and promiscuity. Ybarra and Mitchell (2005) have noted that children aged between 8 to 12 experienced negative sexual content on the Internet particularly pornography. As the teenagers become older, they are exposed to worse cases of sexual activity with little supervision from their parents. In conclusion, both the television and the internet are powerful media instruments that are accessible to anyone regardless of age or location (RAND Corporation 31). Through these two agents, many teenagers across America have bee exposed and influenced by fabricated sexual notions and behavior. The next section covers the role played by social contact and physical attraction in shaping the sexual attitudes, understanding, and behavior of American teenagers.

Social contact and physical attractions

            The behavior of a human being is influenced by internal and external factors. Some of the dominant external factors that influence a person’s behavior include lessons, values, and principles. However, external factors such as parents and peers are equally important in determining the behavior of a teenage. Within the United States, the contribution of parents in the sexual lives of their children is normally underestimated (Kabiru, and Orpinas 1038). Therefore, most parents are excluded from the decision-making processes of their teenagers. Part of this problem can be attitude to the national principles that endorse self-reliance, autonomy, and individualism. Therefore, children grow up depending on their own devices. Most of the teenagers are unaware that even though the changeover to increased autonomy underpins this developmental phase, parents are still vital role in guiding the decisions teenagers make concerning sex. During the critical adolescence phase, most teenagers depend on their friends for advice on sexual issues. Teenagers who abstain from active sexual activity form a close bond with other likeminded people. Such teenagers also display a strong belief in avoiding risky sexual contact as well as disobeying their parents. The reverse is also true. Teenagers with immoral values have a strong relationship with sexually active teenagers. The issue of peer pressure is very important in pushing teenagers towards sexual contact at a very young age. At that age, teenagers lack a strong sense of identity. Therefore, in the process of seeking belonging, they may opt to engage in risky sexual practices to fit in with the popular group. Teenagers’ sexual activity is also determined by the physical hormones that control their physical growth as well as emotions. Consequently, peer pressure and self-esteem are largely determined by the hormonal balance within a teenager. During these hormonal fluctuations, there is a change in perception of the opposite sex that may either discourage or encourage sexual activity. In conclusion, teenagers are largely influenced by their peers and parents as these are the two major actors within the society. At the formative stages, teenagers are mainly influenced by the peers in school and at home. The second part of the discussion on causative factors of risky sexual perceptions and behaviors focused on physical attraction and noted that physiological elements were responsible for higher sexual activity.

Consequences of Sexual Behavior

Engaging in sex at an early age during adolescence hardly presents any positive benefits. One may argue that satisfying the curiosity of the opposite gender or satiating the pressures of high hormone levels is a benefit in itself. However, this is hardly an end in itself. Unprotected sexual contact, particularly among teenagers, holds the potential of irreversible and lifetime consequences. These ramifications are not restricted to the health dangers such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or the conventional pregnancy (Kearney, and Levine 14). Numerous other economic and social consequences accompany sexual activity among teenagers (Dunn, Kitts, Lewis, Goodrow, and Scherzer 12). The most obvious physiological consequence of engaging in active sex is unwanted pregnancy and contracting STDs. Unwanted pregnancies force female teenagers to endure physical changes to support the foetus. Most children born by teenage mothers experience health problems arising from insufficient capacity by its mother. Most of the STDs can be treated. However, a selected few have no cure while others are very difficult to contain. Nearly all forms of sexual activity have a deeper psychological effect on the partakers (De, Ethier, Cumberland, Afifi, Loya, and Kerndt 34). These effects include withdrawal, low self-esteem, and guilt among others.

Sexual Transmitted Diseases

            Some of the most common STDs include hepatitis, Chlamydia, syphilis, scabies, herpes, and gonorrhea among others. Among the teenagers engaging in active sex, there were certain carefree attitudes that promoted prolonged exposure to STDs and sexual trauma. Some of these diseases are also deadly and can cause permanent physical and mental damage. Most teenagers wrongly assume that oral sex is less risky and permissible when compared to vaginal sex (Kearney, and Levine 78). While the social understanding of this is partly accurate, the medical perspective is less favorable. Studies have revealed that people engaging in oral sex have a higher chance of contracting and spreading STDs. Apart from this risk, STDs create further medical complications that can have future implications (Frost 23). For instance, people diagnosed with gonorrhea run the risk of giving birth to babies with sight impairment.

Effect on Mental, Social, and Academic Life

            This section is closely related to the previous discussion on the psychological effects of sexual activity among teenagers. The aforementioned consequences such as unwanted pregnancies and STDs have a significant effect on the mental and social lives of teenagers (Frost 67). For one, the unwanted pregnancies and the knowledge that minors had engaged in sex causes stigma among peers and the rest of the public (Kearney, and Levine 25). A unique aspect is a decrease in number of friends and peers mainly because of the change in physique as well as status. Female teenagers have the worst experience with psychological trauma especially if they decide to keep the baby to full term. The disruption of academic life is a significant consequence of sexual activity while at a tender age. Teenage life occurs between the ages of 13 and 19. During this period, most young people are in high school or senior school (Kabiru, and Orpinas 1034). Becoming pregnant and dropping out of school implies that they cannot clear high school and join college. Consequently, in the absence of a college diploma or degree, they cannot get high paying jobs. In this way, unwanted pregnancy can contribute towards increased poverty in the family. Teenage girls that opt for abortion also face significant problems in terms of medical complications and associated trauma.


Sexual Education

            Sex education is a highly effective approach towards reducing cases of teenage sexual activity. Its high rate of success is attributed to the school settings in which most peers are informed about the same issues. Sex education is also useful in that it covers the detailed medical and social terms for all the aspects surrounding sex (Kearney, and Levine 45). Teenagers have the luxury of being instructed by professional counselors and doctors with vast experience in matter of sexuality. Afflicted and affected teenagers can also take advantage of the therapy options to seek guidance on the way forward (Lowe-Thompson, and Johnson 12). This approach is also effective because most parents have a difficult time teaching their children about matters.

Increased Parental Presence

            Parents are ultimately responsible for the actions of their teenagers regardless of the other factors mentioned in the paper. The parent factor is an important one in shaping the values and decisions of a young child until they can be independent. Parents can take up many roles including regularly advising their children concerning the type of friends they keep as well as the activities they enjoy. Monitoring their activities of teenagers while online or during recreational activities can also deter them from engaging in sex (Lowe-Thompson, and Johnson 17). Lastly, fostering a strong bond with the teenager that is founded on trust and communication will facilitate open discussions on the psychical and emotional changes during adolescence.


Merely exposing oneself or consuming sexual material in the media is not responsible for making teens discard or disregard values and advice they have acquired from their parents, the education system, church, and other renowned individuals. Various studies have proposed that young people have the potential of displaying better statistics in terms of dealing with risky sexual behavior if their perceptions concerning the risks and benefits of engaging in sex are altered (Dunn et al. 23). Another counterargument dismissing the first point that media is an accelerant for risky sexual behavior among teenagers is the fact that the television and internet are key sensitization instruments that have been used to inform both parents and teens on the need for responsible sexual behavior.

The core of the issue does not lie with exposure to media content or poor parenting approaches. Rather, it is dependent on the perception of teenagers towards gender, sexual relationships, personal health, and other aspects that demand a strong value system. At this age, teenagers are struggling with a host of issues such as identity and purpose. It would be more prudent to focus on developing an independent and moral young citizen rather than critisizing the different factors that predispose them towards risky sexual behavior. Prospective research must also consider the significance of the role of parents in adolescents’ consumption of sexual content and the level of teenager’s comprehension of the falsified lifestyles in the media.

Works Cited

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Collins, Rebecca, Steven, Martino, and Shaw, Rebecca. Influence of New Media on Adolescent Sexual Health: Evidence and Opportunities. RAND Health. 2010. Print.

De, Rosa C. J, K .A. Ethier, D. H. Kim, W. G, Cumberland, A. A. Afifi, J Kotlerman, R. V. Loya, and P. R. Kerndt. “Sexual Intercourse and Oral Sex among Public Middle School Students: Prevalence and Correlates.” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. 42.3 (2010): 197-205. Print.

Does Watching Sex on Television Influence Teens’ Sexual Activity? Santa Monica: RAND Health, 2004. Print.

Dunn, Michael S, Cathy Kitts, Sandy Lewis, Bruce Goodrow, and Gary D. Scherzer. “Effects of Youth Assets on Adolescent Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana Use, and Sexual Behavior.” Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. 55.3 (2011): 23-40. Print.

Frost, Jennifer. Teenage Sexual and Reproductive Behavior in Developed Countries. New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2001. Print.

Kabiru, C. W, and P Orpinas. “Factors Associated with Sexual Activity Among High-School Students in Nairobi, Kenya.” Journal of Adolescence. 32.4 (2009): 1023-39. Print.

Kearney, M. S., and P.B. Levine. “Media Influences on Social Outcomes: the Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing.” American Economic Review. 105.12 (2015): 3597-3632. Print.

Lowe-Thompson, Brittany J, and Carol L. Johnson. Teens and Risky Sexual Behavior: What School Counselors Need to Know. Menomonie, WI: University of Wisconsin–Stout, 2011. Web.

RAND Corporation. Top of Form

Vandenbosch, L, Oosten J. M. F. Van, and J. Peter. “The Relationship between Sexual Content on Mass Media and Social Media: a Longitudinal Study.” Cyber psychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 18.12 (2015): 697-703. Print.

Ybarra, M. L., and K. J. Mitchell. “Exposure to Internet Pornography among Children and Adolescents: a National Survey.” Cyber psychology & Behavior: the Impact of the Internet, Multimedia and Virtual Reality on Behavior and Society. 8.5 (2005): 473-86. Print.

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