Sexuality: Age 12–19

Adolescents struggle to find appropriate sexual outlets for articulating their desires. They participate in the same sexual activities as do adults, while usually in the absence of a committed and long‐term relationship. Sexually active teenagers may think they are in love and date one person exclusively for extended periods, but they lack the level of maturity necessary to maintain intimate and loving relationships. Adolescent promiscuity may be indicative of emotional problems, including low self‐esteem, dependence, immaturity, insecurity, or deep‐seated hostility.

Teenagers find a variety of means to express themselves sexually. Most young people relieve sexual tension through masturbation, which by this age is an erotically motivated behavior. About 90 percent of males and 60 percent of females report having masturbated at least once by age 17. A second sexual expression for teenagers is mutual petting, or sexual activities other than intercourse. Petting is either heavy (below the waist) or light (above the waist). A third sexual outlet for adolescents is intercourse. The mechanics of sex are the same whether the participants are teenagers or adults. However, although the passion of sex may be present, the commitment and intimacy of a mature relationship are usually missing from the teenage experience.

According to U.S. statistics, which may vary, the average age for a first sexual intercourse is between 16 and 17. Complicating matters is the fact that sexually active adolescents either use contraception on an irregular basis, or they do not use it all. They also do not consistently take precautions against sexually transmitted diseases, even in this day of HIV and AIDS.

Five percent of adolescents experiment with homosexual activity with same‐age partners, according to one national survey. These data probably do not represent the number of teenagers who are truly homosexual, because many adolescent homoerotic experiences are nothing more than sexual experimentation.

Homosexual teenagers may be hesitant to reveal their perceived preferences, or come out of the closet, because of society's and their peers' negative attitudes about homosexuality. These teenagers may avoid homosexual experiences or, if they have them, worry about their significance. Homosexual teenagers may also avoid disclosure for fear of being victimized by heterosexual teenagers. Homophobia involves negative remarks, social ostracizing, and threats; it can also involve gay bashing, or violently attacking homosexuals. People probably gay bash because of peer pressure and discomfort with their own sexual identity.

Problems resulting from adolescent sex

Perhaps the greatest potential problem faced by sexually active teenagers is an unplanned pregnancy. With so many teenagers refusing to use contraception consistently, teenage pregnancy has reached an unimaginable level in the United States. Each year, about 500,000 babies are born to adolescent mothers, who typically face many serious problems. Medically, pregnancy and childbirth during adolescence are risky to both child and mother. An adolescent girl's body is not fully developed, and she may not have access to adequate medical care or understand the importance of proper nutrition. Thus, she is at higher risk of having a miscarriage or a premature, low birth‐weight baby. The young mother also may die during childbirth.

Financially, many adolescent mothers are single and live in poverty. If they drop out of high school, they have limited earning power. With less money and more expenses, they are forced to accept welfare to support their children and themselves.

Teenage mothers who are married face similar problems. About 50 percent of teenage mothers are married, and according to statistics they struggle financially just as much as unwed teenage mothers. Not surprisingly, teenage marriages are plagued by poverty, again because of limited education and earning power. They are also highly susceptible to divorce because of their emotional and financial instability, some of which is due to immaturity and marrying for the wrong reasons.

Adolescent fathers may be eager to help their partners and offspring, but they usually do not have the means to do so. Like teenage mothers, teenage fathers lack the education and skills needed to find suitable employment. Of course, other teenage fathers do not want the responsibilities of marriage and parenting. In turn, they abandon the mother and child, who then must struggle even more to survive.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are another serious consequence of teenage sex. Each year, more than 3 million teenagers contract an STD—an alarming figure given the current HIV/AIDS epidemic. Such figures underscore the importance of why teenagers must understand the medical and social implications of their sexually activity.