Issues in Human Growth & Development: Preventing Sexual Activity & Pregnancy in Teens

Written by Anushree Joshi, 2011

Abstract

Sexual activity in teens is a prominent reality and thus a valid concern of parents, educators, and the society at large. There is an old saying that goes something like ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ putting the ownership of social development of children and youth on the entire society in which they are embedded. It is necessary, then, in the conversation about sexual education, to make this education available to children and youth so they can learn to say no, protect themselves, and partake safely if they choose to do so. This report does not in any way condone inappropriate sexual activity; it is a report that aims to search for the major factors that affect (and heighten) risk of increased sexual activity, and subsequently pregnancy, in teens. The outcome of the report aims to identify key factors — such as positive media messages, parental/familial enforcement, and informative education — that, when leveraged appropriately, may be able to drastically reduce teenage pregnancy and mitigate other risks associated with overall teenage sexual activity.

1.0 Introduction

Various types of socialization, such as that from family, peer groups and media, affect teens’ views on sex. Evaluating the factors that influence teens’ view on sex and assessing the attitudes that teens, their peers and their parents have on sex can assist in uncovering the impact that various influences have on the teen mind. It is important to study the roles of parents, peers and media in influencing a teen to make particular choices about their sexual habits.

A number of other factors and topics must also be studied in order to get to the root of the matter. The psychology of the human mind, especially of the teenage mind, is complicated and diverse. By studying the psychological and physiological reasons behind sexual activity, the motivations that encourage teens to have sex or engage in other forms of sexual activity may become clearer to social scientists, parents and medical professionals. Studying trends in sexual activity in teens can lead to finding clues about teens’ intentions and reasoning for having sex at an early age.

Parents are vital to a teen’s upbringing and the development of the teen’s social values. Communication between parents and teens is necessary in order to maintain healthy parent-teen relationships, which can result in teens making better choices about their sex life.

Moreover, it is necessary to evaluate the sex education offered in schools and the impacts it has on teenage sexual behaviour. Differences in what schools teach regarding sex may contribute to trends in the data regarding sex choices that a teen makes. Providing education about abstinence, as well as information about pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) will give teens the bigger picture.

Trends in how teen sexual behaviour is influenced are important in discovering the reasons behind such statistics. These trends are evaluated in this study, and the information found is extremely valuable because it can help social scientists, parents, educators and community leaders gain insight on how to take steps to ensure future safety of teens through informative sex education and prevention.

1.1 Hypothesis

Teens aged 15-19 living in single- or dual-parent families are less likely to abstain from sex during their teenage or early adult years – as opposed to their equals – who are educated in sex, resulting in an increased level of sexual activity. Through extensive sex education offered in high schools, teenagers can be informed about the topic and make better decisions about having and not having sex in their teen years and early adulthood, resulting in less accidental teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

1.2 Thesis Statement

Teens aged 15-19 who are uneducated about sex and do not have open discussions about sex with their parents, guardians and/or other caring adults are more likely to engage in sexual activities at an earlier age than their counterparts who are provided with information about sex and have healthy relationships with one or both of their parents. Through extensive sex education programs that address attitudes and analyze influences on sexual behaviour, teenagers will be able to make informed choices about their sexual habits.

1.3 Parameters

  • Types of families to be examined are single-parent families and dual-parent families because the parental influence is a variable that is of concern
  • Both Canadian and American research will be used because in many of the outlined studies, Canadian statistics are compared and contrasted to American statistics
  • Research will be relevant and recent, spanning from the 1970s to present
  • Teens aged 15-19 will be examined; some statistics regarding young teens (aged 13-14) and young adults (aged 19-24) may also be outlined for comparison’s sake

1.4 Limitations

  • For statistics regarding pregnancy rates, only teenage females can be examined
  • Canadian and American research, on a global scale, tends to show similar trends; the outlined studies cannot conclusively make a sound statement about teenage pregnancies, teenage sex and teenage attitudes towards sex on a global level; the conclusions drawn here may only apply to Canadian and American society
  • Studies are most often based on self-reporting and anonymous interviews; teens may not honestly report all sexual activity
  • Conclusions drawn from statistical analyses are those of doctors and social scientists; the true sexual accounts of teenagers is not provided, only suggested and summarized to be included as part of the scholarly reports
  • Data is not being examined; only interpretations of raw data are being examined in this report

2.0 Literature Review

2.1 Types of Socialization Affecting Sexual Activity in Teens

Many factors can influence one’s choice to have sex (see ‘sex’ in glossary) in his or her teenage years. It is necessary to identify and assess the family factors, peer factors and social factors that can either encourage or discourage teen sex in adolescents aged 15-19. In order to better understand teenagers’ motivations behind having sex, the types of relationships they are exposed to and sex education material offered to them must be examined.

Socialization is defined as the process by which an individual inherits the norms, customs and ideologies of the society they live in (Baxamusa, B.N., 2011). Individuals acquire the knowledge, language, social skills, and value to conform to the norms and roles required for integration into a group or community, most often referring to society at large (OBD, n.d). Socialization can be divided into three main subcategories: primary (family influences), secondary (mainly peer group influences) and tertiary (for example, mass media influences). Differences in each of these types of socialization can have direct or indirect effects on a teen’s likelihood to abstain from sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual activity.

2.1.1 Primary Socialization: the Family

The family home is where the teen receives his primary forms of socialization. Primary socialization occurring in the family home covers the basics that children need to know in order to become a functioning and integrated part of the society they live in (Baxamusa, B.N., 2011). Children are taught simple gender roles, the basic types of positive behaviours to display in public, as well as some of the negative behaviours that are not allowed in public; positive and negative reinforcements are used to instil these norms, values and ideas that society has deemed appropriate in the minds of children from a young age.

As children grow older, their level of autonomy grows as they are in search of personal freedom. One of the responses to this new-found freedom may include an increase in sexual behaviour for teens. It is found, though, that positive relationships (see ‘family relationships’ in glossary) within the family household can greatly influence adolescent sexual behaviour.

A study was conducted by the American Orthopsychiatric Association in 2008 which outlined that family relationships have a direct effect on the self-reported adjustment problems at school and the teen’s image of self. Adolescents who reported mostly good-quality family relationships were better adjusted at school and found more self-worth than adolescents reporting mostly poor-quality family relationships (Laursen and Mooney, 2008), possibly leading to an inclination towards sexual experimentation at a young age.

Another study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute of Sexual and Reproductive Health in 2011 outlined that parents play a strong role in influencing their teen’s attitudes about sex. Through teens’ self-reported incidents, it was concluded that parental supportiveness was most often positively associated with sexual incidents; increased parent support on the topic of sex resulted in a higher level of sexual activity in the teen (Parkes, A., Henderson, M., Wight, D. and Nixon, C., 2011). Moreover, parental restrictions regarding sex related positively to teen attitudes in saying that parents who voiced restrictions to their teens about sex found their teens to be relatively obedient, hesitant and precautious in their sexual behaviours (Parkes et al., 2011). Often times, it is parents who most likely influence their teen’s attitude toward sex. Up to 45% of teens surveyed in a recent study showed that parents are their sexual role models – not friends (32%) or celebrities (merely 15%) (Rochman, B., 2011). Teenagers are able to learn about sex from their parents, directly through family discussions and “the talk,” and indirectly through portrayed rules, views and opinions about sex.

There is also a third of surveyed teens in the TIMES Healthland study that claimed to have no role models of sexual activity whatsoever; these teens showed riskier sexual behaviours than the ones who valued their parents’ opinions (Rochman, B., 2011).

2.1.2 Secondary Socialization: the Peer Group

Secondary socialization occurs within the peer groups that the teen is exposed to. In the case of adolescents, the secondary socializing group plays an important role as teens are beginning to gain autonomy and freedom and are being more openly affected by external influences; the main influence in their lives, for possibly the first time, may not be coming from inside the home.

Secondary socialization can occur in a number of settings; for example, schools, work places and religious institutions are all examples of such settings (Baxamusa, B.N., 2011). These provide insight into helping the individual find his place in the world. These settings aim to improve and further develop the primary socialization that has already been established by the family.

Peer groups are a significant influence in the lives of teens. Many teens experience peer pressure in various areas of their lives including drug use and abuse, alcohol use and abuse, stealing and other crimes, as well as engaging in various forms of sexual activity (Botto, C., n.d).

Through their peer groups, teenagers develop attitudes about sex. According to the Guttmacher Institute of Sexual and Reproductive Health, teenagers who had a positive outlook towards abstinence from sex were less likely to engage in it than their counterparts who had a positive attitude towards sex (Masters, N. T., Beadnell, B. A., Morrison, D. M., Hoppe, M. J. and Gillmore, M. R., 2008).

Peer influences play an important role in adolescent behavioural development. Peer groups define what is “hot” and what is “cool,” in simple jargon. Large peer groups, such as the population of a high school, subsequently define the new terms of being highly desirable teenagers. Peer groups play an important role in socializing teenagers in terms of alcohol and drug use, as well as criminal and sexual activity.

Peer pressure has a greater impact on some teens than others. Although parental influences are the most meaningful for most teens (Rochman, B., 2011), in the absence of parents, guardians or other caring adults as role models, teens look to their peers for sexual guidance (Lerman, E., 1997). Teens that are neglected at home look for love and relationships “out there.” These relationships, often formed in the absence of parents or in the absence of a parent-like influence, can be harmful and promiscuous; these teens most often display risky sexual behaviours (Lerman, E., 1997). The best ‘defence’ against peer pressure is having a strong relationship with a parent or other caring adult (Lerman, E., 1997).

2.1.3 Tertiary / Community Socialization: the Media Influence

The world today is filled with new and emerging technologies. Teens’ lives are saturated with new gadgets and types of media that were unavailable in previous generations. From music videos to posters and billboards, media influences are one of the most prominent influences in a teen’s life.

Media can be dangerous because it is a sort of informal propaganda. Teens see images of their peers, and of people they strive to be, in certain stages of life with various fruitful and desirable luxuries (for example, teens often see images of celebrities in the tabloids with numerous sexual partners).

A study was published in the American Journal of Nursing in 2009 and examined the effects of sex and violence in media on teenage behaviour. Young teenagers (ages 12-15) were interviewed about their TV-watching habits and the kind of shows they watched. They were then interviewed again 3 years later. It was found that of those who reported watching TV shows with passionate kissing and sexual activity in their young teenage years, up to 66% of them were sexually active in their higher teen years (Anderson et al., 2008).

There is an increased number and degree of sexual activity in teens at a younger age due to various media influences (Steyer, J.P., and Clinton, C., 2003). Researchers attribute this increase in teenage sexual activity to the media showing glorified images of sexually active teenagers. For example, MTV Canada’s line-up of teen pregnancy shows, including Teen Mom and 16 And Pregnant, highlight the lives of pregnant teenagers, following their paths from conception to post-partum. Although the shows do not outright state that teen pregnancies are positive, they give the indirect message that teens that engage in sexual activity and get pregnant are popular and overvalued in our society today.

Since the freedom movement of the 1960s, sexual content has been more openly available and included in various forms of media, namely TV sitcoms; in 2001, approximately 84% of sitcoms aired on television in the United States included some form of sexual content (Steyer, J.P., and Clinton, C., 2003). Louis Chunovic, an American television journalist, has speculated that “there’s no better audience grabber than sex”. Producers of television shows, movies and music videos use sex as a lure for a wide audience, ranging from young teenagers to adults.

Another problem with TV media today is that a lot of young teens are not necessarily watching shows intended for their age group (Steyer, J.P., and Clinton, C., 2003). For example, YTV Canada (Youth TV Canada) is a channel with TV programming intended for children and teens with shows created by Nickelodeon and Disney. Television shows geared toward older teens (including modern titles such as Big Time Rush, Family Biz, In Real Life and That’s So Weird) are shown on this channel alongside other shows (Kid vs. Kat, Penguins of Madagascar, George Shrinks and Spongebob Squarepants) which cater to younger children specifically. Similarly, the Family Channel, a primarily American channel dominated by Disney productions that broadcasts to children of many ages, ranging from toddlers to teenagers.

The issue with children’s programming that caters to a large group is that although older children may not be interested in watching programming intended for younger viewers, the opposite often takes place; younger audiences view content intended for older youth (Steyer, J.P., and Clinton, C., 2003).

Implications about promiscuous and unhealthy relationships and various forms of sexual activity are inadvertently present in these shows that are intended for older youth (for example, Life with Derek, Naturally Sadie, and Wingin’ It!), but are being viewed today by younger children, exposing them to possibly harmful relationships and the idea of sexual activity early on in life. This may encourage them to engage in sexual activity earlier than their peers who are not exposed to sexual content at an early age.

Also, many teens look to celebrities and media for their sexual activity guidance. Adult celebrities, although they are only the primary role models for 15% of surveyed teens (Rochman, B., 2011), from movies, TV and sports often show promiscuous sex and child-bearing prior to marriage (Lerman, E., 1997).

2.2 Sex Education Offered to Teens

Sex education refers to all the information that teens can receive about sexual intercourse, other sexual activities (such as masturbating, touching and kissing) and various topics related to sex (including birth control, protection, STIs and pregnancy).

There are numerous ways that teens can attain information about sex, such as through their parents and friends, as well as from their teachers at school and on the World Wide Web.

2.2.1 Where Teens Are Getting Information About Sex

Canadian teens, as part of a sex education study, were surveyed about where they gain their sexual knowledge; about 40% of the surveyed teens said that the Internet is a better source for information about sex-related topics than their parents are, and about 25% said that the Internet is a better source for information than what is presented to them at school (Anne-Marie, 2011). According to the study, teenagers seem to be relying heavily on the Internet and sex education resources that can be found there (Anne-Marie, 2011). It must be ensured that the resources available to teens online are accurate and valid and are providing teenagers with the soundest information possible. Despite the availability of resources on the Internet, teens also receive sex education in schools most of the time.

2.2.2 Sex Education Outreach

Studies show that about 85% of students in North America get “some” sex education in school. The degree of education varies within school districts, but differences in sex education content between elementary, middle and high schools are found to be minimal (Stonenstein, F., and Pittman, K., 1984).

Although offering sex education is one aspect of the issue, student participation is the other. Some studies show that up to 73% of elementary school students and up to 75% of middle and high school students actively participate in sex education discussions (Stonenstein, F. et al., 1984). The remaining percent of the student population does not benefit from the sex education resources provided to them at school.

In Ontario, students are beginning to receive sex education as early as Grade 1, as per the recommendation of Ontario’s Premier, Dalton McGuinty in 2010. Children learn about such topics through a variety of ‘unstoppable’ and ‘unmonitored’ ways, so there might as well be a venue over which there is some control, he said, referring to structured lesson plans as a part of the healthy sexuality unit taught to students in school (Babbage, 2010).

Sex education does have a positive effect on teens in numerous cases. Due to providing sex education in high schools, contraceptive use in teens has increased (Nadler, R., 1999). By providing sex education to teens, more teens are able to know the pros and cons of engaging in sexual activity and are able to take appropriate preventative measures to protect themselves and their partner from pregnancies and STIs if they make the choice to partake in sexual intercourse.

2.2.3 Sex Education Topics Covered by Schools

The content discussed in schools includes many topics under the umbrella of sex education. Over 90% of school districts in the United States cover topics including physiology, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and parenthood, while over 80% cover sexual relationships, intercourse, decision-making and communication, and closely discuss the probability of pregnancy. Only about 74% of school districts cover topics such as preventing pregnancy (birth control), family planning services and details about the menstrual cycle and the female reproductive system (Stonenstein, F., et al, 1984). Other topics that are not often taught include abortions, masturbation, alternate sexual activities (other than intercourse) and homosexuality (Stonenstein, F., et al, 1984).

Pregnancy rates of Texas teens are at an ultimate high compared to data from other districts in the United States, despite abstinence-only education being strictly enforced in the state (Otto, S. L., 2011).

In terms of sex education for Ontario teens, specifically, a study of about 200 recent Ontario high school graduates showed that all have completed the required amount of sex education (Anne-Marie, 2011). But Dr Maya Kumar of the University of Western Ontario in London claims that Ontario secondary school students are severely deficient in their sex education; most teenagers do not know enough about contraception, STIs, birth control methods and/or types of sex. One of the studies she conducted as a paediatric resident at the University of Western Ontario’s School of Medicine found that on formal testing regarding these and other sexual topics, the average score for knowledge on preventing STIs was 79%, and the average score for knowledge on contraception was only 43% (Anne-Marie, 2011).

2.3 Attitudes towards Teenage Sexual Activity

2.3.1 The Psychology behind Why They Do It

There are many reasons that teens may want to engage in sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual activity at a young age. A study found that there is a strong suggestion that teen sex is linked to poverty and the absence of a mother- or father-figure in the life of a teen (Lerman, E., 1997).

Another reason that teens choose to engage in sexual activity at an early age is because of exploration; the exploration of self and exploration of others (Fae, J., 2011). By educating teens about sex earlier in school, maybe even as early as age eight, say some parents, there may be significant progress made through the elimination of ambiguity in terms of sex education for teens who find it necessary to engage in sexual activities at an early age (Fae, J., 2011).

2.3.2 A Parent’s Role in Developing Sexual Attitudes

Parents play an important role in developing the sexual behaviours and attitudes of their teens. Parents are often concerned and do not want to talk to their kids about sex because of the adult content that may arise, and some parents believe that such education will corrupt their children (Fae, J., 2011), but what is necessary for parents to understand is that sex education does not have to be sexual; effective sex education strives to provide information and promote awareness and does not have to be sexual in an adulterated sense, per se (Fae, J., 2011).

As outlined in section 2.1.1 of this report, parents can greatly influence their teen’s sexual behaviours and attitudes. It is important for parents to be actively participating in discussions with their teens about sex – the benefits and the harms; increased number and frequency of discussions about sex results in the teenagers being less sexually active (Rochman, B., 2011).

Also, in a recent study, it was found that teens who live with one or both parents and are under the influence of their parents (and likely have discussions on family topics such as sex) have smaller odds of engaging in sex at an early age (Song, S., 2011).

2.4 Preventative Measures – Decreasing Harmful Sexual Activity in Teens

In Canada and the United States, pregnancy rates as a result of teenage sexual intercourse have declined somewhat since the 1970s (with an odd momentary rise in teen pregnancies from 1990-1994) to 1997 (see appendix figure 2) (Dyburgh, H., n.d).

2.4.1 Providing Education about Abstinence, Pregnancy and STIs

Through state and national polls conducted in the United States, it was found that 80-90% of parents with teenagers in school are in support of sex education being part of the curriculum (Donovan, P., 1998). In terms of what kind of education is being provided, there are differences within certain areas. Of the 51 state bills passed in the United States about sex education, over 18 of them pertained to teaching mostly or only about abstinence, most of which aim to teach students the concept of abstinence as a social and moral duty and not as a personal choice (Donovan, P., 1998).

Through some studies, it was found that an increase in abstinence-only education resulted in a decrease in pregnancies among adolescents (Nadler, R., 1999). On the other hand, providing information about contraceptives increases levels of sexual activity in teens; information about protected sex also results in an increased number of incidents of sexual intercourse (Nadler, R., 1999), but leads to safer sex practices and enforcing of healthy sexuality techniques.

The aim of sex education in schools is to give adolescents information they need to make the choices they would otherwise make, uninformed; moreover, it aims to help them build positive and meaningful relationships that result in less promiscuous sexual behaviours (Donovan, P., 1998). Preventing unprotected sexual behaviours is also one of the primary goals of sex education.

Since the AIDS outbreak in the mid-1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in the United States have provided financial assistance to school districts and local boards so that they can have widespread information and resources available to teach their students about HIV and other STIs (Donovan, P., 1998).

Through a recent study, it was found that younger teens (under age 14) were less likely to use contraceptives than their older counterparts (aged 17-19); only 59% of younger teen girls used contraceptives during the first time they had sex, as opposed to 90% of older girls in the same situation and similarly, only 75% of younger boys used protection in contrast to 93% of boys in the older age group and same situation (Song, S., 2011).

A suggestion made by Donna Shalala, a representative from the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), was that schools should be teaching teens about oral sex and mutual masturbation in attempt to delay the experimentation with and experiencing of sexual intercourse (Nadler, R., 1999).

In terms of sex education as a whole, teenage sex rates have declined over time. In 1988, 51% of teenage girls and 60% of teenage boys surveyed said that they had had sex at least once. Till the year 2000, these numbers declined steadily to 46% for both boys and girls having sex in their teenage years (Song, S., 2011), at which point they reached a plateau and remained fairly constant for about a decade. In the United States, up to 43% of current teenage girls and 42% of current teenage boys said that they have had sex at least once (Song, S., 2011). The number of teenagers having sex has not changed, but healthy and safe sex practices (increase in use of hormonal contraceptives by girls, increase in use of birth control, increased use of condoms by boys) have become more prevalent (Song, S., 2011).

2.4.2 Access to Contraception Resources and Protection

Providing condom programs (i.e. free condom availability through high schools) has received a positive response from teenagers at participating high schools in the United States (Schuster, M., Bell, R., Berry, S., and Kanouse, D., 1998). When surveyed prior to the condom program being offered, 65% of teen males reported that they used a condom the first time they had vaginal intercourse, but only about 37% reported that they used a condom every time they had vaginal intercourse. After the condom program started at the high schools being studied, 80% of teen males reported that they used a condom in their recently-initiated first incident of vaginal intercourse, and up to 50% reported that they were using a condom every time they engaged in vaginal intercourse (Schuster, M. et al., 1998).

2.4.3 Improving Parent-Teen Relationships

Often times, parents have difficulty having “the talk” with their teen; one way to help increase parent-teen communications is by providing parents numerous parenting programs, techniques and resources directly through their place of work (Eastman, K., Corona, R., Ryan, G., Warsofsky, A., and Schuster, M., 2005). In the study conducted, it was found that both parents and executive officials were in support of worksite-based parenting programs. Implementing worksite-based parenting programs gives employed parents of teenagers a place to gather resources they need to be able to support their teenage children and discuss sex with them. A benefit of worksite-based parenting programs, as speculated by the executives of the particular set of companies under study, is better parent-teen communication and resultant improved employee morale; on the other hand, there are downsides of worksite-based parenting programs also, including many of the privacy concerns that may arise (Eastman, K. et al., 2005).

It was found that parent-teen relationships are vital in the teen’s decision-making abilities. In most cases, it is parents who are role models for teenage sexual activities (Rochman, B., 2011). Teens are able to develop ‘better’ morals because of the conversations they are having with parents. Moreover, parents who more openly voice their disapproval of sexual activity have teens that are less likely to engage in it (Nadler, R., 1999).

3.0 Discussion

Many factors can influence one’s choice to have sex in his or her teenage years. It is necessary to identify and asses the family factors, peer factor and social factors that encourage or discourage sexual activity in adolescents aged 15-19. In order to better understand teenagers’ motivations behind engaging in sexual intercourse or other sexual activities, the types of relationships they are exposed to in the household and sex education material offered to them must be examined.

The purpose of this report was to evaluate the effect of sex education resources and family discussions between the teen and a parent or guardian on the sexual activity of that teen. It was hypothesized that teens aged 15-19 who are uneducated about sex and do not have open discussions with their parents, guardians and/or other caring adults are more likely to engage in sex or other sexual activities at an earlier age than their counterparts who are provided with information about sex and have healthy relationships with one or both of their parents. Running sex education programs that address attitudes and analyze factors that have an impact on teens’ sexual choices can lead to assisting social scientists, educators and parents help their teens be more informed about sex.

It was predicted that through providing extensive sex education in high schools, teenagers are able to learn more about the topic and in turn, make informed choices about their own sexual habits.

Socialization is defined in section 2.1 of this report as the process through which an individual inherits the norms, customs and ideologies of the social order they live in (Baxamusa, B.N., 2011). The individuals acquire the social skills they require to function in a society and learn the value roles in a given setting, most often referring to society at large (OBD, n.d).

Socialization can be achieved through three main subcategories: primary (family influences), secondary (peer group influences) and tertiary (for example, mass media and generally accepted gender roles in society). Differences in each of these types of socialization can have an effect on a teen’s likelihood to abstain from sex or to engage in it.

A 2011 study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute of Sexual and Reproductive Health outlined that parents play a strong role in influencing their teens’ attitudes about sex (Parkes, A. et al., 2011). Parents who have positive attitudes about sex transfer these values to their children. This indicates that parents who have open relationships with their parents and discussions regarding the topic of sex have the ability to strongly influence the teen’s sex choices.

Moreover, parental restrictions regarding sex also related positively to teen attitudes; parents who voiced restrictions to their teens about sex found their teens to be relatively obedient and hesitant in their sexual behaviours (Parkes et al., 2011). This suggests that teens value the belief systems and boundaries that parents have enforced and respect these boundaries. It was suggested by the data that it is necessary to have strong parent-teen relationships in order to decrease miscommunication between teens and their parents or guardians. The hypothesis was proved correct in saying that open parent-teen discussions about sex result in increased awareness and decreased level of sexual activity in teens.

Peer groups play an important role in socializing teenagers in terms of alcohol use, drug use, criminal activity and sexual activity. Through their peer groups, teenagers develop attitudes about sex. Another study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute of Sexual and Reproductive Health found that teenagers who had a positive outlook towards abstinence from sex were therefore less likely to engage in it than their counterparts who had a positive attitude towards sex (Masters et al., 2008).

Other factors, including socialization from peer groups and media, also contribute positively to teen sexual activity. Pressure from peers may result in the teen engaging in sexual activities.

Many teens experience peer pressure in various areas of their lives including drug use and abuse, alcohol use and abuse, stealing and other crimes, as well as engaging in sexual activity (Botto, C., n.d). This negative influence of peers can serve as a catalyst in this sexual exploration that otherwise may occur significantly later in life for the teens.

Also, over-exposure to topics pertaining to sexual activity result in an increased awareness of the perks of engaging in sexual activity, while sometimes neglecting the consequences. Exposure to the benefits and glorious side of sex are shown in numerous TV sitcoms, movies, music videos and other types of popular media available to teens.

In 2001, approximately 84% of sitcoms aired on television in the United States included some form of sexual content. Louis Chunovic, an American television journalist, has speculated that “there’s no better audience grabber than sex” (Steyer, J.P., and Clinton, C., 2003).

As a result of this unbalanced exposure to views of sex, teens often engage in sexual activities before knowing all the benefits and/or consequences of doing so.

The hypothesis predicted that teens who do not receive all-rounded information about sex are more likely to engage in it at a younger age. Moreover, it was also predicted that peer groups influence and often encourage sexual activity in teens at younger ages. Both these predictions were proved true, as the examined research suggests.

An important factor influencing teen sexual behaviour is the role of their parents. Although many parents believe that teenagers enjoy independence and do not want to listen to what the parents have to say, it is surprising that studies show over 45% of teens value their parents’ opinions and beliefs the most, over friend influences, who 32% of teens value, and celebrity influences, which only 15% of teens value (Rochman, B., 2011).

Other than getting basic sex education from their parents, teens are exposed to sex education through other sources as well. Sex education, as outlined in section 2.2, refers to all the information teens receive about sexual intercourse, other sexual activities and related sexual topics. Interestingly, a Canadian study found that 40% of teens find the Internet a better source for sex education than they get from their parents, and 25% said that they find the Internet a better resource than what is offered through the sex education they get in their high schools (Anne-Marie, 2011). It can be speculated that in today’s information technology age, more teenagers are turning to the Internet – where the information is easily available at their fingertips – for resources on sexual activity. Unfortunately, there are endless web sites on the Internet that have information on sex which may not be reputable sites. This causes some disruption in the minds of parents and educators.

Teenagers may be accessing Internet resources easily and plainly, but the information they are getting may be inaccurate, leading to misconceptions in their understanding of sexual activity. It is necessary, then, as Premier Dalton McGuinty of Ontario believes, to have sex education start as early as Grade 1 in schools so that children are exposed to sex education from a young age; all the information they receive will at least be accurate (Rochman, B., 2011).

The effectiveness of sex education cannot be truly tested, as various other factors influence a teen’s choice to engage in sexual intercourse or other sexual activities. The research found indicates that parents play an inevitable role in developing sexual attitudes of their teens, as outlined in section 2.2.1 and also 2.3.2.

Sex education interestingly showed an increase in use of protection during sex, as examined in section 2.4.1. Studies showed that through sex education, there was a significant increase in the percentage of teens that used protection while having sex; for girls, the increase in protection use during sex was from 59% to 90%, and for the boys, the increase was from 75% to 93% (Song, S., 2011).

Many teens look to their parents as role models in terms of sexual activity (Rochman, B., 2011). Conversations about sex with parents allows teens to speak and feel more openly about the topic. Interestingly, parents who voiced their negative opinions about sex at an early age resulted in a large number of teens adopting similar methods of thinking (Nadler, R., 1999).

Parents need to stay involved in their teens’ lives, even though it may seem like their teens could care less, says Jean-Yves Frappier, the professor of paediatrics at the University of Montreal and president of the Canadian Paediatrics Society (Rochman, B., 2011).

In most of the studies examined, parents played a large role in the development of sexual attitudes in their teens; there was no disagreement among resources that discredited the parent’s role in the development of sexual attitudes of their teens.

Often times, parents do not believe that their teens care what they think, so they give up or quit trying to make an impact; this is where the miscommunication (or no communication) happens and results in unaccounted teenage sexual activity (Rochman, B., 2011), so it is important that parents continue to speak to their children and stay involved in active discussions with their teens about his or her sexual activities.

As long as parents continue to discuss sex with their teens, their teens are likely to take these suggestions into account and adopt similar, conservative values about their own sexual activities (Rochman, B., 2011).

3.1 Theory of Education: Durkheim’s Theory of Functionalism

The functionalist theory focuses on the ways that universal education serves the needs of society. The functionalist theory aims to prove that education is the basic knowledge that can be passed on from one generation to the next.

Emile Durkheim is considered, by many, as the founder of modern sociology. He argued that each of the people in society have a specific role, serve a specific function, and somehow contribute to the education of the “new” generation.

In terms of teenage sexual activities, the functionalist theory can be applied in saying that external factors challenge teenager’s beliefs and help shape them over time. For example, parent, peer and media all influence teen’s attitudes toward sex. One of the most important factors – the parents – are necessary. As explored in section 2.1.1, the parent plays and effective and highly influential role in determining the sexual habits of teens. It was found that teenagers consider their parents to be their role models in terms of sexual behaviour most of the time (Anne-Marie, 2011).

The functionalist theory can be applied because through conversation and discussion, parents are able to transmit their core values and social beliefs to the teenager (Sociology: Theories of Education, n.d). In turn, the teenager accepts and, in most cases, embraces these beliefs as his own and applies them in his life. Most of the parents that voiced their values and beliefs in terms of sexual activity had teens that adopted those values and beliefs; this could only have been possible through discussion and communication. An increased number and frequency of discussions about sex between parents and teens resulted in decreased sexual activity in those same teens (Rochman, B., 2011). This clearly indicates that Durkheim’s functionalist theory operates on the principle of transferring of values through communication, as in the case of discussions about sex.

The functionalist theory also supports the concept of conforming to social structure and accepting the social expectations placed upon teens (Functionalism, 2000). In North American society, and elsewhere in the world, teenagers are expected not to engage in sexual activity until they are not only physically mature, but also mentally, socially and emotionally mature. This idea conflicts with the messages brought across in media today, and do not contribute to a positive influence on teen sexual activity. Still, since not very many teens attribute their primary role models as celebrities (only about 15% do so), the parental influence and passing on of values is brought across as the major point in how the functionalist theory applies to factors affecting teenagers’ sexual activities and the parental values that influence these attitudes and behaviours.

3.2 Theory of Development: Freud’s Psychoanalytic and Psychosexual Theories

Sigmund Freud is often referred to as the father of psychology in our world today. He was the founder of the psychoanalytic and psychosexual theories of development. The psychoanalytic theory states that the human mind is divided into two parts: the unconscious  and conscious mind. The pleasure-seeking component of the unconscious mind is known as the id, and the superego, also part of the unconscious mind, is the component of utmost morality (Cherry, K., n.d). The conscious mind contains the ego; the ego is responsible for making decisions and striking the balance between the id and superego of the unconscious mind. According to Freud, the id, ego and superego are the components of the mind that influence and ultimately dictate the personality development of the person (Cherry, K., n.d).

The basis of the psychosexual theory is that all behaviours and personalities are developed as a result of environmental factors; these changes and developments are driven by the pleasure-seeking energies of the id (Cherry, K., n.d).

Freud describes his stages of psychosexual development by breaking them into 5 main stages: the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latent period and the genital stage. Each of these stages has particular pleasures that the individual wants, and conflicts that the individual must overcome (Arden, D., n.d). In the oral stage, the individual seeks pleasure by sucking, biting and swallowing (the conflict to overcome is physical detachment from mother); in the anal stage, the individual seeks pleasure by defecating or retaining feces (the conflict to overcome is toilet training); in the phallic stage, the individual seeks pleasure from his genitals (the conflict to overcome is the discovery of sexual identity); the latent period subdues sexual drives, although they are still present; in the genital stage, the individual seeks pleasure through direct sexual contact (the conflict to overcome is social rules and social norms) (Arden, D., n.d).

In terms of teenage sexual behaviours, the genital stage is the most important. In the genital stage, which begins at puberty, the individual seeks direct sexual pleasure for reasons of satisfying his previously suppressed id (Arden, D., n.d). At this point, the individual develops maturing sexual feelings for the opposite sex. All the sexual urges that had earlier been sublimated into activities such as sports and various intellectual pursuits are now being reawakened with the individual’s new discovery of himself and his body (Cherry, K., n.d). The direct sexual feelings that an individual can feel for another during this stage are difficult to suppress and lead to increased sexual activity in teens.

Moreover, the genital stage develops during puberty and although Freud focuses mainly on the sexual component of development, the psychological development that takes place during this time is also worthy of note. Previous stages in psychosexual development were centered on the individual himself, whereas the genital stage is developed with a sense of others in mind; the genital stage causes the individual to think about people other than himself. This leads to the creation of a warm and loving, all-rounded individual (Cherry, K., n.d).

As per the psychosexual theory of development, the behaviours that arise in teenagers are expected to be promiscuous at times due to the physiological and psychological reasons explored by Freud. Because there are many sexual feelings arising in the individual, he is inclined to search for sexual gratification i.e. engage in sexual activities at this age.

In order to reduce teenage sex, it is necessary to provide teenagers enough education and parental support and communication so that they are able to make appropriate decisions about their sexual activities by evaluating everything with their conscious ego, without just giving in to the pleasure-seeking promiscuous provoking of their subconscious id. Another way to decrease sex in teenagers is to provide alternative methods of releasing sexual energy such as masturbation.

4.0 Conclusion

The objective of the report was to compile research that uncovered the reasons that teenagers have sex or engage in other sexual activities at an early age. It was hypothesized that teens aged 15-19 living in single- or dual-parent families are less likely to abstain from sex during their teenage or early adult years if they are not given appropriate sex education. By providing sex education in schools, teenagers can be informed about sex and related topics and make better decisions about having and not having sex in their teen years and early adulthood. This was thought to result in less accidental teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Through the numerous Canadian and American studies examined, it was found that from the 1980s to the 2000s, pregnancy rates and teen sexual activity rates have steadily declined (Song, S., 2011).

There is agreement throughout the studies in saying that abstinence-only education is one type of sex education that proves to be least helpful in terms of decreasing sexual activity (Otto, S.L., 2011). But, when teens are presented with a variety of sex education topics, it results in decreased sexual activity among these teens.

Through increased levels in education about sex do not clearly decrease sexual activity in teens, they assist in helping teens make better choices about their sexual activity. An increase in all-rounded sex education provided teens with more information about sexual intercourse, alternative sexual activities, methods of birth control and protection; this resulted in a rise in healthy and safe sex practices among teens.

The outlined studies proved the hypothesis correct in saying that an increased level and variety of sex education helps teens make better, healthier, safer choices about their sexual behaviours.

Another factor under consideration was the influence of parents in teenagers’ sex lives. Contrary to popular belief, most studies found that many teens see their parents as role models and look to them for guidance in their own sexual activities (Rochman, B., 2011). The effects of the media and of peer groups, as examined in sections 2.1.2 and 2.1.3, respectively, are minimal in comparison to the parental factors outlined in section 2.1.1.

Also supporting the hypothesis, it was found that teens who had positive relationships at home with their parents and lived with one or both of their parents were able to make healthy choices about their own sex lives and not engage in sexual activities at a young age (Parkes, A. et al., 2011). Parental guidance and viewpoints reflected strongly and positively in teens’ sexual behaviours and attitudes (Rochman, B., 2011).

The research conducted for the purpose of this report resulted in uniform findings across the various studies examined. The report proved, through a variety of resources, that teens aged 15-19 who are uneducated about sex and do not have open discussions about sex with their parents, guardians and/or other caring adults are more likely to engage in sexual activities at an earlier age than their counterparts who are provided with information about sex and have healthy relationships with one or both of their parents. Through extensive sex education programs that address attitudes and analyze influences on sexual behaviour, teenagers are able to make informed choices about their sexual habits, resulting in a decreased amount of sexual activity.

Disclaimer: All information found was from scholarly journals and research papers, resulting in sound statistics and data for analysis in this report. The research was valid and recent, spanning from the 1970s to 2011. None of the sources were contradictory, and all of them supported the same dominant ideas, as mentioned previously.

 

5.0 Glossary

Abstinence The act of restraining oneself from indulging in something; in this report, the term “abstinence” refers to abstinence from sex

Adolescent Although adolescents (also known as teenagers) are children between the ages of 13 and 19, inclusive, for the purpose of this report, the term ‘adolescent’ refers to teens aged 15 to 19, inclusive

Autonomy Freedom of thought and more precisely, action; in this report, “autonomy” refers to sexual freedom and freedom of sexual choice

Family relationships The relationships one builds with members of their family. For the purpose of this report, family relationships refer only to the parent-teen relationships within a household. There are two types of family relationships: positive and negative. Each of these, although undefined, are outlined in studies examined in this report; the terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ are relative and are based on the teen’s rating of his or her relationship with one or both parents

Gender roles The basic outlines to what women and men are expected to do in a given society. Various societies have different expectations from men and women, resulting in different gender roles in the community. A globally-accepted gender role for women is that they have to keep their upper body modestly covered in public; men are “allowed” to expose that under certain situations

Sex Any form of sexual intercourse, oral, vaginal or anal, that may or may not result in a pregnancy (see definition for “teenage pregnancy”)

Socialization The process through which an individual inherits the norms, customs and ideologies of the social order they live in; they acquire knowledge, language, social skills, and value to conform to the norms and roles required for integration into a group or community. There are three types of socialization: primary (family influences), secondary (peer groups) and community (media, the environment and society altogether)

Teenage pregnancy Refers to the conception of a baby in a female who is less than 20 years of age at the time of conception. In this report and the outlined studies, “teenage pregnancy” refers to pregnancies in female teens that were accidental and unintended

Teenager See definition for “adolescent”

 

6.0 Appendix

 

table1
Table 1. Number and percentage of 15- to 19-year-olds who had sexual intercourse at least once.

Rotermann, M. (n.d.). Trends in teen sexual behaviour. Statistics Canada. Retrieved November 16, 2011, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2008003/article/10664-eng.pdf

table2
Table 2. Teenage pregnancy rates, by age of women at end of pregnancy, in Canada and the United States, from 1974-1997.

Dyburgh, H. (n.d.). Teenage pregnancies. Statistics Canada: Canada’s national statistical agency / Statistique Canada : Organisme statistique national du Canada. Retrieved November 17, 2011, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/kits-trousses/preg-gross/preg-gross-eng.htm 

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