( By Dr. Vithal Prabhu )

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Adolescent Sexual Behaviour

Adolescence is a time of rapid changes and difficult challenges. They face a wide variety of psychosocial demands: becoming independent, developing skills in interacting well with their parents, devising ethical principles, becoming intellectually competent, acquiring a sense of responsibility etc. At the same time the adolescents have to cope with their sexuality by learning how to deal with their sexuality by learning how to deal with the changing sexual feelings, deciding whether to participate in various types of sexual activity, discovering how to recognize love, and learning how to avoid unwanted pregnancy.

Adolescence is also a time of discovery and awakening, intellectual and emotional maturation combined with physical development that create increasing freedom and excitement. It is no wonder that the adolescents feel conflicts and confusion. The paradoxical nature of adolescence is seen in their sexual sphere. Sexual fantasies and dreams become more common in adolescence. Fantasies during masturbation can add pleasure to the sexual activity. Fantasies can be a substitute for a real (but unavailable) sexual experience, induce arousal or orgasm, provide a form of mental rehearsal for later sexual experiences and provide a safe, unembarrassing means of sexual experimentation. For this reason the use of fantasy is important for his/her later sexual existence. Adolescents struggle to establish personal identity and independence. Peer group pressure vary from one community to another. In one group the code of sexual conduct may be very traditional with a high premium on female virginity and almost all sexual activities limited to meaningful relationship.

In another group sex may be viewed as a status symbol. A new group is emerging where the teenagers are expected by their peers to become sexually experienced at an early age; and those who are not comfortable with pressure are viewed as old fashioned and immature. The teenager’s sexual decision-making reflects individual psychological readiness, personal values, moral reasoning and fear of negative consequences. Many adults seem to be threatened by adolescent sexuality and therefore try to regulate it in illogical ways: “Ban sex education in schools”, “limit information about contraceptive methods”, “censor what teenagers should not see in films.” Fortunately not all parents adopt such a negative view. Most parents, regardless of their own sexual life styles, have a tendency to be less permissive about premarital sex for their own children. When parents are the primary source of sex education, adolescents have more traditional sex values and have higher rate of virginity. Adolescents’ main sexual activity is masturbation. There is a marked difference in the incidence of masturbation between males and females.

Surveys show that over 93 per cent of males and 60 per cent of females masturbate. Inspite of this behavioural trend, guilt, fear or anxiety about masturbation continues to plague teenagers. On the other hand masturbation fulfills some important needs for adolescents: relieving sexual tension, providing a safe means of sexual experimentation, controlling sexual impulses, and discharging general stress. Petting is physical contacts between males and females in an attemt to produce erotic arousal without sexual intercourse. American surveys reported that over 80 per cent adolescent boys and girls engaged in petting by age of eighteen. Indian survey on petting is not yet available. The first experience of sexual intercourse is invariably of worry, discomfort, disappointment, or guilt rather than of happiness, pleasure, intimacy and satisfaction. An American survey reported that about 78 per cent of adolescent boys and 46 per cent of adolescent girls had experienced sexual intercourse. Kinsey studies showed that it was fairly common for males to have atleast one homosexual experience during adolescence, while considerably fewer adolescent females engaged in sex with another female.

More recently there seems to be a moderate decline in adolescent homosexual experience. It is important to realize that an isolated homosexual encounter or a transient pattern of homosexual activity does not translate into “being homosexual.” Most adolescents with homosexual experience do not go on to homosexual orientation in adulthood. Nevertheless, some adolescents develop guilt about their homosexual activities as a result of even a single same-sex episode and may experience emotional turmoil. The teenager who is worried about his homosexuality may avoid homosexual contacts, withdraw from all sexual situations or may consider homosexual activity as a passing phase which he will outgrow. More than one million pregnancies occur each year in American teenage females. Since they are unplanned and unwanted, they create psychological anguish, health risks and social and familial consequences.

The teenage mothers have more medically complicated pregnancies, as well as a higher risk of death. The babies of teenage mothers have an increased chance of being underweight and are likely to die in infancy. Unmarried teenage girls who find themselves pregnant are confronted by a series of psychological problems. They often get no emotional or financial support from the father of the child. Her decision to abort the pregnancy may produce intense feeling of guilt and anguish.

Some teenagers opt for marriage as a result of pregnancy. Unfortunately, these marriages are much likely to be unhappy, or end in desertion or divorce. There is also a risk of suicide. The impact of teenage pregnancy is nearly nil on males responsible for it. It is reported that the key factor in unintended teenage pregnancy is misinformation or no information.

Many teenagers do not know that intercourse leads to pregnancy. Some have misconceptions like a single act of intercourse or an intercourse in a standing position does not cause pregnancy. Research indicates that only about 10 per cent of parents discuss sexuality with their teens beyond simply saying “don’t.” On the other hand, several studies demonstrate that among teenage girls, those who have had sex education courses have fewer pregnancies than those who havn’t.

There is a need to stress upon the adolescent boys and girls to show responsible sexual behaviour by observing abstinence from sexual intercourse or to use a cotraceptive if it is a must. Family Planning Association of India has made a multicentric survey (4709 respondents: 42% males and 58% females) regarding the youth sexuality. As per the survey, Sexual Experience and Behaviour: Males Females Sexual contact 33.7 % 11.8 % Average age at first sexual experience 16. yrs. 17.9 yrs.

Sexual intercourse experienced 18.9 % 5.8 % Type of sexual contact: Masturbation 31.8 % 2.7 % Caressing Breast 23.2 % 6.0 % Kissing 17.2 % 11.1 % Sex between thighs 9.7 % 2.4 % Fondling partner’s genitals 9.1 % 3.0 % Oral sex 4.8 % 1.5 % Anal sex 2.1 % 0.4 %

Dr. Narayana Reddy, a sexologist from Chennai (Madras, India) conducted a survey of 1120 college students (53 % males and 47 % females) of the agegroup 15-25 years in 1983 and came to the following conclusions regarding their sexual attitudes and behaviour:

  1. Majority of the students (69%) do not consider sex as something dirty.

  2. Great majority (68%) feel that sex should be discussed freely.

  3. Most of the students said that they get information from friends (53%) and books (37%).

  4. To the question what causes them to be excited, the answers were as follows:

    1. Love scenes in cinemas : 53 %
    2. Reading of books on sex : 39 %
    3. Reading of romantic novels : 23 % (This shows pervading influence of the mass media.)

  5. Nearly 43% had fear that masturbation is harmful. Yet nearly 70% of them confessed that they do masturbate. The remaining 30% never answered in the negative. They preferred not to answer. The inference is obvious.

  6. Nearly half of the respondents (52%) had their first sexual experience between the ages of 15 to 25 years. None of them were exposed to formal sex education; but yet they experimented with their own urges.

  7. Nearly 15 % of students had homosexual experience.

  8. To the question what changes they want that can lead to their better understanding of sex, the majority (47 %) wanted their elders and the society to change their attitudes towards sex. Many of them felt that parents and teachers should be given sex education before it is imparted to the students.

  9. Dr. Narayana reddy further writes,” This clearly gives us an indication as to how much our youngsters are learning by trial and error method. One can imagine the havoc and damage being caused to these young minds, which produce guilt, fear and anxiety and these have an indelible mark throughout.”
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