What prompts adolescents to engage in sexual activity in regards to peer pressure, parental guide and religious beliefs? Approximately one in every five adolescents have had sexual intercourse by his/her fifteenth birthday. Recent studies have shown that peer pressure has the strongest impact on adolescents decision making towards sexual activity. Parenting and religion have been found to be less influential. For that reason, adolescents as well as parents need to be informed about the effects of peer pressure on sexual decision-making.
Literature Review: Adolescent Development
Adolescence is a time in development when children become mature in age, physical appearances and the beginning stages of sexual maturation. There is no
specific age range for adolescent; it can range from elementary to senior-year in high school. Physical appearance is the main predictor when a child transitions into an adolescent. Adolescent males experience voice change, height and weight spurts, growth of facial and body hair and their first ejaculation experience. Adolescent females experience menstrual cycles, breast development, widen hips, and height and weight spurts. These physical changes are called puberty, or sexual maturation.
The onset of puberty varies between age and gender. There is a strong impact on early and late puberty in adolescent males and females. Adolescent females that reach puberty early are sometimes embarrassed and ashamed of their newly shaped body. Most of them appear older and sexually ready in the eyes of younger and older men. According to Paludi (2002) these females are physically ready for sexual activity, but mentally and emotionally they are not.
Adolescent males that reach puberty early are satisfied with their body change. They are taller and muscular, which enables them to perform better in sports. These males tend to become sexually active; they are accepted by peers and become popular with females because of their “adultlike” appearance (Paludi, 2002). Late maturing females feel left behind; they feel that they do not get the same attention from males as the early matured females. Their self-esteem is higher and they perform better in sports. Late maturing males are shorter and skinnier from the rest. They have extremely low self-esteem, peers ridicule them, they tend to shy themselves from others, and they avoid any sports.
Adolescents face many obstacles in life and within those obstacles they must learn how to achieve them successfully. According to Paludi (2002), adolescents deal with identity development, building and maintaining friendships, physical appearance, and sexual activity, because at this time in development “everybody’s doing it.”
Sex is the primary focus on almost every adolescent’s mind. Their peers are having sex, so they want to join the “club” and have sex as well, despite the consequences. Adolescents have many questions and concerns regarding sexual activity. “What does it feel like,” “If I do it, my friends will like me more,” “My friends are doing it, so why can’t I have some fun,” “My boyfriend/girlfriend would LOVE me if I do it.” Most adolescent engages in sexual activity because they need and want to be accepted by their peers and/or their significant other. Some adolescents are curious about sex and want to find out what the big deal is about it.
Adolescents have sex for the wrong reasons and don’t think about the consequences that may follow. In a study done by Prinstein and LaGreca (2004), reported that only 10.9%, of their sample of 148, reported never using birth control and 14.5% reported that they never used protection against STD’s. This study proves that adolescents are not concerned about the consequences of sex, just the pleasure and social acceptance.
Although adolescents are engaging in sexual activity, many don’t. Despite the pressure from peers, adolescent that lives in a religious home or with parents that educate them about sex and the consequences, tend to wait longer to have sex. Not saying that these adolescents wait until marriage to engage in sexual activity, but there is a delay.
What prompts adolescents to engage in sexual behaviors as related to the influences of parenting, religion, and peer pressure? Despite the strong and positive relationship between parent and child and/or the high religious beliefs, peer pressure has the strongest influence toward adolescent sexual behavior. This essay will discuss the three influences and how each can directly or indirectly affect sexual decision making in adolescents.
Influential Factor: Peer Pressure
Could it be the effects of peer pressure that elicits sexual activity in adolescents? Being accepted from peers is very important in adolescence. Having high social preference and a healthy friendship offer benefits, such as opportunities to develop appropriate emotional regulation skills, practicing appropriate interpersonal behaviors, or receiving friendship support (Prinstein & LaGreca, 2004), decreases the chances of adolescent sexual activity. Engaging in sexual activity among adolescent is not to gain experience, enjoyment, or curiosity, it’s mainly to fit in some sort of peer group or “club.”
Peer rejection is the number one reason adolescents engage in any risky behavior, particularly sex. Adolescents teased about not being sexually active, usually had sex to stop the teasing. Adolescents reported that if most of their peers are having sex; they are more likely to engage in sexual behaviors (Norman & Romer, 1998). Adolescents want to gain respect from their peers, so they will do anything to get that respect.
Adolescent boys will more likely engage in sex to gain respect. Adolescent males that are not sexually active reported higher intention to initiate sexual intercourse within the next school year (Norman & Romer, 1998). Adolescent believe that if they don’t have sex, they would be ridiculed and stigmatized. Adolescents with low social preference are more likely to engage in sexual behaviors to gain respect and boost their social skills.
Most adolescents have sex for many wrong reasons, seeking acceptance from peers, seeking love away from home, and curiosity. Adolescents that perceive their peers to be initiating new behavior tend to alter their own behavior to reflect their perception of the normative behavior. Adolescents that are not receiving any love or attention at home will seek love and affection elsewhere.
Adolescents that look for love elsewhere have to deal with the pressure of not being loved, looking for love, and keeping that love. Once they found love, they have to deal with pressure from their significant other. The significant other may pressure them like saying, “I will love you if you do it,” or “You must not love me if you don’t.” With the feeling of being wanted and loved these adolescents will do anything to keep their love interest and make them happy. Some adolescents are curious about sex. They want to know more about it, they want to be apart of the group that is sexually active. Adolescents have sex to kill their curiosity.
Acceptance is so important that adolescents overlook the consequences of sexual activity. Adolescents don’t care about the consequences concerning sexual activity, like STD’s or pregnancy. Consequences are far from their minds; they feel that no harm can come their way if they have sex for the first time. Most adolescents that engage in sexual activity don’t use any type of birth control or protection from STD’s. In one study they reported that 10.9%, of a sample size of 148, reported that they never used birth control and 14.5% reported that never used any protection against STD’s (Prinstein & LaGreca 2004).
Peer pressure toward sex is the same across different cultures. In Musaka, Uganda being sexually experienced is important not just from the enjoyment, but also for the sense of belonging to an informal peer group or club (Kinsman, Nyanzi & Pool, 2000). Within the group or club one can share experiences, knowledge and opinions about sex. Like in the United States, adolescents in Uganda that are sexually experienced were seen as better people and demanded more respect at school. Adolescents that weren’t sexual active were ridiculed and looked down upon. To reduce these negative actions they soon became sexually active.
Future research should better describe how perceptions of peer norms are constructed, communicated and internalized by young adolescents. By educating families about the roles of peer influence, this may encourage parents to address their child’s perception of peer norms. Peer pressure is a strong motivating factor in regards with sexual behavior in adolescents, but parenting skills can also influence adolescent sexual behavior. Having an opened parent-child relationship can reduce early sexual activity in adolescents.
The effects of Parenting
Parent-child closeness is associated with reduced adolescents pregnancy, postponing intercourse, having fewer sexual partners and the use of contraceptives (Miller, McCoy, Olsen &, Wallace, 1986). When the parent/s are opened about sexual information, adolescents are less likely to engage in sexual activity at an early age. Although having an open parent-child relationship delays’ sexual activities in younger adolescents, older adolescent are more influenced by peer pressure no matter how opened the parent-child relationship is.
Parent-child relationship is important to adolescents’ decision-making, especially when it comes to sex. Adolescents don’t make the right choices about sex because they are unaware of the consequences with sex. Peers talk about all the positive outcomes about sex, the feeling, gaining power and respect. None of the negative outcomes about sex are told such as pregnancy, STD’s, disrespect to parents and self. Parents have to be opened with adolescents about sexual information so their curiosity is killed, and they are aware of both positive and negative outcomes regarding sex.
A stricter parenting style leads to early sexual activity in adolescents. One study found that Mormons, which are strict parents and have stricter views about sexual activity, reported higher permissiveness in adolescents (Miller, McCoy, Olson &, Wallace, 1986). Stricter parenting rules affect adolescents plus parents that have no set rules. Adolescents become more permissive when the parents lack rules about dating. When the adolescents have no rules about whom they date, where they go, and the arrival time back home, tend to be more sexually active (Miller, McCoy, Olson &, Wallace, 1986).
Parents’ attitudes and values about sex do influence adolescent sexual activity. If a parent is opened about sex and explains the positive and negative outcomes of sex, adolescents will respect parents’ views about sex and postpone sexual activity. Forming a close parent-child relationship is the best way to delay adolescent sexual activity. Adolescents that wait to have sexual intercourse usually get positive responses from parents about how proud they are, or the parents would speak highly of them.
To reduce the effects of peer pressure on sexual decision-making parents can have open conversations with their teens about sexual intercourse. Parents should allow their children to be open and have their own opinions about sex. Having parent-child communication about sex will reduce an adolescent’s curiosity about sex, and they will be aware of the consequences of sex. Open parent-child communication will also reduce the effects of peer pressure on adolescent sexual decision-making. Adolescent will be aware of the types of peer pressure, and they will be able to avoid the pressure from peers, especially in regards with sex.
Although positive response from parents has a delay in adolescents’ sexual behavior, peer pressure is more influential. Parents influence younger adolescents, but as they get older they ultimately shifts from parent to peer (Norman & Romer, 1998). Parenting does not have a directly influence adolescents’ decisions about sex, but parenting does indirectly affect adolescents. For example, the types of peers the adolescents involve themselves with and the timing of their sexual debut, indirectly affect adolescents.
Religion is another factor that delays early sexual behavior in adolescents. It has been found that having high levels of religion reduces early sexual behavior in adolescents. Religious involvement may deter adolescent sexual behavior because most religious institutions hold norms contrary to the act. Like parenting, religion affects the onset of sexual activity in adolescents, but the pressure form peers are more influenced.
There are differences between religion and spirituality. Religion involves a set of institutionalized and beliefs and spirituality are the experience, the way an individual expresses their relationship with others, the world around them and God (Rostosky, Regenrus, Comer & Wright, 2003). There are eight dimensions of spirituality church attendance frequency of attendance, religion importance, intrinsic motivation, a built-in motivating force of an individual decision-making, extrinsic motivation, how religion is pursued as the external social influences, belief in God degree to which an individual adheres a notion of a divine persona, divine support, self support components of an individual relationship with God and how it is positively related to self-esteem, and spiritual interconnectedness, supportive components between family and friends.
Out of the eight dimensions of spirituality, only spiritual interconnectedness among friends is the only dimension that seems to delay sexual activity in adolescents. Adolescents who had friends who attended church were more likely to delay sexual activity (Rostosky, Regnerus, Comer &, Wright 2003). Having strong spiritual interconnectedness among friends delays sexual activity in both male and female adolescents. Adolescents that follow the same beliefs about premarital sex will influence other adolescents not to engage in premarital sex. In addition, religiosity delays the onset of sexual activity in females, but there is no effect in males.
There were significant gender differences in religiosity and attitudes toward sexual behavior. Females that are more religious sought more negative outcomes in sexual activity emotionally and health concerns (pregnancy and STD’s). Males were more positive about emotions concerning sexual activity and negative outcomes concerning health related issues. Despite the importance of religion and beliefs, having multiple romantic partners increased the likelihood to engage in sexual intercourse, for both males and females.
Having a religion with beliefs and rules helps control sexual behavior among adolescents. Strong beliefs of religion delays sexual initiation indirectly in older and younger adolescents. Religion indirectly affects adolescents with the anticipation of the negative consequences such as guilt, loss of respect, embarrassment of pregnancy, and/or upsetting parents. Religion also affects the onset of adolescent sexual activity as referred to demographically connections like gender, age, ethnicity, etc. African-American adolescent males that were more religious were more likely to engage in sexual activity than White non-Hispanic males and African-American males that were less religious.
To conclude, peer pressure is the strongest influential factor with sexual activity in adolescents. Good parenting and beliefs in religion delay the onset of sexual activity in younger adolescents. As they get older, adolescents stray away from religious beliefs and parents’ wishes and follow their peer’s actions. Being accepted by their peers is important for adolescents, being sexually active before getting married is not a concern when it comes to sex.
Being ridiculed about being sexually inactive is something adolescent experience in middle school and high school. Most adolescents want to be apart of the sexually active group, so they can share ideas, opinions and excitement about sex. Those that are not sexually experienced by the time they reach high school, intend on having their first sexual encounter soon before the year of high school ends.
Ultimately, sexual decisions are personal value choices. Yet they are molded and shaped by many social contexts in which adolescents develop. There may not be just one main factor that ultimately causes or deters sexual behavior in adolescence, but there is a whole host of influential factors, in which some are stronger than others.
Throughout this research, peer pressure appears to be the strongest motivating factor in whether or not an adolescent decides to engage in sexual behaviors. The best combination seems to be religiosity and peer interconnectedness, with parenting being the least influential. Though that does not discount the effects parenting has on adolescent sexual decision-making, a positive parent-child relationship does have some influence on sexual initiation and type of peer group orientation.
Ways to reduce the strong effects peer pressure is to have open parent-child communication about sexual intercourse, the good and bad outcomes of sexual intercourse, and opinions about sex. Adolescents involved in youth groups at church become aware of opinions of peers their own age about risky behaviors, especially sexual behaviors. Youth groups and parents that speak positively and openly about sexual behavior are great opportunities for adolescents to be aware of the pressures of sex and other risky behaviors. To effectively reduce sexual risk taking among adolescents, programs need to be designed that address multiple social contexts and promote contradictory sexual ideologies.
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