How Teens Relate to Sex

As you know, young men and women view sex differently. Girls tend to have a “relational orientation” to sex, viewing it as integral to an ongoing emotional relationship. Boys view sex more recreationally, with most women as potential partners and no emotional relationship needed as a prerequisite for sex.

Neither viewpoint is right or wrong, and when viewed through the lens of evolutionary biology both make sense.

Men only invest the cost of making sperm in the actual act of intercourse. The farther they sow the seed the better for their genes. Women, for whom pregnancy is the natural physiologic consequence of sex, could end up investing much more than just their eggs following the act of intercourse (if a baby comes).

It is wiser for women to be more picky about who they have sex with. In general, young women express their physical needs and sexual desires through the language of romance versus boys who are comfortable talking about sex merely through the physical aspects of it.

Boys can separate sex from emotional entanglement. While this can seem crass and usury to girls and women, it could be viewed as a safer, more honest approach.Boys know they are horny and don’t need to hide the fact that they are feeling aroused within a deeper layer of emotional connectivity that may not really exist between the participants.

Girls who understand their bodies and how they work may be more able to engage in physical activity if they so choose, without tacking on emotional baggage to justify their actions or to cover up the fact that they feel desire. But in the end, biology is still in play. Most girls will expect more from their partners emotionally then boys will require.

Explaining this as a gender difference may help teens understand their different reactions to, and vulnerability in, sexuality. Also sex feels differently to men and women, and it is not always enjoyable that first time.

36% of men and 10% of women considered their first intercourse very pleasurable but 5% and 33% found it unpleasant.

Our Youth and Sexual Activity

The National Survey of Family Growth reviewed data from 4,000 15- to 24-year-old women. This study reported that the average age of first sex was 16 with 36% of girls first having intercourse at 15 years of age or less.

Lifetime sexual experiences for these young women included: penile-vaginal intercourse (64%);  oral sex (64%) and anal sex (20%). Half of the girls had had one sexual partner, but a quarter had had 6 or more life partners. 8% had developed an STI, and 20% reported ever being pregnant.

Interestingly, although having had vaginal sex in the past 90 days has been found to correlate with good health in slightly older women (18-25 years of age), in this study with younger girls (as young as 15) all forms of sexual intimacy were correlated with lower perceived health quality, including a down shift from excellent to good health.  This was seen primarily in the youngest girls from 15-19 year olds and may be because of the link between sexual behavior in adolescents and depression. Specifically, having had sex at this age can be related to increased episodes of depression in young people, although there is debate on the chicken and the egg (do they have sex because they are depressed or are they depressed because they had sex). I personally think this may be because many of these sexually active girls are feeling pressured into unfulfilling sex and intimacy, at a time that our society is split between messages that “all sex should be great sex” and “all sex (in teens) is bad sex.”

Many young women and men end up having “compliant” sex meaning they really didn’t want to go forward with it, in order to :

  • Gain sexual experience (51% males vs 34% females)
  • Because of peer pressure (31% vs 16%)
  • To gain popularity (12% vs 6%)
  • Because of their fear a partner would leave (17% vs 32%); and
  • To increase the probability of a long term relationship (9% vs 44%).

These last two points are tricky. Girls should know that women typically feel greater love and commitment after sexual union as compared to men. In contrast, men are more likely to view a partner as less attractive and sexy immediately after intercourse. This is especially true for young men with high numbers of past sex partners.

For women “sexual compliance may not be a generally effective strategy for promoting relationship development and commitment”—meaning it doesn’t work. Likewise, sex to avoid conflict with a partner so they won’t become angry or withdrawn is also a poor place to chose sex from. This type of avoidance sex, unsurprisingly leads to more lifetime risky sexual behaviors, more partners, more STIs, less effective birth control and more unplanned pregnancy.

You may also be interested in Part 1: Teens and Sex, A Reality Based Approach and Part 3: Sexual Social Negotiations for Teens.

- Dr. E

Science can help us nurture and enjoy our sexual selves.


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.

Trending Now