Sexual Social Negotiations for Teens

Communication skills and sex may not seem that related, but for young people, the ability to develop “social negotiation skills” is the strongest predictor of whether or not an individual will engage in risky sex behavior (such as not having a partner use a condom or having multiple partners).

Navigating Social Situations

These sexual social negotiations skills are the “ability to enact a preferred course of action while maintaining a relationship with others,” meaning:

Can you get a person to stop if you don’t really want to do something (such as having unprotected sex) and do it in a way that doesn’t ruin your social life?

These are tough things to do when you are 15 and worrying about your status in a group.

Our society still teaches that women need to “take care” of aroused males. In fact, 63% of teens view the male sex drive as uncontrollable and 30% of girls reported engaging in sex because a man was too aroused to stop, even if she didn’t want to go forward.

Should we teach our daughters about hand jobs to protect them from poorly negotiated peer pressure sex…or should they just be empowered to say no? While the later is correct, the former may be better for actual implementation in the teen world.

Facing and Addressing Teen Sexual Activity

Parents are underestimating their teen’s sexual engagement.

Close to 60% of our teen have had intercourse.

Although you may desire that your teens delay sexual activity, it is likely safer for them emotionally and physically if they know that you are there and you honestly address items of social negotiations for their self protection during sexual activity. Explain that it doesn’t mean you feel they are ready for sex, or in a relationship where it is warranted (if that is true), but they need to know the words to say and be physically ready to safely navigate situations that arise.

Social Negotiation and Condoms

One area this comes in is for girls who are on hormonal contraceptives such as the pill and injections, but who still need to tell young men to use a condom. These hormonal forms of birth control have been shown to result in increased STIs, especially HIV in women, because they disrupt normal white blood cell function. In fact, there may be as much as a doubling in the risk of HIV infection for women using these forms of contraception, especially for progesterone injections.

If I had a daughter, I would be conflicted about having her be on hormonal contraceptives because of

  • changes to her body,
  • potentially negative impacts of these medications on her libido and sexual development (causing increased vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse), and
  • STI risk.

That said, if your daughter is on hormonal contraceptives for birth control or any reason, give her language to help her explain why any boys she has sex with STILL NEED to use a condom. Give her social negotiations skills.

Many girls take oral contraceptives such as the pill for their skin or extreme PMS. Discuss with her feeling Ok about telling a man that she wants to have intercourse but that she “forgot to take her pills this week,” or that she is “just on a low dose for her skin and it isn’t for birth control,” so she can gain compliance with him using a condom.

“I was diagnosed with herpes last week” could work too or stop it all together if she wants! It is hard to get boys to use condoms if they know a girl is on birth control, and this kind of knowledge can “spread.”

Give her the language to explain why he needs to use a condom and the license for “dramatic” interpretation until she is sure the boy is a “keeper.”

Another area where teaching social negotiations skills is critical is for young gay men. The prevalence of unprotected anal intercourse among US gay men who are diagnosed with HIV is still fairly high, at around 20-30%. Some of these men are having unprotected sex with other HIV positive men, but 16% are having it with men of unknown HIV status, and 13% with men of known HIV negative status (thus wittingly promoting exposure).

Younger men may have less ability to say no to unprotected sex, or may not be aware that the risk of HIV has not “gone away.” Again, clarify with them that they need to make a simple statement requesting condom use, reinforce that they always use them and make sure that your teenage boys always has a condom in his wallet and a few in their car “just in case.” First protect, then preach.

Helping Teens Avoid Forced Intercourse

Social negotiation skills can’t protect our kids from forced intercourse, but make sure they know to clearly tell an aggressor “STOP, I am not interested. I do not want to have sex with you.” They need to know NOT to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings, especially since most rapists are people they know.

Young people, and younger women in general, are at risk of rape.

6% of eighth grade girls in an Oregon survey reporting they had been raped. By the time they are 24, this percentage in the US increases to 11% of women.

But it is much higher in certain demographics (e.g. military, college, poor urban). A large British survey of 15,000 people found attempted non-volitional sex happened to 19% of all women and 5% of men over the course of their lifetime. Completed forced acts occurred with 10% of the women, and 2% of the men. The mean age for the occurrence was 21 years old for women and 19 for men.

The attacks were by the vast majority, perpetrated by individuals that the victims knew including: current or former partners (41% for women and 23% for men); family members or close friends (20% of women and 30% of men); acquaintances (21% of women and 30% of men) and only rarely a stranger (15% of both women and men).

Fewer than half of the victims told someone what had happened to them. Let your kids know it is always safe to tell you if anything like this ever happens, no matter what the circumstances were around it.

You may also be interested in Part 1: Teens and Sex, A Reality Based Approach and Part 2: How Teens Relate to Sex.

- Dr. E
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