Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy

Merging sense and sensibility in modern relationships

Surprising Level of Sexual Coercion by Teen Peers

Need to know more than reproductive mechanics and hygiene

A comprehensive study, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published last week in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that close to one in 10 teens and young adults report perpetuating an act of sexual violence (through coercion or physical force)against another. For high-school-age youth, ages 14 to17, almost all perpetrators were male, but beginning at age 18 females also report initiating acts of sexual coercion. The study found a link between exposure to violent, X-rated, sexual media and acts of sexual aggression toward teens.

That teenagers and young adults force one another to have sexual contact against their will is eye-opening, but it is also surprising to learn that the tools used are often relationship based. The tools include guilt, alcohol to make a victim vulnerable through intoxication and arguing or applying pressure--the victim essentially becoming psychologically manipulated into a sex act.

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Adolescence is a critical time when new behaviors not only begin to develop but have the ready potential of being reinforced, and therefore reoccurring in adulthood. On the other hand, this is a time when unproductive behaviors can be squelched.

Sex education focusing only on sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy is not enough. The teens I talk with in my practice are grappling with far more than reproductive mechanics and hygiene. They are trying to manage emotions, drives and conflicted desire amid a barrage of media piffle that socialize boys toward unattainable super-prowess and girls toward an oxymoronic and unreachable sexual goal of appearing at all times both chaste and desirable.

Understandably, there are gaps in a teen’s ability to thoughtfully consider the long term implications of their romantic and sexual decisions. In some degree, teens are usually deficient in terms of impulse control. Research has determined that frontal lobe development is generally not complete until the age of 25. Yet many teens are not adequately supported in a way that will help them learn how they can form healthy unions, sexual and otherwise.

Teaching a teenager about the complexities of romance may seem like such a daunting task that it can be tempting for parents and caregivers to op-out of the process by clinging to the idea that nature will somehow lead their children safely into adulthood. That is usually a mistake, because teenagers in the developed world have considerable opportunity to independently exercise their choices, even when those choices are destructive.

Psychological factors that go into fulfilling sex and reciprocal partnership are complex, even for adults. Out of wedlock childbirths, single parenting and divorce rates are the obvious and direct consequences of not adequately providing youngsters with the relationship tools they need in order to be successful in love and partnership.

I see firsthand how responsive and interested teens are in real conversation. A broad scope that includes teaching the importance of relationship development and emotional intimacy will do more to curb sexual violence than sitting back hoping that it will all come out for the best.

Even when a parent does not have all the answers (what parent does?) talking it over with a teenager in a nonjudgmental, on-going dialog can be tremendously helpful. Just hearing them out without making direct demands is a tonic for their self-esteem and an antidote against those who would contrive to take advantage of them.

Jill P. Weber, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships. Click here to follow Jill on Facebook or here to follow Jill on Twitter @DrJillWeber

Jill P. Weber, Ph.D. is the author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided relationships.

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