Adolescent Sexuality: How does it work these days, and when should we reach out to a therapist?

adolescent sexuality bull city psychotherapy

Our sexual opinions and behaviors can change significantly based upon our age, experiences, and values.  We have the honor of working with a wide variety of clients and their sexual experiences are as different as any other parts of their story.  We know it to be true that our experiences with sexuality in adolescence have an impact in how we experience sexuality as an adult.  But, the details can change from person to person.

We also know it to be true that adolescent experiences with sexuality have changed significantly – and quickly – in recent years.  Cultural discussions about sexuality and changes in technology have been important drivers in how teens these days learn about and develop their sexuality.


What does sexuality mean to adolescents these days?

This is an interesting question.  The details can change based upon a teen’s access to sexual content, the internet, and the types of friends and adults are in their lives.  But it is accurate to say that more teens these days are exposed to more sexual content, and more sexually explicit content at earlier ages than ever before.  Whether this is on the internet, or experienced through interactions with friends, the experiences of teens and sexuality is not what it used to be.  So, our ways of helping teens develop healthy sexual practices must also change to meet their needs.


How can parents help their teen develop healthy sexual behaviors?

Simply put, one must prioritize these 3 ideas:

  1. Health
  2. Consent
  3. Realism


1 – Health – adolescents need to know how to keep themselves and their partners safe.  The details change based upon the behaviors, but knowing how to prevent sexually transmitted infections and knowing how to be considerate and protect the feelings of themselves and their partners – these are critical skills for a teen to develop in order to stay safe – this is true regardless of what sexual behaviors they are engaging in.  These are also skills that sometimes do not get enough attention or practice in these hugely important teen years.


2 – Consent – this can get complicated so for this conversation I’m going to keep it simple.  Consent is about making certain that if someone decides to engage in sexual activity, that they are a willing participant.  The best way to find this out is to simply ask!  If a teen is considering becoming sexually active they must be capable of talking about sex – not only with a safe adult, parent, therapist, etc. – but also with their potential partner so that consent can be requested and received.


Here are some other important things to know about consent, courtesy of:


– If someone thinks they received non-verbal consent for sex but the other person really wasn’t interested, then it could lead to rape or assault if they act on their mistaken belief. Charges can be filed in situations where someone did not give their consent to sex or sexual activity.

– You have the right to change your mind at any point and the sexual activity or sex has to stop. Not stopping when the other person wants to stop is called sexual assault. There is no excuse for not stopping, and part of consent means listening to and respecting your partner.

– Trying to turn someone’s “no” into an “ok, I guess so” is called sexual coercion. Coercion is when someone keeps asking even after hearing no, or tries to threaten or bribe the other person by saying things like, “if you loved me you would” or “my ex would do this with me, why won’t you?” Sexual coercion is disrespectful and is a form of sexual assault.

– Nobody has the right to ask you to consent to sex when you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. People sometimes make different choices after using drugs or alcohol than they would usually make. This is why we are not able to give informed consent if we are using drugs or alcohol. Getting someone drunk or high in order to have sex with them is assault.


3 – Realism – many teens learn about sexuality from movies, TV shows, and/or pornography.  It’s hugely important that they understand that in each of these situations – regardless of the show or movie – they are watching a dramatization.  These are actors.  What they will inevitably see is not necessarily true to life.  The people being recorded may not be having as much fun as it looks like they are.  Real life intimacy and sexual behaviors often look and feel much different that what they see on a screen and it’s important for them to know this.  If they focus on priorities 1 and 2 (staying healthy and confirming consent) then they will likely have an enjoyable and safe experience – and are likely to develop healthy sexual behaviors in the long-term.


When is it time to check in with a therapist?


Because this subject can be so difficult for folks to talk about, we recommend checking in with a professional at the first sign of concern.


If you have a concern about how your teen is dealing with issues of sexuality call us to schedule an appointment.  Whether they need a simple conversation to help them stay safe, or a full treatment plan to address disordered behavior, the team at Bull City Psychotherapy is here and ready to meet the needs of you and your family.