Chapter 10

Sexual Identity

Gender Stereotypes: The Meaning of Masculine and Feminine: Constructing a sexual identity introduces questions of what it means to be masculine or feminine. Adult sex roles, in the form of gender stereotypes, provide cultural answers. These stereotypes play an important role in self-definition as adolescents integrate questions posed by their sexuality into their developing sense of themselves.
Key Terms: gender stereotypes, androgynous

Gender Roles in Context: Cultures differ in how flexibly they treat gender roles; individualistic cultures are more flexible than collectivist cultures in this respect. Schools also are an important context in which adolescents define their gender roles, with younger adolescents looking to those who are older for information relevant to their adult gender roles.

Constructing a Sexual Identity: Sexuality embraces general aspects of one’s sense of self, such as expressions of one’s masculinity or femininity, the social roles one has within a family, and how one is seen in society. In constructing a sexual identity, adolescents are integrating sexuality into their sense of self.

Sexual Scripts: Sexual scripts inform adolescents not only of what they should do and feel, but also of what the person they are with is likely to do and feel. These scripts reflect masculine and feminine gender stereotypes.
Key Terms: sexual scripts

Making Sexual Decisions

Adolescents must revise their self-concepts to include new sexual feelings and behaviors. This process is problematic for those who experience conflict in leaving their childhood behind them. Adolescents who do not consciously think about the consequences of becoming sexually active may engage in sex without planning to and may do so irresponsibly.

Talking with Parents: Attitudes surrounding sexuality are not likely to be openly discussed by adolescents and their parents. Adolescents who talk with their parents, however, tend to become sexually active later and to engage in sex more responsibly.

Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors: Adolescents move through stages of sexual activity as they grow older. Most start with kissing, progress to touching breasts or genitals, and then engage in oral-genital sex and intercourse. Boys begin their sexual experiences earlier than girls and have more positive feelings about their first intercourse than do girls. Although the number of adolescents who have had sexual intercourse increases with age, the percentage of adolescents who are sexually active has decreased over the past 15 years.
Key Terms: self-stimulation

Protective Factors: A number of protective factors delay the initiation of sexual activity. Biologically based factors include late maturation, being female, and being intelligent. Psychological factors include strong religious beliefs, emotional adjustment, and involvement in school. Social factors include parental monitoring and communication, family religious beliefs, not dating steadily, and not using alcohol or drugs.

The Sexual Response Cycle: The sexual response cycle consists of four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. Similarities in the sexual response for each gender exist for all phases. Two processes, vasocongestion and myotonia, underlie the changes that occur in each phase.
Key Terms: vasocongestion, myotonia

Sexual Functioning: Myths and Misconceptions: Adolescents have numerous misconceptions about sexual functioning. Many are not aware, for instance, that the size of the male’s penis is not important in sexual functioning or that females have the same capacity for sexual pleasure as males. And adolescents frequently do not know that individuals of either sex experience discomfort if orgasm does not follow the plateau phase.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is the attraction individuals feel for members of the same or the other sex; this does not become firmly established until adolescence. Rather than discrete categories, such as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, sexual orientations lie along a continuum.
Key Terms: sexual orientation, homosexual, heterosexual

Homosexuality: Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents: Gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents often go through a period of sexual questioning prior to puberty. Research comparing co-incidence of homosexuality among identical and fraternal twins and adoptive siblings suggests a genetic component to sexual orientation.
Key Terms: bisexual

Prejudice and Discrimination: Sexual-minority youth experience additional challenges in the form of societal prejudice over homosexuality. Bullying, harassment, being verbally or physically assaulted, avoided by classmates and neighbors, as well as unsympathetic or openly hostile reactions from family or teachers, is experienced by substantial numbers of gay and lesbian adolescents.

Biological and Psychosocial Bases of Sexual Attraction: Research findings strongly suggest a genetic component to sexual orientation. Additional research suggests that the path of genetic transmission, at least for males, is likely to be through the mother. While no clear answers have been found with regard to psychological factors affecting sexual orientation, the home atmosphere, and the closeness of parents’ relationships to children, is strongly associated with adjustment.

Sexual Health: Risks and Responsibilities

Contraception: Most adolescents do not systematically use contraceptives because they lack adequate information. Many also do not practice responsible sex because they are unable to accept their own sexuality. Many more engage in unprotected sex due to their cognitive and emotional immaturity.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Approximately 9 million adolescents and young adults become infected with a STD each year. STDs can be categorized in terms of viral infections (such as HIV/AIDS), bacterial infections (such as chlamydia), and infestations (such as pubic lice).
Key Terms: sexually transmitted disease (STD), HIV, AIDS, genital herpes, genital warts, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, pubic lice

Risks and Precautions: Although the rate of teenage sexual activity in some European countries and Canada is similar to that in the United States, the rate of teenage pregnancy is lower because those countries have identified adolescent pregnancy, not sexual activity, as the social problem to be addressed by public policy. These countries also differ in their greater emphasis on the importance of a committed relationship, open discussions of sexual responsibility, and providing accurate information about and access to contraceptives and reproductive services.

Teenage Pregnancies: Pregnancy and child rearing present challenges for women of any age, but especially for adolescents. Adolescents are less likely to receive regular prenatal care, and they experience more medical complications during pregnancy. This is especially true for younger adolescents.

Adolescents and Abortion: Approximately 30% of teenage pregnancies end in abortion. Decisions to abort or carry the pregnancy to term are related to socioeconomic status, race, and personal as well as parents’ and friends’ attitudes and religious beliefs.

Sex Education: What Adolescents Need to Know

Teenage Parenting: Children born to teenage mothers are more likely to experience complications such as premature birth, low birth weight, and neurological and behavioral problems. However, programs that target teenage mothers for prenatal care can be successful in reducing many of these risks. Most teenage fathers remain psychologically involved with the mother through the pregnancy and for some time following the child’s birth. Many fathers have less education and lower income than those who postpone parenting, and find it difficult to provide support for the mother and infant.

The Effectiveness of School Programs: School-based programs differ widely in what they cover and how effective they are. Effective programs delay the onset of sexual activity among adolescents who are not yet sexually active and lead to safer sexual practices among those who already are.

Comprehensive Sex Education Programs: Comprehensive sex education programs have been found to be very effective in delaying sexual activity among adolescents, but service learning programs, which additionally require students to engage in structured reflection on their volunteer service, have met with even higher rates of success.
Key Terms: comprehensive sex education programs, service learning programs

Abstinence-Only Programs: Although federal funding for abstinence-only programs has increased dramatically, these programs have not been found to be effective in delaying sexual initiation and preventing STDs and unintended pregnancies.
Key Terms: abstinence-only programs