Adolescence, derived from the Latin word “adolescere” meaning “to grow up”, is a critical period of human development. During adolescence, important biological and psychological developments take place. The discovery of sexuality is an important bio-psycho-social development, which takes adult form during this period.
The myriad changes that occur in adolescents subject them to enormous stress, which can have adverse physical and psychological consequences. Understanding adolescent sexuality has important clinical, legal, social, cultural, and educational implications.
Being a teenager
Adolescence is a transitional phase during which a great deal of sexual development takes place. Puberty, which is an important milestone in this development, is reached during adolescence. The function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis is very essential for sexual development during puberty.
It can be divided into three stages: early (10 to 13 years), middle (14 to 16 years), and late (17 to 19 years). Physical changes begin in early adolescence, where they become very concerned about their body image. During middle adolescence, cognitive development takes place; adolescents develop abstract thinking and reasoning. Emotionally, they develop a sense of identity during late adolescence; social participation, peer interaction, as well as sexual interest, develop in this phase.
Adolescent sexuality development
During adolescence, physical, psychological, and cognitive growth peaks. The development of adolescent sexuality can best be explained by the biopsychosocial model: biological factors, psychological factors, and social factors are equally important in determining the development of sexuality in adolescents.
Biological factors are genetic factors and neuroendocrine factors, which determine biological sex and also influence psychological sex.
The personality or temperament of the individual is an important psychological factor that also decides the attitude towards sexuality. Introverted adolescents face difficulties in approaching and responding sexually.
Social or environmental factors also play an important role in the development of adolescent sexuality. Parental attitudes toward sexuality, parenting style, peer relationships, and cultural influences are important social factors that facilitate sexual learning and decide an adolescent’s sexual attitude.
The development of an adolescent does not occur in isolation, but in the context of the family and a society with a defined culture. Societal attitudes and cultural perceptions of sexuality have a great influence on the families in which adolescents begin to nurture and appreciate their sexuality.
Adolescent Sexual Behavior
Adolescence is the period during which an individual’s perception of thought, as well as response, becomes sexually colored. It is the age for exploring and understanding sexuality. Sexual curiosity in adolescence leads to exposure to pornography, indulgence in sexual activities and also increases vulnerability to sexual abuse.
In recent years, the Internet has brought about a revolution in the attitudes and perceptions that adolescents have towards sexuality. They have access to a wide range of sex-related information, which can be misleading and can have a significant negative impact on sexual behaviours.
In addition, sexuality is a complex human behavior, which is largely influenced by factors such as physical appearance, psychological factors, social factors, cultural norms and past experiences.
Adolescents face a great challenge in their early adolescence. Many critical biological and psychological changes occur during this phase, and many of these teens are not sufficiently prepared to deal with them, which often puts them under a lot of stress.
The onset of menstruation, voice change (puberphonia) in boys, the development of secondary sexual characteristics, and psychological changes are often perceived as challenges. Family and societal attitudes and cultural influences on these changes during puberty play an important role in deciding adolescent sexual behavior after puberty.
Sexual exposure during adolescence and lack of adequate sex education are of great concern because of the risk of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.
In developing and underdeveloped countries, communication between parents and children about sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases is poor. Adolescents have few opportunities to talk about their problems and concerns related to sexuality, and this can be an obstacle to healthy sexual development.
Understanding the development of sexuality in adolescents, as well as the factors that influence it, is of utmost importance. Without this understanding, no progress can be made in clinical or educational intervention.
At the same time, understanding adolescent sexuality will also help parents become more aware of their children’s difficulties and help guide them through the crossroads of adolescence.