Understanding the Sexual Pressures Teens Are Facing

Why are so many teens making bad sexual choices? This worries me because I have teenage kids of my own and I'm anxious to help them avoid serious mistakes in this area. Can you help me get a better handle on teenage attitudes about sex?

We can give you a sketch of what’s going on in the culture with regard to teen sex. But only you are in a position to know how vulnerable your teens are to outside influences and shifting sexual mores.

It’s one thing to know the adolescent mind in a broad cultural sense. It’s another to be intimately acquainted with your own kids. That, as far as we’re concerned, should be your main focus at this stage of your parenting career.

Before you do anything else, then, talk with your children about their personal attitudes about sex. Be open and honest with them. Listen to what they have to say. Do your best to draw them out. This is the best place to begin.

There’s no doubt that sexual activity among minors and unwed young adults is far more common than it used to be forty or fifty years ago. And there are a number of reasons for this.

Normal sexual development

Adolescents – even yours – have sexual interests and feelings. It’s only natural that they should since God designed them that way. They also deeply need love and affirmation. Because of this, it’s easy for them to become emotionally and sexually attracted to others around them and drawn toward physical intimacy. This can happen especially if they’re not getting the love and affection they need at home.

In the past, when couples married younger, teens didn’t have to wait so long to experience fulfillment of these natural longings. Now, when the average age of marriage is in the 30s, there’s far more pressure to give in to sexual urges before saying “I do.”

Seductive messages and sexual temptation in the culture

Virtually all popular media (movies, TV, videos, music, the internet) have been deeply influenced by the sexual revolution of the 1960s. So have most educational, healthcare, and governmental organizations.

As a result, adolescents are regularly exposed to sexually provocative material. This content expresses immoral viewpoints, fires up sexual desires, and wears down resistance to the attractions of physical intimacy. Even in the “safe” confines of the classroom, a teenager’s natural modesty may be dismantled during explicit presentations about sexual matters in mixed company.

Family breakdown and lack of parental supervision

Kids today tend to be on their own”far more than they were in the past. Divorce rates remain high, homes are fragmented, and many parents are busy working all the time. As a result, adolescents are more likely to find opportunities to be alone together for long stretches of time.

Under these circumstances, it’s not surprising to find that nature often takes its course – even when a commitment has been made to wait until the wedding night for sex.

Parental overreaction to these trends, especially among conservative Christian families

Moms and dads who (like you) worry about rampant teen sex and who want to protect their kids can easily fall into the trap of smothering adolescents in a controlling, micromanaging, suspicious environment. Teenagers raised under these conditions are strong candidates for rebellion. Once the opportunity arises, they’re primed and ready to take it.

Ironically, this kind of rebellion may represent an effort to break loose from an overabundance of trivial constraints. Parents need to remember that they can set appropriate boundaries while still entrusting adolescents with increasing responsibility to manage themselves and their sexuality.

Peer pressure

While mom and dad are saying “no,” all the kids at school are saying “yes.” This ever-present influence comes in three powerful forms.

  • A general sense that “everyone is doing it except me.”
  • Disparaging personal remarks of others – for example, “Hey, check out Jason, the last American virgin!”
  • Direct pressure from other teens – female as well as male – who are looking for a sexual experience or an invitation from a willing potential partner.

Resistance may be lowered by a need for closeness and acceptance and the mistaken belief that physical intimacy is a way of finding love. In a situation like this, personal convictions that sex is intended for marriage are put to the ultimate test.

A lack of good reasons to wait for sex

The old standards of sexual behavior are no longer widely accepted. Teens are taught that there are no moral absolutes and that every individual has the right to create his or her own personal sexual ethic.

As a result, most of them keep an informal mental tally of reasons for and against premarital sex. Inner longings and external pressure pull them towards it, while guidelines taught at home and church, medical warnings, and commonsense restraints to put on the brakes. Decisions about sex tend to be based on the drift of this internal “vote count.”

When the moment of truth arrives, the tally may be close. It could also be a landslide in the wrong direction. Adolescents with a shaky or negative self-concept may be particularly vulnerable to sexual involvement when one of the reasons is the possibility of winning approval from their peers.

These are just a few of the overarching cultural considerations you’ll want to keep in mind as you discuss the important subject of sex and sexual morality with your teens. For additional advice, feel free to get in touch with Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. Our trained counselors would be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you over the phone.

If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

The Focus on the Family Guide to Talking with Your Kids about Sex: Honest Answers for Every Age

Boundaries in Dating

Teaching True Love to a Sex-at-13 Generation

A Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex

What’s the Big Deal? Why God Cares About Sex

Seductive Delusions: Exposing Lies About Sex

Helping Young Women Understand Sex in Today’s Culture


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