In our constantly developing society, it is not surprising to note that adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behaviours have greatly changed within the past two decades. Darling, Kallen & VanDusen, (1984) in their study of college students found a major increase in the number of young people reporting to have had sexual intercourse. They also found that college age females, who were once thought to be less sexually active than college age males, were now just as sexually active.
In Canadian data from university studies, a dramatic rise from 1967 to 1979 in the percentage of students who had experienced premarital intercourse was shown (Fitzhonly & Whiteside, 1984). These findings of increased promiscuity among adolescents inevitably evoke a strong sense of curiosity and raise the question: “which factors have been the most influential in regards to increased teenage promiscuity”? Today, not only are there more youths who are sexually active but research shows that the majority of them do not use contraceptives on a regular basis (Chng, 1983).
The reasons behind this lack of birth control use are equally important as the increase in sexual activity for the problem of unwanted pregnancy among the young in society is remarkably prevalent and continually on the rise(Cohan, 1983). The reasons behind adolescents engaging in sexual intercourse so early in life are extensive and yet it becomes increasingly evident that cultural changes within our society have played the single most influential role in this area.
Society’s attitudes towards sex have dramatically changed in the past two decades and this has directly influenced sexual activity among our youth but throughout all of society as well. Today, sex is exploited throughout the media in an attempt to increase business revenue. By catering to our basis sexual desires the media can easily manipulate and conform the attitudes and actions of its patrons. The youth of today seem to be the most easily manipulated group by sexual propaganda due to their conformist vulnerability.
Young people have no choice but to deal with other’s ideas about sexuality before they have been able to form their own opinions and beliefs. This liberalization is not necessarily bad in itself but rather it is sexual exploitation coupled with a lack of quality education that creates unhealthy attitudes and beliefs about sex within the minds of our youth. As a result of this extensive and powerful media, society has an increasing amount of influence in our children’s decision making than it did in the past. In the past, the Church used to set the moral code which parents then enforced.
Today, teens listen to their peers and the media much more than to their parents or religious affiliations (Carlson, 1985). Therefore, in a society where attitudes are strongly influenced and even controlled by the sexually suggestive powers of the media it is no wonder that sexual intercourse is increasingly prevalent among our adolescent population. Societal goals such as money and power have also had an enormous effect on the family structure. The increasing number of dual income families is directly proportionate to the decrease in parent/child time sharing.
Also, the prevalence of divorce sometimes makes the family unit one of the most unstable forces in an adolescent’s life. The saying “do as I say, not as I do” may be a common standard in many homes (Darling, et al. , 1984). As a result of these factors that negatively effect parent/child interaction, children often lose out on positive role models who they can turn to with questions or problems. Rather, many have no choice but to talk with their friends about sexual matters or remain in the dark in the area of sexuality.
It is an unfortunate reality that when youths do turn to their peers about sex, the message they receive is often very clear yet terribly misguided: sex is an expected and accepted part of any relationship. In fact, Darling et al. (1984) found that adolescents thought they underwent a distinct status change once they were no longer a virgin. Attitudes towards intercourse itself have changed as sexual activity increases and there is a noticeable decrease in sexual guilt, especially among females (Hendrick, Hendrick, Slapion-Foote, & Foote, 1985).
As previously stated, when adolescents turn to each other for sex education much of the information they receive is false, they become sexually educated by myths and misconceptions generated within society. It may be because of the lack of accurate information adolescents receive about sex that causes them to be experiment themselves in search of the truth. I believe this experimentation may take place early for many youths because society has built up the concept of sex to be larger than life, and no one wants to miss out on anything so wonderful.
Society has created the unhealthy notion that sex is an expected norm at any age or at any stage in a relationship. Unfortunately, teenagers use of contraceptives is not rising in proportion to their increase in sexual activity (Fisher, 1983). Erotophobia, or a fear of sex, is said to be a major psychological barrier to using contraceptive methods. The lack of contraceptive use is due to many factors. Firstly, contraceptives must be purchased and often involve physician consultation.
Therefore, lack of money, fear and/or embarrassment all can play highly influential roles in discouraging one from using an effective contraceptive method. Secondly, one must be educated on how to to use a contraceptive. Thirdly, the use of a contraceptive should be discussed by the couple and this poses an element of fear or embarrassment that may also prevent one from using birth control. Santrock, (1987) describes personality factors that add to one’s inability to use protection.
Some of these include seeing oneself as sexually active, feeling incompetent, anxious or having negative views of contraceptives. Many of these teenagers cannot see themselves as ever having sex, or if they have already, never again. As a result of sexual rejection, from fear or otherwise, one never plans on engaging in sex and therefore does not engage in preplanned protection. This concept was supported in a study by Fisher, (1983) as an erotophobic man reported having unprotected intercourse when he told the researcher he had never intended to engage in any act of sexual activity whatsoever.
This study also found a connection between the person’s fear of sex and their being too embarrassed to discuss protective methods. Thus, many teens often have problems talking about contraceptives which may, in turn, result in a lack of a proper understanding about pregnancy risks. It was also found that many youths would not ask for protection even if it was readily available. Therefore, many of the other possible reasons for teenagers not using contraceptives may originally stem from this fear of sex.
The social notion that the youth holds of being “untouchable” and that nothing can ever happen to them may occur because they will not admit to being sexually active. The availability of contraceptives and sex education also may not work unless the teen is helped to overcome their anxiety about the topic first. These teens may also view those who do not take responsibility for their sexual behaviour as being moral. Erotophobia must be viewed as a problem among teenagers and if it can be overcome it may increase their use of contraceptives and thus reduce the rise of teenage pregnancy.
The problem of early intercourse within the adolescent years has been shown to be a result of the society in which these youths are growing up in. Uneducated sexual experimentation may lead to a higher level of erotophobic teenagers who are inconsistent or negligent in their use of contraceptives. Therefore, the solution to reducing the problem of teenage pregnancy must be within the society as a whole in the form of education, contraceptive accessibility and media influence.
As Darling, Kallen & VanDusen, (1984) put it, “sexual behaviour is social behaviour regulated by society and learned through the socialization process”. The attitudes reflected in our society are becoming more and more accepting of sexual stereotypes, sexual exploitation and most importantly teenage sex. Also, due to a constant breakdown of the family unit, there is a decrease in parent/child communication and time sharing which results in a lack of sex education within the home.
This, in turn, places the responsibility for sex education on the shoulders of our school boards which do not always provide adequate or appropriate education. All of these factors working collectively fail to reduce the fight against the increase in teenage pregnancy. This is a major concern within society for the number of teens having intercourse responsibly is not decreasing and the number of children having children is on the rise. This problem can only be lessened if we can all work to educate our children and seek to instil in them a sense of responsibility through loving, understanding and time.