One in five teens reported having sex before they were 15. One in seven sexually active 14-year-olds also said they have been pregnant. – The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy 2003 It has long been known that teens are heavily influenced by peer pressure, especially when it comes to sex. The question is not if they are influenced, but how they are affected by peer pressure and what decisions they make as a result.
This paper will outline the main issues surrounding this controversial subject with the goal of dispelling popular myths while also providing an understanding of how to most effectively educate teens about this phenomenon so that they will make the best and most informed decisions in whatever circumstances they find themselves. The teenage years are full of changes, from biological transitioning into adulthood to social changes occurring at school and beyond. Peer pressure intensifies during this period as teens begin to become sexually interested and active.
According to a project done by the University of Michigan, “The desire to be popular and fit in is so great, that some people will resort to partaking in behaviors deemed outside of their normal comfort zones, possibly disregarding certain morals and values” (Pressures). The pressure to fit in and to stay ahead of the social vanguard places teens in an awkward and challenging environment because they have scarce background knowledge from which to base their decisions and very few people with whom to discuss these changes with, besides their peers.
Teens are very hesitant to approach their parents, teachers and counselors for fear of getting in trouble or for fear of embarrassment and discomfort. In our popular media culture, much of the knowledge teens have about peer pressure and sex comes from the movies and television. This presents another complexity to their already hectic lives as they try to weigh their personal character against the stereotypes and myths laid out through these mediums. Hugely popular movies such as American Pie and Dazed and Confused lead students to believe that having sex is just what people do at this age.
While this may in fact be true, the message that teens take away is that everybody is already doing it and that if they want to be cool they will too. According to an article published in Psychology Today, 33% of teens ages 15-17 say they feel pressure to have sex, often from male friends. Interestingly, only 23% of teen girls reported feeling pressure to have sex (Allen). That being said, no matter what kind of peer pressure teens are confronted with, they must figure out how to balance the value of going along with the crowd against the importance of making their own decisions.
This is the toughest part for teens to handle because they have so many conflicting emotions and perspectives influencing their behavior. For this reason, innovative approaches to sexual education need to be integrated into the traditional abstinence only education that has proven to be ineffective. Today federal spending on abstinence education, with all funding sources combined, exceeds $1. 2 billion (Lew). This program has failed to include other types of sexual education that would be beneficial to teen’s education because it preaches that the only safe method to having sex is to not have sex.
This is of course true, but it is not applicable to our contemporary society. Teens have access to all kinds of sexual information on the internet and through television and movies. This is not to say that all of the information they find is true to life, but it tells teens that the education they are getting in schools about sex is limited and outdated. This is not an engaging or for that matter a useful method of instruction because it ignores issues such as contraceptives and safe sexual practices.
Peer pressure begins to take hold and gain force at this juncture as the curiosity of teens is not being met through their formal sexual education. Because of this failure, teens turn to their peers for additional knowledge who in turn are facing their own forms of peer pressure. This creates a cycle of myths surrounding sex. Much of the knowledge peers pass on to each other revolves around either second-hand information or from whatever television show or movie they identify with.
From here, clusters of teens, or cliques, form around these myths and interests in a process that creates a certain structure of knowledge based around assumptions and stories as opposed to the facts of research and experience. It is not surprising that teens have sex. It is surprising that school systems continue to form short-sided sexual education programs focusing on abstinence only. If our country wants to improve our sexual health and knowledge, sexual education programs need to diversify their teaching lessons to include contraceptives, sexually-safe practices, and the effects of peer pressure.
Allen, Collin. (2003). Peer Pressure and Teen Sex. Psychology Today. Retrieved December 10, 2008, from http://www. psychologytoday. com/articles/pto-20030522-000002. html Lew, Irene. (2008). Teens Learn to Apply Peer Pressure for Safe Sex. Women’s E-News. Retrieved December 10, 2008, from http://www. womensenews. org/article. cfm/dyn/aid/2988/context/archive Peer Pressure and Emotions. (2008). Cool Kids and Losers: The Psychology of High School Students in Peer Groups and Cliques. The University of Michigan. Retrieved December 10, 2008, from http://sitemaker. umich. edu/356. tran/peer_pressure_and_emotions