Teens and Sexual Harassment

By — University of Florida IFAS Extension
Updated on Jul 26, 2007


As parents and educators, we might think that today's youth live in a complex world--one that may prove to be more challenging than when we were teenagers. Teens may be especially confused and misinformed by media-based myths about sexuality and sex role behaviors. It is not uncommon to see images of sexual behavior on TV shows that teens prefer and hear explicit sexual lyrics in the songs teens listen to. Examples include:


  • TV sitcoms or dramas in which teens or adults have sex to get to know each other better, but in the next season are sleeping with someone new.


  • music videos with explicit lyrics and imagery.


  • detailed news coverage of sexual crimes such as murder, rape, abductions, or drug induced sexual conduct.


Beyond the media, teens learn unhealthy or unrealistic ideas about sexuality from their peers.

We can see the effects a sexually charged culture has on the daily lives of adolescents. Sex as portrayed in the media translates into clothing styles as well as behaviors (teens are likely to learn how to behave on a first date from the media). The media's exaggerated early teen sex roles create a huge divide between young men and women in how they dress and act towards one another. Teen females may wear tight clothes that emphasize curves, wear heavy makeup, and show more skin than males do in their daily wear.

Sexual messages and behavior they witness affect the lives of adolescents more than most adults care to realize. External sources demonstrate the sexual toxicity of our popular culture - one that can potentially poison our youth if we do not teach them a healthier view of sexuality1. (For more information on this topic see the EDIS publication "Communicating with teens about sex: Facts, Findings, and Suggestions" FY852/FCS2251)

Sexual Harassment: Defined

One of the unfortunate offshoots of our cultures obsession with sex is problems with sexual harassment. Sexual harassment harms the sexual integrity of teens in their peer relationships. A definition of sexual harassment is unwelcome attention of a sexual nature, occurring through verbal and/or physical interaction. Being a victim of sexual harassment is likely to affect a teens academic performance or work ability and may create a hostile or threatening atmosphere for the teen2. In fact, sexual harassment coming from one teen to another is a type of bullying3. Sexual harassment of teens can occur anywhere ---in middle and high schools4, in the workplace5, and in community. For example, neighborhoods or the internet. Sexual harassment happens not just between the sexes, but also between girls or between boys. Female to male or male to female sexual harassment tends to get worse between 6th and 8th grade, a span of time when teens' bodies begin to appear more sexually mature6.

To help define the problem, here are some examples of sexual harassment that teens may be likely to see or experience:


  • continually asking someone out when they have communicated a lack of interest


  • unwanted requests for social or sexual activity


  • making sexual jokes, gestures, or remarks


  • inappropriate touching (brushing up against, grabbing, patting, or pinching in a sexual manner)


  • spreading sexual rumors about someone


  • making comments about a person's body, clothing, sexual orientation, or sexual behavior


  • intimidation (blocking or cornering someone in a sexual way) or assault (pulling clothing off or down, forcing someone to do something sexual such as kissing)


  • inappropriate sexual remarks or questions in "cyberspace" (instant messaging, e-mail, chat rooms) 2, 4, 7


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