Aspects of children’s sexuality may develop during early and middle childhood, but during adolescence their sexuality is brought into sharper focus. Sexual desires and arousal, sexual experimentation, and the formation of a sexual identity are more pronounced in adolescence. These events may occur as a result of puberty, how one’s friends and family respond to a more adultlike appearance, social mores regarding time and place spent with romantic partners, and cultural messages that shape one’s view of oneself as a sexual being (Graber & Brooks-Gunn, 2002).
Puberty and Sexuality
The process of puberty encourages the release of specific hormones that are primarily responsible for the development of secondary sex characteristics and for the emergence of reproductive capabilities. The relationship between pubertal change and adolescent sexuality may not only be hormonal but may also include how the teen and others respond to changes in secondary sex characteristics. For example, researchers have found that adolescent boys who demonstrated higher levels of testosterone also reported higher levels of sexual activity (i.e., coitus) (Udry, 1985; Halpern, Udry, & Suchindran, 1998; Finkelstein et al., 1998).
Researchers have also linked hormonal changes at puberty and increased sexual/emotional arousal (Brooks-Gunn et al., 1994). However, higher levels of androgens in adolescent females were not related to higher rates of sexual behavior, but rather were predictive of their anticipation of future sexual involvement. The best predictor of coital behavior in these girls was whether their friends were sexually active or at least supportive of sexual experimentation (Udry, Talbert, & Morris, 1986). More recent research continues to support a mediated model between puberty and sexual behavior (Udry & Campbell, 1994; Halpern et al., 1997). In other words, hormones may enhance feelings of sexual arousal in adolescents but how they act on those feelings is very much determined by multiple internal and external variables.
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