Puberty and Sexuality
What is the relationship between pubertal change 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. There is research that suggests a direct link between increases in hormone levels and increases in sexual arousal and behavior. Several studies have shown that around age 10, as children begin to experience adrenarche, defined as an increase in androgens, they experience memorable sexual attraction for the first time (Herdt & McClintock, 2000; McClintock & Herdt, 1996). This finding holds true for both males and females and for children who report same-sex attraction (Herdt & Boxer, 1993). In addition, researchers have found that adolescent boys who demonstrate higher levels of testosterone also report higher levels of sexual activity (i.e., coitus)(Halpern, Udry, Campbell, & Suchindran, 1993).
The relationship between pubertal change and sexuality may not only be hormonal but may also include how the child and others respond to changes in secondary sex characteristics. For example, 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, Udry, & Suchindran, 1997). In other words, hormones may enhance feelings of sexual arousal in children and adolescents but how they act on those feelings is very much determined by multiple internal and external variables.
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