Peer Pressure & Sex

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Many factors, including peer pressure, can influence a teen's decision to have sex. In this lesson, we'll explore how peer pressure and perceptions influence teens' sexual behavior.

Peer Pressure

Grace and Lizzy are both 17 years old and juniors in high school. Lizzy frequently talks about having sex with her boyfriend Sean. She often teases Grace about being a virgin, and when Grace starts dating a boy in her class, Lizzy pushes Grace to have sex, telling Grace she will lose the boy if she doesn't. Grace doesn't feel she's ready, but wants to fit in with her friends, and doesn't want to lose her new boyfriend. She's confused and doesn't know how to handle the situation.

In our example, Lizzy is putting peer pressure on Grace by teasing her for still being a virgin and encouraging her to have sex. Grace, in turn, feels pressured to have sexual relations without feeling ready. Peer pressure is the influence that is put onto us by those we engage with and has a powerful influence on growing up and making decisions.

Positive vs. Negative Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can be both negative and positive. When peers pressure us to do things we don't want to do, such as in Grace's case, it is referred to as negative peer pressure in that it would not have a desirable outcome. On the other hand, there is also positive peer pressure, such as pressure not to engage in drug or alcohol abuse, pressure to get good grades, or pressure to exercise. Peer pressure is difficult to ignore, and peer pressure put onto adolescents to have sex is often significant and hard to resist.

Peer Pressure and Sex - Some Statistics

A rather recent meta-analysis study conducted by Utrecht University in collaboration with the New York State Psychiatric Institute analyzed the results of 58 studies conducted on the relationship between peer pressure and teenage sexual activity. The results indicated that teen sexual behavior was related to:

  1. Sexual activity of their peers - teens who had sexually active peers were more likely to engage in sexual activity themselves.
  2. How much their peers approve of sexual encounters at their age - when peers approve of sexual activity at their age, others are more likely to engage as well since it implies there is nothing wrong with such behavior.
  3. How much they feel pressured by peers to engage in sexual behavior - the more pressured teens are, the more likely they are to give into such pressure.

The research also indicated that peers influenced both girls and boys to engage in sexual activity in similar ways. One difference was noted in that teenage girls perceived high risk sexual behavior, such as unprotected sex, more seriously than did teenage boys.

How to Resist Peer Pressure

The following are some tips that can be helpful in resisting peer pressure directed towards engaging in sexual encounters:

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