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Sexuality in Adolescence: Attitudes, Behaviors, & Values

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Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Puberty brings with it many physical changes, including the development of new feelings of sexual nature. Learn about the development of sexuality in adolescence--including the attitudes, behaviors, and values that come with it--and explore the phases of curiosity and romance. Updated: 09/29/2021

Adolescence & Puberty

Lainey is 15, and she's got her first real boyfriend, Jack. They go out on dates and like to kiss and make out. She thinks she might be in love, and she gets all tingly in certain parts of her body when she's around Jack.

Lainey and Jack are in adolescence, or the time between childhood and adulthood, which usually lasts from about age 12 or 13 until about age 20. During adolescence, people go through many physical changes as part of the process known as puberty.

One of the things that happens during puberty is that hormones are raging throughout a person's body. Feelings of a sexual nature suddenly become more and more prevalent. For example, the tingling that Lainey experiences around Jack is new to her; just a few years ago, she wouldn't have felt that specific tingling. Let's look closer at the ways that sexuality develops in adolescence.

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  • 1:02 Curiosity
  • 2:50 Romance
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Curiosity

The first part of adolescent sexual development involves curiosity. Starting at around age 12 and lasting until around age 14, this is a time when adolescents first show interest in sex. They are trying to figure out what sex is all about.

For example, when Lainey was 13, she and some of her girlfriends had a sleepover. They spent most of the night talking about what sex was and what some of the older girls did with their boyfriends. Lainey had lots of questions, like, 'What did it feel like?' and 'How did it happen?'

Many teens in the curiosity phase look at images to satisfy their curiosity. For example, Lainey used to stare at the illustrations in her health textbook, which showed the anatomy of men and women and also showed what intercourse consisted of.

Jack, meanwhile, spent a lot of time as an early adolescent looking at his father's Playboy magazines. He, too, was curious and trying to figure out what sex was all about.

As early adolescents' curiosity grows, they often start the process of sexual experimentation. This process usually begins with masturbation and fantasies of sexual contact. For some, experimentation might progress to some sort of physical contact. Though, in the experimentation phase, physical contact does not have to be overtly sexual.

For example, as she began experimenting with her sexuality, Lainey and some of her friends started hugging and horsing around with boys in their class. Some of the boys liked to tickle Lainey and other girls, too, which are all precursors to sexual contact that are part of the experimentation phase of adolescent sexual development.

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