Teens’ Decisions about the Transition to Sex: Negotiating Competing Normative Systems

Christie Sennott, University of Colorado at Boulder
Stefanie F. Mollborn, University of Colorado at Boulder

Teenage sex has been constructed as a social problem in the U.S. because of the potential risks, like teenage pregnancy, but also because many adults are simply uncomfortable with teens having sex. Drawing on qualitative data from 47 interviews conducted with college-bound teen boys and girls, we investigate the processes through which perceived parental and peer norms about sex and the communication of those norms influence decisions about whether and when to have sex. Our findings demonstrate that differences in understandings of age norms alongside differences in close friends’ sexual norms and behaviors, and varying levels of communication with close friends and parents about sex contribute to differences in sexual behavior for virgins and sexually experienced teens. Additionally, parents’ objections to sex – either moral or practical – and the ways they communicate with their teen about sex influence whether teens decided to “go all the way” during high school.

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Presented in Session 150: Parental Influences on Adolescent Sexual Behavior