The Adolescent and Sexuality
The adolescent is an individual who is complex, changing, unsure and frightened. The most important thing to him/her is what others think, say and believe—about them. Both boys and girls are under a tremendous amount of pressure. They do not want to be left out or unpopular. For them it is horrible to be considered, “young,” “slow,” or “corny.” It is far more important to be “in” or “cool.” The result is, then, going along with the crowd, trying to fit into molds that may or may not exist. But, who wants to be different? Being different implies being all that is negative. Both boys and girls who do not get into the swing of things tend to be ostracized sometimes and unpopular.
Therefore it is safe to assume that adolescents become involved in things for which they are not quite ready, this, for the sake of their own social well-being.
For all of their “sophisticated” ways, adolescents are naive about issues pertaining to sex and sexuality, as well as their own bodies. Therefore, two adolescents engaging in sexual intercourse without being aware of their own bodies may end up asking “Is that all?” And, may not grow into healthy functioning adults sexually. This may be so because they believe that first time is the way it’s always supposed to be.
There are a myriad of reasons for why adolescents initially engage in sexual encourage and the prime reason is, of course, peer pressure.
The peer pressure is on both boys and girls. For some reason I think that it has always been thought that only girls were under pressure, but, that is not so. Boys are under pressure from their male friends to prove his manhood or else he may be considered “strange.” They are also under the pressure of their fathers who do not want their sons to turn out to be a “sissy.” This may not be done outright, however, there is an understanding that is unspoken that it’s all right for boys and not for girls. Some fathers are even the first ones to initiate their sons into sex.
Boys are also pressured by girls. Girls tend to think that the boy will naturally want to have sex and therefore expects it of him, and they think boys know what to do.
It becomes a matter of “Well, when is he going to ask me?”
The girl is under pressure from her parents too, but of a different sort—all she hears is, “You’d better not end up getting pregnant” over and over. Would it be too simplistic to perhaps suggest that she may get pregnant to see what would happen? She’s also pressured by her female peers to lose her virginity, thus, become a woman. So, in order to become popular with both males and females, she must give in and accept her fate. Not only is having sexual intercourse a way to prove her womanhood, but, it’s also a way for her to hold on to a boy. Her friends may tell her, “You won’t hold him if you don’t do it,” or “If you don’t, someone will, and you’ll lose him.”
This type of rationale for having sex becomes a means to an end; popularity, saving face and holding on to someone. This could be the beginning of things to come. That is, sex becomes a tool.
After all of the pressure, what if the girl gets pregnant? This is additional pressure. The girl has the baby and the boy who is the father (biologically) has no active role in the raising and caring of the child, because the two may not stay together. Both of them losing something that would be special, had they waited.
The reasons why teen-age girls get pregnant are as varied as the reasons why they have intercourse. Thus, this is not the issue for this unit, but, rather giving information to them before they get started.
What does it mean to be a sexual being? This is one of the questions that the teacher may ask the students. Puberty is a stage where certain physical and emotional changes that may not be understood by the adolescent, but is necessary to the growth process and becoming an adult. Some of the changes may be frightening and confusing for the adolescent, however, as long as they understand that they are not alone, it may very well help them to cope. The teacher may in fact have to play the role of confidante.
As sexual beings they may find themselves attracted to the opposite sex, that too is a part of growing and everyone grows at a different pace. So, if they are not yet feeling attracted to the opposite sex, that is fine too.
Masturbation and Homosexuality
While the adolescent may find themselves leaning towards the opposite sex, others may find that they are attracted to members of their own sex. This may pass and it may not. It may also cause some feelings of anxiety for the adolescent. One of the biggest fears that the adolescent has is the fear of being homosexual, especially for the boys. So, while they may not feel attracted yet to the opposite sex, they may try to force themselves into sex to prove to themselves that they aren’t homosexual.
The students may even have lots of questions pertaining to homosexuality, for, while they are repulsed by it they also find it fascinating. However, they do not want anyone else to know that they are interested. They want to know if they have the “symptoms.” Homosexuality means to them something that is, “strange,” “different,” and “queer.” I think it is important for adolescents to know that firstly homosexuals are people, human beings, who have a preference for members of their own sex. I have heard some students say that they are afraid of them and some even call them names.
It’s necessary for students to know that people should not be persecuted because of their sexual preferences, just as they shouldn’t be persecuted because of skin color or religion.
Along with the fear of being homosexual, there is also a fear of masturbation. Both of these fears stem from myths which are particularly troubling to adolescents. They are myths (based on attitudes, not facts)—and should be dispelled.
Children discover themselves sexually at a very early age, although they are unaware of what they are doing. It is not until they are older that they learn there is something forbidden about touching themselves. It is not until someone screams, “Don’t do that!” that they learn they should never ever touch themselves, if they do, a whole host of ill fate will fall upon them from “blindness” to “insanity.”
Except, they do remember the comforting feeling and may start to do it again, only this time there is an accompaniment of guilt and shame and disgust.
The problem is not with the masturbating but with the anxieties. The adolescent feels as if he/she may be the only one in the world who masturbates and that something is wrong with them. While in some cultures boys may masturbate together in fun, in others it just isn’t done; in some cultures, masturbating is considered an activity for those who “can’t get anything else” and have to masturbate as a last resort. Many teen-age girls do not examine their vaginas, because to touch themselves is considered “nasty.”
While the inner-city boy or girl may masturbate he/she will never admit it (not even to themselves, if that’s possible). If the adolescent does not know his/her own body, how do they know what they like or dislike during sexual intercourse?
Students should know that first of all; people do masturbate, they may range from infants to senior citizens in age, and, that they may be single or married couples. They should also understand that people masturbate for various reasons. Masturbation may be another form of sex or even in the place of sexual intercourse.
The myths surrounding masturbation need to be dispelled because of the fact that the adolescent goes through so much turmoil. The teacher may find that students are not too willing to discuss masturbation in the classroom, someone may think they are too interested in it. Kelman and Saxon suggest in their textbook,
that the teacher keep a Question Box somewhere in the room so that students may ask questions anonymously. The teacher can then read the question and answer it in front of the entire class.
It’s necessary to point out here that the teacher must be objective in his/her approach to topics concerning sexuality. The teacher is not in the position to tell students whether or not to have sexual intercourse, masturbate or become homosexual, but, to give an
lesson of the subject. Therefore, personal values and attitudes must not interfere.
Adolescents in the inner-city have strong feelings about what is masculine and what is feminine. Anything that goes against their set norms are automatically labeled and looked down upon.
I think it is important to include this objective because adolescents who try to fit into molds may end up feeling frustrated. The question again becomes, “What’s wrong with me?” Suppose an adolescent male somehow becomes really interested in dance. He may not feel that he can pursue a career in dance because it is not masculine. What will his parents say? Especially his father. Girls who are aggressive and ambitious are considered “domineering,” “immasculating” and they “never marry.” Mothers, fathers and adolescents themselves promote this kind of thinking and give in to it.
It has only been very recently that girls were able to play competitive sports and win scholarships. Sports are fine, somehow, but, after that the girls must fall in place, back in line. Boys should play basketball and football. Girls cannot become doctors or do anything that is not seemingly female, same for boys.
What this does, I feel, is restrict personality development and leaves less choices for the adolescent because they have set lines which they cannot cross.
The students should know that many women and men are doing things they enjoy in their leisure time and on their job (an example would be Rosey Grier who does needlepoint for a hobby) rather than those things which have been set up for them based on their gender. Many women are doing jobs that were previously considered masculine and vice versa.
The point to get across is that roles are for men and women can be interchangeable, so that we can all develop into happy, healthy adults who know what we want to do. It might be pointed out to students that in other cultures the sex roles may differ and in fact may be reversed.
Male students once told me that they thought there would be too much pressure on a female surgeon. However, they were hard put to tell me what kind of pressure. Many female students felt they could never let their daughters play football, because they could get hurt. What about their sons? “Well,” they replied, “they’re supposed to be rough.”
Sex roles are not limited to careers or leisure time activity, but to sex as well. An example of this is that traditionally women were not supposed to enjoy sex. If a woman did enjoy sex then certainly she was not the woman to marry. For the woman’s part if she enjoyed it she usually felt guilty.
And, she has lowered herself in the eyes of the man. Marilyn French, in her book,
The Women’s Room
showed an example of this when a newly married woman, having sex for the first time enjoyed it. Her husband discovering this never touches her again. Sex for the woman is for procreation, not recreation.
Many female students look down on their female counterparts who like sex, thus, calling them names such as “nasty” or a “whore.”