Youth and Sexuality. The Vital Role of Sexuality in Young People's Development

Submitted Assignment, 2019

14 Pages, Grade: 82.00


Table of Contents


Pubertal Changes in Youths’ Sexual Development

Interactions: Intra and Inter Personal

Sexuality Education




Young people are sexual beings and sojust as it is crucial to strengthen one’s cognitive, physical and emotional growth, it is also crucial to instigate sexual growth (Huberman, 2016) . Sexuality evolves from a person’s interactions with him/herself and from relationships with others (Symons, 1979). Development of sexuality is an ongoing process which starts at conception and continues to develop throughout the person’s lifespan (Kar, Choudhury & Singh, 2015). Young people start sexually developing into adults and along the way they face a lot of physical; biological; and social changes. That is why most of the time this stage is referred to as being a critical stage in a young person’s development process (Wood et al., 2017) .

Pubertal Changes in Youths’ Sexual Development

One of the most significant rapid and dramatic changes in a young person’s sexual development happen during the stages of puberty (Marcia, 1980; Alsaker, 1995). During this time, young people start experiencing physical and biological changes within their bodies. For instance, girls’ breasts will start to grow; hips may widen; pubic hair will start to develop; and their menstrual cycles may start. On the other hand, boys experience their genitals starting to grow; facial hair will start to develop; and their larynx gets larger (Attwood, 2008; McBride, 2010). Both genders experience getting taller in height and gaining some weight (Hayward, 2003). Additionally, both genders will have the capability of reproducing (Johnson & Barber, 2009). Males and females experience puberty at different ages, with females often starting earlier than males. A females’ pubertal cycle tends to be shorter than a males’ cycle (McBride, 2010; Kar, Choudhury & Singh, 2015).

All of these bodily changes challenge the sexual identity of the young person. Considering that young people are going through a lot of physical; biological; and psychological changes, they might feel stressed since they are unable to cope with all of these changes happening all at once (Kar, Choudhury & Singh, 2015; Villanueva, 2015), and might feel as if they no longer knows who they are. Young people going through puberty tend to become more concerned with their appearances (Pickhardt, 2016). Some young people might feel unhappy with their bodies and the way that they look. There are certain cultures which impose the idea of needing to have a particular type ofbody, like for example American girls being slim and boys being muscular (Thies & Travers, 2005). This can increase the stress levels in young people even more during this crucial period in their life and may result in being unhappy with their body image, since they start to compare themselves a lot with these ideal type ofbodies (Pickhardt, 2016). Young people that develop earlier than others, like for instance a female starts to have her breasts grow before her peers and so she needs to start wearing a bra before them which might make her feel awkward, or later than others, like for instance a male has not yet started to shave his bear but all of his peers have, tend to be the ones most unhappy with the way they look (Thies & Travers, 2005; Pickhardt, 2016). This is because they might feel embarrassed and shy that their peers are not experiencing the same things as them and vice-versa (Brennan, 2014). In general, young males tend to view their biological changes as being something positive, while young females tend to look at it as being something negative (Martin, 1996; Pickhardt, 2010). These different feelings towards puberty, from both genders, come from the old taboos and stigmas that occurred in the past. There used to be this believe that every action, sexually oriented, made by a woman was made to tempt a man for example, from the clothes they wear and the photos they took (Hudson, 2016). Young females feel shame towards their own bodies. This is because it was seen that by expressing their sexuality, they were being ‘sluts’ while, males were seen to be ‘cool’ and ‘macho’ (Martin, 1996; Smith, Moore & Rosenthal, 2016).

However, this is not always the case. Not all young people react to puberty in the same way. For some it is an exciting process rather than an embarrassing and challenging one (Ashford & LeCroy, 2010; Lewis, 2016). Some young people might have a smoother transition than others. Indeed, Martin (1996) interviewed several young people and some of them stated how puberty, hence their sexual development, was ‘no big deal’. For example, one of the young females interviewed said that starting her period did not make her feel unhappy towards her own body, but she was rather happy. This was also seen in the interviews done by Fingerson (2006), where one of the young females that was interviewed spoke about how having her menstruation is not something shameful and embarrassing, but how she looks at it as being normal and not a big deal. Furthermore, research shows that when young people are prepared for puberty, hence they are well informed about the changes that occur throughout this process, they handle it better (Lewis, 2016). So for instance, when a young male is well informed about his first ejaculation, when it occurs, he would have been prepared for it and so he knows it is normal (Attwood, 2008; Greenberg, Bruess, & Conklin, 2011).

Interactions: Intra and Inter Personal

There are various ways by which young people can interact sexually. Young persons start experiencing sexual behaviours whilst they are going through the stages of development (Araji, 2004). Such behaviours change and start to occur throughout their interactions. There are mainly two forms ofinteractions; intrapersonal and interpersonal.


This occurs between one’s self and it is about understanding one’s own likes and dislikes (Curran, 2015). This form of interaction includes in random and exploratory behaviours by the young person, which mainly involves the self. Usually, such behaviours are instigated by exploration and curiosity (Araji, 2004). Intrapersonal behaviours include in masturbation and sexual fantasizing (Chi, Van de Bongardt & Hawk, 2014). Additionally, some young persons may also start inserting fingers or objects into their body openings so that they explore what is pleasurable and what hurts them (Araji, 2004). Research indicates that young males engage in this behaviour more frequently than young females (Chi, Van de Bongardt & Hawk, 2014).


This involves having interactions with other people rather than between one’s self (Curran, 2015). In this form ofinteraction, young people develop sexual attractions towards other persons and as a result they might start dating and some even engage in sexual relationships. Such interpersonal behaviours may involve in young males comparing penis size and young females showing off their breasts to each other; oral sex; and sexual intercourse. Usually, such behaviours are either driven by intention or happen spontaneously (Araji, 2004). However, not all young people feel ready to involve themselves sexually with others. Some might delay interacting sexually with other people for various reasons, such as waiting for the ‘right’ person or waiting till a particular age. By contrast, others are simply happy with the fact that they can say ‘no’ (Heywood, Patrick, Pitts, & Mitchell, 2015; Williams, 2016). Furthermore, other young people might choose not to engage in sexual relationships due to their culture, for example if the young person was raised in a home were sex was seen as something ‘dirty’ or was a topic which was not spoken about, then the person might view sexual activity in that manner as well (Araji, 2004). Lastly, other reasons why young people might choose to involve or not involve themselves sexually with others are peer influence and social context. A lot of young people, especially boys, feel pressured by their peers to engage in sexual relationships before they themselves feel ready to (Allen, 2003; Carroll, 2012). If, the young person goes out a lot, especially to discos and so on, then one is more tempted to engage sexually with others for instance, due to alcohol (Jackson, Sher, & Park, 2006).

The decision about whether or not, one should engage or not engage in sexual relationships requires a lot of thinking and it is not something that should happen ‘just to get it over with’. Yet, in some cases, this is the reason behind why young people decide to engage in sexual relationships (Machin & Leeuwen, 2007; Rufus, 2009). Tough overall, the majority of young people are happy with whatever decision they made (Williams, 2016).

Sexuality Education

The term ‘sexuality’ remains one that holds a lot of connotations with it. Its definition varies from one person to another, depending on what the person believes it is and the context it is used in. Nonetheless, a common understanding of the word is that it varies from the term sex; although they are very much related. Sexuality is about who you are rather than what you do. There is still a lot disagreement between educators about what exactly should be included in sexuality education (Schroeder, 2009; Bruess & Schroeder, 2014). However, an agreement amongst some of the topics that should be learned are sexual health; relationships; sexual intimacy; and human sexuality (Ponzetti, 2016).

As mentioned earlier, one way how stress, awkwardness and embarrassment of sexual development and puberty can be eased is through education. When young people are prepared and properly informed about this process they are able to handle it better (Attwood, 2008; Greenberg, Bruess, & Conklin, 2011; Lewis, 2016). It will also help them understand what to expect and what certain things mean, such as sexual arousal.

Moreover, sexuality education is not only important for that reason. Educating young people about sexuality and how to handle it benefits them as well. Being more educated about the topic, they can understand more the dangers and consequences that it can have on them, like for example unplanned pregnancies and diseases (Smith et al., 2016; Williams, 2016). So, whilst young people need to explore their sexuality through sexual activity, they still need to have the necessary information and knowledge, so that they develop safe and enjoyable sexual behaviour (Smith et al., 2016; FPA, 2017). In fact, research indicates that when young people, in particular young females, are well informed about relationships and sex, their chances of reporting poor sexual health outcomes is lower, when compared to those who lack information (Ministry for health, 2011; FPA, 2018). Yet, sexuality education should not only be oriented towards teaching young people preventative measures to avoid the negative consequences related to sexuality but, should also teach respect for both one’s self and others. It should also be about embracing sexual feelings as being gifts, which means that they should be cherished (Schroeder, 2009). Sometimes, the media portrays sexuality as being something that in reality it is not. Some young people have false perceptions about what they should expect from their sexual relationships and how it should be (Gruber & Grube, 2000). Consequently, at times, some young people end up feeling disappointed with their sexual experiences since, they compare it to what they have seen on the media.

Alcohol consumption also plays a role in a young person’s sexuality development. This is because during this process, young people are at a stage were they are going out more hence, their alcohol consumption is higher. Research indicates that alcohol consumption lowers people’s inhibitions (Johnson & Barber, 2009; Jackson et al., 2016). This means that they are more likely to do things that they would not normally do like for example, some young people end up engaging with others sexually. More often than not, this causes unplanned and unprotected sex which can then lead to unwanted pregnancies and diseases, such as AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases (STD) (Moore, Rosenthal, & Mitchell, 1996; Araji, 2004; Heywood et al., 2015). If, young people were more educated and knowledgeable about such negative outcomes, then they could avoid having such risky sex behaviours (Smith et al., 2016). Additionally, some young people end up having sex with their partners to avoid disappointing them, as they fear that if they say no, their relationship will end (Alman, 2018; Russell, 2018). It is important that young people understand that saying ‘no’ is okay, especially if, they feel that they are not ready to engage in sexual behaviour with othersjust yet. This can all be learned through sexuality education (Schroeder, 2009).


Sexuality plays a major role in a young person’s development and understanding such a process is of outmost importance (Kar et al., 2015). It is a process that brings a lot of changes within the young person’s life (Wood et al., 2017), especially when the young person hits the pubertal stage (Marcia, 1980; Alsaker, 1995). As discussed above, young people react differently to puberty; some have positive attitudes towards it, while others have negative ones. Young people tend to explore their sexuality through different interactions, either with others or their selves, as they are still learning about their; likes, dislikes, feelings and relationships (Araji, 2004). In conclusion, a way to ease some of this stressful developmental process that young people go through is by properly informing them about it.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Youth and Sexuality. The Vital Role of Sexuality in Young People's Development
University of Malta  (Department of Youth Studies)
B.A. (Hons) Social Wellbeing Studies
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
youth, young people, sexuality, young people's development, sexuality development, youth and sexuality
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Ms Kimberley Bartolo (Author), 2019, Youth and Sexuality. The Vital Role of Sexuality in Young People's Development, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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