Diseases & Conditions


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Development of Sexuality


During early adolescence, an increasing interest in sexual anatomy and pubertal changes develops. These changes (or lack thereof) often are a source of anxiety. As adolescents mature emotionally and sexually, they may begin to engage in sexual behaviors. Masturbation among boys is nearly universal and is perhaps somewhat less common among girls. Sexual behavior with others often begins as extended petting, but sometimes progresses to oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and anal sex. By late adolescence, sexuality has shifted from being exploratory to being an expression of intimacy and sharing. Appropriate advice on safe-sex practices is essential.

Some adolescents explore homosexual activities but ultimately do not continue to be interested in same-sex relationships. Other adolescents never have any interest in opposite-sex relationships. Doctors do not understand exactly why homosexual feelings develop, but they do not think it is something adolescents "learn" from their peers or the media.

Homosexual adolescents face an emotional burden as their sexuality develops. Many teenagers are made to feel unwanted if they express homosexual desires. Such pressure (especially during a time when social acceptance is critically important) can cause severe stress. Problems can be made worse by comments and even physical threats made at school. A fear of abandonment by parents, sometimes real, may lead to dishonest or at least incomplete communication between adolescents and their parents. Threats of physical violence should be taken seriously and reported to school officials.

The emotional development of homosexual adolescents is best helped by supportive friends and family members. Family and friends should express the same interest and involvement as they would for heterosexual adolescents.

Last full review/revision February 2003

Source: The Merck Manual Home Edition