Influences: Peers, Family, and Religion
The decision to engage in sexual contact with another person is a personal one, yet it is influenced by many social factors, including peers, family, and religion. There are a number of other social factors that influence sexual behavior as well, and we will discuss a few of the more important ones.
Peer pressure is often cited as the most important influence on teen sexual behavior, and adolescence is certainly a time when the influence of one’s friends and peers is at a peak. Many adolescents base their own self-worth on peer approval (Rudolph et al., 2005). Even among preadolescents, peer influences are strong; among sixth graders who have had intercourse, students were more likely to initiate intercourse if they thought that peers were having sex and that it would bring them some kind of social gain—that peers would like them more, for example. Those who did not initiate sex were more likely to believe that their behavior would be stigmatized or disapproved of by their peers (Grunbaum et al., 2002).
However, there are two sides to the peer-influence story. On the one hand, there is evidence that a person’s perceptions of what his or her peers are doing have a greater influence over sexual behavior than peers’ actual behavior, but there is also evidence that has found that adolescents with strong family relationships tend to be less influenced by peers (Kotchick et al., 1999). Among those subject to and applying peer pressure, adolescent males feel the need to “prove” their masculinity, leading to early sexual activity. However, many adolescents cite peer pressure as the number one reason they do not wait to engage in intercourse. The relationship between peer influences and sexual activity in teens is complex.