When Teens Feel Pressured to Have Sex

Peer pressure is a common part of life for adolescents. Humans tend to compare themselves to each other and pressure kicks in. Sometimes that pressure can be good, such as trying to get straight A’s like Judy, and sometimes that pressure can be bad, such as trying to be as “cool” as Tim when he smokes.

The majority of youth experience pressure to have sex sometime during their adolescence, and unfortunately, many of them give in to the pressure before they are truly ready to have sex. Some teenagers decide to have sexual relationships to keep pace with their friends or because it seems like everyone else is doing it. Others feel pressured by the person they are dating. Some teenagers simply want to feel loved or accepted. Finally, the media definitely pressures our teens as well, portraying relationships that jump quickly to physical intimacy.

Since our teens are facing these pressures, it’s important that we have the difficult conversations with our teens about healthy relationships, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual consent. We need to let teens know that not every person their age is having sex. We need to let our teens know that their peers often talk about sex in a casual manner and boast exaggerated claims, but that doesn’t mean they are actually having sex. In addition, we should point out that Hollywood doesn’t tell the whole story. The media glorifies sex because it sells, but what happens on screen doesn’t reflect real life. Finally, we should make sure we explain the emotional side of sex. Teens are unaware of the deep and confusing feelings sex can create.

These types of conversations are vitally important for our teens. However, if we truly want our teens to be ready to say no in a sexual situation, we also need to give them tools to withstand the peer pressure. “Just say no” sounds good in theory, but saying no isn’t as easy as saying yes. Sometimes saying no can create an awkward moment, and teens will pretty much do anything to avoid anything awkward. We can help them develop a plan that allows them to make the right choice for themselves without alienating or appearing to judge their friends or partner.

How Parents Can Help

When discussing the pressure to engage in sexual activity with your teen, consider these ideas:

Gather support. One of the reasons teens get in trouble is because they are trying to fit in. Encourage your teen to find friends who share their values so they can back each other up. It’s much easier to say no, when you have friends who are also saying no.

Hang out in a group. Instead of going on a one-on-one date, encourage your teen to hang out with a group. If there are multiple people going out together, there is less opportunity for a partner to pressure your teen for sexual activity.

Find a way to say “yes.” Few teens have the confidence to establish and stick to a firm boundary because they’re afraid that if they refuse an activity, their partner will think they are no longer interested in them or that the relationship is over. Give your teen some skills for saying “no” in a positive way. Teaching them how to say “No, but…” will help them to navigate relationships throughout their lives. For example, your teen might say “No, I am not ready to have sex – but I do like when we kiss. The farthest I’m willing to go right now is _____.” This type of statement allows your teen to clearly define their boundary without making their partner feel like they have been rejected or dumped.

Be respectful. Let your teen know that healthy relationships are built on respect. That means that they should respect their partner’s boundaries. But it also means that they should respect themselves. Our most intimate relationship is the one we have with ourselves, so encourage your teen to respect themselves enough to make a decision that is right for them and stick with it. Deciding whether it’s right for them to have sex is one of the most important decisions they’ll ever have to make.

Delay. If your teen struggles to say ‘no’ to people, arm them with the tool of deferring the answer. Let your teen know that they can always buy themselves some time if saying “no” outright is too uncomfortable by saying something like, “I need some time to think about this.” When they are no longer in the “heat of the moment” and have had some time to think about their response, they will likely make the right decision for themselves and have the courage and consideration to state their answer in a positive way.

Address gender roles. In the majority of cases, males tend to pressure females for sex, which has created a stereotype. When you talk to your teen about sexual pressure, be sure to discuss both sides of the issue (don’t be an aggressor and don’t be pressured into something you’re not ready to do) regardless of your teen’s gender. For example, both genders should be taught to back off when someone says no.

Trust your gut. Be sure to tell your teen that they should never feel obligated to do anything they don’t want to do. Sometimes our instincts are our best guide, so remind your teen that they should only do what feels right to them and what they are comfortable with.

Have a code word. In case your teen ever gets into a bad situation, tell them to develop a code that means “I need help.” They can text you, or a friend, the code, if they want your assistance. The code could be a series of numbers, like “311,” or it might be a phrase such as, “I really want ice cream tomorrow.” This way your teen can communicate their concern and get help without alerting the person who is pressuring them.

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