In follow up to my last post about what sexual behaviors are normal and what isn’t normal (or typical) in children ages 0 – 13, this post looks at what normal adolescent sexual behavior looks like and what behaviors are not typical and are more concerning.

Teenage sexual behavior probably doesn’t concern as many parents as much as seeing sexual behaviors in younger children. This has its advantages and disadvantages. While many parents might expect a certain level of sexual behavior to be normal in adolescent development, this also can make it more challenging to identify what is atypical unless or until the behavior becomes more extreme, thus delaying getting appropriate help should it be necessary.

Let’s jump right in to see what sexual behaviors are fairly normal in adolescents.

Normal Sexual Behavior in Adolescents

Normal sexual behavior in adolescents, around the ages of 13 to 17 or 18, may include the following:

  • need for privacy
  • explicit conversation with peers
  • obscenities or jokes that are sexual in nature
  • sexual teasing
  • innuendo or flirting
  • erotic interest
  • masturbation, done in private
  • interest and/or participation in a one-on-one relationship
  • courtship and dating
  • hugging, kissing, holding hands
  • foreplay with consenting partner
  • mutual masturbation
  • monogamous intercourse with similar age partner
  • viewing sexual content for arousal

As parents, our values may tell us to restrict the above types of behavior, but they are not abnormal developmentally, nor are they typically harmful or illegal. Remember, however, parents can and should still educate and set boundaries when it comes to these types of behaviors.

Concerning Sexual Behavior in Adolescents

The following behaviors may raise some concerns in adolescents:

  • preoccupation with sex, interfering in daily life functioning
  • anxiety regarding sexuality
  • pornographic interest
  • having sex with multiple partners (not being monogamous)
  • being interested in sexually aggressive themes
  • targeting individuals or embarrassing others
  • violating body space or personal boundaries
  • single occurrence of peeping or exposing oneself
  • “grinding” with peer of similar age
  • excessive mooning or obscene gestures
  • intentional spying on others
  • explicit communications/art/actions that are obscene or sexually intimidating
  • repeated exposure of private parts with peers
  • unsafe sexual behavior
  • presence of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or unplanned pregnancy
  • oral sex/intercourse with more than 2 years age difference (chronological age or developmental/mental age)


Extremely Concerning Sexual Behavior In Adolescents

The following behaviors are extremely concerning if seen in your teen and may require further investigation and/or even professional help or consultation:

  • compulsive masturbation, even if done in private
  • masturbating in public
  • degradation or humiliation of others
  • attempting to expose others’ genitals
  • touching others without permission
  • chronic preoccupation with pornography
  • use of sexually aggressive porn or child pornography
  • sexual conversation or contact with significantly younger or older individuals (typically by 4 or more years)
  • grabbing, goosing, and explicit sexual threats
  • sexual contact with animals
  • penetrating another person forcefully
  • taking sexual images of others to exploit
  • grooming others
  • sending/publishing images without consent
  • sex in exchange for money, drugs, or alcohol
  • disclosure of sexual abuse

Also of concern are implications of unequal power during sexual activity: strength differential, power of popularity, self-image differential, arbitrary labels (“leader,” “boss,” etc.), and fantasy roles in sexual play (“king,” “doctor,” “daddy,” etc.). An important question to ask is whether it’s fun for both or just one.

Other obvious signs of inequality are age differences, size differences, having authority (such as when babysitting or tutoring), or groups against one person or a smaller group.

It’s critical to judge each situation individually. For instance, a significant age difference can certainly be concerning, but if a 17-year-old is in a monogamous relationship with a 22-year-old, we need to delve deeper and consider whether the relationship is consensual or if the relationship involves coercion or control or disrespect.

Illegal Sexual Behavior

It’s always important to remember that the following sexual behaviors are illegal for all age groups:

  • sexual abuse
  • sexual assault
  • molestation
  • sexual harassment
  • obscene calls, texts, emails, posts
  • voyeurism
  • exhibitionism
  • grinding against another without consent
  • child pornography
  • rape
  • beastiality

Continue to watch for more upcoming posts dealing with sexual behavior, sexual abuse, abuse prevention, and body safety education!

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