Ages ago we were informally discussing teen sex during a coffee break in Tampere School of Public Health. How to advise teens about when one is mature enough to have sex? Someone had suggested her daughter that not before “she is so much in love that she could lick the man between his toes”. (That time people used to assume that their offspring would of course have sex with a person of the opposite sex.)
I really like romance. The more romantic, the better! But I don’t think adolescent girls should learn that sexual relationship is somehow about giving away something big and important, so that such sacrifice is only justified by real love (when you will want to give the loved one whatever s/he asks…). Adolescents should learn to distinguish between love and sexual desire. It is ok to have sex when you really feel sexual desire to a consenting partner, and you are both willing and able to protect yourself and each other from any potential harm related to sex.
Sexuality is much more than sexual behaviours, and sexual behaviours are much more than intercourse, but as negative consequences such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitting infections are related to intercourse, a lot of research on adolescent sexual behaviours focuses on first intercourse. Early adolescents are mainly even physically, not to mention emotionally not mature enough to intimate sexual relationships, and being sexually active is then most likely related to psychosocial problems, if not directly related to child sexual abuse. I am proud to inform that a PhD student of mine, Dr Hanna Savioja, defended her academic dissertation on sexual behaviours and mental health across adolescence in Tampere University in April. Hanna’s book can be found here: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-1018-9 She showed that being sexually active is in early and middle adolescence associated with both emotional and behavioural disorders. In late adolescence such association disappears. Risk-taking sexual behaviours are, however, even in late adolescence associated with mental disorders. The associations between sexual activity and disorders were strongest among youngest adolescents, and gradually diminished towards the oldest age groups.
In addition to Hanna Savioja’s PhD project I have over past year been involved in another exciting research project related to sexual development. Steps of sexuality (https://www.edu.fi/seksuaalisuudenportaat), by Raisa Cacciatore (www.raisacacciatore.fi) and Eija Korteniemi-Poikela, is an emotion-focused, child-centred model of sexual development and sexuality education from birth to adulthood. I had the inspiring opportunity to join the ladies in documenting the research base of the model in an international scientific publication. Now we are happy and excited to be able to tell that the work has been accepted for publication and will be coming out in International Journal of Sexual Health, hopefully soon! This is of outmost importance, since to the best of our knowledge, such comprehensive presentation has so far been lacking. Parents, carers and educators need such information in order to promote healthy and positive sexual development, to use it in sexuality education that facilitates the minors’ self-understanding and respect for one’s own developmental stage and needs, and promotes pride and pleasure of one’s own development.
I’ll let everybody know when our paper on Steps of Sexuality is available!