24th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development

July 10-14, 2016 | Vilnius, Lithuania

Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck

"Adolescent and early adult sexuality development: Beyond behavior"

Over the past four decades, research has highlighted that there are many individual and social correlates of adolescents' patterns of sexual behavior, and new findings continue to emerge from major longitudinal studies. This research has been important for providing background on sexual risk behavior during adolescence and the correlates of risk behavior, as well as identifying adolescent correlates of adult sexual functioning. This is important because it has helped to inform parents and other adults about adolescent sexual behavior and development, and this information has been useful for schools and community programs by providing information regarding how to promote protective behaviors, such as condom and other contraceptive use. In contrast to this research on adolescent sexual behavior and risk, we continue to place less research focus on healthy sexual development, as well as the cognitive and emotional aspects of adolescent sexual development. This is despite having good theoretical models to guide this research. In this address, I will briefly summarize what we currently know about adolescent sexual behavior - its onset and progression, as well as the correlates of earlier versus later onset, and the outcomes of sexual timing for later functioning. I will draw from longitudinal research to describe pathways and processes – attempting to move beyond a focus on single predictors or sets of predictors. However, my primary focus in this presentation will be on research related to sexual self-perceptions and various emotional aspects of sex during adolescence. I will review definitions of sexual health and sexual self-perceptions emerging in the literature, and summarize the research on sexual behavior as a correlate of sexual self development and sexual satisfaction in adolescence. As much as possible, I will also describe the evidence relevant to understanding other correlates of young people's development of views of their own sexual selves and their own satisfaction with their sexual lives. This will include research on the roles of partners, parents, peers, and the media. Finally, I will describe some current debates and controversies associated with studying adolescent sexual behavior. A special focus to end this presentation will be on debates regarding girls' sexual behavior and beliefs, and how studying sexuality and behavior may be complicated by societal structures, stereotypes, and gender inequality.