Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Sex

Font Size

Risky Teen Sex: Blame Social Pressures

Worldwide, Same Social Influences Determine Teen Sexual Behavior
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 2, 2006 - Young people's sexual behavior is largely determined by social influences -- and around the globe, these influences are strikingly similar.

The finding comes from an analysis of more than 250 studies of teen and young-adult sexual behavior by Cicely Marston, PhD, and Eleanor King, MSc, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Young people aged 15 to 24 get about half of the world's new HIV infections. We often blame them for being ignorant, for their notoriously bad judgment, and for their impulsivity. Or we let them off the hook for lack of access to condoms and lack of sex education.

Yet Marston and King find that social influences are what really determine young people's sexual behavior. These influences, they find, fall into seven key themes. And the same themes are seen in every culture in the world.

"Worldwide, not only is sexual behavior strongly shaped by social forces, but those forces are surprisingly similar in different settings, with variations of the extent to which each theme is present rather than of kinds of themes," they report.

The themes are:

  • Young people decide whether to have risky sex based on whether they see their partner as "clean" or "unclean." This determination is largely based on social position and behavior perceived as socially appropriate.
  • The nature of a young person's sexual partnership influences not just their condom use, but their sexual behavior in general.
  • Condoms are stigmatizing and associated with a lack of trust.
  • Gender stereotypes determine social expectations and behavior. For example, men are expected to be sexually experienced while women are expected to be innocent -- yet women also are expected to be responsible for pregnancy prevention.
  • Society offers both penalties and rewards for sex. For example, an unmarried pregnancy can stigmatize a woman -- yet it can also offer escape from her parents' home.
  • Reputations and social displays of sexual activity or sexual abstinence are important.
  • Social expectations hamper communication about sex.

Marston and King argue that simply handing out condoms, or providing sex education, is not enough to change sexual behavior. They say four things are needed:

  • Understanding what makes young people deviate from socially expected behaviors.
  • Understanding details about sexual behavior. For example, this would mean moving beyond asking, "Why don't kids use condoms?" to asking, "What makes kids who use condoms in long-term relationships different from those who don't?"
  • Asking new questions, such as exploring the relation between pleasure and sexual behavior or exploring men's attitudes toward pregnancy.
  • Analysis not just of sexual behavior, but of the social forces that drive sexual behavior.

Today on WebMD

couple not communicating
How to tell when you're in one.
couple face to face
Get your love life back on track.
couple having an argument
Turn spats into solutions
couple in argument
When to call it quits.
Life Cycle of a Penis
HIV Myth Facts
How Healthy is Your Sex Life
Couple in bed
6 Tips For Teens
Close-up of young man
screening tests for men
HPV Vaccine Future