Love, Sex, and The Teenage Brain

Teen romance and the possibility of sex…It is one of the trickiest and difficult topics that we, as parents, talk to our kids about. Making sure your teenager has good information and a healthy attitude about opposite sex relationships is a challenging parental responsibility. We know that our teenagers are going to parties, hanging out together, sometimes drinking and some are having sex.

According to a 2005 Statistics Canada report:

o About 12% of teens have had sexual intercourse by age 15 and by the time they reach the age of 17, 28% teens have. By age 24, 80% of young adults have had sexual intercourse.
o Of the sexually active youth between age 15 and 24, over one third of them had more than one partner in a year and 30% did not use a condom the last time they had intercourse.
o Teen pregnancy has been steadily decreasing over the past 25 years. However the number of teens who have contracted sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as Chlamydia remains on the rise. This points to reduced use of condoms or the prevalence of oral sex which many teens mistakenly believe eliminates the transmission of STDs.

So, as parents, what sort of influence do we have? According to a 2005 University of Regina in Saskatchewan study, teachers emerged as the most important source for information about pregnancy and STD prevention. The study also found that peer influence was more important than parental disapproval in predicting whether a student would have intercourse. The findings suggest that, teachers and peers are more important in providing good information and instilling attitudes to our teenagers than parents. Parental disapproval has little impact. In fact parental disapproval often has the opposite effect one is trying to accomplish.

Romance and the Teenage Brain

The conflict between young love and parental disapproval is not a new one. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, his “star crossed lovers” showed what havoc teen romance can have on families. Today, perhaps it is understandable and acceptable for school to be a more important source of information than parents on certain information about sex. However, most of us hope our values are important to our children and help guide their sexual behaviour choices.

When your son or daughter has fallen in love the personality change may seem extreme. It like they have been invaded by an alien body snatcher. The power of teen love and sex is very strong. Many parents feel responsible for their teenager’s risky behavior and become overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. Parents and especially mothers often feel the judgment of other parents whose teen’s behaviour is less extreme This can lead to additional feelings of isolation and ineffectiveness. Some parents and especially fathers may get authoritative out of frustration and eventually give up or “wash their hands” of the problem out of feelings of ineptitude.

To be more influential it helps to equipped with the knowledge of what forces are at work when a teenager falls in love. It is important to understand how the teen brain works. Recent brain scientific research sheds much more light on how much hormonal activity is influencing our teenager’s thoughts and actions.

Brain structures and brain chemicals both affect the way an adolescent first dives into romance. In his book Why Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen, David Walsh describes it this way. At around age ten, the body produces androgen hormones. This is when the first crush can occur. It is at puberty when the real awakening of sexual interest and sex drive occurs. This is when “falling in love” can happen. The hypothalamus drives surges of testosterone in both boys and girls and raises the levels of dopamine – the hormone that is responsible for feelings of pleasure. Because of developmental differences, boys and girls have different attitudes toward sex and romance. The testosterone surges in boys lead them to see girls as sexual objects. Adolescent girls tend to be more drawn to boys for the relational aspects of spending time together and talking.

Although sexual interest is always part of falling in love, falling in love is not always part of sex drive. The prefrontal cortex (the place of reason and judgment in the brain) is inactive and in teenagers not yet fully developed. When falling in love, we aren’t using our rational brain and impulse control. A “pleasure” high comes from the hormonal interplay of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. It is a powerful mix of natural neurological “chemistry”. All this high level of hormonal fireworks cannot be sustained for a long time by the brain. The intense feelings of “falling in love” are even shorter for teenagers than adults. Infatuation lasts only about three months on average. Following this they will move on to another relationship for the intoxication and excitement or will stay as the relationship transitions into a calmer more comfortable stable state, which has been called “standing in love”.

During the “standing in love” phase cooling down occurs and the prefrontal cortex engages. The teen is in a better position to assess the suitability of the relationship. The adolescent may wonder, “Why am I in this relationship?” A different set of hormones are released now. For girls it is oxytocin sometimes referred to as the “cuddling” hormone, also involved at childbirth, which promotes attachment. In boys, the hormone vasopressin makes them more protective, faithful and attentive to their partner’s needs.

Romantic Pitfalls

Often parents worry about their child falling in love with a “bad apple”. Concern about a teenager’s judgment is warranted. The prefrontal cortex is not completing formed in the brain until age 21. In this stupor of love, the bad influence of the boyfriend or girlfriend leads the “good” child to do things quite out of character. For example they may engage in some risky behavior out of loyalty and love such as destroy property for the “rush” of it.

Sometimes the darker side of love of jealousy and possessiveness takes hold. It is confusing for many teenagers. After the glorious “falling in love” feelings and then attachment hormones can cloud the judgement. He can become controlling, or physically or sexually abusive. When the “why am I in this relationship? question comes to mind, her memories of the “falling in love” times and the current cuddling hormone and lack of experience make it more difficult to see the wisdom of getting out.

Tips for Talking to Teens about Sex

Countries with low rates of teen pregnancy and STDs deal with sex more openly. If trusted adults, teachers and parents don’t talk openly, the adolescents will get their information from peers or the media. It is important to distinguish sex from sexuality. Sex is about biology whereas sexuality is about biology, psychology, values and spirituality. It is important for you to see your role as supplementing the logic, wisdom and judgement that the teen’s under developed prefrontal cortex requires. Actively listening, validating feelings and show respect will help open up discussions and reduce power struggles.

David Walsh in his book Why Do They Act That Way?, suggests the following tips and do’s and don’ts.
1. Get motivated. If you do not talk to them someone else will.
2. Get educated. Being informed overcomes nervousness and builds confidence
3. Get comfortable. It is OK to admit some discomfort. It will help everyone relax.
4. Make it an ongoing conversation.
5. Don’t try to cover too much in one discussion.
6. Choose appropriate times when there is an opportunity for calm, private uninterrupted conversation
7. Discuss sexuality, not just sex. They need to know about the place of sex in a healthy relationship.
8. Discuss dating as a time to have fun and get to know each other.
9. Don’t preach or lecture.
10. Make it a dialogue
11. Share your values

Do

o Emphasize the importance of respect and honesty in all relationships
o Have regular conversations with your sons and daughters about sex and sexuality
o Communicate the values you consider important in romantic relationships
o Provide accurate information about birth control and STDs
o Get to know your adolescent’s friends so you know who they are influenced by
o Really listen to your teen: their fears, and worries and validate their feelings showing acceptance and love
o Talk to other parents, join a parents group, see a counselor for ideas and support

Don’t

o Don’t get angry or use put-downs about a boyfriend or girlfriend you have concerns about
o Don’t ridicule or make fun of crushes or romantic attachments
o Don’t assume that your son or daughter won’t engage in sexual behavior
o Don’t keep quiet and let the “instant sex” that happens on TV and in movies become the only examples your kids

have about sex and sexuality

Premarital Counseling: Ten Ways to Increase Sexual Intimacy Through Couples Counseling

So many couples don’t discuss important aspects of marriage until AFTER they’re married. Will you have children? Will both of you work, or just one of you? Where will you live? Who will be in charge of which chores? How much personal time will you give each other? How do you both see finances in marriage?

Talk about the ten B’s, and build a healthy marriage that lasts many, many years. Avoid the misunderstanding and misconception caused by putting off the B’s! I will provide you both a safe place, a plan, and guidance to talk about the following aspects of marriage intimacy.

Business. What are your career prospects and attitudes about work? How do you envision your life together? What are your most important goals? How do you see your work life together?

Baby. How do you feel about having a child, or not? Would either of you like more than one? How do you want to raise the child? Have you talked about discipline?

Bottle. Concerning alcohol and drugs, I am surprised how many couples aren’t aware of their partner’s habits and tendencies. In premarital couples counseling we can safely discuss your values and behaviors with alcohol and drugs.

Bedroom. What are your expectations and preferences sexually? What attitudes and values do you hold? What about infidelity?

Bank. Money and financial issues are one of the biggest causes of divorce. I will provide you with constructive ways to talk about responsibilities, budgeting, and financial history aspects of relationship. Do you want the freedom to buy items without your partner’s approval? How do you want to handle debt, and the money that is earned?

Beliefs. Compatibility and personality differences can be turned in to strengths. How do your values, religion, and politics impact your relationship?

Broom. Explore home issues before unspoken habits trip you up. What kind and how big of home do you want to live in? Who’s in charge of what chores? How clean and tidy do you keep house?

Blemishes. What are the imperfections or baggage that you’d rather talk about now? No one is perfect, and we all have baggage. Do each of your parents want to see you a little, or quite a bit? This is good to discuss to prevent blemishes related to extended family.

Body. Are there any body issues that you want to discuss? What happens if and when one of you gets ill?

Belly. What are your food preferences? I’m surprised how many clients have food arguments about the different ways they like to eat and exercise. Do you get in to your N.O.C.T.: NO ONE CAN TELL me what to do – over food?

In premarital counseling, talk about the ten B’s to help you explore the need to be yourself, and the need for connection, so that you can develop a more mature sense of your self, and a more mature connection in your marriage. You can prevent the power struggles so common for all of us while growing your sense of self and building a foundation for adult sexual intimacy. I will provide you with communication skills to enhance your marriage, plus offer you conflict resolution skills for those difficult moments. Imagine the depth of your vows to one another as you learn through couples counseling how to grow who you are individually, and how to grow the emotional intimacy between you. Then can avoid the intimacy problems in your healthy marriage together, and include more sexual intimacy between you!

I originally learned about the ten B’s in my five year, Integrative Body Psychotherapy training, 1990-1995, and I’ve adapted them a bit for this article. Why not see for your selves how talking with a trained third party can enhance your premarital, and marital, lives!

What Are Purity Rings for Teenage Girls All About?

Purity rings for teenage girls is becoming more common and many people are wondering what they are all about. A purity ring band is a type of symbol worn by some young adults and teenagers as a signification of their intention to abstain and be chaste. These rings are greatly promoted by Christian groups as a means for girls to celebrate their choosing to remain virgins. Now some persons think that purity rings for girls were created during the 1990s, they were in fact created much earlier to coincide with women becoming nuns so as to use it as a symbol of their marriage to God.

These are more often worn by women. However, there are some men who proudly wear them as well. The purity ring band is normally worn on the ring finger until the individual gets married and replace it with their wedding band.

Sometimes there are even some special ceremonies that are associated with procuring a purity ring. The young adult may choose to make a pledge to God and do so in front of family and friends as they would in a wedding ceremony. The only difference will be that they are pledging to not have sex before they are married. There are also sometimes purity balls that are like a daughter-father events. There are also necklaces as well as bracelets that are used for the purpose of celebrating and showing the world that they are abstaining from copulation until marriage.

There are different prices for purity rings ranging from ones that are quite inexpensive, to the more elaborate diamond purity ring. The ones that are silver may sometimes be bought at an inexpensive price, and the ones that are golden and have elaborate designs can be quite costly. The durability of the ring is an important consideration for parents who are buying a purity ring band. The cheaper ones may not last for too long and they may have to purchase another one at a later date.

There are some people who think that it’s not right to be advertising to the world that you are sexually inactive. The etiquette specialist would surely agree with this, and say that your sexuality is not something to be announced to the world. On the other hand, it is seen as a way of warning potential suitors that there will be no sex involved, as well as a way in which to encourage other young people not to have sex before marriage and to let them see that they are not alone in their decision to be chaste. Whatever a person’s decision to remain chaste before marriage is, there is a nice selection of ring styles available to choose from.