Teenage Hormones and Sexuality
If you’re a teenager, you’re no stranger to the power of hormones. Starting as early as age 7 or 8, your body begins to produce the hormones that are responsible for the changes of puberty.
Teenage hormones are the chemicals that cause the physical growth and sexual development that will carry you through your teens and into adulthood. As these substances take hold of your body, you’ll notice that your emotions, moods and sexual feelings are much stronger.
You may also feel more impulsive and more inclined to take risks, like experimenting with drugs or alcohol, driving without a license or having unsafe sex.
Peer pressure, low self-esteem and hormonal surges can lead you to take chances that could have a negative effect on your future. As you enter your teenage years, it’s important to have a support system you can rely on. Parents, siblings, counselors, teachers and true friends can provide strength and advice as you go through this challenging, exciting period.
Dealing With Hormones
Without hormones, normal physical and sexual development wouldn’t be possible. At the beginning of puberty, your brain releases a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH triggers the pituitary gland — a small but significant gland that controls the production of several major hormones — to secrete follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) into your bloodstream. FSH and LH have different effects on males and females. In girls, FSH and LH instruct the ovaries to begin producing estrogen, one of the primary female sex hormones, and eggs. In boys, the same hormones tell the testes to begin producing testosterone, the male sex hormone, and sperm. At the same time, you’ll notice other significant changes:
- Your body will grow taller and you’ll put on weight and muscle mass.
- Girls will begin to have menstrual periods and will develop fuller breasts and wider hips.
- Boys will develop larger sex organs and will be able to ejaculate (release sperm).
- Both boys and girls will develop body hair on the legs, under the arms and over the sex organs.
- Both boys and girls will produce stronger body odors and may develop acne or other skin problems.
Hormones affect your moods, emotions and impulses as well as your body. According to the Nemours Foundation, a lot of the mood swings that teens experience are caused by fluctuations in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone — the sex hormones. These same hormones will also affect the way you think about dating and sex. Teens become much more interested in sex, sometimes to the point of obsession. You may find yourself attracted to other people in your peer group, even if you never dreamed that you’d think of them in a sexual way.
It’s hard to feel that your body and mind are being controlled by the forces of nature instead of your own decisions. A lot of teens feel that the changes they’re experiencing are weird, freakish or unnatural, but in fact, almost everything that you go through during adolescence is a normal part of your development. Chances are that if you’ve experienced a new urge or experimented with different behaviors, at least one adult in your life has been through the same thing.
Some teens look forward to the time when they can start dating; others dread this adolescent ritual. But no matter how you feel about spending time with other teens, learning how to socialize with your peers is an important part of growing up. If you’re nervous about dating, start by simply making friends with girls or boys you find attractive. Group dates are a great way for shy teens to get to know others without the pressures of one-on-one dating. Use these tips to get started:
- Focus on the other person. One of the best ways to get over being self-conscious and nervous is to focus on someone else. Ask your date questions about herself. Find out about her likes and dislikes. Your interest will help you start your relationship from a basis of friendship.
- Find non-romantic things to do. Dating doesn’t necessarily have to be about hearts, flowers and candy. If you’re nervous about being in an intimate situation with someone, invite him to go on a hike with a few other friends or attend a football game at your school.
- Seek out people who share your interests. Physical attraction often guides dating decisions in the teenage years, but the prettiest girl or the hottest guy doesn’t necessarily make the best dating partner. Join clubs or participate in sports activities where you can meet people who share your hobbies and interests. You’re much more likely to have an interesting, satisfying date with someone you can relate to on a personal level.
- Don’t let rejection get you down. Learning how to accept rejection without taking it personally isn’t easy, but if you can develop this skill, it will help you throughout your life. When you ask someone out on a date, you’re taking a risk that he or she will say “no.” If your offer is refused, give yourself a few minutes to feel bad about it, and then move on. Brush yourself off, then invite someone else to go out with you. Sooner or later, you’ll find the right person.
Columbia University says that dating isn’t just about building social skills or finding a romantic partner; it’s an opportunity to learn about your personal values, needs and desires. Spending time with others is a way to identify what you like and don’t like in other people, and in yourself.
With all those hormones raging through your bloodstream, it’s inevitable that you’ll think about sex. It’s also likely that you’ll experiment with sex, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reports that in 2011, 47.4 percent of teenagers who were surveyed reported that they had had intercourse at some point during their lives. Within the past three months, 33.7 percent had had sex at least once. Out of that group, the majority did not use birth control to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Learning about sexuality is a vital part of growing up. But learning about sex shouldn’t involve unwanted pregnancy or getting an STD. The Guttmacher Institute reports that teenage pregnancy declined significantly between 1990 and 2008, partly because more teens were using birth control, and partly because a larger percentage of teens were waiting longer to have sex. Psychology Today notes that teens tend to assume that their friends are having sex, even if they’re not. You should never rush into intimacy because you’re afraid of being the only virgin in your class; there are probably a lot more abstinent teens in your peer group than you think.
Parents of teens should encourage honest discussions of sexuality and answer questions as frankly as possible. Every family has its own values and beliefs about sexual activity in the teenage years. The important thing is that these beliefs are communicated clearly and that the opportunity to talk is always left open.
Experimenting With Drugs and Alcohol
Along with the pressures to date and have sex, teens often face pressure from their peers to try drugs or alcohol. Neurological studies of the adolescent brain indicate that teens may be more likely to experiment with drugs than adults because of differences in their brain development. In adolescence, the area of the brain that’s responsible for judgment and decision-making is still immature, according to a report from the Mentor Foundation. This area, the prefrontal cortex, doesn’t become fully mature until the 20s. Meanwhile, the part of the brain that controls impulses and emotions is maturing in adolescence, increasing the urge to take risks.
In your teens, your life as an adult may seem impossibly far away. With so much time ahead of you, the choices you make today might seem inconsequential. But in fact, getting involved with drugs or alcohol could have severe consequences, not only in the immediate future but for years to come. Teenagers who engage in substance abuse are more likely to develop full-blown addictions as adults.
They are also more likely to engage in behaviors that could cause serious injuries or legal problems, such as:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Suicide attempts
Hormones, sex and drugs can be a dangerous mix. When your emotions and sexual urges are already in a volatile state, adding intoxicating substances could put you at risk of making life-altering decisions. Taking chances with your future just isn’t worth the risk. If you feel pressured by your peers or by your own emotions to do things that you know are dangerous, talk with a parent, mental health professional or addiction specialist about how you can get through this tough period safely.
Identity, Moods and Emotions
Discovering who you are is one of the biggest challenges of adolescence. In the teenage years, your identity may change from one month to the next. You have the opportunity to experiment with your personal values, your style, your beliefs and your sexuality. If you have a healthy self-esteem and a strong support system, you can build your new identity with confidence. But many teenagers struggle with their sense of self-worth, feeling that they don’t measure up to the standards of their parents, teachers or friends.
Teenagers who suffer from low self-esteem are more vulnerable to the negative influences of peer pressure and more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, according to Health Education Quarterly. They are also more likely to become depressed. Parents and educators can help teenagers build a strong sense of identity by nurturing their self-esteem and validating their self-confidence.
Adults should be aware of the signs of low self-esteem in teenagers, such as:
- Withdrawal from friends and social activities
- Poor hygiene or a lack of concern for appearance
- Abandoning good friends in favor of a new social crowd
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Changes in weight or eating habits
- Unusual mood swings
- Tearfulness and a sense of hopelessness
- Expressing thoughts of suicide
It’s not unusual for teens to go through periods of feeling sad, lonely or irritable. But if these feelings persist for more than a week or two, your teen may be depressed. The emotional turmoil of adolescence can sometimes hide a serious mental health condition that must be treated promptly.
When to Look for Support
If the natural hormonal changes of adolescence turn into something more dangerous, don’t hesitate to turn to professionals for help. In today’s challenging world, many families need support to handle the effects of emotional disturbances, impulse control disorders or substance abuse. In some cases, a personalized rehab program is what it takes to get a teenager’s life back on track.
For answers to your questions about teenage drug abuse, sexuality or emotional identity, contact the professionals at Newport Academy. We specialize in helping young people and their families build the futures that they deserve.