Teenage Hormones and Sexuality

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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.

Teens 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.

Adolescence can be a risky time. Although all of the changes you experience in puberty are natural and healthy, teens don’t always react to these changes in a safe or healthy way. Teen hormones have an impact not only on their bodies and minds, but also on their behavior.

Peer pressure, low self-esteem, and hormonal surges can lead teens to take chances and engage in risky behaviors that could have a negative effect on their future. As children enter their teenage years, it’s important for them to have a support system they can rely on. Parents, siblings, counselors, teachers, and good friends can provide strength and advice as teens navigate this challenging, exciting time in their lives.

The Physical Effects of Teen Hormones

Without teenage 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. These teen hormones 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:

  • Both boys and girls will grow taller and put on weight and muscle mass.
  • Girls will begin to have menstrual periods and will develop fuller breasts and wider hips as the teenage girl hormones do their work.
  • 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.

How Teen Hormones Affect Mood

Teen hormones affect teenagers’ moods, emotions, and impulses as well as their body. The mood swings that teens experience are caused by fluctuations in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone—the sex hormones. These same teen hormones will also affect the way they think about dating and sex. Teens become much more interested in sex, sometimes to the point of obsession, as teen hormones kick into gear. 

It’s hard to feel that your body and mind are being controlled by the forces of nature instead of being directed by your own decisions. Many adolescents feel that the changes they’re experiencing due to teenage hormones are weird, freakish, or unnatural. In fact, almost everything that teens go through during adolescence is a normal part of their development. Parents might find it hard to remember that, once upon a time, they experienced exactly the same feelings and drives as their teenage children do now. We’ve all been there!

Discovering Dating

 Teen hormones naturally increase teenagers’ interest in peers they’re attracted to. Consequently, some teens look forward to the time when they can start dating. However, others dread this adolescent ritual. Learning how to socialize with peers is an important part of growing up. In addition, peers are especially important to teens as they begin to search for stronger connections and relationships outside of the home.

If your teen is nervous about dating, encourage them to start by simply making friends with girls or boys they like. Furthermore, group dates are a great way for shy teens to get to know others without the pressures of one-on-one dating.

Newport Academy Empowering Teens Resources: Teenage Hormones and Sexuality

Dating Tips for Teens

  • 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. Find out about their 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 them 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.

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. In addition, spending time with others is a way to identify what you like and don’t like in other people—and in yourself.

Newport Academy Empowering Teens Resources: Teenage Hormones and Sexuality

Exploring Sexuality

With all those teen hormones raging through their bloodstream, it’s inevitable that teens will think about sex. It’s also likely that they’ll experiment with sex, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reports that in 2015, 30 percent of teenagers who were surveyed reported that they had had intercourse during the previous three months.

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 has declined significantly over the last 20 years, partly because more teens were using birth control, and partly because more teens were waiting longer to have sex.

Teenagers tend to assume that their friends are having sex, even if they’re not. Teens should never rush into intimacy because they’re afraid of being the only virgin in their class; there are probably a lot more abstinent teens in their peer group than they think.

Teens who feel comfortable talking openly to a parent or another adult about sex may be less likely to go through an unplanned pregnancy or contract an STD.  

“If you give your kids the sense that you’re open to anything they have to say, whether positive or not so much, they’re more likely to share what’s really going on in their lives.”

—Rachel Fortune, MD, National Medical Director for Newport Academy

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.

Newport Academy Empowering Teens Resources: Teenage Hormones and Sexuality

Stats about Teen Sexuality in America

  • 41% of teens have had sex.
  • Teen pregnancy has decreased by 50% over the last 20 years.
  • 21% of teens drank alcohol or used drugs before their last sexual intercourse.
  • 43% of teens did not use a condom the last time they had sex.
  • On average, teens have sex for the first time at age 17.
  • Teenagers account for nearly half of new STD cases.

Sources: The Guttmacher Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

The Risk of Sexual Violence for Teens

Teens who are just entering the world of dating and sexuality need to know that no one should ever force them to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable. That can range from peer pressure to dating violence. According to the CDC, teen dating violence is defined as physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking.

While teen dating violence is not the norm, it does represent a significant risk for teens. In a study of national youth risk behaviors, 10 percent of high school students reported physical victimization and 10 percent reported sexual victimization from a dating partner in the 12 months before they were surveyed.

There are several risk factors that make it more likely that your teen will experience dating violence or continue an unhealthy relationship. These include:

  • Thinking that it’s okay for a date to treat you badly
  • Feeling depressed and anxious
  • Suffering from trauma or PTSD, whether or not it’s related to a sexual incident
  • Using drugs or illegal substances
  • Engaging in sexual activity earlier than the norm
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Witnessing or experiencing violence at home.

It’s important for parents to be aware of how their teen’s dating and relationships are affecting their mental health. If your teen exhibits symptoms of anxiety and depression, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts, their relationship might be one source of the problems. While it’s sometimes hard for parents to judge the difference between being “nosy” and being protective, it’s always a good idea to ask gentle questions that can help your teen feel safe to share with you what’s going on.

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 might 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. This area, the prefrontal cortex, doesn’t become fully mature until the mid-20s. Meanwhile, the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls impulses and emotions, is still 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 them, teens might feel that the choices they make today are inconsequential. But in fact, starting to use 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 consequences or legal problems, such as:

  • Driving recklessly
  • Swimming in unsafe areas
  • Having unsafe sex
  • Fighting with peers
  • Suicide attempts.

Teen 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 create a much greater risk of making life-altering decisions. Help your teens realize that taking chances with their future just isn’t worth the risk. If they feel pressured by their peers or their own emotions to do things that they know are dangerous, it might help for them to talk with a parent, mental health professional, or addiction specialist about how they can get through this tough time safely.

Identity, Moods, and Emotions

Discovering who you are is one of the biggest challenges of adolescence. In the adolescent years, a teen’s identity may change from one month to the next. They have the opportunity to experiment with their personal values, style, beliefs, and sexuality. If they have healthy self-esteem and a strong support system, they can build their 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. Furthermore, they are 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 might be depressed. The emotional turmoil of adolescence can sometimes hide a serious mental health condition that must be treated promptly.

Newport Academy Empowering Teens Resources: Teenage Hormones and Sexuality

How to Help Your Growing Teen

As your teen matures and the effects of teenage hormones continue to create change, it’s vital for you to stay engaged and present in your child’s life. Here are a few ways you can do that.

  • Encourage your teen to try new things and take on new challenges.
  • Keep the lines of communication open by checking in frequently at times when it feels natural, such as riding in the car or at mealtimes.
  • Talk with your teen about the importance of staying true to themselves and their beliefs even in the face of peer pressure.
  • Let your teen know that if they’re not comfortable talking with you about sexuality or other issues, they can talk to another trusted adult, like a school counselor or a relative.
  • Even though your teen is increasingly independent, continue to provide discipline and boundaries where appropriate.
  • Find ways to spend time together, even if your teen is resistant at first. It’s worth it!

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 teen 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.

Image courtesy of Redd Angelo via Unsplash.