Frequently Asked Questions - Youth and Sexual Behaviour
Frequently Asked Questions - Youth
What is normal adolescent sexual behaviour?
The following behaviours are normal for young people aged 13- 17 years:
Sexually explicit conversations with peers
Obscenities and jokes within the cultural norm
Sexual innuendo and flirting
Kissing, hugging, holding hands
Foreplay with mutual informed consent with peer aged partner
Older teens engaging in sexual intercourse plus full range sexual activity (informed consent with peer aged partner)
Young people will require guidance and advice from caring and supportive adults to manage their sexual behaviour within safe limits.
Having good communication with your teenager is vital during these years. We encourage parents and caregivers to maintain the connection with their teen in the face of adversity- this is what will get you through the teenage years.
Without that connection and communication, a parent's ability to influence their teen is greatly diminished.
What harmful abusive sexual behaviours might adolescents engage in?
Sexually harmful/abusive behaviours that are very concerning include:
Compulsive masturbation (especially in public)
Degradation or humiliation of self or other using sexual themes
Obscene phone calls
Sexually explicit threats
Genital touching of others without consent
Heavy use of pornography or downloading offensive and explicit images
Sexual contact with animals
Sexual contact with younger children
More intrusive acts such as oral sex and penetration without consent or with someone who cannot give consent
How should adults respond to these behaviours in teenagers?
Teenagers need clear rules and boundaries around behaviours, including sexual behaviours. Any harmful/ abusive sexual behaviour by a teenager should be taken seriously and responded to as soon as possible.
Keep calm (no matter how you feel on the inside).
Ensure safety for all concerned. If a child has been harmed, attend to them first. Ensure that they are safe and with someone they can trust.
Explain calmly to the teenager that their behaviour is unacceptable. Describe the behaviour in words making it clear what behaviour you are talking about. "I overheard you talking about something sexual to Susan in a threatening manner. I heard you say......." Talking in that manner is totally unacceptable.
Explain to the teenager using emotional language, how the behaviour impacts on others. "When you talk in that way it scares people. I'm guessing that Susan was scared and upset and it upset me to hear you say that".
Explain consequences to the teenager. "If you threaten girls in that manner you will not be popular. Susan may decide to complain to the Police, or her parents may go to the Police. You can end up in serious trouble".
Make it clear to the teenager that the behaviour must stop. "This behaviour MUST stop". Do not get into a debate about it.
Depending on the situation, you may be able to assist the teenager to make amends to the person harmed.
Depending on the situation, you may need to monitor your teenager for a time.
If the teenager does not respond to being corrected, or they develop a pattern of harmful sexual behaviour, you may wish to consult with WellStop staff. We are happy to discuss your concerns and offer suggestions and advice.
What influences young people's sexual behaviour?
There are a number of factors that influence a young person's sexual behaviour, including biological factors, the onset of puberty and hormonal changes, family culture, peer group and emotional maturity to name a few.
There have been many changes over the past 20 years in mainstream Western attitudes towards sex. As a result young people are increasingly being exposed to sexual themes in their home, amongst their peers and in the media.
This is different to the environments that many parents and care-givers grew up in. Explicit videos and Internet pornography pose new challenges, creating a generation of young people who are 'over stimulated' by these media.
If left without appropriate adult supervision, guidance and support, young people may start acting these behaviours out.
What language do we use when talking about young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviours?
We encourage the use of language that describes behaviour, rather than labels the young person. The following terms are appropriate:
Young people who have sexually harmed
Young people who have engaged in harmful sexual behaviour
Young people who have sexually abused
Sexually abusive behaviour
Sexually harmful behaviour
We may use the term sexual offending if the young person has been charged with a sexual offence and is in the Court / Youth Justice System
We avoid labelling young people as sex offenders. We know that young people who sexually abuse are different to adult sexual offenders. In fact, adolescents who sexually abuse tend to have more in common with adolescents who commit other crimes than they do with adult sex offenders.
What happens during a WellStop assessment?
When a young person is first referred to us we do a comprehensive assessment. This includes:
Talking to the young person
Talking to their family
Talking to other significant parties (such as referring agency)
Questionnaires and self-report measures
The purpose of assessment is to ascertain whether the young person has a problem with sexually harmful behaviour, and if so, the level of intervention required to address the problem.
We work together with the family to make decisions about the best treatment for the young person.
What happens during treatment?
Therapy is tailored to meet the needs of the young person and their family.
The earlier the young person and their family can get treatment the easier it is for them to change their behaviour. This reduces the harm caused if problems are left and get worse over time.
Effective treatment relies on the young person and their family attending regular sessions.
Individualised treatment programmes may include a combination of the following:
Social work support
Collaboration with other agencies involved with the young person (e.g. Mental Health Services)
Depending on the level of risk, and the needs of the young person and their family treatment ranges from:
Brief intervention (3-6 months)
6-12 months (For those at medium risk )
Intensive treatment over 12 months or more (eg high risk youth or youth with learning disabilities).
Regular review meetings are held every three months with family and others who are involved.
Does treatment work?
What we know is that only 5 -15% of teenagers who sexually harm, continue to do so as adults. However, many continue to sexually harm as adolescents, causing considerable harm to others
A NZ study by Fortune & Lambie (2007) found that adolescents who sexually abused and who completed a specialised treatment programme at WellStop, Auckland SAFE or Christchurch STOP Trust had a 2% recidivism rate compared to those who did not complete treatment (10%)
These outcomes are very promising and are among the best in the world.