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Adolescent Sexual Development

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D. Updated: Jul 8th 2020

This article has emphasized that adolescent development is an amazing and remarkable journey toward becoming an adult. Perhaps one of the most significant developmental milestones along this journey is adolescents' emerging sexuality. Although sexual development is discussed here as a separate area of development, in reality it represents a complex merger of youths' physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and moral development.

serious teen girlAs youth grow into adult bodies capable of sexual reproduction, their sexual interest is piqued just as they are becoming interested in forming adult-like, romantic relationships. This often spells a recipe for disaster in some parents' minds, but it needn't be. With thoughtful planning and education, parents' can assist their teens to celebrate and embrace their sexuality while making wise decisions along the way.

During adolescence, youth must make many decisions about their sexuality, and will come to learn a great deal about themselves including an understanding of their own sexual identity and sexual orientation. This article has previously discussed the developmental process of establishing a unique and personal identity. As part of that process, youth must also form a gender identity; i.e., whether they consider themselves to be masculine, feminine, or transgender. For most youth, their gender identity will correspond to their biological sex. But some youth will identify themselves as transgender, meaning their experienced gender identity does not match their biological sex.

Another aspect of sexual development is sexual orientation. Sexual orientation refers to patterns of attraction to others and includes physical, emotional, sexual, and romantic attraction. Like gender identity, adolescents' sexual orientation typically evolves throughout all three phases of adolescence. In this section we explore these many facets of adolescent sexuality. Our goal is simply to describe this process of development.


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