The myriad of influences and prerogatives in a teenager’s life often drive them to a sheltered existence or an exposed existence; and both can impact a teenager for better or worse. The two main stakeholders in regards to the teenager and their upbringing include the teenager’s parents and the teenager’s friends, as shown by the literature. In sociology, there are also two major concepts that will be explored and used as a lens through which to analyse data: sex panics and sexual double standards.
These two contrasting phenomena as observed in teenagers especially point to different characteristics that emerge later in life and form behaviours that are apparent at an early stage. Elliott (2010) says that sex panics usually are seen in parents who display behaviour that is either in favour of or against their teenagers in matters dealing with sexual topics. This often has either a positive or negative effect on both the teenager and the parents, depending on the context of the situation and the factors involved in the relationship, whether strained or strengthened, which is also supported by others in the literature.
Conversely, the sexual double standards focus more on the friction between teenagers themselves. This is due, according to Fasula (2008) the reality that males seem to have more freedom and power than females, especially in regards to their active engagement with members of the opposite gender. Although this can be seen as a social norm, it can be misconstrued by females in particular as a bias in relationship preferences, as evidenced by others. These two concepts, sex panic and sexual double standards, will be examined in depth in this paper.
Parents begin to panic about teens’ having sex, especially when teenagers are most vulnerable to influences around them. This includes peer pressure from friends and also pressure to perform by their parents. When the issue of sex is mentioned to a teenager, different behaviours often emerge according to their stance on the matter, although it may change depending on who is involved in the discussion; whether teenage friends or adult parents. For example, Renold (2008) argues that this loss of innocence on the part of the teenagers, in relation to sexual matters reflects the increasing changes amongst people in this age category that no longer feel comfortable discussing such issues with their parents. This loss of innocence is also a sign of the maturing phase in teenagers, especially in regards to puberty and other such growth stages in life.
According to both Elliott (2010) and Kimmel (2006), this innocence has been taken away from teenagers, often by the very same stakeholders that induce the sex panic within the teenager. This is often caused due to sheltering nature of the parents from sexual matters, in order that the teenager may not be persuaded to engage in sexual experimentation. In addition, fellow teenagers may convince or even demand that the teenager engage or embrace sexual activity in order to be accepted. These two opposing forces often lead to sex panic.
On the other hand, sexual double standards may cause disagreement between the two genders for many reasons, in terms of males allowed to engage in more sexual activity than women, while women engaging in the same nature may be judged as immoral. As shown by the literature, these double standards are formed by the parents of the male or female teenager. Fasula (2008) also shows evidence that most of these double standards tend to exist from high school until university.
Although these sexual double standards often favour males over females, they have adverse impacts on the behaviours and character of both genders. Much of the stereotypical behaviour is caused by these double standards, and often cannot be reversed once imposed by the parents of the teenager. This can lead to further complications in the teenager’s adult life if double standards continue. For instance, Fausto-Sterling (2007) adds to this discussion by showing that these complications can lead to increasing complexity, in relation to the sexual double standards. Such increasing complexity in a teenager’s early life can cause unneeded stress and anxiety in relation to sexual preferences that may affect their mental and physical wellbeing. Martin (2009) similarly argues that such parental control may not have a positive effect on children, or teenagers, for that matter.
Therefore, it is critical that the right balance of control and discernment is used by parents when dealing with sexual topics at such a time when teenagers are vulnerable and exposed to competing influences, including their peers. In terms of sex panic and sexual double standards, parents need to be aware of what is impacting their teenagers and how to carefully avoid them, in regards to the former concept; and teenagers need to relate to both genders on a level playing field without blurring the lines of relationships and gender bias.
My own data collection and analysis supports finding in the literature concerning these two major concepts. In particular, I argue that the findings from the primary research show that parental and peer influences, respectively, shape a teenager’s viewpoint and character from an early age that has repercussions later in life, in terms of sex panic and sexual double standards.
According to AG (age 23, Puerto Rican), there was only a small amount of parental influence in regards to sexual matters, and this led to strained relationships later in life, especially in early adulthood. AG expressed this when mentioning that there was a time in his life when he and his mother talked about these matters for “a few minutes…and after that we never spoke of it again.” This shows that sex panic showed through in an adverse way, in which lack of adequate parental control led to insignificant relationships later on. Furthermore, this is reflected by AG’s self-reliance and insufficient parental support when he mentioned that “I didn’t have a mom and dad like everybody else…I didn’t really have a dad right there.”
Contrastingly, the sexual double standards as shown in my conversation with SP (age 26, Puerto Rican) are quite clearly defined, as shown by her father’s restrictive influence regarding male relationships: “My dad was…strict about boys…my dad was really upset, he didn’t want any guys in the house…every time we’d leave the house he thought we were up to no good”. She explained that this reflected on her own character, as her trust in her father and mother became severely undermined as time progressed, family relationships were torn apart, and her relationships with male persons diminished rapidly as a result. This is shown during the interview, when SP said “I’m sick of men”.
SP, showed that sexual double standards affected her more negatively than positively, leading to distrust and broken relationships. AG showed that his mother’s dislike of sexual activity ultimately led to his spurning of her advice and engaging in such activity with two different women at the same time. In terms of what shaped each teenager during their early lives, the former subject was most influenced by his mother, as she was shown to discuss sexual issues with him; however, the latter subject was most influenced by her father, however in a more negative context in regards to male relationships, as shown by her comment above.
In summary, teenagers are seen to be negatively impacted a majority of the time by the two major concepts of sex panic and sexual double standards. However, the main contrast between the two consists of the controlling parental nature in the former case, due to the lack of positive influence, and the distrust of male influence of the latter, which led to the wrong relationships. Each of these factors are seen to negatively influence the teenager in their respective ways; and it is shown that parental discipline coupled with understanding; as well as right relationships between supportive peers leads to the correct moulding and shaping of a growing teenager’s lifestyle.
Elliott, Sinikka. 2010. “Parents’ Constructions of Teen Sexuality: Sex Panics, Contradictory Discourses, and Social Inequality.” Symbolic Interaction 33 (2): 191-212.
Renold, Emma. 2006. “They Won’t Let us Play…Unless You’re Going Out with One of Them: Girls, Boys and Butler’s Heterosexual Matrix in the Primary Years.” British Journal of Sociology and Education 27 (4): 489-509.
Kimmel, Michael. “A War Against Boys?” Dissent 70 (6): 65-71.
Fasula, Amy., Miller, Kim., and Weiner, Jeffrey. “The Sexual Double Standard in African American Adolescent Women’s Sexual Risk Reduction Socialization.” Women and Health 46 (2): 3-21.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Frameworks of Desire.” Daedalus 136 (2): 47-57.
Martin, Karin. “Normalizing Heterosexuality: Mothers’ Assumptions, Talk, and Strategies with Young Children.” American Sociological Review 74 (1): 190-207.