Adolescent sexuality and sexual behavior

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Purpose of reviewAdolescence is a time of self-discovery and physical, as well as cognitive, development. It is within this context that adolescent sexual development and sexual behavior occur. While curiosity and experimentation are normal, sexual behaviors, both coital and non-coital, place adolescents at risk for undesired consequences including sexually transmitted disease acquisition and pregnancy. Trends in adolescent sexual behavior are changing, and health care professionals must be aware of these trends to provide necessary medical care and education to this population.Recent findingsWhile the sexual activity of teenagers garners much attention, attention must also be directed at non-coital activities such as masturbation, mutual masturbation and oral sex, as the riskier of these behaviors appear to be increasing. The trends in sexual activity and contraceptive use are encouraging with a decrease in the proportion of adolescents reporting sexual activity, and an increase in the proportion reporting using contraception. These trends, however, are not shared equally among racial groups with the greatest decline reported in the in lowest risk groups. Sexual minority youth continue to report a higher prevalence of high-risk behaviors, both sexual and non-sexual, as compared to their heterosexual peers.SummaryThese findings highlight the multiple roles health care professionals can play in caring for this unique population: firstly as health care providers, offering age appropriate, confidential health care; secondly, as reproductive health care educators providing factual, balanced, and realistic information to both teenagers and the community; and thirdly, as advocates lobbying for greater education and services for this at-risk population.

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