Typical and healthy sexual behaviour at 15-17 years
Sexual development starts from birth and continues through childhood and adolescence.
Sexual behaviour varies depending on teenagers’ development, social relationships, cultural background, and personal and family experiences.
There’s a wide range of typical, healthy and developmentally appropriate sexual behaviour in teenagers aged 15-17 years. It might include:
- experimenting sexually with themselves and other people
- using erotic material like sex toys
- engaging in sexual activity with partners
- masturbating in private for sexual pleasure
- having intimate relationships, showing sexual affection, and having oral, vaginal or anal sex
- exploring sexual interests through watching pornographic content
- sending and receiving sexually explicit text messages and photos.
Your child might behave in these ways because it feels good. They might also do it because they:
- enjoy sexual affection and reciprocal sexual experiences
- are working out social and sexual relationships
- are experiencing puberty
- are exploring their identity.
If you talk openly about sex and sexuality with your child, it sends the message that your child can come to you for honest and reliable information. These conversations can help your child make positive, safe and informed choices, now and in the future.
Responding to typical and healthy sexual behaviour in teenagers aged 15-17 years
If your child is in an intimate relationship, this can be an opportunity to support your child’s healthy sexual development. The key is listening, talking and answering questions openly, honestly and non-judgmentally.
It’s also good to talk with your child about appropriate behaviour in sexual relationships. For example, you could talk about how ‘yes’ to one sexual activity doesn’t mean an automatic ‘yes’ to another and your child needs to keep checking when they’re being intimate with someone.
If you want your child to stop a sexual behaviour or relationship, start by explaining your concerns and expectations for safe behaviour. For example, if your child is looking at pornography for sexual arousal, you could talk about how often and what sort of pornography they’re looking at. You can tell your child that it’s OK to be interested in sex but that using pornography regularly can get in the way of positive relationships.
Harmful sexual behaviour in teenagers aged 15-17 years
Sometimes sexual behaviour in teenagers aged 15-17 years isn’t what’s expected for their developmental stage or isn’t socially or culturally appropriate.
And sometimes sexual behaviour in teenagers at this age is dangerous or harmful to themselves or others. Harmful sexual behaviour can range from concerning to serious and extreme.
Harmful sexual behaviour in children aged 15-17 years might include masturbating:
- compulsively and so much that it interferes with other activities
- in ways that injure their genitals
- in public.
It might also include:
- having unprotected vaginal or anal sex or engaging in sexual behaviour while drunk
- having sex or engaging in other sexual acts to be popular or in exchange for things like money or alcohol
- engaging in dangerous or life-threatening sexual behaviour, like choking
- engaging younger or more vulnerable children in sexual activity
- bribing, manipulating, blackmailing or coercing others to engage in sexual behaviour like oral sex or penetration with objects
- using sexually explicit language to intimidate others
- watching pornography so much that it interferes with other activities or watching violent, sexual aggressive or illegal pornography
- compulsively taking and sharing photos or videos of sexual acts involving themselves or others.
Teenagers aged 15-17 years might behave in sexually harmful ways for many reasons. For example, it might happen because they:
- have been exposed to pornography or adult sexual activity and are re-enacting what they’ve seen
- are experiencing child sexual abuse or other forms of child abuse
- find it hard to manage their emotions.
Teenagers who have learning difficulties and disorders or difficulties with impulse control, social skills or rules can also be more vulnerable to engaging in harmful sexual behaviour.
At this age, if your child is engaging in harmful sexual behaviour with a younger child, it could be considered a criminal offence.
Getting help for harmful sexual behaviour
If you’ve noticed your child engaging in harmful sexual behaviour or you’re worried that they are, it’s a good idea to seek support and professional help.
A GP is a good place to start. The GP can refer you to an experienced health professional who can help you understand what’s happening and how you can help your child.
Harmful sexual behaviour in children can be distressing. You can get support by contacting helplines and specialist services.