According to significant research, awareness about how peers can affect young adults’ sexual behaviours is important for parents, teachers and healthcare professionals who want to stimulate adolescents’ responsible and healthy sexual decision making.
“Adolescents who think that their peers engage in sex are more likely to engage in sex themselves. Peers’ approval of having sex, or peer pressure to have sex, also matter, but seem to matter less,” explained lead researcher Daphne van de Bongardt from the Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
For the study, researchers at the Utrecht University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute collaborated on a meta-analysis of research on adolescent sexual behaviour.
The meta-analysis reviewed 58 published and unpublished studies conducted in 15 countries. Together, the studies provided data on 69,638 adolescents with sample sizes ranging from 29 to 7,530.
The analysis found that adolescents tended to be more sexually active themselves if they perceived their peers as more sexually active, more approving of having sex, and exerting more pressure on them to be sexually active.
“How strongly adolescents’ sexual behaviours are related to sexual peer norms is similar for boys and girls,” Bongardt noticed.
However, the extent to which peers engage in sexual risk behaviour appears to be more strongly related to girls’ engagement in sexual risk behaviour than it is for boys, he stated.
Surprisingly, the analysis found that peer pressure had the smallest effect on sexual behaviour.
The meta-analysis was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.