Many stereotypes exist about young people and sexuality – for instance, that they have many fleeting relationships that lack emotional commitment. Research on New Zealand youth indicates a somewhat different picture.
A national survey of 8,500 high-school students in 2012 found that 25% of males and 24% of females had experienced sexual intercourse. 18.5% indicated they were currently sexually active.
In 2012 almost 50% of New Zealand high-school students aged 17 or older had had sexual intercourse. The average age of first sexual experience for New Zealanders was similar to that in the United States, Australia and Germany but higher than Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Young people are often seen as having ‘short and sweet’ relationships. However, a study of 17–19-year-olds in the early 2000s found that most of those in relationships had been together for 6–12 months. Almost a third indicated that their longest relationship had lasted between one and five years. These findings suggest that young people’s relationships are not always brief. Couples spoke about the emotional bond with their partners and how sex was just a component of their relationship.
Love and lust
It is sometimes assumed that young men just want sex while young women want love. However, research has shown that young men also value the emotional side of sexual relationships. Chris (19) spoke about how sex with his girlfriend was different from one-night stands because it involved ‘more emotion’ and ‘real caring’. He said that ‘sex for sex sake isn’t worthwhile’. Ashby (17) commented that casual sex was ‘more about lust’, while sex with his girlfriend was more intimate and he felt more comfortable.1
Gender and sexuality
Young men are often seen as being emotionally uninvolved in sexual relationships, and only interested in sexual activity. While this is true in some cases, many young men do not see sex as the most important element in relationships and say that they want friendship and love as well as sex.
Young women are often thought to be more interested in the emotional elements of a relationship rather than sexual activity. However, in the 21st century some young women were expressing their sexuality in more traditionally masculine ways. They initiated relationships purely for sexual pleasure and expected male partners to please them.
For some young people their sexuality does not conform to expected heterosexual models. They are attracted to people of the same sex, or sometimes both males and females. Most high-school students who are attracted to the same sex or both sexes have not talked to other people about their sexual orientation.
A 2012 survey found that 58% of sexually active teenagers used some form of contraception all of the time to prevent pregnancy, and 46% used condoms to avoid sexually transmitted infections all of the time. Of those who were sexually active, 17% did not regularly use condoms or other contraception.
Some teenagers become parents. While sometimes this is unplanned, in other instances it is an active choice. The teenage birth rate has dropped considerably since the 1970s. It peaked at 69 per 1,000 in 1972 and was 19 per 1,000 in 2014 – still high internationally.
Resisting the double standard
Women are increasingly rejecting different sexual standards for women and men. Melissa, who was interviewed about casual sex, said, ‘Guys can have sex with however many [people] they want and … they’re perceived to be a stud or … a great chick magnet or whatever, whereas girls can’t do the same, they get labelled as like a slut … I think it’s very wrong.’ 2
At one time teen mothers had to leave school, but in the 21st century they are encouraged to continue their education, complete qualifications and find employment. Little information is available about teenage fathers because mothers are not required to name or provide details about their baby’s father. Some teenage mothers do not want to name their child’s father, especially if the pregnancy is the outcome of rape or incest.
While teenage fathers are assumed to be less likely to be involved in the care of their children than teenage mothers, research suggests that fatherhood sometimes turns fun-loving adolescents into responsible fathers who enjoy being involved in the lives of their children.