That’s What Friends Are For
Originally Published: September 6, 2016
Revised: November 3, 2016
Photo by William Perugini/Shutterstock
It’s great to have the support and guidance that comes with friendship. I know firsthand that these bonds can help shape your understanding of the world. Yet, while my friends have always been great companions, I, like many others, have also had to deal with peer pressure and a push to compete at times when it comes to sexual experimentation. This competition among friends can end badly, but luckily not everyone deals with this. I was curious to know more, so I asked several teens how they feel they have or haven’t been influenced by their friends when it comes to sex, both in terms of how they think and feel about sex and sexual behavior.
While I was able to evade an awkward “talk” with my parents, I also learned over time that any misconceptions I had about sex were also from these talks with friends!
Pros and Cons
I’ve come to realize that friendships can influence how a person thinks about sex and even change sexual behavior sometimes. Some individuals (myself included), learned almost everything they know about sex through conversations with friends. In my case, I feel like being able to talk about sex has kept me and my friends close. While I was able to evade an awkward “talk” with my parents, I also learned over time that any misconceptions I had about sex were also from these talks with friends! I realized that friends may not always be the best or most accurate source about topics like sex. Luckily, I’m fortunate to live in a school district where the sexuality education is pretty comprehensive. It’s always a good idea to talk with a trusted adult or use a source like Sexetc.org to ensure that the information you hear is accurate.
On the other hand, Jonathon, 19, of Scotch Plains, NJ, says, “Friendships can be a great way to learn more about healthy sex from a friend with a lot of experience. Friends are rarely experts, but it is good to be able to talk about it with people you spend a lot of time with and trust on a deep level.”
A good way to grow and enhance your understanding of sex is to surround yourself with people you trust and can confide in. Having friends who are supportive can also allow you the time and space you may need to figure out what’s right for you.
As Matthew, 19, also of Scotch Plains, NJ, says, “I think that, as with many important topics, my friends’ opinions and thoughts help shape and grow my own through discussions; while my opinions are still my own at the end of the day, they are enriched by my friends.”
I generally agree. I believe that I first have my own viewpoint about a specific topic, and that is then further shaped through discussions with friends. Unfortunately, while these conversations can help to build friendships, sometimes there is still competition among friends to see who can “go the furthest” sexually.
When the Pressure’s On
When questions like “Who has done the most sexually?” arise in a group of friends, it can lead to problems. In some cases, people feel driven into uncomfortable situations just to feel like they fit in.
Samantha*, 19, of New Brunswick, NJ, describes the competition she witnessed amongst her friends as “utter craziness” because “sex and sexual experimentation was the only thing that was ever the center of conversation in high school.” Samantha thinks her friends failed to value themselves and their bodies, which often led them to see who could go the furthest sexually. Looking back, she recognizes that this pushed her to be more sexually active at times than she wanted to be.
“When I think about it now, I wish I hadn’t rushed into anything and actually waited to be in a strong and healthy relationship with someone I trusted,” Samantha explains.
Her experience shows how peer pressure can push people to do things they may not always feel comfortable with.
Similarly, Adam, 18, of Woodbridge, NJ, says, “In high school there used to be competition to go the furthest. My friends would brag about who they got with, how many people they are talking to or how good it felt to hook up with someone.”
At times, guys and girls may feel pressure in different ways. Sophie, 15, of Houston, TX, says, “Among my guy friends, there is a lot more overt competition to ‘go the furthest’ than between my girlfriends, although it definitely exists between them, too. Girls seem to judge each other’s levels of sexual experience much less than the guys….”
Things can change over time, however. Although Adam and his friends competed to see who could “go the furthest” in high school, he says that now, after high school, things are different.
“I don’t feel shame in having sexual experiences,” he explains. “As a young adult male, I have the right to experiment with sex. For me it’s fun, and I enjoy these activities with someone who respects me and is faithful to our relationship.”
Adam admits that he couldn’t quite be himself in high school and that he’s only recently felt freer to experiment sexually. No one should feel as if they have to rush into something they’re not comfortable with in order to “keep up” with their peers, and it’s a shame that people often do feel this tension.
A Little Help From My Friends
While competition certainly exists at times among friends, it’s not always the case. For instance, Michael, 19, of Greenville, NC, says, “My friends don’t make fun of me for not having sex. They don’t really talk about it much. When I say I’m a virgin, they say ‘Really? Oh, OK.’ In the end, the influence is mainly positive. They respect my decision.”
No one should ever have to feel embarrassed about a lack of experience or a choice not to have sex, and it’s important to surround yourself with friends who will accept you and your decisions.
“I have no trouble sticking to my own beliefs about sex and sexuality, but I am open to hearing other opinions,” says Jonathon. “I normally will not confront someone if they have an opinion that differs greatly from mine, as a lot of people have very strong convictions on the subject that are rooted in their families or religions.”
It’s important to remember that everyone moves at his or her own speed and makes decisions about sex for any number of reasons. Ultimately, the nature of friendships should be based on openness and an ability to hear other opinions while still staying true to your beliefs as much as you can and not feeling judged. In the end, no one should ever feel rushed into something he or she isn’t completely comfortable with in order to “keep up” with other people. While some people may feel pressured to jump into things they aren’t ready for, I was inspired to hear that there are lots of teens out there who are able to follow their instincts, be true to themselves and feel accepted for that.
*This is a pseudonym.
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