We all engage in risky or unwise behaviors at some point in our lives that we know deep down are not rational. According to psychologists, people engage in dangerous practices to be able to forget about their life problems, as they can be exciting and temporarily rewarding. However, engaging in unsafe sex comes with more severe side effects that include contracting HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases. This is mainly common among adolescents and young adults.
In North America, many older adolescents are sexually active but do not take any precautions to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy. Most adolescents are more likely to get involved in risky sex due to personal invulnerability perceptions as well as their tendency to only consider the immediate effects of their actions rather than the long-term effects. Moreover, mentally ill adolescents may be at a higher risk of engaging in risky sex.
Understanding Risky Sexual Behavior in Adolescents
Understanding cognitive and interpersonal factors that prominently feature in perceptions of adolescents about themselves can significantly help in promoting safer sexual practices or even abstinence. However, other cognitive exercises are acquired during development that brings implications in the children’s ability to understand the consequences of their behavior and envision their future. These cognitive capacities are developed before the children get into the adolescence stage.
However, in most cases, adolescents make risky choices that imply that they might not be considering the consequences or their long-term interests. It is also important to understand that several cognitive biases affect adolescents the same way they do to adults. Besides, different studies have shown that there is no difference in the degree which the adults and adolescents perceive risk for adverse outcomes such as contracting STDs or unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, both men and adolescents view themselves as less vulnerable to unintended pregnancy and STDs as compared to other people around them.
According to some studies, people, usually make wrong judgments at one point in their lives by thinking that they are at lower risk for adverse events than other people around them do. For example, a study by Burger and Burns revealed that sexually active women considered themselves as less vulnerable to unintended pregnancy than others. Studies further revealed that most of the women with this illusion of invulnerability were less likely to use effective birth control methods. Besides, underestimating personal risks is a tendency that seems to resist change.
The cognitive bias (also known as unrealistic optimism) exists from early adolescence to adulthood. However, this bias is more prevalent in adolescents than adults are which explains why more young adults engage in risky behaviors. This is despite the adolescents knowing the consequences of such practices, which could be potentially devastating.
Therefore, it wrong to assume that people engage in risky sexual behavior because they are not aware that such acts are dangerous. There are also many educational campaigns by public health professionals and healthcare, which means that even adolescents are more aware of the dangers of risky sex than in the past. However, despite these efforts, the levels of people engaging in risky sexual behaviors, especially for adolescents is higher today. The high cases of people participating in unsafe sex behaviors could be a sign of deficits in personal vulnerability perceptions. This means that these adolescents might not consider unprotected sexual activities dangerous to them though they may feel it hazardous in general. The same case applies to adults as they underestimate their own risk for severe effects.
Moreover, adolescents have a developing brain, which means that they also have a limited capacity to understand the relationship between their current behaviors and the following effects. Others may merely not attach great value to the long-term impact of such risky behaviors. This explains why adolescents and young adults are more likely to engage in risky behavior despite having enough knowledge about the dangers of such actions.
If you apply this reasoning on condom usage, it’s likely that adolescents do not entirely mind the harmful long-term effects of risky sexual activities. This is like when making decisions about sexual behavior such as whether to use a condom or not. Instead, adolescents and young adults may be strongly influenced by the immediate positive effects that they anticipate when engaging in risky sexual behaviors like spontaneity feeling and improved physical sensations. This means that the immediate emotions of engaging in risky behaviors may shortly overcome their fear for the long-term effects of doing so. Therefore, the tendency of people to focus on the immediate impact of their actions may be the cause of risky sexual behaviors.
The other major factor that leads to high cases of risky sex among adolescents is influential peers. Studies have shown that normative influences of peers significantly influence adolescent sexual behavior, especially when for those who are firmly attached to a given group. Moreover, parents also determine whether adolescents are likely to engage in such risky practices. For instance, a survey has shown that adolescents whose parents apply a more authoritative parenting style are less likely to adopt a risk-taking habit as compared to parents who are over-controlling or neglectful ones.
Finally, different experts have described adolescence as a time when a person develops his or her identity. This makes a period when a person is faced with the task of developing his or her personality that is different from their parents. Therefore, this might cause some sort of issues that might act as a recipe for sexual activity.
Overall, recent studies have shown that many people engage in risky sex despite the fact that there is enough knowledge about the dangers of such actions. However, psychologists are working on developing and applying more behavioral interventions and prevention plans to help young people talk about risky sex and its risks. Good parenting is also an efficient way to enable adolescents and young adults to avoid engaging in risk-taking actions. This is because it helps them to undergo the developmental stage where they are supposed to build their personal identity.