Peer influence on Adolescent Sexuality

Posted by juliabennet on July 26th, 2012

A longitudinal study that interviewed adolescents during 7th grade, after 8th grade, and during 11th grade showed that both parents and peers influence adolescents’ involvement in problem behavior (Goldstein, Davis-Kean, and Eccles, 2005).  Both of these factors are important and should be addressed by New York psychologists. For all racial and gender groups studied, peers played a role in that adolescents who engaged in problem behavior were more likely to socialize with negative peers and those who socialized with negative peers were more likely to engage in problem behavior later.  These peer relations are important to address when conducing therapy in NYC.

As a New York psychologist, I am aware that research regarding peer influences often relies on self-report data from adolescents regarding their own behaviors and self-appraisals of the behaviors of peers (Brown, 2004).  This approach does not address the reality that adolescents tend to choose friends or romantic partners who are already similar to themselves.  This approach also does not address the tendency of adolescents to inflate the similarity between themselves and close friends or partners.  Finally, much research has found that relationships with parents moderate adolescents’ relationships with peers (Brown, 1990; Gauze Bukowski, Aquan-Assee, and Sippola, 1996).  Adolescents without close friends have been found to be more influenced by families than peers, while adolescents with lower familial cohesiveness have been found to be more influenced by peers than parents (Gauze et al., 1996).  This is important for your New York psychologist to understand.

While peers do have an effect on adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behaviors, research has shown that parent-child factors are often better predictors or are moderating factors, which is why parent-child relationships are important for your New York psychologist to address (Fasula and Miller, 2006; Maguen and Armistead, 2006; Treboux and Busch-Rossnagel, 1995).  In older adolescents, perceived parental sexual attitudes and parent-adolescent relationship quality served as protective factors above the possible risk factors of peers’ sexual attitudes and behaviors when predicting adolescent abstinence (Maguen and Armistead, 2006).  Interestingly, in younger adolescents, when peer influence is thought to be stronger, the only significant predictor of abstinence was perceived parental sexual attitudes.  In addition, adolescents’ communication with their mothers has shown to have a buffering effect on the negative effects of sexually active peers (Fasula and Miller, 2006; Treboux and Busch-Rossnagel, 1995).  Among adolescents who perceived a high percentage of their peers to be sexually active, those who reported that their mothers were responsive to communication about sex, were more likely to plan sexual delay (Fasula and Miller, 2006).  These studies show that, in spite of peer influences, factors such as parents’ attitudes about sex, amount of and responsiveness to communication with their adolescents about sex, and fostering a warm, positive parent-adolescent relationship are important factors in adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behaviors.  These important factors can be addressed during therapy in NYC with your adolescent.

In addition, some research has also begun to examine parent-adolescent relationship factors and adolescents’ personality characteristics with respect to problem behaviors.  Father- and mother-adolescent relationship factors such as warmth, perceived support, and quality of and openness to communication were found to play a mediating role between adolescent personality traits and externalizing problem behaviors (Manders et al., 2006).  Thus, focusing on parent-child relationships during therapy in NYC is not ignoring that peers or individual characteristics are influential in adolescents’ risky sexual behaviors, but instead is an effort to focus efforts where most therapeutic gains will be made.  Because the parent-child relationship is more easily addressed in therapy in NYC than peer influence and because research suggests that it is just as influential, if not more so, than peer influence and personality characteristics, it will remain the focus.  While neighborhood factors, peer relationships, exposure to media, and biological development cannot be as readily targeted by clinicians, family factors can be effectively addressed during therapy in NYC.

Written by Dr. Cortney Weissglass as part of Clinical Research Project submitted to the Faculty of the American School of Professional Psychology of Argosy University, Washington, DC Campus, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. Dissertation chair: Ann Womack, PhD and Member: Jennifer McEwan, PhD. August, 2010.

For a full list of references, contact Dr. Weissglass at

Dr. Weissglass plans to offer therapy in NYC to children and adolescents, as well as their families. In late 2012, Dr. Weissglass will be a licensed New York psychologist


Like it? Share it!


About the Author

Joined: April 12th, 2011
Articles Posted: 1,757

More by this author