Are teens using sexual compulsive behaviors as a coping style for negative emotions?
Research suggests that most problematic sexual behaviors including sexual addiction and sexual offending first manifest during the adolescent years. However, most individuals struggling with sexual behavior problems don’t seek treatment until later in life when the problems have resulted in significant life disruption such as an arrest for a sexual offense or a failed marital relationship.
Why do these sexual problematic behaviors first occur during the teen years?
A sometimes overlooked aspect of sexual maladaptive behavior is the possibility that some teens actually use sexually related activities as a coping strategy to alleviate negative emotional states rather than developing healthy coping skills. In emotionally ill-equipped teens, compulsive sexual behavior including use of pornography and masturbation and sexual offending behaviors are used and then reinforced over time to cope with negative emotional states.
If the adolescent years of sexual offenders is marked by difficulties in appropriate peer and romantic relationships, there could be disruptions in the emergence of sexuality that takes place during that time. Marshall (1989, 1993) suggested that these teens may turn to impersonal and non-affectionate sexual themes (both in fantasy and reality) to fulfil their need for intimacy without the fear of rejection. They might also display a heightened preoccupation with sexual fantasy and masturbation in general, rather than approaching a peer-aged partner because of their fear of rejection.
These conclusions may link sexual activity to intimacy deficits. Behaviors such as sexual fantasies and masturbation make the adolescent feel better (e.g., an absence of rejection, feelings of control over events, and sexual satisfaction), and these behaviors can be quickly adopted as a way to manage feelings of distress generated by any cause. This leads the sexual acting out as an entrenched and powerfully reinforced coping strategy for teens who are ill-equipped to secure affectionate relationships.
So what does this mean?
We see there are two important conclusions that can be drawn from these theories and the accompanying research:
- Teen struggling with sexual behavior problems may be using sexual acting out with pornography, masturbation or sexual offending as a coping strategy for dealing with negative emotions in their life. This suggests that emotional mismanagement is the core issue and not deviant sexuality or interest.
- The approach for disrupting these problematic sexual behaviors is assisting the teen in developing healthy coping skills that don’t involve a sexual experience. For the escape from the emotional discomfort.
Our approach to treating teen sexual behavior problems revolves around these two important conclusions. Contact us today to learn more about our programming, counseling and therapy interventions for teen sexual issues.