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Adolescent sexuality is a stage of human development in which adolescents experience and explore sexual feelings. Sexual activity in general is associated with various risks. The risks are higher for young adolescents because their brains are not neurally mature. Several brain regions in the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex and in the hypothalamus that are deemed important for self-control, delayed gratification, risk analysis, and appreciation are not fully mature.
The brain is not fully mature until age 25. The sexual maturation process produces sexual interest and stimulates thought processes. Subsequent sexual behavior starts with the secretion of hormones from the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary gland. These hormones target the sexual organs and begin their maturation. One study from 1996 documented the interviews of a sample of junior high school students in the United States. The girls were less likely to state that they ever had sex than adolescent boys.
Among boys and girls who had experienced sexual intercourse, the proportion of girls and boys who had recently had sex and were regularly sexually active was the same. A later study questioned the attitudes of adolescents. When asked about abstinence, many girls reported they felt conflicted. They were trying to balance maintaining a good reputation with trying to maintain a romantic relationship and wanting to behave in adult-like ways. Boys viewed having sex as social capital. Many boys believed that their male peers who were abstinent would not as easily climb the social ladder as sexually active boys.
In 2002, a survey was conducted in European nations about the sexual behavior of teenagers. In a sample of fifteen year olds from 24 countries, most participants self-reported that they had not experienced sexual intercourse. In the United States, federally mandated programs started in 1980 and promoted adolescent abstinence from sexual intercourse, which resulted in teens turning to oral sex, which about a third of teens considered a form of abstinence in a study. Until their first act of sexual intercourse, adolescents generally see virginity in one of the following ways: as a gift, a stigma, or a normal step in development. Girls typically think of virginity as a gift, while boys think of virginity as a stigma.