This is part 3 in a 3-part series on the influence peers have on adolescent decision making. The first part presented the issue, the second part argued for an appropriate course of action to mediate peer influences, and today is about whether peer-influenced early sexual behaviors matter in the long run.

Today’s discussion is based on a comment left on Tuesday by Dorian:

You don’t talk of the outcome of these patterns of behavior for these girls. I am left wondering, not how to respond to them, but are they now adults? Do they have healthy sex lives now? Is the difference in their sexual beginnings SUCH a big deal after all? I’m beginning to think that perhaps parents and adults in general make way too much out of it all – it is a decision, one decision, and yes, it does impact our lives, but perhaps only as one factor in a broad spectrum. What do you think?

Here is my short answer: It depends.

Here is my long answer: Early sexual decisions do have an impact. However, the long-term impact is probably smaller than most parents fear and perhaps larger than most teenagers expect. The teenagers I described in my first post are indeed now young adults.

Cassie had a series of sexual partners in her adolescent years, somewhere around 5 or 6. She eventually stayed with one young man for about 6 years. During all that time she never had an orgasm, and none of the men she was with paid her much attention sexually. She was not even fully aware that she had not orgasmed. In her mid-20’s Cassie got together with a very sensual young man with whom she really discovered herself sexually. She feels she has finally come to balance sexually.

Susan had a good sexual relationship with her first lover, and has had good relationships with her two other lovers since then. She does not feel she was ever sexually off-balance.

So from very different adolescent sexual choices, these young women have essentially found themselves in similar places in their 20’s.

There were a series of sexual choices here, though, not just the one. Cassie made the decision to have sexual intercourse with a series of men who did not have her interests in mind, sexually or otherwise. It took a lot of courage and strength for her to change that pattern. Susan made basically good decisions starting from her first sexual intercourse.

So while the ways in which teenagers loose their virginity may not in and of themselves be such a big deal, they can be indicative of the type of sexual choices that individual is inclined to make over the years, and those choices over the years certainly are a big deal in terms of sexual development and health.