Teen Self-Esteem and Risky Sexual Behavior

A Fact Sheet for Parents

Teens and Risky Sex
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Why Is Risky Sex a Problem for Teens?

More often than not, teens do not have the needed maturity to deal with the risks and responsibilties associated with sex.  And, when they turn to risky sexual behavior to cope with their feelings of depression and inadequacy, it can create many life-altering situations for them, such as pregnancy, abortion, sexually-transmitted disease and parenthood.

Why Do Teens Engage in Risky Sex?

Broken down to a very simple level, these conditions all stem from depression and low self-esteem. These teens feel badly about themselves and desperately need love and approval. The intimate feelings of sex feel like expressions of love. Teenage girls may also seek to fill emptiness in their lives by intentionally getting pregnant so that they may have a child to love.

Who's at Risk?

All human beings are sexual unless there is some psychological or physical problem that prevents it. If your child has reached the age of puberty, it's time to begin considering them as sexual beings. Kids who have a strong sense of themselves and self-respect will not be immune from sexual urges, but they will handle them in more mature ways. Teens who are struggling with their own sense of self-worth are the most prone to unwise decisions about sex.

Warning Signs for Parents to Look For

Unless you have a very open relationship with your child, you may never know they are sexually active until a problem arises such as an unintended pregnancy, illness or gynecological problem.

If your child is dating, assume there is a possibility they will become sexually active. If you are fortunate to have a very trusting relationship your child they may actually come and ask you for advice. If not, you may find signs of contraceptives or evidence that your child is seeking out moments to be alone with a boy or girlfriend for private moments.

The best advice, however, is to proactive rather than waiting for signs. Talk frankly with your child about sex. Work actively to ensure they place a high value on themselves and their futures.


The underlying depression and self-esteem issues may be dealt with through medication and therapy. Sexually-active teens will also need non-judgmental education about the risks and responsibilities of sexuality, including proper medical care where appropriate. Activities that raise self-esteem, hope for the future and personal responsibility are all useful for helping teens avoid the pitfalls of risky sexual behavior. 

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