Sexual Health Q&A

How common is sexual dysfunction among adolescents?

Research suggests that sexual problems are very common among adolescents.

In 2016, the Journal of Adolescent Health published findings by Canadian and American scientists, who reported that about 80% of their study subjects had experienced a sexual problem within the previous two years.

The study involved 405 participants (180 men and 225 women) between the ages of 16 and 21. The group’s average age was 19. Periodically over two years, the group completed a series of five surveys that assessed their sexual experiences. Men answered questions about their erections and ejaculation; women provided information about lubrication and orgasm. The participants revealed any sexual distress they felt, how confident they felt about sex, and whether they had ever been coerced to have sex. The surveys also addressed the group’s sex education and social beliefs about sex.

Over three quarters of the men and almost 85% of the women said they had had at least one sexual issue during the survey period. Over 40% of both groups said they felt distress over these problems.

Almost half of the men and women reported low satisfaction with their sex lives. Men often had low sexual desire (experienced by 46%) and problems getting or keeping an erection (45%). For the women, pain (47%) and difficulty reaching orgasm (59%) were common.

What can adolescents do if they are having sexual issues? Seeing a doctor or counselor is an important first step. Sometimes, sexual dysfunction has medical causes. For example, people who take antidepressants may feel less interested in sex. Men with penile anomalies often have erectile dysfunction. Women with endometriosis may have severe pain during intercourse.

Further sex education can help, too. Some adolescents do not learn much about their anatomy, their partner’s anatomy, and the sexual response cycle. Knowing more about the mechanics of sex and what to expect from the experience may build confidence and reduce anxiety.

Counseling is another option. Some adolescents feel pressured to have sex before they’re ready, by a partner or by their peers. Counselors can help young people determine whether they are ready for sex and work through any relationship anxieties they may have.