Intimacy With longer durations of a relationship, the
Intimacy can be a complex and revealing time during emerging adulthood. It is the period when adolescents transition into adults and venture into their life preferences. In this time of discovery, these 18 to 25-year olds are able to find partners to share their first or ongoing sexual experiences. With more open opportunities that are now accessible through college and overall legal age, emerging adults are able to experiment with others until their revolution of what they essentially like intimately. Nevertheless, with young attitudes and little responsibility, the quest to find what they like to do with a partner can result in lasting effects. With observable behavior analysis, research, and studies, emerging adulthood proves to be a perplexing time of emotions and sexual activities that can ultimately transform a once indecisive individual into a receptive person into adulthood. Conclusively, through acts of intercourse, emerging adults can learn much about their inclinations for future relationships. Sexual Normative & Behaviors and the Risk Factors in Emerging Adults Research from multiple sources have gathered statistics and accounts that are informative to emerging adults’ normative behaviors. Within three to four months, emotional development can conspire within a young relationship which can result in particular activities to take place. With longer durations of a relationship, the more open the participants are to different activities. However, a brief relationship includes “more frequent fellatio but less frequent cunnilingus than longer term dating relationships” (Kaestle , 2007). In a study conducted by the National Health and Social Life, 85% of young adults participated in vaginal sex. Most had experienced fellatio and cunnilingus at some time, and a respectable amount had engaged in anal sex. Precautions during anal penetration differs between men and women. In fact, condom use for women during anal are rarer than homosexual males. In other instances, oral and casual sex are astoundingly normal among young adults. In emerging adulthood, studies have found that those in casual sex relationships initially began intercourse at younger ages. Sexual attitudes may play a part in emerging adults participation in sexual norms as well. According to Jennifer Katz and Monica E. Schneider (2013), there are certain behaviors that could determine casual “hook up” patterns and “47% of women and 80% of men across different years of college reported penetrative hook ups” (Katz & Schneider, 2013). The first attitude that is popular within this age group is the permissive attitude, which states that sex is casual and fun and is thought to be a non-committal act. Instrumentality attitudes involve the more biological aspect of sex and determines it as an act to satisfy physical needs for a pleasurable release. Communion attitudes involve the idealistic view of sex; sex is meant to be serious and prompts a meaningful connection between partners. Finally, there are birth control attitudes where there is responsible sex involved and pregnancy should be prevented. Emerging adults may participate in sex to feel closer to another person, to make another person jealous, or to enhance their sense of self with regard to physical and emotional pleasure and so, these attitudes may reflect how people emotionally connect with and interact with romantic partners, even in instances where there are non-sexual interactions. Typically, a dominant ideology coming into adulthood is serial monogamy until finding a relationship suited for marriage. Pre-marital sex and cohabitation are commitments that are utilized as tools to determine a lasting relationship. In fact, “there has been an increase in cohabitation with romantic partners outside of a marriage during this emerging adulthood life stage” (Murray , 2012). However, increasingly common behaviors among emerging adults include briefly committed relationships rather than remaining in one long-term relationship. Numerous individuals within the 18 to 25 age group reported to participating in multiple consecutive sexual romantic relationships that include “lowered condom use compared to those in long-term committed relationships” (Olmstead & Billen & Conrad & Pasley , 2013). The types of casual sex relationships that these young adults are committing to for a short amount of time are “hookups” or “friends with benefits”. Hookups can include a variety of sexual behaviors, ranging from kissing to intercourse. Friends with benefits can also range in behaviors but, it occurs between to people who have a friendship and extends beyond one sexual encounter. However, a prevailing belief among this age group is a double standard between men and women. This psychosocial concept involves the theory that women cannot partake in the same sexual advances in the way men do. Men have a higher percentage of casual sex partners compared to women and that might be due to the standard of men being praised for their multiple partners while women are humiliated or judged for the same actions. With an increase of casual partners, there is also an increase of sexual risk taking. Risk taking can occur as early as the first intercourse. Inconsistent condom use and substance abuse are common actions young adults partake in that increase their likelihood of obtaining a sexual transmitted disease. From a 2005 and 2008 study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, they stated, “from 2000 to 2004 there has been a 42% increase in the number of youth living with HIV/ AIDS, and in 2006 over three-quarters of Chlamydia cases were among women under the age of 25” (Brookmeyer & Henrich, 2009). The invincibility fable, the impression that one is immune to common dangers such as unprotected sex, seems to be a common behavior in this age group. “What could happen to someone else does not mean that it could happen to me” mentality is prominent and can result in “problem behavior syndrome” (Brookmeyer & Henrich, 2009). From a theoretical perspective, researchers have gestated sexual risk, substance abuse, and delinquency as factors in problem behavior syndrome. When high levels of alcohol use, marijuana use, or sexual risk are reported, youth are at higher risk for unsafe sex and diseases. Alcohol use is a significant factor in this syndrome and is a key to predict risk taking. Studies have found that emerging adults under the influence of a substance were taking risks during intercourse such as not using protection and having more casual partners. In other cases, individuals may experience anxiety about HIV/AIDS and resolve to alcohol to divert attention or ease the tension surrounding the possibility of contracting any diseases. Although this risk taking can occur during emerging adulthood, adolescents involved with substance abuse can build a tolerance that follows them when they age. Why do these young adults engage in such a risk? Experimentation with such behaviors may be a part of identity exploration because, “many emerging adults feel a sense of urgency to gain a wide range of experience before they commit to the enduring responsibilities that are normative in adulthood” (Lam & Lefkowitz, 2013). According to researchers, emerging adults may risk unwanted pregnancy or obtaining STI’s to possibly enhance self-pleasure, promote intimacy with a partner, to cope with negative emotions, or to avoid social disapproval. Hence, risky sexual behaviors are possibly linked to psychosocial motives. However, circumstances narrow down to this: even if one were to have multiple partners, are they being protected while doing so? As mentioned before, condom use appears to be a common predicament within this age group. According to Lam and Lefkowitz (2013), there are two primary reasons for not using condoms: they reduce sexual pleasure and using condoms may imply that there is a lack of trust in the partner. However, with a combination of a negative perspective of condom use and partners who do have a mutual trust in each other, studies have shown that there is less consistent use of condoms within a relationship. Men vs. Women: What Do the Sexes Think About Sexual Relations? In a significant amount of various circumstances, men and women examine sexual relations in different ways. For instance, in one survey, men think sex is important but women think feeling loved and desired is more consequential. Researchers found that “52% of emerging adult males and 36% of emerging adult females reported engaging in casual sex” (Leveque & Pedersen, 2012); however, males during this period are more likely to participate in casual sex for more popularity and status with peers while women are more likely to have causal sex to feel closer to and increase intimacy with their partner. Men have reported that sexual attractiveness of others or the desire to gain experience through numerous partners are motivators for sex. For women, love and commitment are their motivators. This essentially leads to men being more focused on themselves while women are more likely to consider their partner during sexual intercourse. As a result, women may “display higher levels of sexual dysfunction, distress, and dissatisfaction” (Leveque & Pedersen, 2012) rather than men. In addition, women may seek sexual partners or other committed relationships as an effort to feel attractive. Women may do this to grasp a sense of self in a society where there is an increasingly amount of pressure on women from the media and other sources to live up to a certain standard of attractiveness. According to Katz and Schneider (2013), emerging adult women “who are sexually involved with a greater number of partners are more likely to cohabit and less likely to marry by age 30”. An acceptable perspective of casual partners and the non-requested desire to marry may lead to the same comfort in attaining a divorce in the future. Meanwhile, men are more likely to be comfortable with a “friends with benefits” relationship and are satisfied in keeping the relationship as that whereas women are more likely to progress the relationship as a committed one or remain friends without the benefits. Hence, there is an abundant amount of dynamics to a relationship that exhibits one perspective coming from the male while a possibly different outlook is experienced by the female. The Importance of Sexual Self-Focus Although mostly in Erik Erikson’s Intimacy vs. Isolation period, there is still a developing identification period in between adolescences and adulthood. The question of “Who am I?” or in this case, “What do I like? vs. What does my partner like?” comes up when trying to decipher sexual experimentation or sexual self-focus. In recent years, it seems that casual sex is most popular as a recreational activity and an act where self-focus takes place. As mentioned prior, men during this time period tend to lean toward self-focused attitudes when engaging in sex while women are more likely to be open to partner focused activities during intercourse. Overall, adolescents and emerging adults are more interested in self-focus since they are still trying to answer, “Who am I”. Could this essentially lead to dissatisfied partners? In most cases, no. In a survey conducted in 2011, an optimal level of self-focus can lead to high sexual self-esteem or sexual self-promotion. This should not be mistaken for egocentrism; self-focus is more defined by an interest and desire for sex. This can ultimately lead to partner satisfaction overtime since there is a constant want of improvement. Compared to a couple who may be older and in a comfortable routine, older individuals may not seek performance improvement since they have been in a relationship for a certain period of time already. Thus, self-focus changes, develops, or looks different at different age groups. Diverse Dynamics of Budding Relationships in Emerging Adults Sex during a budding relationship significantly impacts the individuals that are involved. In a relationship where one partner may find unreciprocated love from the other, sex can be an activity that can possibly strengthen ties and restore a balance that might have been disrupted prior. The emotion of love represents a “goal-oriented state that promotes the imperative to be with the loved one” (Kaestle & Halpern, 2007). Nevertheless, it is sex that can maintain that said love. Different varieties of love between partners can attribute to the participation of different sex acts. High levels of mutual love equate to a wide range of different sexual acts within the relationship. With a contribution of both love and sex, Kaestle and Halpern (2007) state that a couple will preserve a stable and rewarding relationship during emerging adulthood and into adulthood. Research indicates that “as the amount of time that individuals have been sexually active grows, their level of comfort with a range of sexual activities increases” (Kaestle & Halpern, 2007). Since individuals build on their relationship to a point of comfort, they are open to more satisfying acts. On the alternative side, postponing the first vaginal sex may cause a lack of interest in sexual activity, which, in turn, decreases the interest in diverse sexual activity in the future. As mentioned previously, people’s permissibility towards sexual encounters, as well as instrumentality and personal comfort with casual genital contact, are self-oriented attitudes that lead to causal “hook up” types of relationships. In contrast, other attitudes, like communion and birth control, will lead to opposite effects. The risk factor and the casual hook ups are significantly decreased within a mutually established relationship. Drinking or substance abuse is mostly available in social gatherings. In many cases, adolescents and emerging adults are under the influence and interacting with others as a form of socialization. Those that are in a relationship tend to not participate in ways that single people do. Instead, those that are in a relationship are less likely to join because “they do not need to look for new partners and they may want to preempt jealousy from their existing partners by not drinking with acquaintances who are seeking romantic and sexual encounters” (Lam & Lefkowitz, 2013). Those that are in these committed relationships feel less inhibitions and anxiety that they might experience in social gatherings. Therefore, they are motivated to spend their time and energy in learning to please each other sexually in what is called sexual enjoyment. Defined as “any positive feeling—physical and/or psychological—arising as a result of a sexual experience” (Galinsky & Sonenstein, 2013), it is imperative when it comes to certain relationships during this age period. This results in better communication as well as greater sexual enjoyment. Essentially, emerging adults will either produce relationships that are only pivotal for a short amount of time while others will form relationships with the intention of finding a lasting partner and attempt to maintain that relationship through love and sex. Conclusion To conclude, sexual discovery is trivial for emerging adults since they are still trying to figure out who they are as a person. Due to this quest, it leads to numerous circumstances that can be detrimental to future relationships. With the mentality of being young and with little to no responsibilities, these 18 to 25-year olds can find themselves in situations where communication is not key to a relationship but sex is. However, those individuals who do pursuit stable and capable relationships, the likelihood of future harms, such as disease, are less than those with multiple partners. Essentially, who are emerging adults? Researchers write studies on their behaviors as an effort to answer that question. Nevertheless, through acts of sex and other various activities, emerging adults are still attempting to answer that question themselves.