A Longitudinal Study of Problems in Sexual Functioning and Related Sexual Distress Among Middle to Late Adolescents

J Adolesc Health. 2016 Sep;59(3):318-324. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.05.001. Epub 2016 Jun 16.


Purpose: Rates of sexual dysfunctions are high among adults, but little is known about problems in sexual functioning among adolescents. We completed a comprehensive assessment of problems in sexual functioning and related distress over a 2-year period among adolescents (16-21 years).

Methods: A sample of 405 adolescents completed five online surveys over 2 years. The main outcome measures were clinical cutoff scores on the International Index of Erectile Function and Premature Ejaculation Diagnostic Tool for male adolescents and the Female Sexual Function Index for female adolescents. A secondary outcome was clinical levels of distress.

Results: The majority of sexually active adolescents (78.6% of the male and 84.4% of the female) reported a sexual problem over the course; rates did not differ significantly by gender. Common problems for males were low sexual satisfaction (47.9%), low desire (46.2%), and problems in erectile function (45.3%). Common problems for females were inability to reach orgasm (59.2%), low satisfaction (48.3%), and pain (46.9%). Models predicting problems over time showed increased odds among those not in a sexual relationship. Odds of reporting a distressing sexual problem decreased over time for female but not male adolescents.

Conclusions: Problems in sexual functioning emerge early in individuals' sexual lives, are often distressing, and appear not to fluctuate over time. Additional efforts to identify key factors linked to onset will help elucidate possible mechanisms.

Keywords: Adolescents; Female sexual dysfunction; Longitudinal study; Male sexual dysfunction; Sexual distress; Sexual function; Sexual health; Sexual problems; Sexual relationships; Sexual self-esteem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Age Factors
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult