Social Environment and Sexual Development


Young adults’ sexual development is a significant topic, which may be considered pertinent to the fields of psychology and biology. However, it is highly relevant to the fields of language, culture, and communication, as these are the aspects that can have a crucial impact on it. The effect of the social environment on sexual development may be underestimated. Nevertheless, it is a crucial research topic in today’s world, where young people have open access to all means of communication and interaction with each other. The question this paper will explore is: How does the social environment impact the sexual development of young adults? To answer this question, this report will address the significance of the research topic and a methodology that can be used to analyse the issue. The report will also present the findings of the literature review on the question and discuss them in detail. This research paper concludes that the social environment affects young adults’ sexual development highly.

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Significance of the Research Topic

It is crucial to study sexual development and of young adults and the factors affecting it that are related to the social environment. This topic is relevant to language, culture, and communication because the social environment of individuals is composed by several factors, including the people surrounding them and their cultural practices (Santos, Roomi, and Liñán, 2016). Moreover, a person’s social environment is related to individuals they communicate with and the language they use to interact with them. The analysis of these factors’ impact can help researchers to identify the issues that may affect the sexual development of young adults negatively. In this paper, the aspects of the social environment relevant to language, culture, and communication will be identified, and their effect on sexual development will be evaluated.

Methodology and Data Collection Timetable

The methodology used to answer the research question is the literature review. Such an approach has been selected because it is necessary to synthesise existing data about the link between a person’s social environment and their sexual development. The data was collected within the two-month period and synthesised within three weeks. The databases used for the research include PubMed, Scopus, Linguistics and Language Behavioural Abstracts (LLBA), and MIT Encyclopaedia for Cognitive Sciences.

Literature Review

The number of articles and scholarly works selected for this paper is fourteen. However, three of them can be considered the most valuable sources of information about the impact the social environment has on the sexual development of young adults. The first one is the book by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2019). It discusses the development of adolescents, the role of the environment in the process, and the neurological, psychological, and sociological aspects contributing to it. The second source is the article by Kar, Choudhury, and Singh (2015), which addresses the normal sexual development of young adults and the cultural and social factors affecting it. Finally, the third notable work is the one by Pringle et al. (2017) that studies the factors influencing adolescent sexual behaviour and development.

It is crucial to start by discussing the aspects of the sexual development in young adults. Research reveals that puberty is shaped not only by biological processes but also by social ones (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). Pubertal maturation is a significant part of the sexual development; it is composed of several factors, including pubertal timing, tempo, and status. Although pubertal maturation may be first perceived as depending on biological factors solely, current studies reveal that the social environment may affect it, too (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). For instance, the environment a child is raised in affects their sexual development highly. The social factors individuals may experience in their childhood, including father absence and maltreatment, may result in accelerated pubertal tempo and the decreased age of pubertal timing (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). Moreover, even the number of caretaking transitions children encounter can be related to earlier or later sexual development. It means that even the lack of communication with parents or caregivers may alternate the sexual development of an individual.

Several studies agree that family is one of the crucial aspects of the social environment affecting the sexual development of young adults. Mmari, Kalamar, Brahmbhatt, and Venables (2016) report that family structure has an indirect impact on an individual’s sexual development and behaviour, which parent-child interactions affect them directly. Kar et al. (2015) and Pringle et al. (2017) report that the attitude and expectations parents may have towards a child’s sexual development may affect the onset of biological and psychological changes in a young person. Moreover, young people’s ability to communicate the concerns they have with their parents may also contribute to the appropriate level and timing of their sexual development (Kyilleh, Tabong, & Konlaan, 2018). Thus, the family-related environment young adults live in plays a crucial role in the process and should not be underestimated.

In further support for the point presented above, the role of positive and negative social environments in the level of the sexual development in young adults is crucial. For instance, children and young adults, living in stressful and harsh environments, tend to experience accelerated pubertal development compared to those raised in positive and welcoming ones (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). The reason for it is that this way, they try to compensate for a mistrust of investment in social relationships and commitment unconsciously. This mechanism is an evolutionary one, as it allows individuals to elongate the window of fertility and reproductivity (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). Notably, the social environment affects the level of sexual maturity in non-human animals, too (Bölting & von Engelhardt, 2017). Thus, the biological factors associated with the sexual development are closely linked to the social ones.

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As mentioned above, communication is a crucial social factor related to the sexual development. The evolution and development of sexuality are highly shaped not only by the relationships individuals experience within their families but also by their romantic partners and peers (Hatchel & Subrahmanyam, 2018). The reason for it is that a person’s friends may become sources of information, affecting perceptions about social norms, and supporting them in the development of their sexual self (Asrese & Mekonnen, 2018). Moreover, the Internet shapes the social environment of many young adults living today, as it helps them to communicate with others and explore their sexuality. Landry, Turner, Vyas, and Wood (2017) agree with this point and add that today, young people can use the Web to communicate with known and unknown peers, which helps them to establish social connections. As a result, their social circles expand, and young adults gain an opportunity to learn more about their sexuality and sex-related behaviours, as well as can engage in sexual activities.

The cultural influence individuals may experience, especially during puberty, may affect their sexual development as well. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2019) report that studies in cultural neuroscience show that socio-cultural identity may manifest at the neurobiological level. It means that the cultural and linguistic context and the social environment associated with it may have an impact on youths’ social sensitivity and sexual development. Due to culture- and language-related factors, young adults may not have the opportunity to learn about sex-related issues, feel detached from their family members, or exposed to mistreatment. As a result, their sexual development may be slowed down compared to their peers’ one.

It is crucial to mention that some young adults consider themselves asexual. It means that they prefer not to engage in the sexual activity regardless of their emotional and physical conditions, ideological orientation, and marital status (Boislard, Van de Bongardt, & Blais, 2016). However, it is vital to note that asexuality does not correlate to the level of the sexual development from the perspective of pubertal maturation. Therefore, a person may have undergone puberty and all alternations at the endocrine and neural levels, but have no interest in sexual activity (Boislard et al., 2016). Notably, asexuality should not be perceived as an outcome of traumatic experiences, religious beliefs, or low hormone levels (Yule, Brotto, & Gorzalka, 2017). The link between one’s social environment, experiences, and asexuality is still studied.

One of the other significant facts that should be noted is that sexual initiation alone should not be perceived as a determinant of a particular level of the sexual development. However, the social environment may affect sexual initiation as well. For example, Burke, Gabhainn, and Kelly (2018) report that a higher social class is linked with a decreased prevalence of young people’s sexual behaviours. It means that, besides communication and interactions with family members and friends, young adults’ sexual development is affected by the social class they belong to.

The facts presented above reveal that not all individuals have the same level of the sexual development. Boislard et al. (2016) report that the majority of young adults in most Western Countries follow a progressive sexual trajectory. It means that they engage in non-genital sexual behaviours first, which is followed by genital sexual behaviours and vaginal intercourse. However, the studies presented above reveal that the curve of the sexual development among young adults differs based on the social environment they live in or the social experiences they had in the past.


The findings obtained from the literature review answer the proposed question and are significant for the topic area. The results of the research reveal that communication is a highly significant contributor to the sexual development among young adults. It is vital for all individuals to have an opportunity to belong to a social circle and interact with others (Lee, Chung, & Park, 2016). Notably, appropriate communication with family members and a lack of neglect is also a highly vital social factor affecting individuals’ sexual development. To ensure that young adults develop appropriately, it is crucial to establish a positive and welcoming environment for them. As mentioned above, human biology is closely linked to the social aspects people experience, which may result in an early or late onset of puberty (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). Thus, communication is highly crucial for the sexual development in individuals.

Another factor affecting young adults from the perspective of their social environment is the culture they live in or were born to. The findings of the literature review reveal that it is crucial not to underestimate this aspect while analysing the issues affecting one’s sexual development. Studies presented above reveal that the cultural background may prevent some young adults from having access to sex-related information, which may have an adverse impact on their sexual development.

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Finally, the literature report reveals that, in some cases, current studies cannot reveal the link between the social environment and certain aspects of the sexual development. For instance, in the example of asexual individuals, it is unclear whether the social, cultural, or linguistic factors affect their perceptions of their sexuality or their sexual attraction. It is evident that asexuality is not related to a poor level of the sexual development and cannot be considered a result of it. However, the literature review reveals that it is crucial to continue studying the issues of the sexual development in young adults and the factors affecting them.


The paper reveals that the social environment affects young adults’ sexual development highly. It shows that the relationships between family members and peers, the access to knowledge, as well as cultural and linguistic aspects can accelerate or slow down one’s development. The report reveals that it is crucial to continue studying the link between the social environment and the sexual development of young adults, as there are understudied areas that should be noted.


Asrese, K., & Mekonnen, A. (2018). Social network correlates of risky sexual behavior among adolescents in Bahir Dar and Mecha districts, North West Ethiopia: An institution-based study. Reproductive Health, 15. Web.

Boislard, M. A., Van de Bongardt, D., & Blais, M. (2016). Sexuality (and lack thereof) in adolescence and early adulthood: A review of the literature. Behavioral Sciences, 6(1). Web.

Bölting, S., & von Engelhardt, N. (2017). Effects of the social environment during adolescence on the development of social behaviour, hormones and morphology in male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Frontiers in Zoology, 14. Web.

Burke, L., Gabhainn, S. N., & Kelly, C. (2018). Socio-demographic, health and lifestyle factors influencing age of sexual initiation among adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(9). Web.

Hatchel, T., & Subrahmanyam, K. (2018). Sexuality and intimacy: Adolescent development in the digital sphere. In T. Skelton, S. Punch, & R. W. Vanderbeck (Eds.), Families, Intergenerationality, and Peer Group Relations (pp. 393-414). Singapore: Springer Singapore.

Kar, S. K., Choudhury, A., & Singh, A. P. (2015). Understanding normal development of adolescent sexuality: A bumpy ride. Journal of Human reproductive Sciences, 8(2), 70-74.

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Kyilleh, J. M., Tabong, P. T. N., & Konlaan, B. B. (2018). Adolescents’ reproductive health knowledge, choices and factors affecting reproductive health choices: a qualitative study in the west Gonja District in northern region, Ghana. BMC International Health and Human Rights, 18. Web.

Landry, M., Turner, M., Vyas, A., & Wood, S. (2017). Social media and sexual behavior among adolescents: Is there a link? JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, 3(2). Web.

Lee, S., Chung, J. E., & Park, N. (2016). Linking cultural capital with subjective well-being and social support: The role of communication networks. Social Science Computer Review, 34(2), 172-196.

Mmari, K., Kalamar, A. M., Brahmbhatt, H., & Venables, E. (2016). The influence of the family on adolescent sexual experience: A comparison between Baltimore and Johannesburg. PloS One, 11(11). Web.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). The promise of adolescence: Realizing opportunity for all youth. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press

Pringle, J., Mills, K. L., McAteer, J., Jepson, R., Hogg, E., Anand, N., & Blakemore, S. J. (2017). The physiology of adolescent sexual behaviour: A systematic review. Cogent Social Sciences, 3. Web.

Santos, F. J., Roomi, M. A., & Liñán, F. (2016). About gender differences and the social environment in the development of entrepreneurial intentions. Journal of Small Business Management, 54(1), 49-66.

Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2017). Human asexuality: What do we know about a lack of sexual attraction? Current Sexual Health Reports, 9(1), 50-56.

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