Who Influences Our Decisions About Sex The Most? It Depends On Your Age, Survey Finds

Sexual education and guidance is such an important part of growing up — and the lack of it can be incredibly detrimental. But who is it that has the biggest impact on your sexual decisions when you're growing up? Well, let's just hope your parents gave you the sex talk.

"One of the most consistent findings over the years has been the power of parental influence," the National Campaign To Prevent Teen And Unplanned Pregnancy said. "Specifically, in survey after survey, teens say parents most influence their decisions about sex. Our findings this year paint a similar picture: Parents matter." They looked at data from the TRU Youth Monitor 2016, a survey of 3,038 individuals age 12-24 and analyzed who had the biggest influence over decisions the participants make about sex.

"We are thrilled that so many young people look to their parents and families to inform their decisions about sex," Ginny Ehrlich, CEO, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy tells Bustle. "We know that peers and friends become more and more influential as young people get older. That means that we need to ensure that young people know the facts about sex and birth control — and support their friends to make the decisions about if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant that are right for them. We have a source for that – Bedsider.org."

Here's how the influence broke down, because it changes with age:

1. Parents And Friends Are The Most Important Influences

Parents were the biggest influence in the teenage group — ages 12 to 19. Friends came in at number two. This sort of surprised me, because I assume most teenagers were like me and spoke to their friends about sex constantly and sort of let the parental stuff go in one ear and out the other, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

2. But It Changes Over Time

So while parents are the biggest influence and friends are the second biggest in your teens, the survey showed that wasn't the case in the 20 to 24 age range. Here, 27 percent of people said their friends were the biggest influence, and parents came in at below 20 percent.

3. Media And Religious Figures Also Play A Role

After parents and friends, it was the media and religious figures who had the most influence in the lives of teens and Millennials. Interestingly, this also changed with ages. While religious figures came in third when it came to influencing teens and the media came fourth, in the 20s range, the media was more influential than religious figures.

4. But A Lot Of People Just Didn't Know

One of the things that I found slightly worrying was how many participants chose the "I don't know" option. Between 17 and 27 percent of participants said that they didn't know who influenced their sexual decisions, depending on the age group.

Now, obviously I don't know what is going on in each individual case, but that says to me that a lot of people are a bit at sea when it comes to people educating them and influencing them about sex. Not knowing who influences you can also mean not knowing who to go to if you need help. That's not a great sign.

5. Educators Were Way Down On The List

The other factor that I found really depressing was how few people named teachers and educators as the most influential people. In fact, the number only varied between one and three percent, depending on the age group. Below siblings.

"Recent studies have shown a nationwide decline in sexuality education in schools," Ehrlich tells Bustle. "Educators who deliver sexuality education are more likely to become the 'askable' adults that young people need. With the decline in sexuality education, it stands to reason that fewer teens are being influenced by their teachers. Though not surprising, this trend is concerning. It is of course, optimal for young people to have great relationships with their parents, but if that isn’t possible, we want to make sure that every young person does have a trusted connection with whom to discuss sex, relationships and their futures."

Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (5)