Middle adolescence, or adolescence proper, starts at around the age of fourteen or fifteen in girls and fifteen or sixteen in most boys. By the end of early adolescence boys are still mainly homosexual in a social sense but an interest in girls has started to develop. Nevertheless the boy is still looking towards boys rather than girls for approval and friendship. Any social contacts with girls are usually undertaken along with other boys. Although for most girls the main friendship is with another girl, a girl’s heterosexual drive and interests have been much greater than those of boys throughout early adolescence. A girl with a boyfriend is likely to think of him as her best friend.
A recent survey of nearly 800 fifteen-year-olds revealed that girls, compared with boys, were more concerned about their personal safety, their ‘looks’, criticism from others, arguments with their parents, confusion about life, speaking-up in class, the health of their mothers, obtaining a job eventually and their ability to do it well. The concerns of girls are thus more mature and adult than those of boys at the same age. Worries about their mothers’ health may reflect the tendency of mothers generally to use emotional blackmail to control older girls by making remarks about the consequences of the girls’ behaviour on their health. The phase of conflict between mother and daughter can become ferocious and may result in the girl running away or becoming pregnant to punish the mother. If a girl feels she receives only criticism instead of help and understanding she may think these or other dramatic acts are necessary.
A lot of this kind of trouble could be avoided if parents recognised that most girls are in a conflict over their desire to please their parents but also to grow up and fulfil their own needs. Adolescents, both boys and girls, criticise themselves enough and require little in the way of external help in the matter! Approval and success at home increase their self-confidence and protect them from excessive peer-group pressures and also from flagrant rebellion.
Survey evidence shows that the majority of mid-adolescents get on well with their parents and respect and admire them. A survey of 1000 teenage boys revealed that most felt understood by their parents, regarded their discipline as reasonable and were proud of them. Nevertheless, mid-adolescence is the time when the instinctual sex drive is finally withdrawn from the direction of the opposite-sex parent and is invested in the adolescent him- or herself. Masturbation rates tend to rise, as does a preoccupation with the self and the body. The capacity for abstract thinking which starts in early adolescence increases and results in mid-adolescence being a potentially creative period. Girls may begin to keep diaries recording their moods and activities. Emotional and romantic feelings can be inspired by things such as literature and landscapes. Poetry writing may start. Although mid-adolescents can be savage, more in the way of mindless violence than for any purpose, the stage is usually one in which inner feelings of tenderness and beauty develop.
Sexual fantasies keep in step and, although they may include unusual or even ‘deviant’ elements, active involvement with the opposite sex begins to emerge in fantasies. Although girls may have earlier explored their vaginas and many may have used tampons, the vagina becomes more significantly incorporated into the body-image at this age. Earlier, unsophisticated fantasies give way more to fantasies of ‘making love’. Psychosexual history-taking from a spectrum of girls and women, not just those with sexual problems, shows that by the age of sixteen something like three-quarters of girls have included vaginal activity both in their fantasies and their masturbatory practices. The physically relatively insensitive vagina now becomes psychologically valuable and can give her physical pleasure.
Thoughts of using her vagina to show her emotional feelings to a boy, and the pleasure he will obtain from it, become exciting.
Mid-adolescents may be involved in heterosexual relationships and intercourse is common. A 1987 study of 6000 readers of a UK woman’s magazine found that the average under-zo had lost her virginity at 15.8 years. This is also a time of sexual rehearsal in fantasy and self-generated romanticism which may be placed on a member of the opposite sex though almost always in a play-acting way. This is not to deny that, for example, a sixteen-year-old girl can love a boy, but it must be said that she can only love him to the extent to which a sixteen-year-old is capable. Although mid-adolescents may wax lyrical about their boyfriend or girlfriend, when seen a year or two later, they not infrequently have some difficulty in recalling their names. Early and pre-intercourse heterosexual experimentation may arise in this stage and fondling of the breasts and vulva may occur, but most girls are too shy and most boys too ignorant for this to progress to mutual masturbation. Most girls do not handle their boyfriends’ penises during this stage. However, many mid-adolescent and some early-adolescent girls behave provocatively, not so much with the intention of having intercourse but more to reassure themselves that they can attract male attention. Such behaviour can be misunderstood by boys and men and rape, or something close to it, may be the result.
Mid-adolescence is the true turning point from childhood to adulthood. As well as sexual, emotional, social and personality development taking place, career choices are usually being explored. It is a time of expansion but the mid-adolescent still relies heavily on his or her parents. Moods can change rapidly from feelings of despair to exaltation and day-dreams are common. Everything and yet nothing seems possible.