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Teenage Sexual Concerns - Hiding in Plain Sight


By Stephen C. Schultz

I was recently in Tucson Arizona meeting with the family of a student who graduated from Oxbow Academy. www.oxbowacademy.net I was traveling with the clinical director of Oxbow, Todd Spaulding LCSW.  We also had the opportunity to meet with allied health professionals in the area who work with troubled teens and their families.

As we met with folks in Tucson, I just wanted to make a brief introduction to Oxbow Academy. I shared with them that Oxbow works with families that are struggling with a son who is burdened with sexual behavioral concerns. Often this is excessive use of pornography, inappropriately touching a sibling, friend or neighbor or other compulsive sexual behaviors. About half of our students come to us with some type of Learning Disability (LD) and 60% are adopted…80 and above IQ, but socially awkward.

If you are reading this as a clinician or as a parent, I’m sure you are aware; this is a growing problem, one that “society” isn’t quite ready to grapple with yet. This is a social concern that seems to be “Hiding in Plain Sight”!



I would like to share some interesting insights I have observed over the last eight years as I have worked with families through this very specialized treatment process.


-          These families are extremely committed to the process of helping their teen through the issues associated with sexual behavioral problems.

-          Even though some of the information is hard to hear, the parents are very grateful to know the truth. There is a sense of relief once the full disclosure of sexual activity is out in the open.

-          Parents are hopeful and feel assured that their sons can come through the program not labeled as a “predator”, “perpetrator” or worst of all “sex offender”.

-          Most parents who have had their son in previous treatment wish they would have known about Oxbow earlier in the treatment process.

-          The parents are relieved to see the student population is not “a bunch of criminals”. The students we are accepting are all privately placed by their family.

-          These are young men who have been involved in and exhibit some fairly serious sexual behavioral concerns.


As treatment professionals and parents, we all know in our gut when sexual issues are probably worse than reported, or are a significant treatment issue. However, because of the secrecy and “social taboo” of sexual issues, often the external signs stay hidden until things get out of hand. At this point it may be prudent to explore residential treatment to disrupt “patterns”.

Below are a just a couple of examples of sexually inappropriate behaviors that should raise some “Flags” of concern for Parents, Educational Consultants and Clinicians.


-          Preoccupation with Sexual Talk

Most would agree that sexual talk is a normal part of adolescence. However, sexual talk amongst peers in a graphic manner to the point that others become uncomfortable is problematic. This kind of socially awkward conversation demonstrates poor boundaries, inadequate social skills and probably some kind of early sexual experience whether it be abuse or early exposure to pornography. We have also witnessed students drawing pictures of a penis or vagina on their school notebooks and bringing attention to them through snickering and laughing. We recently reviewed the case of a student who made sexually explicit comments to a step sister stating,”…we aren’t even biologically related.” 

In the moderate to extreme, these types of behaviors are certainly warning signs to be aware of.

-          Excessive Technology Use

The common thread demonstrated by all of the students who attend Oxbow Academy is excessive use of technology. Prior to enrollment at Oxbow, most are so consumed with technology that sleep patterns are disrupted and hygiene suffers. Teens will often act agitated if their tech time is disrupted, or parents provide some additional structure or rules. Students will bounce back and forth from porn sites to online games when parents enter the room. They are also downloading porn onto “stealth” jump drives, so there is no history left on the computer. Then these drives are passed around school. We also hear of the heavy handed measures taken by law enforcement when “Sexting” takes place with phones.

Obviously excessive technology, computer and porn access does not “cause” inappropriate sexual behavior problems or sexually acting out, but it is a common denominator in all the students who are engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior.

I hope this information is helpful. As you can imagine, these cases are some very complicated cases often with complicated family dynamics. Please don’t hesitate to contact me anytime if you have questions or even if you want to consult on a case you may have. I am also very interested in hearing back form you on what your experiences have been in working with teens struggling with sexual issues and finding appropriate placements. I am always interested in learning of obstacles parents, clinicians and consultants are facing in accessing the most appropriate care for these teens.
You can read more on this very sensitive and clinically complicated topic here.

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