Expert: Blame Brain, Not Teens, for Sex Drive


(Thursday, February 1, 2007 5:42 AM EST)

Parents baffled by their adolescents' actions and choices (especially relating to sex) might be surprised to know that their child can't help it because it's simply a matter of brain chemistry during puberty.

Dr. Larry Kennedy, a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor in Vienna, explored this issue at a lecture at McLean Bible Church as the first of a four-part lecture series at the church called “A Parent's Guide to Teens, Sex and Choices.”

“I think this topic is important because adolescent sex has changed a lot, and ‘drama' in high school has put a different kind of pressure on kids,” Kennedy said. “I don't think adults are as in touch as they should be.”

Kennedy, who has been in practice since 1985, said that the brain develops until around the age of 25. It develops from the back to the front, meaning teens lack tools in the frontal cortex, which controls executive functions such as organization, weighing consequences and prioritization.

This would explain why many young adults will play video games or hang out with girlfriends or boyfriends before doing their homework, Kennedy said.

Research has also shown that adolescents think from the limbic system of the brain, its emotional center. The limbic system includes the amygdala, which is the area of the brain that helps assess risk and danger. During adolescence, hormones flood this part of the brain, making it very difficult for young adults to make smart choices.

Sex hormones are particularly active and attach themselves to feel-good neurons such as seratonin.

It's as if adolescents' brains are being “marinated in hormones,” Kennedy said. “They have no control over themselves and what's happening in their brain.”

By sharing facts about what adolescents' brains go through during puberty, as well as getting parents to look introspectively at their own issues, Kennedy hopes that parents will be able to help their children through this tough stage.

“This is a preventative medicine before things happen,” Kennedy said. “It will help teens to become strong, to feel secure and to move into the next phase of life.”

The series continues every Wednesday until Feb. 14, and will include one more presentation by Dr. Kennedy, a panel discussion with local school and public health professionals and a talk with Marilyn Morris, president and founder of Aim for Success.

For more information call (703) 790-5590 or visit the Web site at

Dr. Larry Kennedy

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