Ethical approaches to adolescent participation in sexual health research

J Adolesc Health. 2008 Jan;42(1):3-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.07.017. Epub 2007 Dec 3.


Purpose: In this paper we make the case for the importance of adolescent sexual health research, and argue that requiring parental consent for adolescent participation may (a) be unwarranted, (b) be inconsistent with the principles of justice and inclusiveness, (c) be confusing, and (d) serve to silence young people who most need to have a voice in sexual health research.

Methods: Through a case study of the Toronto Teen Survey, we offer concrete suggestions and alternatives for protecting adolescent health research participants in community-based settings and promoting ethical research approaches.

Results: Strategies suggested include: (1) adopting a community-based participatory research approach, (2) careful attention to youth-friendly protocols and consent procedures, (3) proper training of all research staff and peer researchers, (4) partnering with experienced community based youth-serving agencies, (5) paying maximum attention to issues of confidentiality and anonymity, and (6) valuing participation appropriately.

Conclusions: Institutional review boards and researchers should be encouraged to adopt localized context-dependent strategies that attend to the unique vulnerabilities of their particular study populations. Attention to flexibility, vulnerability, and community-specific needs is necessary to ensure appropriate ethical research practices that attend to the health and well-being of young people.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Advisory Committees
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Confidentiality
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parental Consent / ethics*
  • Parents
  • Research Subjects*
  • Sexual Behavior / ethics*