A Sex-Positive Framework for Research on Adolescent Sexuality

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2014 Sep;9(5):455-69. doi: 10.1177/1745691614535934.


In this article, I propose a sex-positive framework for research on adolescent sexuality in which I consider consensual sexual activities in adolescence as developmentally normative and potentially healthy. The sex-positive framework is contrasted with the predominant "risk" perspective that presumes that abstinence from sexual activity is the ideal behavioral outcome for teenagers. Evidence from longitudinal and behavioral genetic studies indicates that engaging in sexual intercourse in adolescence does not typically cause worse psychological functioning. The relationship context of sexual experience may be a critical moderator of its psychological impact. Moreover, cross-cultural data on adolescents' contraception usage, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections suggest that, despite the unacceptably high rate of negative health consequences among U.S. teenagers, adolescents can have the developmental capacity to regulate the health risks inherent in sexual activity. Understanding adolescent sexuality can be fostered by considering sexual well-being, a multidimensional construct that incorporates an adolescent's sexual self-efficacy, sexual self-esteem, feelings of sexual pleasure and satisfaction, and freedom from pain and negative affect regarding sexuality. New research is necessary to understand the development of adolescent sexual well-being, including its normative age trends, its reciprocal links with sexual behavior, and its impact on psychological and physical health.

Keywords: adolescence; age at first sex; behavior genetics; sexual development; sexual well-being.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Culture
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Risk
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / psychology