Communication of sexual risk behavior among late adolescents

West J Nurs Res. 1998 Jun;20(3):273-89; discussion 289-94. doi: 10.1177/019394599802000302.


A grounded theory approach was used to describe how males and females in late adolescence communicate with their sexual partners about sexual risk behaviors. Interviews were audiotaped with 18 women and 15 men from a university in the southeastern United States. Verbatim transcripts were analyzed using constant comparative analysis. Building trust was identified as the core variable for both men and women. For women, prerequisites for building trust were being involved in caring relationships and indirectly gathering information about potential sexual partners. For men, prerequisites were being involved in caring relationships and using their instincts. Women usually initiated safe-sex talk, but men were willing to discuss it, once the conversation was initiated. Findings can serve as a guide for developing nursing strategies that promote more effective communication about sexual risk behavior in this age group.

PIP: The characteristics of communication about sexual risk behaviors between adolescent sexual partners were investigated in interviews with 14 sexually active females and 18 males attending a public university in southeastern US. Mean age at first intercourse was 17 years; respondents had had an average of 3 sexual partners. A review of the interview transcripts led to development of a model of the communication process. Building trust in one's partner emerged as the core variable for both males and females. A prerequisite for building trust was being involved in a caring relationship. Women built trust by indirectly gathering information about potential sexual partners, while men tended to rely on their instincts about their partners' appearance and demeanor. Once trust was established, both men and women were more likely to talk about sexual risk issues. Although males were willing to engage in safe sex talk if their female partner raised the topic, they rarely initiated such discussions. Alcohol use, previous sexual experience, knowledge about reproduction and contraception, conversations with friends, and the media were intervening conditions for safe sex conversations. Some participants believed that discussing safer sex practices indicated a lack of trust. Moreover, many participants demonstrated trust in their partners by engaging in high-risk sexual practices. This model can serve as a guide for developing strategies for promoting more effective communication about sexuality in late adolescence. For example, the finding that women tend to initiate discussions of safer sex practices suggests a need to empower women with the skills needed to negotiate risk-reduction behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Nursing Research / methods
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sampling Studies
  • Sex Education
  • Sexual Behavior*