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Is the Lack of Sexual Assertiveness Among Adolescent and Young Adult Women a Cause for Concern?

October 11, 2002

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

A study in the July/August issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health examines sexual assertiveness among young women. Researchers wanted to determine how/if young women communicate to protect their sexual health and autonomy.


Methods

Researchers recruited participants from two community-based family planning clinics operated by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston between April and November 1997. In order to be eligible for the study participants had to identify themselves as White, Hispanic, or Black, and could not be pregnant during the study. Researchers asked all sexually active women between the ages of 14 and 26 to complete an anonymous questionnaire that measured how they felt about their sexual rights; 904 young women participated.

To measure perceived sexual assertiveness, researchers asked participants to respond to 13 statements about sexual rights that began with the phrase, "I have the right to ...."

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Results

Perception of Sexual Rights

  • 78% of respondents believed they always had the right to make their own decisions about sexual activity regardless of their partner’s wishes; 9% of respondents believed they never had this right
  • 69% of respondents believed they always had the right to make their own decisions about birth control regardless of their partner’s wishes; 17% of respondents believed they never had this right
  • 62% of respondents believed they always had the right to tell their partner they “did not want to make love;” 8% of respondents believed they never had this right
  • 66% of respondents believed they always had the right to tell their partner they would not have sexual intercourse without birth control; 16% believed they never had this right
  • 72% of respondents believed they always had the right to ask their partner if he had been tested for sexually transmitted diseases; 15% of respondents believed they never had this right
  • 55% of respondents believed they always had the right to stop foreplay at any time, including during sexual intercourse; 18% of respondents believed they never had this right
  • 55% of respondents believed they always had the right to refuse sexual intercourse to a partner with whom they have previously had sexual intercourse; 17% of respondents believed they never had this right

Educational and Age Factors

Respondents receiving poor grades in school were more likely than those with better grades to believe they never had the right to stop foreplay or refuse to have sexual intercourse. Respondents between 18 to 21 years old were more likely than respondents between 22 and 26 years old to believe they were unable to ask their partner if he had been tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

Pregnancy and Violence Factors

Respondents who had given birth one or more times were more likely than respondents who had never given birth to feel that they never had the right to stop foreplay at any time. Respondents with a history of physical or sexual abuse were more likely than respondents who had never experienced violence to believe they never had the right to refuse sexual intercourse or to make decisions about their sexual behavior.

The authors believe these data suggest that many young women seeking reproductive healthcare have limited beliefs in their own sexual rights. The authors feel that these results show the need for sexual health education programs in and outside of schools that include sexual assertiveness-building skills. This would improve young women’s sexual assertiveness, giving them control over their sexual activity.

For more information: Vaughn L. Rickert et al, “Is Lack of Sexual Assertiveness Among Adolescent and Young Adult Women a Cause for Concern?,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 2002, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 178-83.

A note from TheBody.com: Since this article was written, the HIV pandemic has changed, as has our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!



  
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This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
 
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