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Evaluating healthy sexuality development in adolescents

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16 February 2022 Tags: Comprehesive sexuality education, explore4Action, research

Growing up is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right support, adolescents can successfully navigate their sexuality development. Buthow can we better understand what they need? A new theoreticalframework for positive adolescent sexuality could help find some answers. It proposes six key competencies for sexual wellbeing in adolescents. 

The number of programmes that focus on the positive aspects of adolescent sexuality is growing. Yet, there are only a handful of relevant frameworks developed. Most of these are also not easy to operationalise to strengthen the design and evaluation of programmes on positive adolescent sexuality.  

A review paper by Anna Kågesten and Miranda van Reeuwijk published in the Sexual Reproduction Health Matters journal goes some way to address this shortfall. The article synthesizes available research and pragmatizes existing theories on the positive development of adolescent sexual health.  

It proposes a conceptual framework of six key competencies that work to increase the positive outlook for adolescent sexuality. The competencies equip young people with different skills that allow them to navigate information and relationships during adolescence for outcomes that contribute to their wellbeing.  

Six competencies

The six key competencies highlighted for healthy adolescent sexuality development are:  

(1) Sexual literacy: The basic understanding of the human body, relationships and SRHR that is developmentally and age appropriate.

(2) Gender-equal attitudes: Hold attitudes that support gender-equal norms related to the social and cultural roles, responsibilities, rights and capacities of men and women, boys and girls. 

(3) Respect for human rights and understanding consent: Demonstrate respect and empathy for others, understand privacy and consent in relation to self and others.

(4) Critical reflection skills: The ability to recognise and understand how social norms and structures shape one’s own feelings, behaviours and experiences.

(5) Coping skills: A dynamic process to manage and adapt to different types of stressful internal or external changes related to adolescent sexuality development.

(6) Interpersonal skills: The ability to communicate and negotiate with intimate partners, peers, family members and others that influence adolescents’ lives.  

The paper further presents healthy sexuality development as a process through which young people build these competencies in the form of knowledge, skills and attitudes that support sexual wellbeing in relation to themselves and others. The success of this process is, however, dependent on other factors, like an enabling environment, social support, and the availability of youth-friendly services.  

The authors of the paper noted that the proposed competency-based framework can inform programmes and research. Researchers can use this framework to gather evidence of softer outcomes in the field of adolescent sexual reproductive health and rights, to increase focus on the positive aspects of sexual wellbeing. Meanwhile, programme implementers can also use this framework in the design and evaluation of projects on healthy sexuality development in adolescents.

Click here to read the full publication in the Sexual Reproduction Health Matters journal.

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