Beyond Abstinence and Risk: A New Paradigm for Adolescent Sexual Health

  • Amy T. Schalet
    Correspondence to: Amy T. Schalet, PhD, Social and Demographic Research Institute, Machmer Hall W34A, 240 Hicks Way, University of Massachusetts—Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003-7525. Phone: 413-545-5008; fax: 413-545-3204.
    Department of Sociology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts
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      Two paradigms have shaped how U.S. policy makers, health professionals, and educators have approached teenage sexuality over the past several decades. The first is the abstinence-only-until-marriage paradigm, according to which sex outside of heterosexual marriage is always wrong and harmful (
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      • Ott M.A.
      • Lyon M.
      • Rogers J.
      • Summers D.
      • Schleifer R.
      Abstinence and abstinence-only education: A review of U.S. policies and programs.
      ). The second is the sex-as-risk paradigm, which defines adolescent sexuality in terms of risk and risk taking (
      • Michaud P.-A.
      Adolescents and risks: Why not change our paradigm?.
      ). The two paradigms share a near-exclusive focus on acts of teenage sexual intercourse, conceptualize such acts as dangerous, and assume that emphasizing their risks is the way to help young people become sexually healthy. Both paradigms exemplify what I call the dramatization of adolescent sexuality: They highlight internal conflicts—between impulse and cognition—and interpersonal conflicts—between boys and girls and between youth and parents (
      • Schalet A.
      Must we fear adolescent sexuality?.


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      1. Schalet, A.T. (In press). Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens and the Culture of Sex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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      Amy T. Schalet is an Assistant Professor of Sociology. Her book, Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex, will be published later this year by the University of Chicago Press.