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Interdisciplinary Seminar Q & A

Spring 1997

Adolescent Sex and the Rhetoric of Risk and Protection

This was a seminar given April 25, 1997 by Dr. J. Dennis Fortenberry as part of the Kinsey Institute's Interdisciplinary Seminar Series. Fortenberry is an associate professor in the Division of Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, IU School of Medicine.

What is the most significant consequence of defining adolescent sex simply as risky behavior?

It doesn't acknowledge adolescent sexual behavior as a natural stage of human development that, like many other behaviors, has both positive and negative outcomes. Sex that would take place because of mutual desire, reciprocated liking, or the desire for intimate companionship is not considered. In the risk-taking model, adolescent sex is something to be feared and therefore controlled absolutely either by abstinence or 100 percent adherence to the use of condoms.

What is needed to make perspectives on adolescent sex more useful in educating and helping young people?

I think that we have reached the limits of what we can understand about adolescent sex from the risk perspective. If we really want to take additional meaningful steps in terms of protecting young people from the admittedly serious consequences of sex, then we have to begin to identify its meaning and its value, as well as offer ways to reduce the likelihood of serious consequences.

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