Does Positive Youth Development Predict Adolescent Attitudes about Sexuality?

Article excerpt

SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS STUDY

PYD theory and literature has tended to focus on outcomes such as citizenship, leadership, altruism, and initiative (Larson, 2000; Scales, Benson, Leffert, & Blyth, 2000). While these outcomes are important, it seems reasonable to address a broader array of influences on and positive outcomes of adolescent development. Adolescents are dealing with identity exploration and formation in this busy period of development. Physical, cognitive, emotional, and social changes must be navigated during this stage of growth and maturity. Puberty facilitates this developmental stage and has complex ramifications throughout. Although adults in American society usually deal with young persons' sexuality by trying to suppress or ignore it (Katchadourian, 1990), adolescents are bombarded with messages regarding sexuality and what is expected of them as sexual beings. However, these messages often are contradictory, especially in terms of what youth hear and see in the media, from their parents and peers, from religious teachings, and from society in general. Katchadourian (1990) suggests a balanced view of adolescent sexuality.

   To begin with, the emergence of sexual behavior in adolescence may
   have to be accepted now as a part of the normal process of becoming
   an adult physically and psychosocially. Therefore, adolescent
   sexuality as such cannot reasonably be seen anymore as a "problem."
   It becomes a problem only when sexual behaviors lead to undesirable
   consequences. So the question is no longer whether or not
   adolescents may engage in sexual experiences but what sorts of
   sexual behaviors are healthy, moral, and socially desirable, and
   which are not ... [There is a] pressing need to understand, nurture,
   and regulate the flowering of sexuality during adolescence in ways
   that are consistent with current realities, social values, and
   individual freedoms. It is essential that we understand the role
   that adolescent sexuality plays in the creation of sexually healthy
   and competent adults (p. 348).

In light of research that supports such a balanced viewpoint, it seems plausible that PYD theory and related literature should include additional youth developmental outcomes, in particular, healthy sexuality which includes attitudes regarding sex.

In summary, the present study attempts to fill a gap in the PYD literature in that it will provide evidence that healthy attitudes regarding sex and sexuality should be considered as a positive outcome for youth. PYD research and programs strive to keep their focus on the positive development of our youth. By exploring how adolescent attitudes regarding sex might be related to involvement in school-based and non-school-based extracurricular activities, this study may provide added support for the use of a PYD approach in research and programming efforts aimed toward helping youth be risk-free and fully prepared for adulthood (Pittman & Irby, 1998).

Adolescent Sexuality and Sexual Identity

Sex and intimate relationships have great meaning in young persons' lives regardless of what adults try to do to curb their sexual curiosities and experimentation (Brooks-Gunn & Furstenberg, 1989). Adults' view of adolescents as sexually crazed and irresponsible do not permit a clear understanding of the natural developmental processes of sexual maturity and sexual identity formation (Katchadourian, 1990). "Given that sexual behaviors olden begin much earlier than intercourse, forming a sexual identity and navigating the emotional and physical challenges of sexual behavior have clearly become part of the series of events that occur during the transitional periods of adolescence" (Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Galen, 1998, p. 271). Apparently these issues are not being addressed empirically. Steinberg and Morris (2001) explain, "... seldom do they [researchers] examine individuals at the beginning stages of experimentation with intimate, sexual relationships. …