Communication about Sexual Consent and Refusal: A Learning Tool and Qualitative Study of Adolescents’ Comments on a Sexual Health Website

Sonya S. Brady, Ellen Saliares, Amy J. Kodet, Vienna Rothberg, Meredith Schonfeld Hicks, Emily Hager-Garman, Carolyn M. Porta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Sexual communication skills are needed to create healthy romantic relationships. Arguably, these skills also can be used to prevent some instances of unwanted sex. This study presents a qualitative analysis of adolescents’ comments after reading a teen-friendly article on sexual consent as part of a web-based sexual health promotion intervention. The sample was comprised predominantly of female adolescents recruited from a Midwest urban region in the United States. Adolescents varied with respect to self-efficacy to request, provide, and deny consent, as well as the perceived need to ask for consent in the context of established relationships. Many adolescents perceived that nonverbal methods of communication were sufficient to request, provide, or deny sexual consent. Factors that make it difficult to discuss sexual boundaries and say “no” to unwanted sex included low self-efficacy and an underlying desire to nurture or preserve a relationship. Cultural norms must be changed to support verbal, affirmative sexual consent. In addition, adolescents must be aided in the development of skills to request sexual consent, say “yes” to specific activities, and say “no” to others. Without supportive norms and skills to enhance self-efficacy, adolescents may be unwilling to engage in verbal communication about sexual consent and boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-56
Number of pages38
JournalAmerican Journal of Sexuality Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, Division of AIDS [R34 MH086320 to S.S.B.] and a University of Minnesota Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry, and Scholarship to S.S.B. The authors gratefully acknowledge the support and contributions of our clinic and school partners; The Annex Teen Clinic; our Program Officer Willo Pequegnat, PhD; videographer Paul Bernhardt, BA; Fuzzy Duck Design and Jared Law, Lead Web Designer & Developer; and the following staff and students within the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the time of study implementation: Magdalena Osorio, BA; Ramatoulie Jallow, MPH; Cherese Alcorn, BS; Lee McKenna, BS; Jeffrey Johnson, BS; Douglas Lier, BS; and Gudrun Kilian, BA. The content of this article is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health, Annex Teen Clinic, HealthPartners Institute, Planned Parenthood North Central States, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and University of Minnesota.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • Adolescence
  • qualitative research
  • sexual boundaries
  • sexual consent

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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