Adolescent sex and the romantic narrative: Why some young heterosexuals use condoms to prevent pregnancy but not disease

M. Kirkman, D. Rosenthal, A. M.A. Smith

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56 Citations (Scopus)


Young heterosexuals are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases as a result of their inconsistent use of condoms. When a condom is used it is more likely to be to avoid pregnancy than as protection from disease. In this paper, adolescent use of condoms is theorized within the canonical narrative of romance, as one major factor in the social construction of love and sex. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 57 young women and men (aged 16-18 years) in Victoria, Australia. They interpreted their sexual relationships as part of the quest for love, in which women and men had different and well-defined roles to play. In particular, women were understood to value intimate relationships whereas men sought coitus as an end in itself. Discourses of heterosexuality, including the significance of a girl's reputation and the need to accommodate the male sex drive, are linked by the explanatory plot of romance. It is argued that the use of condoms for contraception is consistent with a romantic vision of the future and upholds male virility, but that the discourse of 'safe sex' can not be emplotted within the romantic narrative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-370
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology, Health and Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1998
Externally publishedYes

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