2017 Education and Research, Health and Social Protection Other

Moving Upstream: Gender Norms and Emerging Sexual Experiences in Early Adolescence

Anna Kågesten

Early adolescence is a time of rapid and interconnected physical, cognitive and social changes that has special salience for sexual development. The norms and behaviors adopted during these formative years can carry lifelong sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) consequences, but little is known about gender attitudes and sexual experiences among young adolescents.

This dissertation contributes to the field of early adolescent SRHR. It provides a systematic review of the global evidence on factors that shape gender attitudes among 10-14-year-olds and introduces new data on gender attitudes and romantic and sexual activities among young adolescents in Nairobi slum neighborhoods. It adds to our current understanding on the endorsement and correlates of stereotypical gender norms related to sexuality during transitions in adolescence.

The thesis was presented during the seminar SRHR.

Main findings

  • Unequal gender attitudes are common among young adolescents and the construction of such attitudes is strongly influenced by family members and peers with differential pressures and repercussions for boys and girls.
  • Findings reveal three distinct sub-groups of romantic and sexual experiences that would not have been captured by looking only at the prevalence of single indicators, indicating the need for broader and age-appropriate measures.
  • The results show that while most young adolescents in the study context have not yet initiated romantic and sexual activities, many are aware of sexual activities and endorse gendered sexual double standard norms.
  • The findings confirm the need for early, upstream interventions that promote healthy sexual development and equitable gender norms before adolescents engage in, or are exposed to, risky sexual practices.

Anna Kågesten is a researcher at Karolinska Institutet. She defended her thesis A window of opportunity: Gender attitudes and patterns of romantic and sexual experiences in early adolescence at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Mars 2017. Moving upstream: Gender norms and emerging sexual experiences in early adolescense is a summary of her thesis.