The role of ambiguity in sexual encounters between young people in England

Mitchell, K; Wellings, K; (2002) The role of ambiguity in sexual encounters between young people in England. Culture, health & sexuality, 4 (4). pp. 393-408. ISSN 1369-1058 DOI:

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This paper explores the role of ambiguity in sexual encounters between young people. It is based on a qualitative study of young peoples' communication about sexual matters whilst on a date. Focus groups (4) and semi-structured interviews (n = 29) were conducted with young people (aged 16-29) in three areas of England. The results suggest that ambiguity may serve a useful function in the management of ambivalence during sexual encounters; may protect the self and others from the pain of rejection; and may guard against the possibility of making a false assumption. In such contexts, ambiguity may constitute a reasoned or rational response to a given set of circumstances. This rationality needs to be acknowledged by health professionals. Ambiguity is also sometimes construed as an appropriate mode of communication for a passive female role. Given the complex motivations behind the adoption of ambiguous cues, discussion-based teaching and peer group formats may be more appropriate than didactic teaching methods when helping young people to adopt more direct communication strategies.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Condom use, safe-sex, heterosexual sex, communication, aids, adolescents, power, women, talk, risk
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Public Health and Policy > Dept of Social and Environmental Health Research
Web of Science ID: 181460600002


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