Online Program

Beyond sex: Examining the role of experiences and ideals in African American adolescents' romantic relationships

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Senna Towner, PhD, MCHES, College of Humanities & Social Sciences, Department of Physical Education, Health, & Recreation, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
M. Margaret Dolcini, PhD, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Joseph Catania, PhD, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Gary W. Harper, PhD, MPH, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI
Many adolescents have romantic experiences, which impact their relationship satisfaction and shape their ability to form healthy relationships. For this reason, it is important to distinguish romantic characteristics that lead to negative outcomes from those that inform healthy functioning and development. Studies with low-income African American adolescents frequently focus on the former. This qualitative study explored heterosexual African American adolescents’ romantic experiences as they potentially impact positive functioning and development. Data on romantic and sexual behaviors, cognitions, and emotions were elicited using in-depth, face-to-face interviews with sexually experienced African Americans aged 14-17 living in impoverished urban neighborhoods (N = 52). Interviews were recorded, transcribed, entered into a qualitative data management program, coded and reliability coded, and analyzed using a cross-case comparative approach. We found that monogamy, commitment, trust, and respect were pivotal to adolescents’ romantic relationship experiences. Furthermore, participants had positive ideals about these relationship dynamics, but their experiences were different from their ideals. Our findings suggest that respondents understood the characteristics that provide a foundation for positive relationships, but this understanding did not often match their experiences. More knowledge about African American youths’ romantic experiences and ideals can inform the development of successful interventions designed to help youth build and navigate healthy relationships and increase relationship satisfaction. The results of our work should be used to inform sexual health education and violence prevention programs that teach communication, boundary setting, and conflict resolution in healthy relationships.

Learning Areas:

Diversity and culture
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related education
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Discuss the discrepancy between urban African American adolescents’ romantic ideals and experiences. Explain how romantic experiences and ideals can be used to inform existing sexuality education and violence prevention programs.

Keyword(s): African American, Adolescents

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an Assistant Professor of Community Health at Western Washington University. I have experience conducting research on adolescent sexual health with minority populations. My PhD is in Public Health with an emphasis in Health Promotion/Health Education.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.