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“I Just Want to Feel Good Without Making You Feel Bad”: Sexual Assertiveness Negotiation in Adolescent Romantic Relationships


Sexual assertiveness is often conceptualized as an individual’s ability to express one’s own sexual needs, desires, and limits. Given that sexual assertiveness is embedded in interactions and can affect not only both partners’ sexual well-being but also relationship satisfaction, dyadic approaches are needed to investigate sexual assertiveness negotiation within adolescent romantic relationships. This qualitative study aimed to document adolescents' ability to negotiate their sexual needs, desires, and limits with their partners during interactions where they discussed their sexual concerns. A directed content analysis, based on the life positions of the transactional analysis theory, was conducted on the interactions of 40 adolescent romantic dyads aged 14–19 years (M = 16.65; SD = 1.49). The results revealed four categories of strategies: (1) mutual assertiveness: negotiation of one’s own sexual needs, desires, and limits with those of the partner; (2) singular passiveness: repression of one’s own sexual needs, desires, and limits to privilege those of the partner; (3) singular aggressiveness: prioritization of one’s own sexual needs, desires, and limits over those of the partner; and (4) mutual lack of negotiation skills: neglecting both partners’ sexual needs, desires, and limits. Among other things, adolescents’ ability to be sexually assertive was hindered by anticipations, including assumptions leading to disregarding one’s own sexual needs, desires, and limits or fearing to ignore the partner’s. To promote mutually rewarding sexual activities and prevent sexual violence, sexual education initiatives should support adolescents’ ability to assertively negotiate their sexuality with their partner and avoid passiveness, aggressiveness, and lack of negotiation.

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Data Availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author, M.F., upon reasonable request.


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This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [Grant Number 435-2018-0858] awarded to Mylène Fernet and by a doctoral research scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Fonds de recherche du Québec–Société et Culture awarded to S. Couture.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation and data collection and analysis were performed by SC, MF, and MH. The first draft of the article was written by SC, and all authors commented on previous versions of the article. All the authors read and approved the final article.

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Correspondence to Mylène Fernet.

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The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Ethics Approval

This study was approved by the research ethics review committee involving human subjects (CIEREH) of the Université du Québec à Montréal, the authors’ affiliated university. The study was conducted in accordance with the ethical standards set forth in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its subsequent amendments or comparable ethical standards. The ethical certificate number is 2020-2954.

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Informed consent to participate and to publish was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Identifying details are not provided in the article. Fictitious names were generated to ensure participants’ confidentiality.

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Couture, S., Fernet, M., Hébert, M. et al. “I Just Want to Feel Good Without Making You Feel Bad”: Sexual Assertiveness Negotiation in Adolescent Romantic Relationships. Arch Sex Behav 52, 3063–3079 (2023).

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