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Engaging Youth Perspectives on Sexual Rights and Gender Equality in Intimate Relationships as a Foundation for Rights-Based Sexuality Education

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Recent efforts to promote a rights-based approach to sexuality education have emphasized the integration of human rights and gender equality principles into health promotion messages, with the goal of empowering youth regarding their sexual health and rights. When operationalizing this model into practice, it is critical that program developers and researchers engage youth in dialogue about the nature and meaning of these inherently complex constructs to enhance program relevance and effectiveness. In this study, we explored perspectives on sexual rights and gender equality in adolescent sexual relationships through eight focus groups with youth (N = 51) in low-income, predominantly Hispanic and African-American communities in Los Angeles, CA, as part of the development of a rights-based sexuality education initiative. Although youth were familiar with human rights in the context of social justice movements, many questioned the application of human rights to their own relationships. Youth articulated a number of potential challenges of the rights framework for adolescent relationships, addressing issues of relationship friction, rule-breaking, gender roles, and types of relationships. This article explores these themes and offers recommendations for the development of rights-based sexuality education programs and policy that are guided by the voices, interests, needs, and concerns of young people.

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This study employed data from a larger evaluation study funded by Planned Parenthood Los Angeles through a contract to the Public Health Institute, Oakland, CA. The analyses reported here were supported by grants from the Ford Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The authors thank Jessica Lin for research assistance, and Planned Parenthood Los Angeles education staff for co-facilitating focus groups.

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Correspondence to Nancy F. Berglas.

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Berglas, N.F., Angulo-Olaiz, F., Jerman, P. et al. Engaging Youth Perspectives on Sexual Rights and Gender Equality in Intimate Relationships as a Foundation for Rights-Based Sexuality Education. Sex Res Soc Policy 11, 288–298 (2014).

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