Friendship, sexual intimacy and young people’s negotiations of sexual health

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Journal Article
Culture, Health and Sexuality, 2017, 19 (4), pp. 486 - 500
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© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This paper examines how young people’s friendships influence safer sexual practices. Through a thematic discourse analysis, interviews with Sydney-based young people (aged 18–25 years) and Australian-based sexual health websites for young people are considered. Interview data illustrate how friendships can support young people's sexual experiences, concerns and safeties beyond the practice of ‘safe sex’ (condom use). This is evident in friends’ practices of sex and relationship advice, open dialogue, trust and sharing experiential knowledge, as well as friend-based sex. Meanwhile, friendship discourse from selected Australian sexual health websites fails to engage with the support offered by friendship, or its value to a sexual health agenda. Foucault’s account of friendship as a space of self-invention is considered in light of these data, along with his argument that friendship poses a threat to formal systems of knowing and regulating sex. Whether sexual or not, many close friendships are sexually intimate given the knowledge, support and influence these offer to one’s sexual practices and relations. This paper argues that greater attention to friendship among sexual health promoters and researchers would improve professional engagements with young people’s contemporary sexual cultures, and better inform their attempts to engage young people through social media.
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