The intimacies of young people’s sexual health and pleasure

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Journal Article
Journal of Youth Studies, 2017, 20 (3), pp. 332 - 348
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© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This paper considers the discourse of intimacy in young people’s accounts of sexual health. In interviews with people from Sydney aged 18–25 years, diverse understandings of sexual safeties are offered, reflecting a range of sex partner intimacies. This is seen in participants’ accounts of having a range of different partners, having different experiences with a particular partner, and having sex with friends. This discourse is considered against Australian sexual health websites for young people. In the websites, connections between safeties and intimacies are not explored, and discussion of safety is limited to condom use, as per the concept of ‘safe sex’. How condom use is supported and/or challenged by sexual and friendship intimacies is overlooked. In considering research claims about the missing discourse of pleasure in formal approaches to young people’s sexual health, I extend this to a missing discourse of intimacy. Connections between pleasure, intimacy, safety, and friendship are explored throughout this paper, and theorisations of intimacy as cultural, public, and intersubjective are considered, drawing upon the works of Lauren Berlant and Eva Illouz. It is argued that sexual health research and promotion that engages with young people’s conceptualisations of intimacy will better engage with young people’s sexual cultures, and hence be more relevant and useful to this population.
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