This work was supported by the Foundation for Research of the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare and the University of Eastern Finland, Department of Nursing Science.
Adolescent girls’ ability to negotiate effectively is necessary for their sexual health. The aims of this study were to discover the issues of negotiation in Finnish adolescent girls’ sexual encounters, what kinds of negotiation strategies they used, and how the girls’ intentions were fulfilled. The data are comprised of 68 narratives of 9th grade girls regarding their experiences in sexually motivated situations that involved negotiation. The narratives were analyzed using narrative analysis with a categorical-content mode of reading. Regardless of the negotiation strategy used, most of the participating girls (89.7 %) were able to fulfill their intention. The girls used different negotiation strategies rather successfully and they were able to maintain control and fulfill their intention through negotiations. A verbal-direct strategy was the most frequently described way to negotiate and it served the girl’s intention, especially in maintaining control. A nonverbal-direct strategy was rather effective especially in negotiation regarding the girl's personal hopes. A verbal-indirect negotiation strategy also worked in some contexts. However, none of the negotiation strategies were successful in all contexts. In sex education it is important to help girls understand the importance of negotiation about sexual issues and to teach them to use different negotiation strategies effectively.
Adolescence is a period of complex and multidimensional transition between childhood and adulthood that involves many biological, cognitive, and socio-emotional changes. The developmental process of early adolescence corresponds roughly to the junior high school years and includes most pubertal changes (Santrock, 2008). One of the important tasks in adolescence is to “process” sexuality, sexual roles, and healthy sexual behavior. During early adolescence, girls work up personal interests, goals, and values, and they learn and practice achievement of intention and negotiation in their relationships. In the promotion of sexual health, adolescents are enabled to increase their control over, identify, and realize their intentions and desires, satisfy their needs, and improve their sexual health (Aggleton & Campbell, 2000; WHO, 2010).
Adolescent girls’ ability to communicate and negotiate effectively about their sexual desires and intentions is necessary for their sexual health and satisfying sexual experiences. Failure to do so may place them at risk of unintended pregnancy, STDs, sexual violence, and other negative sexual experiences (Rickert et al., 2002). It has been asserted that adolescent girls’ communication and negotiation strategies with their partner also significantly affect their safe sex practices, like condom use. Many previous researchers support this assumption (Catania et al., 1989; Weissman et al., 1989; Strader et al., 1992; Sheeran et al., 1999; Kordoutis et al., 2000; Stone & Ingham, 2002; Holschneider & Alexander, 2003; Manlove et al., 2003, 2004; Noar et al., 2006; Widman et al., 2006). However, some studies (e.g. Lock et al., 1998) have shown different results; communication does not automatically lead to safe sex practices.
Negotiation differs from general communication. In negotiation, two partners try to work out a solution to a concrete question, like sexual activity, and try to attune their personal intentions. Negotiation includes reciprocity and statement of clear personal intentions, which means letting the partner know what is desired, and discussing the matter with him/her. A person’s intention in performing an action is his/her specific purpose in doing so, the goal he/she is aiming for or intends to accomplish; this element distinguishes negotiation from communication, dialogue, and discussion. Negotiation about sexual issues is a complex social interaction where the individual’s as well as the partner’s dynamics need to be taken into account along with the specific circumstances. It requires special skills and knowledge, like assertiveness, it contains impression management, and it requires constant effort, even among those who have made the most progress in incorporating it (Lear, 1995; Ridge, 2004, 2007). Negotiation is necessary particularly when sexual partners are unaware of each other’s intentions or when they have different intentions, for example, concerning contraception (DeVisser, 2004).
The “girlpower” movement in the twentieth century has produced a “new” girlhood in Western culture. Girls have defined themselves as independent, successful, and self-inventing participants of society. This change in youth culture enables young girls to empower themselves, be more assertive, show their aggression, and take their place in different forums. Being heard and seen by others has become one of the most important socio-political objectives for adolescent girls in society as well as in their social relationships (Harris, 2004; Aapola et al., 2005). Young girls expect good-quality interactions in their dating relationships. They desire reciprocal contact, and a relationship that enables sharing of thoughts and feelings (Näre, 2005).
In Finland, attitudes towards sexuality and sex education are positive. Sex education has been offered in schools since the 1970s, nowadays as part of the national curriculum (FNBE, 2004). Adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health in Finland has been considered good internationally. The median age in female sexual initiation in Finland is close to what has been found in other Western European countries (Kontula, 2003, 2010). Thirty percent of Finnish girls had their first coitus before the age of 16. More than half of them (52%) have had one sexual partner and 76% had not used alcohol before their last intercourse. Eighty-six percent used modern contraceptives (condoms or pills) at the age of 15 ( Finnish School Health Promotion Study, 2009). Finnish 9th grade girls have a positive presumption about their ability to control sexual situations and suggest contraception. Almost all (95%) felt it was easy to refuse unpleasant sexual behavior, and 83% felt it was easy even when drunken. Likewise, most girls (94%) estimated that it would be easy to suggest or even require condom use. Eighty-five percent of girls thought it would be easy to talk openly about sex with their partner ( Finnish School Health Promotion Study, 2009).
However, negotiation about sexual matters is often (still) dominated by traditional gender roles. Traditionally, girls are usually not expected to assert their own needs in sexual encounters. Girls who are openly sexually active, reveal their needs and desires for sex, and seek their own sexual pleasure are easily defined as “slags.” If a girl is too sexually active, her reputation can be questioned because of breaking the expectations of socially accepted and gendered behavior (Holland et al., 1990; Kordoutis et al., 2000; Saarikoski, 2001; Aaltonen & Honkatukia, 2002; Aapola et al., 2005; Aaltonen, 2006). Likewise, girls may lack confidence in sexual matters and may feel unable to ask for what they want. The reason for this may be their embarrassment or their assumption that men are more competent actors in sex. They may also avoid discussing, and for example suggesting condom use, because the discussion itself may be interpreted as consenting to intercourse (Holland et al., 1990; Holland & Ramazanoglu, 1992; DeVisser, 2004). The girl may also believe she does not have the right to communicate about her sexual desires and wishes, refuse to have intercourse, or make decisions about contraception, regardless of her partner’s wishes (Rickert et al., 2002; c.f. WHO, 2011).
In previous research (e.g. Vanwesenbeeck, 1997), it has been presented that even though young women are able to say yes or no – i.e. give their consent to sexual intimacy – they are not necessarily able to negotiate further. There can be a mismatch between girls’ intellectual empowerment and their capacity to put their intentions into sexual practice. Oftentimes they have knowledge, expectations, and possibilities in a sexual encounter, but they fail in their attempts to take control over their own sexuality. They are not able to bring their expectations and control over sexual situations into practice. For example, some girls may have intended to propose condom use, but for some reason were not able to do so. Likewise, even though a girl may have negotiated and discussed about sex with her dating partner, the outcome of negotiating may have been negative. For example, even though the girl proposed condom use, her partner may have refused (Holland & Ramazanoglu, 1992; Kordoutis et al., 2000; Guzman et al., 2003). Sometimes girls have to be rather assertive in defining their own desires. The girl may get frustrated and discouraged when either her partner did not continue the discussion or he became angry or reacted in some other negative way. She also has to be prepared to lose her boyfriend if his definition of a satisfactory sexual relationship is not achieved (Holland et al., 1990; Lock et al., 1998; Coleman & Ingham, 1999).
Negotiation in heterosexual relationships is a complex process. The language available for communication about sexuality is often limited and gendered. Not only can the topics of the conversation be socially defined according to the speaker’s sex, but woman and men often differ in the phrases and words they use. While men can access a public language of instrumental sexuality, women are relegated to accessing a respectable language of romance. Likewise, female talk often involves feelings, and men’s talk distances the self from emotions. Additionally, much of the feminine language of sex is constituted in silences. This may cause differences, confusions, and contradictions in communicating about sex and sexuality between women and men (Holland et al. 1998; Marston, 2004).
At least in the early stages of a relationship, sexual encounters often involve very little verbal and open communication. More often communication is nonverbal and coded (Lear, 1995). Previous studies have shown the importance of indirect and nonverbal communication in negotiating sexual issues, for example safe sex or condom use in a sexual encounter. Although direct strategies may be more frequently used and seem to be more effective, for example condom users also employ indirect strategies successfully. Most individuals use multiple strategies when negotiating condom use, for example (Choi et al., 2004; Lam et al., 2004; Lam & Barnhardt, 2006).
Lam et al. (2004), Lam and Barnhardt (2006), and Choi et al. (2004) have found different strategies in females’ negotiation about condom use. According to Lam et al. (2004) and Lam and Barnhardt, (2006); young women use verbal-direct, verbal-indirect, nonverbal-direct and nonverbal-indirect strategies. Verbal-direct messages are verbal: the girl is explicit in her request. She discusses openly about sexual issues, (e.g., gives STD or pregnancy as a reason to use condoms), tells her partner directly what she wants, and verbally expresses negative feelings (i.e., objections or complaints) about things she dislikes. She may also verbally threaten (e.g., no condom, no sex) her partner. Verbal-indirect messages are verbal in nature but the girl is more subtle in her requests. She may drop hints (“so and so just got pregnant”), flatter (“we will need to use extra-large condoms”), give a relationship-related reason (it will enhance our relationship), offer a trade-off (do this for me, I’ll do something for you), or mislead her partner (tell her partner to use a condom to avoid pregnancy when she really has a STD concern). In nonverbal-direct negotiation, the girl is not verbal, yet she is direct in her messages. For example, she may place a condom on the pillow or somewhere in view, put the condom on her partner, physically withdraw (move away) from her partner if he is not compliant, or hand the condom to her partner when she herself wants to use it. Nonverbal-indirect messages are not verbal. The girl is subtle in her message. In meaning to use a condom, she may leave a safe sex article or pamphlet in view, hoping her partner would notice it, use seduction to increase her partner’s sexual arousal to ease condom use, or look through her purse or a nightstand to show her desire to use a condom.
The aims of this study were to find out what issues are negotiated in Finnish adolescent girls’ sexually motivated situations, what kinds of negotiation strategies they use in those situations, and how the girls’ intentions are fulfilled. This paper is part of a larger study that focuses on the sexual behavior of 9th grade Finnish girls from different theoretical frameworks. The study has a multidisciplinary basis, but its theoretical and conceptual position lies in health promotion and nursing science. The study is discussed in the context of heterosexuality.
The target group was obtained from the European Network for Health Promotion Schools (ENHPS; SHE since 2007) in Finland (Turunen et al., 1999, 2004; Tossavainen et al., 2005). After pre-testing data, the data for this study were collected from ninth grade girls in three schools in western Finland and three in eastern Finland. Permission to conduct the research was obtained in written form from the school principals and the girls’ parents. Information on the objective of the research and its implementation was included in the request for permission for the study. Based on this information, the parents and girls gave their informed consent to the study.
Participation in the study was voluntary for the girls in each phase, and this was strongly emphasized at the writing sessions. Thirty-five girls (13%) out of 269 potential participants did not want to participate. Declining to participate in the study occurred in three different ways: (1) the girls or their parents did not give their informed consent, (2) the girls did not arrive to the classroom where the data were collected, or (3) they left an empty paper for the researcher. This study adopted appropriate Finnish standard ethical practice during the entire research process (c.f. Medical Research Act, 1999; National Advisory Board on Research Ethics, 2002).
The data consisted of the writings of 9th grade (14 – 15-year-old) girls. The critical incidence technique employed concentrates on certain events or situations that mark important turning points or changes in the life of a person (Turunen et al., 2004; Schluter et al., 2007). The girls were asked to describe what remains in their mind as an especially noticeable situation in which they experienced sexual motivation. The situation could have been anything that in their opinion was important or special to them and in which they experienced aroused sexual interest, thoughts, and feelings. The girls were not asked to write about possible intercourse, but about any situation of sexual interest. They were asked to remember and describe the situation and events (acts, thoughts, plans, feelings) as specifically as possible. The data were collected during school lessons by the first author.
The data are comprised of altogether 234 narratives. The girls wrote about various sexual experiences: intercourse, petting under or over clothing, kissing, intimacy with their partner, and looking at or touching their partner. Films or other pictures or watching TV or reading books or magazines were also described as sexual experiences. The experiences the girls wrote about were both positive and negative, and some of them were mixed. The length of the narratives varied considerably; some girls wrote only a few sentences, while others wrote long papers. Most of the narratives were very informative and they created rich and multidimensional data for the study.
The data used for this paper consisted of 68 narratives that mention negotiation. Some of the narratives included several different expressions about negotiation. Thus, the number of negotiation expressions in the narratives of this study was 75. The criteria of negotiation narratives were: a concrete question of what should be solved, reciprocity in negotiation, and the girl’s personal intention. These elements were found in all the included narratives. The data excluded narratives that did not meet the criteria of negotiation. Excluded narratives were, for example, general discussions, love talk and other emotional expressions, speculation about the relationship, dreaming and future plans, and arousing talk and communication where only one partner communicated, for example by giving instructions to the other partner. These were not defined as negotiation narratives. The data also excluded narratives in which the girl pretended or lied to her partner or the girl’s own intention was unclear or conflicting.
The purpose of this study was to understand girls' sexual experiences by means of their stories, attempts, and actions. The data were analyzed by using narrative analysis, which, according to Lieblich et al. (1998), enables different modes of reading. In this data analysis, the categorical-content mode of reading was used. It concentrated on meaningful parts of the text: expressions, phrases, or sentences. The original expressions or the researcher’s summaries were grouped together and classified. Categories were formed by compacting the grouped texts according to their content. First narrow and later broader categories were created. During the analysis process it was necessary to return several times to the girls’ narratives and to create and clarify categories while keeping the overall task and context in mind. The analysis was done by the first author and the two other authors reviewed and critically evaluated the analysis. Based on their comments, some categories were clarified.
First, the contents of the negotiations were analyzed in terms of the issues about which they negotiated. In each narrative the issue of negotiation was defined. The issues were grouped and categorized according to their content. The contents of the negotiations were defined as maintaining control and the girls’ personal wishes.
Second, from the original expressions the researchers sought the kinds of negotiation strategies the girls used. Applying Lam et al. (2004) and Lam and Barnhardt (2006), the negotiation strategies were verbal-direct, verbal-indirect, and nonverbal-direct. The criteria for classifying the original expressions into three different strategies are described in Table I. The verbal-direct strategy included direct requests or statements about the girl’s likes and dislikes, verbal messages about her intentions, and firm expressions about her feelings. The verbal-indirect strategy included verbal but indirect messages; the girl framed a request in the form of a question or as an open, non-confrontational statement, or dropped hints to express her intention. The nonverbal-indirect strategy included nonverbal messages like body language, intended to express the girl’s interests and intentions to her partner. No nonverbal-indirect strategies were found in these data. A nonverbal-indirect strategy can be seen as direct action that includes implicit messages (about something). Thus, it was difficult to interpret direct action as negotiation, for example looking through one’s purse to express a desire to use a condom. These kinds of details were not mentioned in the girls’ narratives.
Table I. Criteria of the negotiation strategies (applied from Lam et al., 2004).
explicit direct messages
direct request or statement about her likes and dislikes, informs her partner about her intention, speaks firmly about her feelings
verbal but less assertive style, no specific expressions, avoids direct statements
frames a request in the form of a question or as an open, non-confrontational statement, drops hints to express her intention
no verbal messages
body language: meaningful sight, guiding, or stopping the partner’s hands
Third, in light of the different negotiation strategies, the researchers sought to answer how the girls’ intentions were fulfilled or not fulfilled in the sexually motivated situations mentioned in the girls’ narratives. The rate of fulfillment of intention in the different negotiation strategies in the narratives was calculated.
The negotiations were implemented with the purpose of maintaining control (f = 40) and realizing the girl's personal wishes (f = 35). The strategies the girls used to achieve their intention were verbal-direct, verbal-indirect, and nonverbal-direct. The frequencies of each expression are presented in Table II.
Table II. Negotiation expressions (f = 75) in narratives: classification according to content of negotiation and negotiation strategies.
Content of negotiation
Verbal-direct negotiation strategy
(f = 51)
Verbal-indirect negotiation strategy
(f = 8)
Nonverbal-direct negotiation strategy
(f = 16)
Control of the situation
(f = 40)
Limiting (f = 18)
Being ready dialogue (f = 5)
Agreement or permission (f = 3)
Several themes of control (f = 5)
Limiting (f = 4)
Limiting (f = 5)
Girl’s personal wishes
(f = 35)
Expressing personal wishes and needs (f = 7)
Making proposals (f = 10)
Expressing desire (f = 2)
Several themes of negotiation about personal hopes (f = 1)
Expressing personal wishes and needs (f = 2)
Making proposals (f = 2)
Expressing personal wishes and needs (f = 7)
Making proposals (f = 4)
The girls’ intentions were fulfilled in 61 narratives (90 %). In seven narratives (10 %) they were not achieved. A nonverbal-direct strategy was an effective way to negotiate: 94 % of the girls who described it achieved their intention. Intention was also effectively achieved in 90 % of the narratives where the girls described using a verbal-direct strategy. Seventy-five percent of the girls who described using a verbal-indirect negotiation strategy were able to fulfill their intentions.
The category Maintaining Control was based on the girls response to their partner action and it included the following contents: limiting, being ready dialogue, and agreement discussion. In negotiation about maintaining control, the concrete questions to be solved were: what are the limits of sexual activity, do the partners want to continue sexual activity in the situation, how “far” do the partners want to progress, is it time for intercourse, and should a condom be used or not. In such negotiation the girls reacted and responded to their partners’ action or their request, and the girls limited, refused, or agreed to sexual activity.
The most mentioned verbal-direct strategy was effective in maintaining control. The girls were able to control the situation through direct talk and expressed their intention by limiting and via being ready dialogues and agreement discussions, for example, about condom use. The girls expressed their intention verbally, clearly, and firmly: they said what they wanted and particularly what they did not want.
The girls limited the situation by refusing, forbidding, interrupting, or denying sexual activity using a verbal-direct strategy. The girls personal intention was to control their partner, the activity, and the situation when they had “an idea” in their minds about what they liked to do and how, and what they did not want to do in the situation. The girls were able to limit and interrupt the sexual encounter on their own initiatives by saying directly and assertively that they do not want to or they cannot continue sexual activity. The girls also forbade their partner from doing something they did not like, for example, undress or pet them. Likewise, when their partner expressed their wishes, like wanting to have something "more" like undressing, petting, or vaginal or anal intercourse, the girls refused, said no, and expressed directly that they did not agree with that. Their partner understood it and accepted it. Sometimes the partners required a more or less assertive, determinative, and strict tone before the girls’ intentions of limiting the situation was recognized and carried out.
“He already started to unbutton my jeans, but then I withdrew. I told him straight I don’t want to now and he was very understanding.”
Likewise, the girls required a condom when their partner asked if it must be used. The girls used a verbal-direct strategy successfully to carry out their intention to use a condom during intercourse.
”Before we started he asked if he must use a condom. My answer was: absolutely yes.”
The being ready dialogue was part of negotiation about maintaining control. The being ready dialogue is based on the presumption that girl must feel she is ready (the situation, environment, atmosphere, partner, and her own feelings must be right) before commencing sexual activities. The dialogue means strongly scripted talk where the partner asked in the situation before intercourse if the girl felt she was ready for it. Sometimes the dialogue may have sounded predetermined: this must be asked, and that must be answered. However, it also had a real negotiation purpose. The girls answered that they were ready and then intercourse was started. The couple may also have the same negotiation in different terms: “if it is the time for intercourse”.
“We started to undress and he asked if I surely am ready, because he was a little bit older than me. I told him I was and he started to penetrate.”
In agreement discussions the partners asked permission to progress in the sexual encounter, for example to kiss, undress, pet, or penetrate. The girls agreed (or did not agree) and gave their consent to their partner and then the action was carried out.
“Of course first he beautifully asked permission before he unbuttoned my jeans.”
When the question was about maintaining control, the girls’ intentions were not always fulfilled even though they used a verbal-direct strategy. The girls used a verbal-direct strategy in the intent to limit their partner, or to refuse, or to use a condom. For example, the girls forbade their partner to undress or penetrate them by saying they did not want it, or the partners pressed the girls and required intercourse without a condom. Straight talk did not affect the partners and the girls failed in their intention; the partners did not take into account the girls’ wishes. The girls were not able to be assertive enough if their partner were very demanding or pushy and their partner took what they wanted by force. The outcome of the situation was an unwanted sexual encounter like kissing, oral sex, unprotected intercourse, or rape.
“And at the end of the evening he started to make all kinds of proposals. First he asked only “shall we kiss” and I said “no” many times. Despite that he pushed his mouth to my mouth and I wrenched myself out of it.“
A verbal-indirect strategy was rather successful in implementing the girls’ intentions when negotiation was about maintaining control in the situation. The girls used verbal indirect expressions like hints, metaphors, and clues to express themselves, to progress, or to limit sexual activity. Their partner understood their indirect and implicit messages and accepted them.
“It was around 1 a.m. when, after dropping hints, we thought to try intercourse the first time for both of us. We both insinuated about it.”
The girls were not always able to fulfill their intention of refusing sexual activity that they did not want, but their partner desired. Verbal indirect messages did not work and the girls failed in their negotiation. The partners did not take into account the girls’ indirect refusals and the partners were persistent in their interests, so they acted according to their personal motivation despite the girls’ intentions and wishes.
“After we glanced at each other he asked me for a slow dance. I haven’t danced a slow dance before, so I felt nervous and I tried to be evasive. He didn’t give up and required it again and again. Then he just smiled and drew me by the hand to the middle of the living room.”
The girls also used a nonverbal-direct strategy effectively to express their intention to limit their partner and the situation. Using body language and by giving nonverbal clues, the girls controlled or limited their partner’s advances, or refused sexual activity. Similarly, the girls expressed a lack of interest in sexual activity by starting to do something else, like answering or playing with a mobile phone at the time of sexual activity (without saying anything to their partners). The partners understood the girls’ purpose and stopped the ongoing activity.
“But the reason I was so quiet. It was his hand. Well, it was on my knee. He stroked it... It means (like you probably understand) it moved. And his hand moved all the time to ... well, to it. He took (?!?) me into account; as soon as I gave a signal like putting my legs together, his hand dropped.”
Girl’s Personal Wishes
The category Girl’s Personal Wishes was based on the girls actions and their personal intention and wishes. It included the following contents: making proposals, expressing personal wishes and needs, and expressing desire. In negotiation about the girls personal wishes the question was about the girls personal intention and expressions of their wishes, needs, and desire and how to fulfill them with their partner. In negotiating about their personal wishes and needs the girls mainly used a verbal-direct or nonverbal-direct strategy successfully. A verbal-indirect strategy was also used to express personal wishes and needs as well as desire, and to making proposals and suggestions about sexual activity and condom use.
The girls used a verbal-direct strategy to make proposals and suggestions. They said directly and openly what they wanted to do, like have sex, intercourse, or condom use. Their partner agreed to it.
“At that moment I thought I wanted to have sex with him! I asked him about it and that was very okay to him!”
A verbal-direct strategywas useful in expressing personal wishes and needs. The girls directly and initiatively told their partner what they wanted; they were explicit in their requests and wishes. The girls expressed what kind of sexual activity they wanted or more detailed questions about sexual technique, how to pet and where, and the way they wanted to have intercourse. The partners acted according to the girls’ wishes and requests.
“First I asked if he surely wanted to. After that he listened to my wishes, how and where it felt good to me, etc. I also asked how and where he wanted me to touch him. Well, first he didn’t know if I really wanted to, that’s why I suggested we go further. I asked it straight. I limited him in one thing. I didn’t want anal sex. I said it straight. I was able to say my opinions and he told his.”
However, sometimes the girls failed in negotiation to fulfill their personal hopes and wishes with their partner when using a verbal-direct strategy. The partners did not take into account the girls’ request and refused to fulfill it. Then girls’ intentions were not achieved.
“The only thing that remained bothering me was that he didn’t want to give oral sex to me, even though I requested it.”
A verbal-indirect strategy allowed the girls to implicitly express their wishes and needs to their partner. The girls avoided direct statements about their desires. Instead, they actively led the discussion to the areas they wanted and in doing so, they were able to present their wishes to their partner. The partners realized the girls intentions and they followed the given indirect instructions.
A verbal-indirect strategy was also very effective in making proposals. The girls were active and showed initiative in expressing their desires about the sexual encounter. They actively made requests and expressed explicit wishes and proposals to their partner, for example, about having intercourse. The partners implemented the girls’ desires.
“With a little use of initiative and by guiding discussions in the right direction, I found he was soon in my room in our house.”
“I didn’t want sex immediately, but foreplay first. I said it furtively.”
Correspondingly, when negotiating about the girls’ wish to use a condom, the girls did not discuss directly about intercourse or condom use, instead they dropped hints and talked about "it" or used other indirect expressions. The partners understood the girls’ intention and a condom was used during intercourse.
”At one point he said ”I have one”. We both knew that meant a rubber. I asked “Do you want to?” and he answered “Do you want to?” The situation was clear indeed. He took a rubber, we undressed each other and then we started.”
Sometimes a verbal-indirect strategywas also unsuccessful. Even though the girls indirectly expressed their dislikes by hinting that they did not like the way their partner touched them, their partner continued the sexual activity the way they themselves wanted. Some girls evaluated afterwards that they should have used direct verbal messages to realize their intention better.
“He surely recognized I didn’t like it, but it didn’t have any effect.”
A nonverbal-direct strategy seemed to be very effective in making initiations. The girls started sexual action by wrapping their arms around their partner or by starting to kiss, undress, or pet in a way that expressed their intention to start sexual action. Body language and straight action were ways to make the partners know what the girls wanted to do, for example, guiding their partner’s hand to touch or slowing down or petting the way girls liked. The partners understood the girls’ messages and proceeded accordingly.
“I kissed him on the mouth and I eased my hand into his jeans. And he seemed to understand immediately what I had in my mind.”
Additionally, a nonverbal-direct strategy was a rather successful way for the girls to express their personal wishes and needs. The girls used body language to express to their partner their likes and dislikes and the girls advanced the situation in the way they wanted by using body language and actions without words. Body language was denoted for the purpose of expressing intention. The girls promoted the sexual encounter with their action and gestures, for example, by petting their partner the way they wanted him to pet them or by guiding their partners’ hand. Some girls also "answered" their partner’s direct verbal question with action, like starting to open the buttons of their partner’s jeans as an answer or by expressing permission to continue by "not hindering". The partners understood the meaning of the nonverbal messages and acted accordingly.
“I made him aware of my wordless wishes and he even preferred me in that situation. I intended to affect: by guiding his hand and by glancing. I encouraged him with a smile and guided him directly.”
This study provides additional information about adolescent girls’ sexual negotiation. It clarifies themes, processes, and the use of different negotiation strategies in sexually motivated situations of adolescent girls. In addition, it provides new knowledge of the efficiency of negotiation strategies in achievement of intention. This paper confirms the results of previous research underlining the importance of negotiation strategies concerning sexual issues. Previous studies of female sexual negotiation strategies (Choi et al., 2004; Lam et al., 2004; Lam & Barnhardt, 2006) have focused on a specific intention: negotiation about condom use. In this paper, the focus was more general: different themes/contents of negotiation and fulfillment of intention through negotiation. Contraception and condom use was only one part of negotiation.
The participating Finnish adolescent girls seemed to be active and relatively effective negotiators: most of them were able to fulfill their intentions of maintaining control and expressing personal wishes through negotiations. Contrary to previous studies (e.g. Holland et al., 1990; Holland & Ramazanoglu, 1992), most of girls in this study had enough confidence to negotiate about sexual matters and were able to ask for what they wanted. They were also able to express their own needs and desires and bring their expectations and control of sexual situations into practice. Regardless of the negotiation strategy they used, most of the girls (90 %) were able to achieve their intention. The amount of initiatives for negotiation was quite equal between the girls and their partners, and it seems negotiation was not very difficult for the adolescent girls. Instead, negotiation seemed to be a rather natural part of their sexual encounter. It is possible that in this study context, in Finland in the 21st century, adolescent girls have more space to negotiate and to assert control over sexual situations than ever before (c.f. Aapola et al., 2005; Harris, 2004). This creates a good basis for their sexual health and satisfying sexual experiences also in adulthood.
The girls used different negotiation strategies rather successfully and they were able to maintain control and fulfill their intention through negotiations. A verbal-direct strategy was the most described way to negotiate and promote achievement of the girls’ intention. A nonverbal-direct strategy like body language seemed to be rather useful as well, especially in negotiating about the girl's personal wishes: in expressing wishes, needs, and desire and in making initiations and proposals. A verbal-indirect strategy also worked well. Different negotiation strategies may also have been used simultaneously.
Direct strategies seemed to be slightly more effective than indirect strategies among the participants. However, verbal-direct negotiation or other negotiation strategies were not successful in all contexts. Failure in fulfilling the girls’ intention was possible in both areas of negotiation – in negotiating about maintaining control and in negotiating about the girls’ personal wishes. Some girls failed in negotiation when using a verbal-direct or verbal-indirect strategy. Failure in the use of a nonverbal-direct strategy was not mentioned in the girls’ narratives. The reasons for failure with verbal strategies may have been multiple, for example weak personal intention, lack of assertiveness of the girl, the partner’s characteristics, or gender roles. The girls did not describe clear communication or language problems in their narratives (c.f. Marston, 2004; Holland et al., 1998). However, failing in negotiation, where the girl’s intention was not achieved, could be interpreted as such.
Negotiation with a sexual partner is a complex process. A precondition for effective negotiation is that the girl’s intention is clear to herself; she needs to know what she wants to do and how, and what her possible limits, personal morals, or health principles are regarding sexual activity. If the girl’s personal interest is unclear to herself, it is difficult to negotiate determinedly. It is important for a girl to be clear and consistent in her expressions, whether they are verbal or nonverbal. Additionally, she needs to withstand pressure when her intention is in contradiction with her partner’s interests. If needed, she should be assertive and persistent in maintaining her intention in a time of possible conflict in order to promote her personal intentions in a sexual encounter.
Negotiation is a relationship question. A considerate partner who pays attention to the girl’s wishes and needs makes negotiation easier for the girl. An attentive partner promotes the girl’s success in negotiation. Correspondingly, a dominating and persistent partner can become a barrier to the girl’s intention and negotiation. If the partner pressures; the girl needs strong efficacy, an internal Locus of Control, and assertiveness to implement her intention (c.f. Suvivuo et al., 2008). Negotiation in a steady relationship may be easier than in a casual relationship once trust has been built (Widman et al., 2006) and the partners know each other and each other’s tastes and preferences. Then the need for negotiation and assertiveness can be more limited. However, some girls may feel it is easier to express their wishes and needs if the mate is casual. Then the girl does not need to be ashamed about her needs and interests and she does not need to try to please him. It is also notable that, through negotiation, partners can develop trust with a casual or new partner. In any case, the importance of negotiating about safe sex is important with a casual or new partner as well as with a steady one.
Gender roles may cause a lack of power and hinder girls’ ability to negotiate about sexual issues in an effective and assertive way (c.f. Holland et al., 1990; Holland & Ramazanoglu, 1992; Holland et al., 1998; Kordoutis et al., 2000; DeVisser, 2004; Lam et al., 2004). When a girl has adopted a commitment to please her partner in a romantic relationship, it may be a trap for the girl’s negotiation aims. If it is not suitable to disappoint her partner, it is difficult to interrupt sexual activity in the middle of the activity, especially if the girl has given her consent to sex in the beginning. Likewise, if the assumption is that the girl needs to be nice and sweet, it is impossible for the girl to be assertive and fussy when she wants to limit her dominating partner or require contraception.
Limitations of the study
The purpose of narrative research is not to produce generalized or objective research but to produce personal, subjective, and local knowledge (Elliot, 2005; Clanidin & Rosiek, 2007; Pinnegar & Daynes, 2007). This study examined a special, selected target group of Finnish adolescent girls. This group does not represent all Finnish girls, only a portion of them.
The study has some limitations that need to be taken into account. The data of the complete study are comprised of 234 narratives. Negotiation was mentioned in 68 narratives. This is 29 % of the whole data set. It is notable that in this study the instructions for writing the narratives did not focus on negotiation or communication; the girls were asked to describe situations in which they experienced sexual interest and motivation. Thus, it is possible that the girls negotiated more in the situations or use different strategies, even though they did not feel they were meaningful enough to write about them. One possible reason is also that, in steady relationships, the rules and principals were negotiated beforehand (before the situations the girls wrote about). Likewise, it is possible that as the participants were not alerted to the focus of the study, they may have omitted reporting on important issues, for example nonverbal signaling. For example, it may be that the girls who used verbal direct strategies used them in conjunction with nonverbal direct strategies, but they only mentioned the verbal ones. Perhaps verbal direct strategies were necessary when the partners didn’t respond to the nonverbal direct strategies. This could also explain why there was a lower rate of success in those narratives.
Additionally, the data excluded narratives in which the girl’s own intention was unclear or conflicting. Maybe also girls who did not feel confident enough to negotiate were excluded. That can partly explain the contradictory results compared with previous research (e.g. Holland et al., 1990; Holland & Ramazanoglu, 1992). It is possible that the conclusions could have been different if the data had also included narratives where the girl’s intention was not clear. In previous studies, the female participants have been older than in this study. Despite these differences, the results were rather parallel. In this study, the negotiation strategies created by Lam et al. (2004) were applied. They provided a useful framework for analyzing the girls’ negotiation strategies: three negotiation strategies were relatively effective in some contexts.
Practical implications for sex education
Sex education in Western countries has focused on contraception and condom use and it is supposed this is the central question in adolescents’ negotiations. However, it seems contraception is not the main theme in adolescent girls’ negotiations: only five girls (7 %) negotiated about condom use in this study. Thus, sex education topics should also consider more relevant questions of adolescents’ negotiation, like how to maintain control and negotiate about personal wishes and needs. Sex education should expand on wider relationship questions.
From the standpoint of adolescent girls´ sexual health and wellness, it is vital to know effective negotiation strategies. This is necessary in order to promote girls’ sexual satisfaction in negotiation about their personal wishes and hopes and to prevent negative sexual experiences like unprotected intercourse or rape (c.f. Holschneider & Alexander, 2003; DeVisser, 2004).
It is important in sex education to help teenage girls understand the importance of effective negotiation about sexual issues and to teach them to use both verbal and nonverbal strategies effectively. It would be useful to introduce a variety of different strategies from which girls can select and use an appropriate one in their sexual context, depending on their partner’s characteristics, power dynamics, timing, situation, and context (c.f. Choi et al., 2004). It is necessary to ensure that teenage girls have the skills needed to negotiate about sexual activity and safe sex behavior, like negotiating about condom use in sexually motivated situations. Negotiation and refusal skills as well as assertiveness and conflict management need to be practiced in sex education through different kinds of exercises. Role-playing exercises, games, and drama may be effective tools in developing these skills (c.f. Suvivuo et al., 2008). It is notable that girls are not alone in responding to sexual encounters, safe sex, contraceptive use, or negotiation. In addition, boys should also be educated to take responsibility in these things and to listen to their partner. More attention should also be paid to the sex education of young men; they need more knowledge about the social and sexual needs of young women (c.f. Holland & Ramazanoglu, 1992).
Sex education must emphasize a girl’s right to have personal intentions – and to negotiate. A girl needs to know she has the right to refuse sex and intercourse whenever she feels so, to require safe sex and contraception, and to stop foreplay at any time. A girl must also be aware that she has the right to ask her partner to make love in different ways and to express her own wishes, desires, and needs to her partner; she has the right to experience and require sexual pleasure (c.f. Holland & Ramazanoglu, 1992; Holland et al., 1998; Rickert et al., 2002). These rights create the cornerstone for successful negotiation.
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