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Multiculturalism and Social Work | San Francisco State University

Integrating sexual behavior and intimacy in late adolescence: An investigation of Sullivan's interpersonal theory (Harry Stack Sullivan).

Author: Kawaguchi, Myra Christensen
Author Background: U Tennessee, US
Date 7/2000
Type Dissertation
Journal Title: Dissertation-Abstracts-International:-Section-B:-The-Sciences-and-Engineering
Volume/Pages Vol 61(1-B): 563
Subject Matter Gender, Adolescent-Development; *Interpersonal-Influences; *Intimacy-; *Psychosexual-Behavior; *Well-Being, Research
Abstract Harry Stack Sullivan, outlined stages of interpersonal development from infancy through late adolescence (1953). In his theory, Sullivan described sexual experimentation during adolescence as normative, and the integration of sexual behavior and intimacy as the key developmental task for late adolescents. He also asserted that failure to integrate sexual behaviors and intimacy could result in lower self-esteem and depression. Although Sullivan's theory is a part of the canon of developmental psychology, debate continues concerning whether his ideas are more applicable to males or females. No published investigations have actually examined Sullivan's ideas about adolescent development for either gender. In fact, the empirical research on adolescent sexual behavior and adolescent intimacy have proceeded along remarkably separate lines. The research on adolescent sexuality has tended to equate sexual behavior with intercourse and view it in pathological or problematic terms. The research on adolescent intimacy has yet to focus on romantic or sexual relationships, but generally has tended to view intimacy as a resiliency factor, buffering adolescents from stress and promoting their well-being. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between sexual behavior, intimacy, and well-being among older male and female adolescents and test two hypotheses based on Sullivan's theory: (1) that late adolescents who were integrating sexual activity and intimacy would report greater well-being than other late adolescents, and (2) that intimacy would moderate the relationship between sexual behaviors and well-being. This study used survey methods with 476 single, male and female late adolescents. Results indicated that those who were integrating sexual activity and intimacy had higher self-esteem on average than other adolescents. Intimacy moderated the relationship between intercourse behaviors and well-being for females but not for males. Possible explanations for this gender difference are presented and findings are discussed in light of Sullivan's theory and the existing research on adolescent sexuality and intimacy. Suggestions for future research are also given. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2000 APA, all rights reserved)