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Normative Sexuality Development in Adolescence: A Decade in Review, 2000–2009


  • We wish to thank Christin Bowman, Amy Baker, and Jessica Lake for their extensive assistance with research, coding, and manuscript preparation.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Deborah L. Tolman, School of Social Work, Hunter College, CUNY Graduate Center, 129 East 79th Street, New York, NY 10075. E-mail:


This review details a key innovation across the field of adolescent sexuality research over the last decade—conceptualizing sexuality as a normative aspect of adolescent development. Anchored in a growing articulation of adolescent sexuality as having positive qualities and consequences, we provide an organizing framework for understanding sexuality as normative and developmentally expected. Using this framework, we report on 3 specific areas of research that have developed “critical mass” over the past decade: new views on sexual behavior, sexual selfhood, and sexual socialization in the 21st century. We conclude by suggesting that the next step in the field of adolescent sexuality development is the explicit integration of “positive” dimensions of sexuality with risk management dimensions. Rather than navigating a binary between positive and risky, we propose characterizing the “both/and” quality of adolescent sexuality development as normative. This framework, we argue, encourages empirical research that assumes a wide range of strategies through which adolescents learn about themselves, their bodies, intimate partners, and relationships within contexts where they are required to both manage risks and develop positive patterns for adulthood sexuality. We conclude with considerations for future research and public policy.