• emotional aspects;
  • literature review;
  • sexual health;
  • sexuality

Aims and objectives

In this critical literature review, we examine evidence-based interventions that target sexual behaviours of 18- to 25-year-old emerging adult women.


Nurses and clinicians implement theory-driven research programmes for young women with increased risk of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. Strategies to decrease transmission of HIV and sexually transmitted infections are rigorously evaluated and promoted by public health agencies such as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While many interventions demonstrate episodic reductions in sexual risk behaviours and infection transmission, there is little evidence they build sustainable skills and behaviours. Programmes may not attend to contextual and affective influences on sexual behaviour change.


Discursive paper.


We conducted a conceptually based literature review and critical analysis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's best-evidence and good-evidence HIV behavioural interventions. In this review, we examined three contextual and affective influences on the sexual health of emerging adult women: (1) developmental age, (2) reproduction and pregnancy desires and (3) sexual security or emotional responses accompanying relationship experiences.


Our analyses revealed intervention programmes paid little attention to ways age, desires for pregnancy or emotional factors influence sexual decisions. Some programmes included 18- to 25-year-olds, but they made up small percentages of the sample and did not attend to unique emerging adult experiences. Second, primary focus on infection prevention overshadowed participant desires for pregnancy. Third, few interventions considered emotional mechanisms derived from relationship experiences involved in sexual decision-making.


Growing evidence demonstrates sexual health interventions may be more effective if augmented to attend to contextual and affective influences on relationship risks and decision-making. Modifying currently accepted strategies may enhance sustainability of sexual health-promoting behaviours.

Relevance to clinical practice

This study provides nurses and public health educators with recommendations for broadening the content of sexual health promotion intervention programming.