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Ann Behav Med. 2004 Jun;27(3):172-84.

Developmentally appropriate sexual risk reduction interventions for adolescents: rationale, review of interventions, and recommendations for research and practice.

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  • 1Center for Health and Behavior, Syracuse University, NY 13244-2340, USA.



Despite awareness of the need to design developmentally appropriate sexual risk reduction interventions for adolescents, limited information exists to identify the aspects of intervention design or content that make an intervention developmentally appropriate.


(a) To clarify the rationale for designing developmentally appropriate interventions, (b) to review randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of adolescent sexual risk reduction interventions, (c) to identify developmentally appropriate strategies, (d) to examine the relationship between developmental appropriateness and sexual risk outcomes, and (e) to provide recommendations for research.


The authors examined studies (n = 24) published before 2003 that evaluated a risk reduction intervention, sampled adolescents, used an RCT study design, and evaluated sexual behavior outcomes.


Content analysis indicated that the interventions tested were often tailored to the cognitive level of adolescents, as indicated by the use of exercises on decision making, goal setting and planning, and concrete explanation of abstract concepts. Interventions also addressed the social influences of risky sex such as peer norms and provided communication skills training. Overall, the interventions tested in RCTs were more effective in delaying the onset of sexual activity than in promoting abstinence among sexually active youth. Interventions with booster sessions were effective in reducing sexual risk behavior. The use of process measures, linked with developmental constructs, was rare. However, improvements in sexual communication skills and perceived norms for safer sex were associated with reductions in sexual risk outcomes.


Developmental transitions during adolescence influence sexual behavior and should be considered when developing and evaluating risk reduction interventions for youth. Future research should assess process measures of key developmental constructs as well as risk behavior and biological outcomes.

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