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Ann Fam Med. 2004 Nov-Dec;2(6):549-54.

Health care seeking among urban minority adolescent girls: the crisis at sexual debut.

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  • 1Department of Family and Social Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 1300 Morris Park Ave, Bronx, NY 10461, USA.



We wanted to explore the context of help seeking for reproductive and nonreproductive health concerns by urban adolescent girls.


We undertook a qualitative study using in-depth interviews of African American and Latina girls (n = 22) aged 13 to 19 years attending public high schools in the Bronx, NY.


Before the onset of sexual activity, most girls meet health needs within the context of the family, relying heavily on mothers for health care and advice. Many new needs and concerns emerge at sexual debut. Key factors modulating girls' ability to address their health needs and concerns include (1) the strategy of selective disclosure of information perceived to be harmful to close family relationships or threaten privacy; (2) the desire for personalized care, modeled on the emotional and physical care received from mother; and (3) relationships with physicians that vary in quality, ranging from distant relationships focused on providing information to close continuity relationships. Core values shaping these processes include privacy, a close relationship with the mother, and a perception of sexual activity as dangerous. No girl was able to meet her specific reproductive health needs within the mother-daughter relationship. Some find nonmaternal sources of personalized health care and advice for reproductive health needs, but many do not.


Adolescent girls attempt to meet reproductive health needs within a context shaped by values of privacy and close mother-daughter relationships. Difficulty balancing these values often results in inadequate support and care.

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