Sexual health policies explicitly aim to encourage young people to take responsibility for their sexuality to prevent adverse outcomes such as unintended pregnancies, STIs and sexual assault. In Europe and North America, ‘choice’ has become a central concept in sexual and reproductive health policy making. However, the concept of choice is not unproblematic, not least because the cultural emphasis on individual responsibility obscures structural limitations and inequalities, and mutual responsibility between partners. Moreover, studies on the life stories of young people show how agency is forged and expressed within a social context and is manifested through responsiveness to others. This raises the question of how we can conceptualise sexual agency in a way that includes this sociality. How can we rethink sexual agency beyond autonomy? This article explores these issues using data from four separate research projects that shared the aim of exploring young people’s sexual agency in different areas. Drawing on findings from these studies, it advances a multicomponent model of sexual agency that connects individual choice to the social, moral and narrative context which young people navigate.
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