Adolescent Girls’ Sexuality and Mental Health - The Hidden Link

Neelam Saleem Punjani, PhD Student, University of Alberta.

Figure 1: Social and Cultural Influences on Adolescent Sexuality

Figure 1: Social and Cultural Influences on Adolescent Sexuality

Adolescence is a critical transitional period, during which young children experience substantial physical, psychological, social, and emotional changes [1]. Sexual health incorporates a wide range of interlinked mental, physical, and emotional factors [Figure 1]. The immigrant adolescent population in Alberta’s community is growing and diversifying very rapidly like the province’s general population [2,3]. Adolescent girls may be susceptible to poor psychological health outcomes due to the dearth of accessible adolescent-friendly health services and restrictions on the delivery of appropriate and accurate knowledge, particularly to unmarried females [4,5]. There is an increasing need to explore how sexuality-related experiences of adolescents may affect their mental health.

The purpose of the proposed project is to explore the experience of developing sexuality in Pakistani adolescent girls and its effect on their psychological wellbeing in order to gain a preliminary understanding of the possible effects of developing sexuality on stress in this vulnerable population. A qualitative approach will be used to study the complex phenomenon of adolescent girls' evolving sexuality, in order to go beyond the evidence and search for what else might be there through the lens of female Pakistani adolescents. Adolescent girls will be recruited from community organizations in Edmonton, Alberta. Adolescent girls will be interviewed using an interview guide to collect data regarding the experience of their emerging sexuality. Data collection and analysis will occur iteratively.

To gain a better understanding of the recommended interventions, an advisory group will be formed comprising adolescent girls [ages 15-19 years] from Pakistan, based in Edmonton. The purpose of the advisory group is to provide feedback on research design, recruitment strategies, interview questions, interpretation of results, dissemination strategies, and recommended interventions through participants’ experiences, concerns, and challenges. The members of the advisory group will be asked to comment on the appropriateness of the youth-friendly interventions. Based on the feedback from an advisory group of adolescent girls, we will develop the culturally appropriate interventions to promote the sexual and reproductive health of immigrant adolescent girls in Canada. It is expected that utilizing engaging strategies with adolescents could increase their involvement in sexual and reproductive health care decision making, expand efficiencies in sexual and reproductive health care utilization, and ultimately improve adolescents’ psychological well-being related to sexual health.

The study will draw attention to the hidden voices of adolescent girls and will increase awareness about ways to address issues arising in evolving sexuality. The results hold the potential to contribute to an integrated approach to adolescents’ mental and sexual health, and the development of future policies, strategies, services, and training. They will also provide valuable preliminary evidence on the perceptions of sexuality-related stress and its consequences among adolescent girls. Moreover, I intend to disseminate the study findings to ensure that key messages are developed for specific audiences through publications, presentations, social media, and short videos. This study is innovative since for the first time it engages and gives voice to adolescent immigrant girls around the sensitive matter of developing sexuality.


1. World Health Organization. Sexual health and its linkages to reproductive health: an operational approach. In Sexual health and its linkages to reproductive health: an operational approach. 207. Available from:

2. Statistics Canada. Immigration and ethnocultural diversity: Key results from the 2016 Census. 2016. Available from: 2 Immigration.

3. Quarterly Population Report Third Quarter. 2018. Available from: file://[1].pdf

4. World Health Organization, Key Centre for Women's Health in Society. Mental health aspects of women's reproductive health: a global review of the literature. World Health Organization; 2009.

5. Jackson, A. L. [2014]. Literature review: Young people at high risk of sexual exploitation, absconding, and other significant harms. Melbourne: Berry Street Childhood Institute. Available from: