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2017 Kirby Summit Doesn't Disappoint

2017 Kirby Summit Doesn't Disappoint

By Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES | May 24, 2017
Senior Editor, ETR

A group of developmental neuroscientists walks into a room. They sit down with some sexual health experts. They all talk about ways to support healthy adolescent development.

What happens then? As it turns out, some pretty amazing things.

Mixing It Up

The premise of the Kirby Summit is that when we bring together experts from diverse fields of adolescent health, we will learn some new ways to think about the work. We will build new partnerships. We will forge new solutions.

These super short videos tell you what some of the participants had to say about what is distinctive in this approach.




Great Energy

I am fortunate to have attended both the 2016 and 2017 Kirby Summits in an observer role. Last year’s Summit was designed to challenge misconceptions, shake people’s brains up a bit and help bring forth some promising new solutions. You can find the summary report here.

Most of the invited participants in this year’s Summit also attended last year. The strong bonds of collegiality and friendship were apparent the moment people walked into the room. 

The work this year was more directed and focused. The energy was extraordinary!

Intriguing Questions

The questions and challenges participants addressed were intriguing. Here are just a few I overheard around the room:

  • Adolescents learn best in situations of neurocognitive arousal—when something is new, exciting, different. This doesn’t describe most sexuality education approaches. Perhaps we need to find ways to make sex education more compelling for youth.
  • How can we offer more intensive preparation for facilitators of sexuality education programs? These individuals are critical for program success, yet they receive far too little attention and support.
  • The WHO definition of “healthy sexuality” places emphasis on relationships that are “positive and respectful.” But who determines what those words mean? Relationship interactions and transactions that adult educators are likely to consider questionable may be seen as positive by the youth involved.

More to Come

I’m looking forward to hearing about the next steps of this impressive group. In the coming months, we’ll be hosting commentaries from some of the participants on ETR’s blog.

I’m grateful to the Kirby Summit Advisory Panel who pulled this event together, as well as the foundations who supported it. Thanks to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Grove Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Finally, thanks to Dr. Doug Kirby, whose lifetime contributions to the field and boundless sense of inquiry about all things interesting inspired this exceptional convening.


Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES, is Senior Editor at ETR. She can be reached at

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