Tales of the intimate : exploring young people's accounts of sexual practice
My research investigates young people's stories of sexual practice. I focus on the questions: How do young people construct their sexual practices and their use of `safer' sex and, in particular, how important are `conventional' notions of gender and heterosexuality in these constructions? To answer these questions I collected and transcribed in-depth interviews from 25 young people aged between 16 and 19 from schools and youth groups in a London borough. Using a discourse analytic approach (Edley and Wetherell 1997) I draw my analysis directly from the participants' talk and how they construct a sexual story rather than framing the analysis through assumptions of gender inequality. Previous feminist literature, and in particular that of Holland et al. (1998), suggests that sexual experiences are constructed predominantly through a 'traditional' framework of gender. In this literature masculinity is said to be dominant in the heterosexual relationship, whereas femininity is seen as collaborative and submissive. In my thesis I question whether young people construct their intimate experiences through such `conventional' gendered patterns of behaviour and heteronormative values. I suggest an alternative analysis of young people's sex talk through focusing on discursive scripts emerging from the data in three areas: diversity, time/life plan, and trust. I argue that these scripts, for example the time and life plan scripts, are important features of young people's talk about sexual practices and are used as justifications for the use or non-use of 'safer' sex. The participants' talk that I call the 'children-older-with-a-platform' life plan script legitimises the use of condoms and/or pill as a method of protecting their plan. The 'children-now' script is a justification for the non-use of 'safer' sex. My research concludes that there are diverse stories of intimate experiences told in certain contexts by young people that have not previously been noted by researchers.