Phenomenological Research and Adolescent Female Sexuality: Discoveries and Applications

Article excerpt

This paper presents research in female first sexual intercourse in Australia. Previous research in adolescent sexual behavior, particularly issues around first sexual intercourse behavior, has mainly utilized quantitative methodology. Our research adopted a qualitative approach to provide unique insight into adolescent sexual behavior, attitudes, and development. We used phenomenology to investigate adolescent female sexual experiences. The findings can inform national and international sexuality education. Key Words: Phenomenology, Sexuality Research, and Sexuality Education


Female first sexual intercourse is an important life transition to which many cultures, including those present in multicultural Australia today, attribute gravity and consequence (Crooks & Bauer, 1980). In sexuality research there is a lack of research regarding the perceptions, personal meaning, affect, and experience surrounding first coitus. Aside from statistical data such as rates of contraceptive use (Coker, Richter, Valois, McKeown, Garrison, & Vincent, 1994; Dorius, Heaton, & Steffan, 1993; Evans, 2000; Jessor, Costa, Jessor, & Donovan, 1983; Meschke & Silbereisen, 1997; Miller, Norton, Curtin, Hill, Schvaneveldt, & Young, 1997; Sawyer & Smith, 1996; Sieving, McNeely, & Blum, 2000; Traeen & Kvalem, 1996; Upchurch, Levy-Storms, Sucoff, & Aneshensel, 1998; Whitbeck Yoder, Hoyt, & Conger, 1999; Wyatt Durvasula, Guthrie, LeFranc, & Forge, 1999), there has been little examination of the affective reactions, emotional health, and sexual function of young women as a result of their first sexual intercourse, or the personal meaning or developmental and educational concerns this experience may hold. The aim of this research study was to describe and understand the experience of female first sexual intercourse using the method of phenomenology. Female first sexual intercourse (FSI) is explored phenomenologically and the expectation, physical experience, affective reaction, personal preparedness, meaning and development, educational implications and effect of the experience of first sexual intercourse of a sample of Australian women are described. Rather than reporting on quantitative findings of previous studies (Bajracharya, Sarvela, & Isberner, 1995; Darling, Davidson, & Passarello, 1992), this research has explored areas beyond the reach of statistics. The focus is on areas such as the affect and meaning surrounding first sexual intercourse, and the subsequent effects on self-concept, sexual functioning, and expression using the methodology of phenomenology.

Qualitative research plays an important role in illuminating the meaning of lived experience. Phenomenology is a valuable qualitative approach to studying human experience. "Learning and understanding people's subjective experiences has an obvious and multi-faceted importance, as well as very practical applications" (Crotty, 1996, p. 24). A key application is education: For instance, in the case of phenomenological research in human sexuality, findings can be used to inform school sex education programs.

The richness of information gathered through the interviews in this study (with twenty Australian women) and the understanding of the personal stories of female FSI experiences, complement the findings from quantitative sexual research. Each story had its unique aspects, but in the collective analysis of the stories essential components surfaced that deconstructed this life passage as never before, with all the intricate, private, and intimate feelings and details formerly reserved for discussion only with the closest of girlfriends. This study provides a foundation of information, as there has been limited study in Australia of the experience of female FSI, especially using qualitative methods. There has also been limited research focusing on female FSI specifically within Australia, with the exception of one study which identified the lack of research in this area in Australia. …