Behavioral and Relational Contexts of Adolescent Desire, Wanting, and Pleasure: Undergraduate Women's Retrospective Accounts
Bay-Cheng, Laina Y., Robinson, Adjoa D., Zucker, Alyssa N., The Journal of Sex Research
Although sexuality is widely viewed as a key component of adolescence, it is nevertheless approached with ambivalence and trepidation. American popular discourse regarding adolescent sexuality is dominated by debates about whether it is morally, psychologically, and physically advisable for youth to be sexually active (and with whom and in what ways). In addition, commonly held, cultural views of adolescence cast youth as often irresponsible and irrational, particularly when it comes to sexuality (Bay-Cheng, 2003; Lesko, 1996; Schalet, 2000). This uncertainty and anxiety about adolescent sexuality is reflected in our scholarship, which largely neglects the subjective dimensions of youths' sexual behavior--including positive feelings such as desire and pleasure--and exclusively focuses on discrete negative outcomes such as condom use, pregnancy, and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In response to this lopsided literature, several scholars have called for the expansion of empirical inquiry in the field to include the diversity, contexts, and subjective aspects of adolescent sexuality (Brooks-Gunn & Furstenberg, 1989; Ehrhardt, 1996; Fine & McClelland, 2006; Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Galen, 1998; Tolman, 2002; Welsh, Rostosky, & Kawaguchi, 2000). Although such studies are needed for all youth, gender norms and associated power differences have such a fundamental impact on sexuality that separate analyses of adolescent women's and men's experiences are warranted (Gavey, 2005; Holland, Ramazanoglu, Sharpe, & Thomson, 2004; Morokoff, 2000; Tolman, 2002). This research examines 38 undergraduate women's retrospective reports of their adolescent sexual experiences to ascertain the association of a range of sexual behaviors and their relational contexts to subjective perceptions of sexual desire, wanting, and pleasure.
Diversity of Adolescent Sexual Behavior
Most studies of youth sexuality strongly emphasize the occurrence of coitus and whether any precautions were taken to avoid pregnancy or infection. Although these are critical, potentially life-altering issues, it is also important not to lose sight of the wider range of sexual behaviors. There are many drawbacks to this so-called coital imperative, which equates coitus with "real" sex, including the degradation of all non-heterosexually partnered sexual expressions (including autoerotic practices, such as masturbation), the exclusion of oral and anal intercourse from discussions of STI prevention, the neglect of "lesser" sexual behaviors that may be critical components of intimacy and pleasure, and the ignorance of the diversity of youths' (and adults') sexual behavior (Bay-Cheng, 2003; McPhillips, Braun, & Gavey, 2001; Welsh et al., 2000). Studies of adolescents' non-coital sexual behaviors attest to this final point. In a study of high school students who had not had coitus, approximately 30% of female respondents had engaged in manual stimulation (either performing or receiving) with a male partner, 8% had engaged in fellatio, and 12% had engaged in cunnilingus (Schuster, Bell, & Kanouse, 1996). Halpern-Felsher, Cornell, Kropp, and Tschann (2005) found that over 30% of female ninth-grade students in their sample had had oral sex (the researchers did not distinguish between cunnilingus and fellatio). In a nationally representative study, 27% of female adolescent virgins had experienced oral sex with a male partner (8% cunnilingus only, 3% fellatio only, and 15% both cunnilingus and fellatio), whereas 87% of female adolescent non-virgins had experienced oral sex with a male partner (14% cunnilingus only, 4% fellatio only, 69% both cunnilingus and fellatio; Brewster & Tillman, 2008). In addition, one in 10 adolescents aged 15 to 19 have engaged in heterosexual anal intercourse (Lindberg, Jones, & Santelli, 2008). Although these incidence rates are useful in expanding our understanding of what sexual behaviors adolescent women engage in with male partners, additional information is needed to understand the contexts in which they are doing so and how they feel about those experiences. …