Well, after 3.75 years of research, I’ve finally submitted a thesis. Yes, that’s 100,000 words about what young New Zealand women think about their sex lives, and the current sexual culture. I have to say, it was some learning experience. The young women I surveyed and interviewed had a lot to say about what they do and why, and the culture in which they do it in. Some of it was surprising, some of it was not much different from my own early 20s (way back in the 90s), some of it was frustrating, but much of it was inspiring.
Over the next few months I’ll be writing about some of the things young women had to say, some of the big ideas that came out of a chorus of young women’s voices, and some of the theory I used to examine those ideas. Hopefully it will be interesting, and if things go to plan, it might encourage a little deeper thought into how we think about women and sex.
The primary starting point of my research was to examine if much of the current hook up and party behaviour that is so often criticised and discussed in the media is, as some claim, empowering. This is a pretty complicated question, for no other reason than trying to understand what empowerment actually is. From this initial foundation the research evolved into something more interesting (at least in my mind) – namely a snap-shot look at how young women navigate the current sexual landscape. One apparently littered with judgement, stigma, stereotypes, STIs, potential rape and coercion, exploitation, broken hearts and emotional vulnerabilities … Participants certainly pointed out a lot of dangers and issues. This risk awareness became a strong focus of my analysis, and I’ll discuss it in the next couple of posts.
A second area of interest that came out of the research was the ways in which young women are attempting to engage in sexual subjectivity development. That is, how they go about being the subject of their own sexuality, rather than the object of someone else’s (think of all those girls we roll our eyes at who strip to get the guys’ attention). As straight-forward as this sounds, there are a lot of social roadblocks that make this hard for women everywhere. This was no less so for the women I talked to in the research.
A third area of note that rose to the surface during the research was how smart and critical many young women were, and how well they understood many critical analyses that have come out of academic research. On the other hand, there were also some knowledge holes – ones I myself had, and wasn’t able to fill without doing a PhD. And it got me wondering how young women would approach their sex lives if they knew some of the things that I have come to understand. Maybe it wouldn’t change anything, maybe it would change something. Either way, I figured a good way to address that question wasn’t so much to focus on publishing in academic journals that most people can’t access (why aren’t these things free?), but to write a book about sex, women, and the conjunction of the two.
I hope you keep abreast (no pun intended) of my postings. I think my research was fascinating. And at the very least it gives a bit of an insight into how some young women think and feel about their sex lives, how they approach it, and the consequences attached to it. Things are not quite as the media would have you think.