Before I get into the Sexual Risk Script, it’s worth taking a look at some of the results from the survey and the trends that popped up.
Considering that the survey is about sex I was somewhat surprised by the number of people that took it. Sex is considered in research circles to be a sensitive topic, so as researchers we are cautioned to approach it carefully. Participants jumped right on in however. Which was great for me! I had far more responses that I had ever anticipated, and it threw out some great information. Young women certainly had something to say, and the results were full of surprises.
The first section of the survey dealt with definitions –what do young women consider hooking up to be, casual sex, fuck buddies, real sex, and so on. These seem pretty commonsense terms, but nothing is ever that simple.
Real sex generally consisted of what we call PVI – penis/vagina intercourse (such a romantic term!)—for most participants. Penetration was generally the benchmark activity for all sexual orientations—if piece A didn’t go in slot B, then it wasn’t sex. Some also considered oral sex to be real sex. Interestingly, only those who did not identify as heterosexual added things to the list of options that they considered to be real sex—they did things heterosexuals might do, but did not think to admit to. Orgasm was also an important aspect—it was less likely to be real sex if there was no orgasm. These two trends fit with two theories, or imperatives, that I will discuss later.
Hooking up was defined a wide range of activities. Interestingly, despite what the media would suggest, for most participants hooking up didn’t often include PVI. Usually it was kissing and fooling around—some groping, and maybe some genital touching, and just maybe oral sex. Casual sex mirrored real sex, though oral sex was more likely to be part of casual sex than real sex—if that isn’t confusing… What that difference means wasn’t really indicated, but I wonder if it has to do with reputational risk. Casual sex wasn’t universally supported, and was often criticised, so in this regard it would make sense that casual sex would include more activities that would be negatively judged. Oral sex with a stranger might earn a woman a bad rep, thus risky casual sex includes more socially risky behaviours… just speculating…
Anyway, what I ended up with was a nice little Venn diagram, showing the overlap of definitions participants presented:
Basically these definitions had lots of overlap, and the determining factors that influenced what degree of overlap there was for participants centred around age and sexual experience. There seemed to be some consensus that the older you got the more your hook up experience should consist of—for example a hook up at 18 that is a bit of snogging is fine, but at 25 expectations might expand the hook up to some groping, perhaps oral sex and/or casual sex. Analysing this, I’m inclined to read it as an example of social expectations—the older you are, the more experience you’re supposed to have had, the more sexual variety you are seeking with respect to activity. This is all up for debate, but nevertheless, age and experience seemed to effect definitions and how much they overlapped. This probably isn’t much of a surprise.
Participants were asked if they hooked up, had casual sex, and had fuck buddy arrangements. Patterns were again fairly clear. Most had hooked up, some had had casual sex, and a few had had fuck buddies. Rates of engagement—how often participants had hook ups etc—also followed a reducing pattern. Hook ups were most frequent, casual sex less so, and fuck buddies not so common.
What these results revealed was a general set of rules about non-relationship behaviours. Hooking up was fine, most people did it, it was ok for a certain age group, and was generally socially acceptable as long as it didn’t get too close to the casual sex definition. Casual sex was less acceptable but still permissible, but came with a number of inherent dangers (that I’ll discuss soon) that made it less likely to be engaged in. For Fuck buddy arrangements this was less common. In other words, risk factors reduced the likelihood that participants had engaged in activities that were progressively more towards real sex in a non-relationship situation.
This might suggest that young New Zealand women are a bit more risk-averse than you would think. This trend within responses certainly made me sit up and take notice, and it was the first hint of the risk-aware nature of the participant group. None of my participants indicated that they were running around having sex like sheep mating in a paddock (as the esteemed Dr Albert Makara so infamously suggested earlier this year). Instead they indicated they enjoyed a fun hook up, but were weary of how far those hook ups would go.
Next time I’ll talk some more about the survey results, principally about what I called public sexual behaviour—public kissing, dirty dancing, stripping and flashing, and everything on the real sex list.