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Unlocking desire : young women reflect on early experiences of sexual desire and the development of the sexual self



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The goal of this research was to explore how young women make meaning of early experiences of sexual desire, and how these experiences contribute to the development of their sexual selves. The development of the sexual self is one of the fundamental building blocks to adulthood for adolescents, but there are many strong and some diametrically opposing viewpoints on how the discussion around sexuality should be framed. Much of the literature has focused on the health risks and social consequences of sexual activity, such as unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (Brook, Brook, Rubenstone, Zhang & Rivera, 2010) with less examination of the positive aspects of this phenomenon (e.g. pleasure, respect, emotional connection). In 1988, Michelle Fine opened a dialogue with adolescent women about their experience of and opinions about sexual desire, attempting to shed light on the consequences of suppressing this discourse, including disconnection from their physical selves, possible victimization, and a denial of pleasure. In the last two decades, there has been interest in the concept of sexual desire and its role in the development of sexual subjectivity. Sexual subjectivity is particularly important in the lives of young women, who live, work and learn in a patriarchal society which objectifies their bodies and sexual identities (Levy, 2005; Tolman, 2002a). I interviewed 5 women (19-25 years old) about how they make meaning of their early experiences of sexual desire and how this contributes to the development of their sense of sexual selfhood. I recruited participants using posters placed across a university campus to facilitate interest. I used interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) as developed by Smith, Flowers and Larkin (2012) to understand how participants perceive their experiences to have influenced their feelings and ideas about their sexual desires. My study design also addressed how they retrospectively view early experiences and understandings of sexual desire to have contributed to the development of their sexual identities. In my interviews I also employed the listening guide developed by Gilligan (1982) and Brown and Gilligan (1991). Analysis revealed an overarching theme of unlocking desire with trust and connection, as well as superordinate themes of exploring desire through fantasy and imagination, the power of desire, the spectrum of desire and reflections on lived experiences of female desire. The current research study will be discussed in relation to previous literature (e.g. commonalities, distinctions, its strengths and weaknesses). Finally, future directions for the research, as well as implications for counselling practice, will be elucidated.



sexuality, sexual desire, adolescent females, sexuality development, early experiences



Master of Education (M.Ed.)


Educational Psychology and Special Education


School and Counselling Psychology


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