Binding relationships: toward a grounded theory of young women's first sexual experiences

Date
1997-08
Authors
Taylor, Heidi Corn
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Abstract

This research qualitatively explored the little researched phenomenon of first sexual experiences in young women. The purpose of the study was to uncover the contributing factors to young women's first sexual experiences and the influences of the experience in women's lives. The goal of the study was to generate a tentative theory about the phenomenon which is grounded in women's lived experiences.

Through purposeful and theoretical sampling, 12 women aged 18 to 23 years were interviewed regarding first sexual experiences. A focus group of 8 women aged 18 to 21 years were also interviewed. The women came primarily from rural communities in a diverse geographical region of the Southwestern United States and varying sociocultural backgrounds. Interviews were conducted using an interview guide augmented by facilitative interviewing techniques.

The grounded theory method of constant comparative analysis was used for data analysis. Patterns of relationships and experiences emerged from the women's stories in five domains. Three relational domains centered around young women's relationships with parents/family, partners, and peers. Two experiential domains centered around the event of the first sexual experience and the consequences of the experience. Within these domains, 12 categorical and conceptual patterns emerged. These were: connecting, vulnerability, worry, fear, abandonment, preparation, autonomy, opportunity, obligation, conflict, grief, and transition. The relationships among the conceptual and categorical patterns were organized in each of the domains and then collapsed into a single theoretical representation of the phenomenon.

Seeking connection with others in meaningful relationships, young women make choices which will facilitate their connectedness with others. The behaviors which are perceived by young women as necessary for maintaining or securing meaningful relationships are frequently paradoxical. Behaving in ways that satisfy one relationship may threaten another. Young women's choices about their sexual behavior involve complex decision-making in which the risks and benefits to their important relationships are constantly assessed and difficult to predict.

Despite popular notions to the contrary, this study revealed that young women do not engage in first sexual experiences carelessly. Furthermore, the consequences of first sexual experiences are profound, even when pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases do not occur.

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Keywords
Young adults, Virginity, Relationships, Women
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