Authentic discourses on human sexuality: A study of adult women and their friendship interactions

Jennifer Ellen Ruocco, University of Pennsylvania


From the supposition that friendship is a context for informal human sexuality education as it provides an arena for women to explore their shared and individual belief systems regarding human sexuality, the purpose of this study was to investigate how friendships between adult women facilitate the construction of shared meanings, or discourses, about human sexuality. Videotaped social interactions of adult female friendship dyads and individual follow-up interviews with each participant revealed locally produced sexuality discourses. Content analysis of the interactions and follow-up interviews provided empirical evidence regarding how informal human sexuality education operates within adult female friendship dyads at the level of face-to-face interaction and individual perspectives. From these, a probable model was constructed to provide a theoretical framework for adult women and informal human sexuality education. Discourses operate as benchmarks used by the individual to locate her beliefs in the larger scheme of societal and cultural belief systems. Participants leading more stereotypical lives in terms of religion, gender, and sexuality adopted discourses in alignment with these prevalent belief systems, or hegemonic discourses. Participants who adopted divergent belief systems, or intersubjective discourses, innovated unique belief systems around sexuality because the hegemonic discourses failed to provide meaning. This represents a first attempt at developing a systematic database where the examination of informal human sexuality education in the context of friendships between women. The model for informal human sexuality education shows that the immediate subculture establishes parameters around intimacy between women and thus the negotiation of meaningful discourses within the individual lives of women and their friendships. The lack of meaning of hegemonic discourses in the lives of women with less traditional beliefs around sexuality and gender reveals a failure of the academic canon and prevalent belief systems to recognize the diversity in experiences of sexuality. Further research would reveal the nuanced and complex universe of intersubjective discourses organizing meanings for women around human sexuality. The erosion of hegemonic systems guiding cultural and academic thinking around women and sexuality may then provide a strong theoretical foundation upon which to base future formal and informal educational outreaches and research endeavors.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education

Recommended Citation

Ruocco, Jennifer Ellen, "Authentic discourses on human sexuality: A study of adult women and their friendship interactions" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3031719.