Straight talk

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Material Information

Title:
Straight talk discourse, narrative, and the construction of male adolescent heterosexuality
Physical Description:
xi, 296 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Language:
English
Creator:
Cohan, Mark
Publication Date:

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Sociology thesis, Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Sociology -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre:
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )

Notes

Thesis:
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 2002.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 285-295).
General Note:
Printout.
General Note:
Vita.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Mark Cohan.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 029187349
oclc - 50818298
System ID:
AA00020494:00001

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page i
    Acknowledgement
        Page ii
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
    Table of Contents
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
    Abstract
        Page x
        Page xi
    Chapter 1. Narrative and identity
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    Chapter 2. Quantitative literature
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    Chapter 3. Qualitative literature
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    Chapter 4. Three discourses
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    Chapter 5. Narrative strategies
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    Chapter 6. Mediating the discourse of conquest
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    Chapter 7. Mediating the discourses of relationship and piety
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    Chapter 8. Reflections on narrative and identity
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    References
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    Biographical sketch
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Full Text










STRAIGHT TALK:
DISCOURSE, NARRATIVE, AND THE CONSTRUCTION
OF MALE ADOLESCENT HETEROSEXUALITY











By

MARK COHAN


A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2002














ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Like many things in our culture, the production of a Ph.D. is a process that

involves the collaboration of many, yet only one gets the credit. The "acknowledgments"

page, which is the culturally appropriate avenue for identifying other contributors, makes

the roles of the people I am about to mention seem far too incidental, and it has become a

vapid stock phrase to say that I could not have done it without them. Language and

convention fail me, but perhaps it will help to avoid "I could not do it with them," and

say quite frankly we did it. The work that I did (e.g., analysis, writing) in isolation was

made possible by the work I did (e.g., learning, planning, agonizing) with a host of

amazing people that deserve far more credit than my mere acknowledgment conveys.

Above all others, my parents, Barry and Ellie Cohan, supported me emotionally

and financially far longer and more completely than I could have ever hoped or expected.

I love them. They are the foundation of whatever measure of success I achieve, and,

more than anything, I want to share it with them.

Randi Lincoln, my beloved fiancee, deserves more thanks than I can give her for

the patience, attention, love, and concern she has given me over the last three years. I

thank her for making a life with me. I never lose sight of how lucky I am to be with a

woman of such intelligence and compassion.

My research was supported financially by two generous grants, one from Mr.

Gary Gerson, through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dissertation Fellowship

Program, and the other from the Department of Sociology. I am grateful for their








willingness to support graduate research and for the confidence and interest they showed

in my work by giving me these awards.

I am thankful to all of the young men who agreed to talk with me. Their candor

and poise were critical to success of this project. I am also grateful to the parents who

granted me permission to talk with their sons who were minors in the eyes of the law.

I am indebted to Bill Marsiglio for the opportunities, financial support, advice,

and guidance he has given me throughout my graduate career. It is my privilege to be

able to call Bill my coauthor, mentor, and future colleague. I am also indebted to Jay

Gubrium for convincing me that I belonged in academia, fostering my academic

development, and for giving me insight into the professional world. I have the thrill of

working on a cutting edge of sociology, and I owe that to Jay's instruction. I am also

thankful to Rodman Webb, Felix Berardo, and Hemrnan Vera, who served on my doctoral

committee and contributed their own expertise, interests, and concerns in the interest of

making my work better.

Throughout my time as a graduate student in the Department of Sociology, the

department staff has been helpful and supportive every step of the way. I am especially

indebted to Sheran Flowers, Mary Robinson, Nadine Gillis, and Kanitra Perry for guiding

me through the perils of the university bureaucracy. I would not have made it without

their friendship and commitment.

Mike Podalski, Gary St. John, and Dr. Ellen West provided critical assistance to

my recruitment efforts. Their assistance truly was at the art of making this research

happen, and I am thankful for their support.








I am grateful for and humbled by the constant love and support of my Aunt Faith,

sister Dawn, brother Rick, brother-in-law Chris, and future sister-in-law, Stephanie.

Knowing all of them were out there pulling for me (even if some of them occasionally

had sarcastic ways of showing it) was always a comfort. I promise, particularly to my

siblings, that becoming "Dr. Mark" will not mean that, along with my many attributes, I

develop a big head.

Max Wilson and Audra Latham, Lisa Gay, Martin Watson, Karen Conner, Larry

and Laurie Rounds, Eve Sands, Jim Doherty, and Sandra Lorean are very dear friends

who have been invaluable to me even before I started graduate school, and I will cherish

them long after this current work fades from memory.

My very survival during the lean graduate school years was ensured by the

economic support of a host of kind souls, including Bo Beaulieu, Suzanna Smith, Monika

Ardelt, Dan Perkins, Beverlyn Allen, Mike Radelet, and John Scanzoni. I appreciate the

confidence each of them showed in my abilities and the opportunities they gave me to

learn from them while subsisting.

Lara Foley; Dean Dabney; Goldie MacDonald; Goldie King; Deena, Ben, and

Sidney Benveneste; Laurel Tripp; Chris Faircloth; Toni McWhorter; Julian Chambliss;

Dan Barash; Joe Straub; Sheran Flowers; Marion Borg; Terry Mills; Joe Feagin; and

Wendy Young are among the other graduate students, friends, and professors who have

taken time to show me the ropes, disentangle me from the ropes, or keep me from using

the ropes for self-injurious purposes. I owe them many thanks, and I owe thanks and an

apology to the many others whom I have neglected to mention here.








Lastly, I have to acknowledge the pets who comforted me with unconditional

love, even when they had to battle with my work for my attention. The regal Natasha and

unpretentious Chloe have been my everyday companions through the writing of this

dissertation, but in days past, Hester, Bella, and Chance shared their essential "catness,"

and Frisky was the best friend and mascot any family could have.

The phrase "it takes a village to raise a child" is in vogue these days. Apparently,

it takes a zoo for me to get a Ph.D. Thanks go to all for being a part of the wonderful,

unpredictable, absorbing delirium.














TABLE OF CONTENTS

Page

ACKN OW LEDGM ENTS ......................................................................................... ii

ABSTRA CT ............................................................................................................. x

CHAPTERS

1 NARRATIVE AND IDENTITY ...................................................................... 1

M ethod and Data.............................................................................................. 3
Active Interviewing................................................................................... 4
Data Analysis............................................................................................ 5
Theory.............................................................................................................. 7
Discourse as Power/Knowledge................................................................. 8
Discourse and Descriptive Practice.......................................................... 10
Perspective on M asculinity...................................................................... 16
Chapter Organization...................................................................................... 20

2 QUAN TITATIVE LITERA TURE.................................................................. 23

"W hen?": Age at First Intercourse.................................................................. 25
"Why?" (and "Why Not?"): Antecedents and Correlates to First Sex.............. 32
Testosterone............................................................................................ 33
Socioeconomic Status.............................................................................. 36
Fam ily Structure...................................................................................... 37
Education ................................................................................................ 39
Substance Use......................................................................................... 40
Dating/Peers............................................................................................ 41
Attitudes/Knowledge About Sex ............................................................. 42
Religiosity............................................................................................... 44
Self-Esteem ............................................................................................. 45
Other Factors........................................................................................... 45
Reasons for Delaying First Sex................................................................ 46
How?" and "How Was It?": Context and Consequence of First Intercourse
Experience....................................................................................... 49
Sexual Scripts.......................................................................................... 50
Dynam ics of Physical Intim acy ............................................................... 50
Em otional Response to First Intercourse.................................................. 51








"W hat?": Virgin Sexual Practices................................................................... 54
Conclusion .................................................................................................. 56

3 QUALITATIVE LITERATURE .................................................................... 59

Naturalistic Studies of Adolescent Sexuality................................................... 63
Interviews ........................................................................................... 63
Ethnographies ......................................................................................... 68
M asculinity as an Interpretive Lens......................................................... 72
Narrative Analysis......................................................................................... 76
The Narrative Quality of Experience....................................................... 76
Narrative and Identity.............................................................................. 77
Defining Narrative................................................................................... 78
Examining Narrative: Analytical Strategies............................................. 80
Narrative Studies of Adolescent Sexuality ...................................................... 87
"W here the Boys Are"............................................................................. 87
"School Talk".......................................................................................... 89
Conclusion ..................................................................................................... 91

4 THREE DISCOURSES.................................................................................. 94

Giving Form to the Formless: The Pitfalls of Describing Discourses .............. 95
The Discourse of Piety.................................................................................... 98
Articulating Others.................................................................................. 98
Articulating Self.................................................................................... 101
Articulating Virginity and Sex............................................................... 102
Articulating Girls/W omen..................................................................... 104
The Discourse of Conquest........................................................................... 106
Articulating Sex .................................................................................... 106
Articulating Virginity............................................................................ 111
Articulating Virgins............................................................................... 114
Articulating W omen/Girls..................................................................... 116
Articulating Others................................................................................ 121
The M ale Fraternity............................................................................... 122
The Discourse of Relationship...................................................................... 124
Articulating the Link Between Relationships and Sex............................ 124
Articulating Relationships..................................................................... 127
Articulating Others................................................................................ 130
Articulating Virginity............................................................................ 131
A Fourth W ay: W orry as an Horizon of M eaning......................................... 133
Conclusion ................................................................................................... 138








vii








5 N ARRATIVE STRATEGIES....................................................................... 140

Identifying N arrative Strategies.............................. ...................................... 141
Telling ................................. ............................................................. ........ ... 144
Stories ................................................................................................... 145
Hypothetical N arratives......................................................................... 151
Habitual N arratives ............................................................................... 153
Collaborative N arratives........................................................................ 154
Presenting Selves..................................................................................... ..... 158
Identity Claim s ...................................................................................... 159
Distancing............................................................................... .......... .... 160
Biographical W ork............................................................................... 163
Contrasting ................................................................................................... 167
Categorizing ................................................................................. ................ 169
Parroting ................................................. ..................................................... 172
Quotations as Adjectives....................................................................... 172
Speaking for Collectives........................................................................ 173
Quotations as "Straw M en" ............................................ ......... .............. 175
Conclusion ........................................................ ........................................... 176

6 MEDIATING THE DISCOURSE OF CONQUEST..................................... 178

N arrative Challenges .................................................. .................................. 178
The Three M ediators.................................................................................... 180
M asculinity, M edition, and Hegem ony ........................................... ..... 183
The Relationship of the Discourse of Conquest to Hegemonic
M asculinity .................................................................................... 185
Constructing the Importance of Belonging Within the Discourse of
Conquest................................................................................... ..... 186
M ale Fraternity ......................................................................... ............. 187
Virginity Status Tests............................................................................ 190
Navigating Narrative Challenges Related to Masculinity.............................. 194
Avoiding a Spoiled Identity................................................................... 195
Managing Partial Commitments to the Discourse.................................. 205
N avigating Threats Im plicit in the Discourse......................................... 208
Reconciling the Discourse of Conquest with Other Discourses ..................... 214
Reconciliation with the Discourses of Conquest and Piety..................... 215
Reconciliation with the Discourses of Conquest and Relationship......... 223
Conclusion ................................................................................................... 227

7 MEDIATING THE DISCOURSES OF RELATIONSHIP AND PIETY....... 232

N avigating Challenges to Belonging............................................................. 233
Discourse of Piety ................................................................................. 234
Discourse of Relationship...................................................................... 237








Navigating Challenges to M asculinity .......................................................... 239
Comm itm ent to "W eak" Relationships.................................................. 240
Comm itm ent to Virginity ...................................................................... 245
Independence and the Discourse of Piety...................................................... 250
Conclusion................................................................................................... 253

8 REFLECTIONS ON NARRATIVE AND IDENTITY................................. 256

Reorientation ................................................................................................ 256
Discourse and N arrative ............................................................................... 260
M asculinities................................................................................................ 262
The Interplay of M multiple M asculinities................................................. 262
The Construction of Adolescent M asculinities....................................... 264
M asculinities and M ethod...................................................................... 268
Adolescent M ales' Sexual Decision M aking................................................. 270
Interviewing ................................................................................................. 275
Lim its to Storytelling............................................................................. 276
Power Dynam ics ................................................................................... 280
Final Thoughts ............................................................................................. 283

REFERENCES ..................................................................................................... 285

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................................................................. 296














Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy

STRAIGHT TALK:
DISCOURSE, NARRATIVE, AND THE CONSTRUCTION
OF MALE ADOLESCENT HETEROSEXUALITY

By

Mark Cohan

August 2002

Chairperson: Jaber F. Gubrium
Major Department: Sociology

This study combined elements of discourse and narrative analysis to examine how

adolescent boys construct and present accounts of (a) their decision-making with respect

to heterosexual sex; and (b) their own identities in relation to those decisions. Seventeen

boys completed one-on-one, face-to-face interviews. Questions addressed participant's

own sexual experiences (or lack thereof); the meaning and importance of sex; others who

influenced the participant's view of sex; and the participant's perspectives on virginity,

virgins, girls, sex talk, and manhood. Analysis targeted (a) the interplay between

available discourses of sexual decision-making and the narrative strategies the boys

employed and (b) the narrative challenges that arose as this interplay was mediated by

three identity concerns specific to adolescent boys-masculinity, independence, and

belonging.








The primary available discourses reflected three divergent orientations to sexual

decision-making. The "conquest" discourse emphasized the importance of gaining

sexual experience; the "relationship" discourse treated sex as appropriate only as an

extension of a relationship; and the "piety" discourse oriented to sexual decisions on the

basis of religious principles. Narrative strategies for managing discourses and presenting

identities included telling stories and pseudo-stories, presenting selves, creating rhetorical

contrasts, categorizing in purposeful ways, and speaking for others for rhetorical effect.

The conquest discourse had a preeminent position among the boys, and

masculinity was the most pressing of the mediating identity concerns. In confronting the

narrative challenges associated with masculinity, the boys variously constructed,

reinforced, and challenged a hierarchy of masculinities that was topped by a conquest-

based, hegemonic standard. Committed virgins faced the greatest difficulty constructing

their masculinity against the conquest-based ideal, but even boys who accepted the ideal

often found it riddled with contradictions. Whatever specific rhetorical demands they

faced, the boys managed meanings by harnessing the power of language to make

distinctions, introduce shades of gray, and control which elements take the foreground

and which recede into the background.

This analysis reveals the power of narrativity to affect the presentation of identity,

demonstrates that discourses are relational, and raises questions about mechanistic

interpretations of life-course transitions that do not account for the importance of

language and meaning-making to these processes.













CHAPTER 1
NARRATIVE AND IDENTITY

I am a cop show junkie. Actually, it is not cop shows, exactly, that I love, but

those gritty police dramas like Law and Order and NYPD Blue that feature homicide

detectives snooping around for evidence, making subtle connections between clues, and

grilling suspects. I would be lying if I said that I watch them for academic purposes, but

there is no doubt that they involve an abundance of what I might call "social

psychological intrigue." In one Law and Order episode, for instance, a doctor struggles

to explain to the detectives why he falsified information on a patient's medical chart. He

provides the details of what happened the night the patient died, but also emphasizes that

as a native from Pakistan working in an American hospital, he cannot afford to appear

fallible. He has to be twice as good as his peers just to be considered competent. He

urges the detectives to understand his actions in light of who he is: a foreign-born

professional who faces prejudice in his work place.

With its interrogations and legal maneuverings on behalf of the accused, these

detective shows are rife with stories like this one that, to the sociologically minded,

highlight the interconnection between story and identity. They provide anecdotal

evidence again and again that we create ourselves in talk and that when we speak of

events in our lives, our selves are always at stake. Whether we realize it or not, when we

talk about our experiences an inevitable by-product of our talk is a picture of who we are,

what type of person we are or would like others to think we are.








The other thing that "grabs" me about these shows is more disturbing. It's the

portrayal of men. With a few minor exceptions, the men in these shows, whether "good

guys" or "bad guys," are stereotypical "manly" men. They are tough, unemotional,

competitive, noncommunicative, homophobic, and always ready to fight. It is as if most

of them are cut from the same cloth, and those who are not are treated as different at best;

deviant or less-than human at worst.

Although the men in these shows and the words they speak are fictional, they

intrigue me precisely because the dynamics of narrative, identity, and masculinity they

portray are quite real. But where detective dramas address these issues indirectly, often

unintentionally, in an effort to entertain, I have worked throughout my graduate school

career to find ways to give them deliberate, systematic sociological attention. As part of

my master's degree work, I conducted interviews with males who had been involved in

political activism on so-called women's issues (e.g., abortion rights, the prevention of

violence against women, the Equal Rights Amendment) (Cohan 1997). These interviews

revealed how the activists used narrative to variously construct the political landscape in

which they were involved and explored the consequences their constructions had for their

place as males in the political struggles they had joined.

In developing my current work, I wanted to delve deeper into the intersections of

narrative, identity, and masculinity, but I needed a new focal point. The activist

community that I had studied had gone into a lull, with many of the most active males

moving away, and, anyway, I wanted to address a topic that would target men's sense of

masculinity in a more urgent way. I remembered how tortured I sometimes felt as a

young man, watching important rites of passage go by-high school graduation, college








graduation, my 25th birthday-and knowing that I was-gasp !-still a virgin. Although I

was clearly an adult, I felt that I was not quite a man, and I believed that, despite my

secrecy, everyone could somehow see my "immaturity." Surely, I could not be alone in

my experience. Sexuality and sexual behavior have always been important means by

which males have marked their masculinity, and I resolved to study this marking of one's

self as masculine, as a man, where I presumed it might start or start to become

problematic, with the notions (and experiences) of virginity and virginity loss.

Method and Data

Concern with virginity, in turn, directed my attention to adolescence, a time when

issues of masculinity are a critical aspect of males' development. I conducted semi-

structured interviews with a racially and ethnically diverse sample of 17 adolescent males

between the ages of 14 and 19, all of whom purported to be heterosexual. The

convenience sample was recruited via an ad in a local monthly newspaper, contacts with

youth ministers from local churches and high school principals, and word of mouth. In

all, nine of the recruits came from a local dropout retrieval high school, three were

introduced to me by church youth ministers, three answered my ad, and two heard about

the research through word of mouth. Six of the young men identified as virgin (i.e., had

never had vaginal intercourse), nine said they were nonvirgin, and one, who described

himself as a "bom-again virgin," said that he had had intercourse once but had since

vowed to stay abstinent until marriage.

Informed consent was obtained for interviews with all of the males older than 17.

The minor adolescents gave their assent after informed consent was obtained from a

parent or guardian. Participants were paid $10 for a single interview that was not to last








more than two hours. Interviews took place in various offices on the University campus

and were audio taped for later transcription. I transcribed the audio tapes of all but two of

the interviews, and I reviewed and corrected the transcripts that were done by an outside

source. Interviews typically lasted between 30 and 120 minutes. In one case where

additional time was needed, a second interview session was scheduled and the participant

received another payment.

Over the course of each interview, I directed the respondent to describe his

experiences with respect to dating and sex and explain the rationale for the decisions he

had made. Regardless of his virginity status, I questioned with an aim toward

discovering the meanings he attached to virginity, virgins, virginity loss, sex, dating, and

relationships, and I explored how these meanings interrelated and intersected with his

understandings of females, masculinity, religion, and the significant others in his life

(peers, parents, clergy, or others). In presenting excerpts from the boys' narratives in this

report, I have protected their anonymity by creating pseudonyms for them and any places

to which they refer.

Active Interviewing

Because I was interested in the construction of identities, I took as my model the

active interview described by Holstein and Gubrium (1995). This model springs from a

particular conception of the interview as a research mode that has implications for how

interviews are conducted and analyzed. Traditionally, interviews are thought of as

occasions when interviewers ask respondents questions in an effort to get appropriate

information "out of them." The assumption is that the answers to the interviewer's

questions reside somewhere within the respondent even before the interview occurs. The





5


interviewer's job is simply to extract those answers without contaminating them with

methodological problems such as leading questions, and interviewer bias.

When interviews are treated as active, in contrast, they are understood as sites of

meaning construction, not response extraction. Respondents do not come preloaded with

answers to questions. Rather, they collaborate with interviewers in the construction of

responses that satisfy the specific rhetorical demands posed in the interview. In terms of

how the interview is conducted, an active approach thus precludes the use of a strict

interview schedule. Interviewers enter interviews with a series of topics they wish to

address, but both interviewer and interviewee are involved in determining which issues

are most relevant and how responses to interview queries take form.

Data Analysis

In terms of data analysis, an active interview approach directs researchers away

from code-based thematic analyses that extract interview excerpts from the context in

which they are embedded and toward narrative analyses that focus on what respondents

are saying and also on how they are saying it. In fact, Holstein and Gubrium encourage

researchers to think of data from active interviews in terms of whats and hows. The

whats are the substantive aspects of the meanings being constructed; the people, places,

and events that respondents speak of in the course of the interview. The hows are the

ways in which these substantive elements are put together to convey meaning. Putting

words in other people's mouths (Cohan 2001), signaling that certain comments are to be

heard in certain ways (Gubrium 1993), assembling stories in particular ways (Riessman

1993)---everything that respondents (and interviewers) do with words can be examined as

a how of meaning construction. Taken together, examination of the hows and whats of








interview data produces narrative practice, a particular analytical scheme that remains

true to the notion of the interview as an active site of meaning construction by attending

to both the product and process of interviews. Analyzing my interviews in terms of

narrative practice allowed me to highlight how the boys explained their sexual behavior

(or avoidance thereof) and also how they constructed their identities in relation to those

behaviors.

What I discovered as I began to examine the interview data, however, was that

their experiences were not my experience. While some were 17 and 18 years old and had

not yet had sexual intercourse, none of them felt their virginity to be as burdensome as I

had at age 25. I came to believe that my experience was different precisely because I had

remained virgin long after adolescence, and a recent anonymous internet study of long-

time virgins provides evidence to this effect (Donnelly et al. 2001).

Without the comfortable lens of my own experience to see through, I took a fresh

look at these young men's narratives and became intrigued with them in their own right.

First, it became clear that I could not study virginity or virginity loss in isolation. While

notions of sexual initiation could be a starting point and organizing principle, the

narratives that my respondents and I collaborated in constructing were as much about

females, sexual decision making, and the emergence of the young men's sexuality as they

were about virginity, abstinence, and avoiding stigma. Second, I noticed that when these

young men talked, they constructed narratives that were not entirely their own. As all of

us do when we narrate experience, these boys conveyed themes, concerns, even stories

that others offered them as resources for making meaning and making choices about

sexual behavior. They were drawing on multiple discourses of sexuality and sexual








decision making as resources for their accounts. But the boys were not "cultural dopes"

(Garfinkel 1967/1984), mindlessly parroting the ideas of elders, peers, or popular culture.

Since they were constructing narratives about their own experiences, thoughts, feelings,

and expectations, who they were was continually implicated in the talk. Like the suspects

confronted by the wily homicide detectives, their selves were always at stake, and the

interview was as much an occasion for identity work through narrative as it was for the

replication of particular discourses of sexual decision making.

Theory

Fair enough, except that established notions of discourse do not leave room for

the kind of agency necessary for identity work. From this viewpoint, discourse "trumps"

narrative, so if I argue that the boys I interviewed are articulating existing discourses of

sexual decision making, I cannot simultaneously suggest that they work at the narrative

presentation of self in the process. The discourse establishes the subjectivity of its user,

so it is nonsensical to suggest that speakers can construct unique identities in relation to

the discourse that, presumably, already articulates who they are. Despite occasional

challenges, this understanding of discourse has been in vogue for at least a quarter

century. It is time, I think, to look more closely at alternative formulations of the

relationship between discourse and narrative, particularly those that offer some place for

individual agency in relation to discourse. Such an examination begins with a better

understanding of exactly what constitutes a discourse.

Discourse is one of those elements of the language of contemporary social science

that everyone uses but almost no one bothers to define. Reading some works that draw

on the concept, it is easy to get the idea that a discourse is some sort of amorphous entity








lurking behind texts, speech, and social action, silently manipulating them. My sense is

that it is not nearly as mysterious (or as powerful) as all that. I think of a discourse as a

more or less unified way of thinking about, talking about, and understanding a

phenomenon that, at least at some point in history, has had a group of proponents and

users. For instance, "child welfare" is a prominent contemporary discourse that has

implications for everything from the discovery of child abuse (Pfohl 1977), to the

responsibilities of governments with respect to children, and the relationship between

families and the state. The discourse offers a language that includes terminology such as

"child abuse," "cycles of violence," "the best interests of the child," and "children are the

future," which encourages a particular "take" on reality and facilitates certain types of

actions. Put simply, a discourse is a discursive framework and has consequences for the

actions of those who use it.

Discourse as Power/Knowledge

Michel Foucault brought the notion of discourses and their power to shape

people's perceptions (and experience) of reality to the forefront of social and political

thought in the 1970s. In Discipline and Punish (1979), for instance, he argues that

between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries, penal systems in the United States and

Western Europe underwent a radical transformation. During that time, the philosophy of

criminal punishment shifted from punishing the body as a means of exacting revenge for

transgressions against the "body politic" to a strategy of imprisoning and regulating the

body as a means of converting or reforming the troubled soul of the individual criminal.

The change signaled more than a growing distaste for the spectacle of torture. Foucault

asserts that it represented the emergence of a new discourse of punishment that








fragmented the power to judge criminals. No longer the sole province of judges,

involvement in determining the status of criminals was now open to anyone who could

claim expertise in matters of the internal motivations of their fellow human

beings-psychologists, therapists, and clergy, for example (Rose 1990). The soul,

Foucault argues, became the basis for a new, subtle means of social control that asserted

power through knowledge. People were "disciplined" because they learned new ways of

thinking about themselves, their nature, and their drives, ways of thinking that urged

them to police themselves. Here, then, is the notion that discourses construct

subjectivities for those who articulate them. People as diverse as criminals, students, and

religious believers learned to think of their behavior in terms of internal, sometimes

unconscious, motivations-that is, they took up the discourse of the soul-and became the

kind of people who would accept interventions and judgments based on interpretations of

these motivations. They even became adept at producing interpretations and imposing

relevant interventions on themselves. In other words, through what they learned, they

were transformed into able subjects of the discourse.

Foucault's novel depiction of discourses as knowledge/power conduits remains an

influential one. And his attendant suggestions that (1) knowledge is inseparable from

politics; and (2) the kindlerr, gentler" face of humane punishment may mask strategies of

social control that are as aggressive as their "barbaric" predecessors, cannot be ignored.

Still, with respect to the possibility of social actors being active agents in the production

of their lives, their selves, or their reality, Foucault's treatment of discourses raises again

the specter of cultural dopes. In his formulation, discourses operate so pervasively that

they leave no room for social actors to categorically recognize, resist, or reformulate the








perspectives made available to them. We are left with the impression that people dumbly

or passively, yet deftly, acquiesce to the discourses they learn and that permeate their

lives.

Discourse and Descriptive Practice

Other scholars, while appreciating Foucault's demonstration of the importance of

discourse to the organization of social worlds, have rejected his totalizing vision of it.

Two important figures who have developed this view are Jaber F. Gubrium and James A.

Holstein. They have been working in tandem for years, producing numerous monographs

that explore the relationships among language, discourse, and people's everyday lived

experience. One of their earliest works that wrestles specifically with the impact and

implications of discourse is What is Family? (1990). In it, they argue that a confluence of

contemporary discourses of family has exposed the fallacy of a number of commonplace

assumptions about the ontological status of "the family." Paramount among these are

that family is physically anchored in the home and that family members have privileged

access to the meaning of what happens in their domain. In words that echo Foucault,

Gubrium and Holstein insist that "the everyday reality of the familial is produced through

discourse" (pp. ix-x). And since discourse can be produced anywhere, so to can the

reality of the family.

Yet Gubrium and Holstein are too concerned with keeping their analyses

anchored in lived experience to employ a notion of discourse as all-pervasive as

Foucault's. From the start, they distinguish between a kind of abstract Foucauldian

discourse and discourse in practice. The former, as described by Gubrium and Holstein,

surely carries all of the "reality-structuring" qualities Foucault attributed to it:








[Family] discourse, then, is both substantive and active. In terms of
substance, we can think of its terminology, ideas, models, and theories as
resources for both naming and making sense of interpersonal relations....
[Family] discourse is also active. Used in reference to concrete social
relations, it communicates how one intends to look at, how one should
understand, or what one intends to do about what is observed. (pp. 15-16)

These qualities exist only as latent potential, however, until discourse is put into practice

by people in concrete situations. This "activation" of discursive potential in the language

use and meaning-making activities of social actors in specific contexts, which Gubrium

and Holstein refer to as descriptive (or, sometimes, discursive) practice, is the true source

of their interest in discourse: "Descriptive practice is the situationally sensitive,

communicative process by which reality is represented.... Descriptive practice is our

field of data-[family] discourse in use" (pp. 26-27). So although Gubrium and Holstein

recognize the potential of discourse that Foucault emphasized, they reject the implication

that discourse somehow operates independently of the sense-making practices of

everyday life. By doing so, they offer a conception of discourse that is less oppressive

than Foucault's, one in which individuals actively construct and elaborate how the

language, ideas, models, and such of a discourse "play out" in particular situations of its

use.

This insistence that individuals interpret and articulate discourse, rather than

simply being positioned by it means that, among other things, people do have a say in

how they present themselves, even when they articulate elements of an existing

discourse. While a given discourse may offer particular resources for the construction of

identities, how individuals will manipulate those resources for the purposes of describing

their selves is by no means given. Locally available discourses provide "useful moral

options for defining, judging, and cataloguing conduct and identity" (Holstein and








Gubrium 2000b, p 226; emphasis in original), but social actors recognize options. They

can, for instance, draw on other discourses to construct competing identities to the ones

offered by the dominant discourse, or they can self-consciously play the part offered

them, without committing to that part. Such strategies do not completely reconstruct the

local context so that, for example, the prisoner becomes the guard, but they do mitigate

against the totalizing tendencies of discourse and the likelihood that identities are

imposed, rather than constructed, negotiated, and, in some cases, contested.

That said, we must also recognize that various forms of stratification affect the

social distribution, availability, and malleability of discursive resources. It is a well-

established fact in sociology that race, ethnicity, social class, and religious background

affect one's life chances (Giddens 1996), and this influence extends to boys' exposure to

the images, lore, understandings, and role models associated with various discourses of

sexuality. A few diverse examples will serve to make the point. Boys who grow up with

conservative, Christian backgrounds are more likely than those who are raised in more

secular or liberal environments to be taught religious interpretations of sex that

emphasize abstinence until marriage. As part of being taught how to survive in a racist

culture, African-American boys are likely to be raised with a greater awareness of how

race and sexuality intersect (e.g., the stereotype of the hypersexual Black man) than are

Whites. And finally, economically disadvantaged boys are less likely than their more

affluent counterparts to have ready, private access to the varied material about sex, STDs,

and contraception that is available on the Internet.

The stratification of knowledge, resources, and capacity for understanding and

shaping one's sexuality is not limited to macrosociological domains, however.








Differential conditions exist even within groups and across different contexts. For

instance, a boy who is small, unathletic, and shy is likely to be less successful than others

in his own friendship group in enacting a discourse that focuses on physical prowess and

popularity. Likewise, a boy who is successful in presenting himself to his peers in terms

of a particular discourse may not meet with the same success within the context of

interactions with his older brother's peer group. Being cognizant of this possibility, he

may intentionally alter the discourse he articulates or the way he articulates the same

discourse to accommodate his lesser standing in this other group.

The fact that boys' choices and articulations of discourses can be context-

sensitive also raises an important question for this study: How can I be sure that the boys

I talk to will not adjust their descriptions of their sexual decisions and their gender

performances to reflect how they interpret my presence? The answer is that I cannot;

indeed, I anticipate that they will make such adjustments. However, I do not see this

eventuality as a threat to the study. To begin with, I understand all self-presentations as

occasioned events. The notion that the self a guy presents in an interview with me is

somehow an "adjustment" from some "true self' that I have failed to access is antithetical

to the underlying assumptions of the active interview. No one self-presentation is more

or less "true" than any other; each simply serves different contexts. Those scenarios that

we associate with self-presentations that are more or less authentic (e.g., a session of

psychoanalysis versus dinner with one's boss) call for different types of selves. In the

conduct of the interview, I can actually take advantage of this occasioned quality by

asking participants to orient to different contexts.








In addition, the situated nature of the interview is always kept to the fore. While

this does not mean that I am able to treat participants' responses to me or the interview

context with the same transparency as interview transcripts, it does mean that the

interview dynamic is open to examination and discussion. It also means that I analyze

the narratives not as documents of self, but as articulations of self that serve a specified

purpose. Put coarsely, that purpose might be described as answering personal, sex-

related questions posed by an older, intellectually oriented White male in such a way as

to ensure the receipt of the ten dollar incentive.

Some might argue that this purpose, with its financial inducement, is an invitation

for complete fabrications. However, I believe that all of these guys participated in the

interview in good faith. Certainly, this particular interview context may have prompted

some boys to censor certain stories or use different language than they would in the

presence of their peers. But the goal of the interviews was never to guarantee that guys

mimic their locker-room talk. And the relevant analytical issue is how they constructed

themselves in relation to the purpose at hand, not how this purpose may have "perverted"

their participation in the study.

The story that you will read in these pages, then, is a story about the use of

narrative to articulate (sexual) identity in relation to discourse. What all of that means

outside of the fancy sociological dressing is this: I believe that when we talk to youth

about virginity and their sexual decision making, they make use of preexisting viewpoints

or frameworks (discourses) to tell the story or stories of their sexual life as it has

developed to that point. These perspectives on virginity and sex may come from their

parents, their church, their friends, the media, or some combination of these, and the boys








may use these perspectives with varying degrees of understanding of and commitment to

their tenants.

But even though they are drawing on other people's ideas, the story each young

man tells is his own, for three reasons. First, a discourse is not a template. Each person

who draws on the same discourse does not tell an identical story. They each draw on

similar story-telling resources and the story is likely to have a similar moral, but each

teller includes his own unique experiences and links them to the resources made available

by the discourse in a unique way. In sociological jargon, each respondent articulates the

discourse differently. Second, a single person may draw on multiple discourses in the

course of an interview. For instance, a young man might explain his view of females in

terms of a discourse of sexual conquest, yet describe the scenario in which he lost his

virginity in terms of a love discourse. And finally, the young man's sense of self is

always implicated in the act of narrating his experiences, and this is no less true when a

great portion of his narrative draws from established discourses. Indeed, as we shall see,

each of the discourses that these boys articulated in their narratives had the potential to

create their own challenges to the selves of the boys who used them. In these cases, it

may be reasonable to speak of the "strategic articulation" of a discourse, whereby a

respondent assembles elements of a discourse in his narrative to convey particular

meanings, while simultaneously engaging in identity work that neutralizes or

"inoculates" him from implications of that discourse that he believes may be damaging to

his self-presentation.








Perspective on Masculinity

Sometimes the sense of self implicated by a discourse used by the boys is a

gendered one, bringing concerns about masculinity to the fore. Thus, the current research

affords me an opportunity to explore the relationship between narrative and discourse,

and also the relationship between adolescent sexuality and modes of masculinity. To this

end, I have incorporated a theoretical perspective on masculinity into my interpretivist

narrative framework.

The perspective rests on five propositions that have been advanced in previous

work by men's studies scholars. They are as follows:

1. There is no one way to be a man (Connell 1995). Since what it means to be a
man varies over time and across social groupings (defined, for example, by age,
race, social class, and geographic region) it is more appropriate to speak of plural
masculinities than a single masculinity that provides the only acceptable standard
for all men.

2. The relationship between multiple masculinities is hierarchical and
competitive (Connell 2000). In most societies, including those in the
contemporary Western world, there is one hegemonic or dominant form of
masculinity. This form need not be (and rarely is) the most common or most
comfortable, yet it is considered the most honorable and desirable. It provides the
benchmark against which all other masculinities are typically measured. Other
masculinities are subordinate to it, and the hegemonic form protects its status
through active and sometimes violent marginalization of other forms.

3. Masculinity is an ongoing interactive accomplishment (Coltrane 1994).
Masculinity is not a static state that one achieves and never relinquishes, it is an
aspect of identity. As such it must be continually claimed through ongoing
identity work that involves both broad aspects of lifestyle and a multitude of
everyday minutia, from speech and bodily habits to interests, opinions, and
decisions. Further, claims to the identity are subject to the social confirmation of
others.

4. Traditional, dominant modes of heterosexual masculinity define themselves
against the feminine (Herek 1987). To be a man, in this mode, is to avoid and
denigrate activities (e.g., sewing, baking, cleaning) and ways of being (e.g.,
emotional, sensitive, nurturing, cooperative) typically associated with women,
while simultaneously embracing and accentuating their presumed opposites (e.g.,








rationality, competition). In patriarchal societies, such as our own, these men's
devaluation of the feminine is consistent with the sexism of the culture, so it pays
a patriarchal divided in terms of social power and privilege.

5. The greatest threat to a man's masculinity comes not from women, but from
other men (Kimmel 1994). It is other men who most closely scrutinize a man's
gender "performance" and are most likely to question another man's manliness.
Since other men are the ultimate arbiters of what is acceptable masculine
behavior, interactions among men carry the constant threat of emasculation if
one's behavior is deemed unmanly. By characterizing a man as uncool, weak,
or-at worst-gay, traditionally masculine heterosexual men prey on other's
insecurities about their own masculinity to construct and reinforce behavioral and
ideological boundaries. Thus homophobia is a phenomenon that does more than
connote fear and rejection of homosexuals; it represents the central means by
which heterosexual men police one another's adherence to the strictures of
particular masculinities: "Homophobia is the fear that other men will unmask us,
emasculate us, reveal to us and the world that we do not measure up, that we are
not real men" (Kimmel, p. 131).

The integration of these five propositions into an active interview approach that

emphasizes the constructive qualities of narrative depends on a commitment to avoid

imposing the relevance of gender categories artificially. In most contexts in our gender-

conscious society, gender is readily available as a meaning-making tool, but it is not

always drawn upon. As Holstein (1987) asserts, we must recognize that gender is like

any other narrative resource: speakers make use of it when it is relevant to the particular

meanings they wish to construct. My analytical framework allows me---even compels

me-to be cognizant of gender's "occasioned character" (Holstein, p. 141), and thus

gender becomes relevant to my work only when it becomes part of the rhetorical activity

of the interview.

Of course, given the nature of my research interests, it was common for me to use

gender distinctions in directing the interview, and thereby encourage respondents to use

gender as an interpretive framework when constructing their narratives. In this way, I

exploited two qualities of the active interview context. The first quality is that








respondents are capable of articulating positions on interview topics from multiple

subjective positions. The second is that questions that are posed and interactions that

occur during interviews can condition how respondents orient to interview topics

(Holstein & Gubrium 1995, p. 41). By introducing gender, I deliberately incited

respondents to be active and to orient to the topic at hand from a gendered perspective.

For instance, while a respondent might begin talking about his experience of virginity

loss in a way that highlighted his status as a high school student, I might eventually ask

what the experience meant for him as a young man. In so doing, I intentionally elicited a

response from a standpoint that gave relevance to gender categories.

Participants, too, can make gender categories relevant, although often

unintentionally, by the way they "do gender" (Schwalbe & Wolkomir 2002). Cultural

prescriptions that men present themselves in indentifiably masculine ways, which

frequently means in ways consistent with hegemonic masculinity, make these strategies

of self-presentation-these enactments of masculinity-important data for researchers

interviewing men. Schwalbe and Wolkomir note, in particular, that the desire to be seen

by others as possessing traditionally masculine qualities, such as rationality, control, a

propensity toward risky behavior, and heterosexuality, may make men more likely than

women to struggle to control interviews, resist emotional disclosure, and exaggerate the

level of rationality or control with which they approached situations they discuss in

interviews.

Given that the participants in the current study are only on the cusp on manhood,

some of these ways in which masculinity can impose itself upon an interview may not be

especially relevant. For instance, I would not expect many adolescent boys to exhibit








exaggerated rationality or try to control the interview when I, as the interviewer, am twice

their age and a representative of a university. On the other hand, the male "need" to

demonstrate heterosexuality, which Schwalbe and Wolkomir note often insinuates itself

into interviews, is at the core of this research. Also, my concern with the presentation of

masculine selves through talk puts into practice their notion that how participants do

gender is data as rich as answers provided to interview questions. In this project, my

interest in the boys' narratives of sexual decision-making is mated to a concern with how

the boys signify themselves in those narratives.

I believe that approaching the study of young men's understandings of virginity,

sex and sexual decision making from a narrative perspective that highlights (gender)

identity work offers a number of possibilities not available via traditional interview

studies or large-scale surveys of adolescent sexuality. First and foremost, the approach

offers a clear indication of the ways in which the meaning of sexual activity for these

youth is linked to their sense of themselves and the resources that they draw on to define

themselves. Second, it provides evidence that the development of a sexual self (i.e., the

sense of oneself as a sexual being) among adolescent males does not occur in a

conceptual vacuum but is instead linked to the boys' views of females, religion, and

masculinity. Third, it highlights the struggles that young men face in making sexual

decisions and presenting their sexual selves when they feel drawn toward the conflicting

messages of multiple discourses. And lastly, it provides insight into the moral reasoning

by which they account for their sexual behaviors and evaluate the behaviors of others.








Chapter Organization

The chapters of the dissertation are organized into three parts. The remaining

chapters of Part I provide the necessary background for my examination of the

intersection of identity, sexuality, and discourse in the narratives of heterosexual

adolescent males. Chapter 2 examines the quantitative literature on adolescent sexual

decision making by asking when, how, what, and why questions that relate primarily to

the issue of adolescents' initiation of first intercourse. Some survey researchers have

tried to address issues related to sexual decision making directly, and those studies are

reviewed here. For the most part, however, quantitative analyses have focused on the act

of intercourse rather than the cognitive and identity processes related to it. I have chosen,

therefore, to focus on the initiation of intercourse because it has received widespread

attention and because it can be seen as a kind of proxy indicator of at least a de facto

decision to have sex. Chapter 3 examines qualitative research on adolescent sexuality,

with particular emphasis on ethnographic and narrative studies. This body of work is

reviewed not just to explore what has been written previously about adolescent sexuality,

but also to demonstrate the sociological value of studies, such as this one, that examine a

small number of cases. The case study has a long tradition in sociology, but it perhaps

requires some explanation since it satisfies different research aims and should be

evaluated by different criteria than quantitative research and even some qualitative

studies. Finally, I include in this chapter work that demonstrates the impact of

constructions of masculinity on the lived experience of adolescent males, as analyses of

this type provide the groundwork for arguments I will make regarding the influence of

discourses of masculinity on my respondents' narratives.








In Part II, I delve into the construction of the young men's narratives. I begin, in

Chapter 4, by considering the culturally available resources for the boys' meaning-

making with respect to sexual decision making. The discussion is organized around three

discourses that were each articulated by several men: a discourse of love, one of piety,

and one of conquest. I make the case for the existence of these different discourses and

support my argument with evidence from the interviews. I point out patterned

differences in the boys' constructions of various aspects of sexual decision making and

link these to various discourses.

In Chapter 5, I turn from narrative resources to narrative strategies. Again, my

evidence comes from the boys' narratives, but this time the focus is the common,

strategic ways the boys manipulate discursive resources to suit their individual rhetorical

interests. I identify five major narrative strategies: telling, presenting selves, contrasting,

categorizing, and parroting. In presenting the strategies, I not only demonstrate how they

represent unique ways of manipulating language and managing meaning-construction,

but I also show how the boys enlist them in the production of their sexual selves.

The final two chapters of the section highlight the interplay of narrative resources

and narrative strategies. Both chapters are grounded in the premise that the boys' use of

the three discourses is mediated by three identity concerns of male

adolescence-masculinity, independence, and belonging. In other words, as the boys

describe their orientation to sexual decision making in our interviews, they are

simultaneously managing their self presentation in light of their understanding of

expectations for males of their age-namely, that they be masculine, independent, and

accepted by others. Chapter 6 examines how these three identity agendas mediate boys'








articulations of the discourse of conquest, while Chapter 7 addresses the mediation of the

discourses of piety and relationship.

The final section, Part III, consists of a single chapter. Chapter 8, "Reflections on

Narrative Identity," concludes the dissertation by suggesting some possible implications

of these adolescents' articulations of sexual selves for public policy related to sexual

education, the relationship between narrative and discourse as it is represented in this

study, and adolescents' ability to articulate identity through narrative. Modes of

masculinity and their relationship to adolescent males' sexual decision making are

implicated in two out of three of these elements, and I offer some final thoughts about

masculinities as lenses for understanding young men's constructions of sex and self.













CHAPTER 2
QUANTITATIVE LITERATURE

Most of what is known about male adolescent sexuality has been learned from

quantitative research. Though I argue in later chapters that qualitative research offers a

powerful, underutilized way of seeing the phenomena that we might collect under this

rubric, understanding the story that survey researchers have told about male adolescent

sexuality is an important starting point for our investigation.

Because virtually all of the survey research on adolescent sexuality over the past

quarter century has been motivated by a desire to prevent teen pregnancy, the literature

tends to treat sex among youth as problematic and be oriented toward the questions: Why

do teens have intercourse? And what can be done to delay or stop them from doing so?

Also central in many studies, though not as pertinent to the review at hand, are the

questions: Are teens using contraception when they do have sex? And how can we

ensure that, if they do have sex, they use contraceptives during their first sexual

encounter and reliably in future encounters? The actual research questions and policy

implications are frequently more involved than that; nevertheless, a certain amount of

simplification can be useful in comprehending this vast and multifaceted area of research.

To this end, I find it helpful to organize the literature on this topic according to

four basic questions: what, how, when, and why. The "why" question is as follows: Why

do adolescents have sex? Studies that address this question investigate the potential

impact of a host of antecedents or correlates suspected of affecting the probability that








youth will experience sexual intercourse for the first time. The "when" question concerns

the timing, particularly in terms of the adolescent's life course, of first intercourse

experience. A smaller number of studies address the "how" and "what" questions. Those

that ask "how" are concerned with the interpersonal and logistic circumstances under

which youth experience first intercourse. And finally, the "what" question is asked by

the few investigators who attend to the fact that being sexually active is not synonymous

with having sexual intercourse. Research in this vein explores what sexual behaviors

youth are engaging in in lieu of or prior to losing their virginity (i.e., having sexual

intercourse).

As we begin to look at this literature, it bears noting that not all of the authors

have been entirely clear or consistent about terminology. For instance, some researchers

studied adolescent virgins and used the term "virgin" interchangeably with the notion of

being nonsexual, failing to attend to the fact that people can be involved in sexual acts

(e.g., oral sex, mutual masturbation) without having lost their virginity (i.e., had sexual

intercourse). In this context, even the term sex can become confusing, since it may not

be evident whether it refers to any sort of sexual activity or to vaginal intercourse

specifically. To avoid such confusion, I use the terms "sexual intercourse" or, simply,

"intercourse" to refer to heterosexual vaginal intercourse and the terms "sexual act i it'"

and "sexually active" to refer to the broader array of behaviors that may include, but are

not limited to, sexual intercourse. In the rare case that I use the word sex, it refers

specifically to vaginal intercourse.








"When?": Age at First Intercourse

There is a widespread belief that many youth become sexually active at ages that

are presumed to leave them ill-prepared to appreciate or respond to the consequences of

being sexual (Marsiglio 1995). Though virtually anyone can cite anecdotes about "kids

having kids" or 14- and 15-year-old boys bragging about sexual exploits, social scientists

have tried to amass reliable, factual evidence that demonstrates how many youth are

having intercourse and at what ages. These efforts typically involve nationally

representative samples of adolescents self-reporting about their sexual behavior. Given

the sensitive and private nature of sexual behavior, few alternative strategies of data

collection exist. But questions have been raised about the reliability of these data

(Lauritsen & Swicegood 1997), so our discussion of the available research must begin

with the caveats sounded by others.

To date, the most systematic effort to examine the value of adolescents' self-

reporting of age at first intercourse has been undertaken using the six waves of the

National Survey of Youth, which were collected annually from 1977 to 1981, with an

additional wave in 1984. At the time of the first wave of data collection, the adolescents

in the sample were between the ages of 11 and 17. During the final wave of the survey,

the 1,405 respondents were asked how old they were when they first had sexual

intercourse. This response was compared to their responses in each of the first five years,

when they were asked if they had had intercourse during that year (Lauritsen &

Swicegood 1997). Overall, the age at first intercourse that respondents reported as adults

was nearly 1-1/2 years younger than what their responses as adolescents would indicate

(16.27 versus 17.61), and 32% of the sample were calculated to have given inconsistent








reports. White females were least likely to give inconsistent reports (24.5%), followed by

White males (28%), Black males (36.4%), and Black females (43.4%). Adolescents who

were older at the time of the first interview were more likely to report a younger age at

first intercourse as an adult than their reports as adolescents suggested. Compared with

White females, Black males were fives times and White males were two times as likely to

report an older age at first intercourse as adults than they had as youth.

Despite the apparent pervasiveness of inconsistencies, the authors suggest that,

statistically speaking, they are benign. When researchers controlled for them in their

analyses, estimates of age at first intercourse were unchanged, except in the case of

comparisons between Black females and White females, where the high levels of

inconsistent reports among Black females raised uncertainty about differences in age at

first intercourse between the two groups. Still, the fact that inconsistencies were found

and the fact that they were correlated with factors such as age, led the authors to raise a

red flag regarding comparisons of age at first intercourse over time: "Given the predictors

of inconsistency and their levels found here, we believe that any statements about

historical changes or subgroup differences should be made with caution" (Lauritsen &

Swicegood 1997, p. 220). Recent research has indicated that computer-assisted

interviewing may hold some promise in increasing adolescent response rates (and,

presumably, the reliability of responses) in surveys of highly sensitive behavior (Turner

et al. 1998), but this technology has yet to provide data on the specific question at hand.

It is with appropriate prudence, then, that we now begin to look at studies of age at first

intercourse among males, including analyses that make historical comparisons.








National trend data on age at first intercourse has come chiefly from a

combination of the 1979 National Survey of Young Men (NSYM), and the National

Survey of Adolescent Males (NSAM) and the National Survey of Family Growth

(NSFG), both fielded in 1988 and 1995. Between 1979 and 1988, the proportion of

males between the ages of 17 and 19 who had had intercourse increased from 65.7% to

75.5% (Sonenstein, Pleck, & Ku 1989). More recently, however, adolescent males' rate

of transition from virgin to nonvirgin appears to have declined. The proportion of never-

married adolescent males aged 15 to 19 who were nonvirgin was 60.4% in 1988, but it

fell to 55.2% in 1995 (Sonenstein et al. 1998). The primary reason for this decline was a

decrease in sexual activity among White males, as the rates for Blacks and non-White

Hispanics remained fairly constant.

In 1995, the largest increase in the proportion of sexually experienced males

occurred between 15 and 16-year-olds and between 18- and 19-year-olds (Alan

Guttmacher Institute 1999). Whereas only 27% of 15-year-olds had ever had sex, 45% of

16-year-olds were sexually experienced. Sixty-eight percent of 18-year-olds had had sex,

but by age 19 the proportion was 85%. These findings are, for the most part, consistent

with those from a longitudinal study of data from the National Survey of Children that

reported the age range of greatest risk of first intercourse among males who date was

between 15 and 18 (Miller et al. 1997).

Surveys drawing on regional or specialized samples have reported widely

divergent findings. A cross-sectional survey analysis of 1,228 parochial students found

that although the proportion of students who were sexually active was substantially lower

than the national rate, many of those who were nonvirgin lost their virginity at an earlier








age (de Gaston, Jensen, & Weed 1995). Twenty percent of the 131 sexually active boys

in the sample said they had lost their virginity by age 12 and over 66% had lost it by age

14. In contrast, a recent longitudinal study of males, aged 12 to 17, from Los Angeles

County (Upchurch et al. 1998), reported ages of first sex that were largely consistent with

national surveys. The median age at first intercourse for males was 16.6 years. Black

males had the earliest age of sexual onset (median age of 15), followed by Hispanics and

non-Hispanic Whites (16.5 and 16.6, respectively). Asian-Americans, a group neglected

even in the more recent national surveys, showed the greatest trend toward delaying

transition out of virginity, with a median age at first intercourse of 18.1.

Racial differences in the timing of initiation of first sex have shown up

consistently in the sociological literature. The percentage of Blacks who experience first

sex at an early age is consistently higher than that of other races, and studies conducted

during the 1980s showed that the differences remain, even when possible mediating

factors, such as socioeconomic status, are controlled. Some researchers have suggested

that the difference may be attributable to a de-emphasis of the importance of marriage

among Blacks relative to Whites and greater tolerance of sex outside of marriage and out-

of-wedlock births among Blacks (Moore & Peterson 1989; Moore, Simms, & Betsey

1986). For the most part, however, the question that continues to occupy researchers is

the extent of racial differences. The issue has been addressed by all studies that report

data on timing of first intercourse, whether they be cross-sectional or longitudinal,

regional or national. Racial differences in timing of first intercourse have even been

examined in a meta-analysis of longitudinal surveys of adolescent sexual behavior. In the

remainder of this section I review this extensive literature.








A cross-sectional analysis of data from Wave I of the National Longitudinal

Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health) found the relationship between race and first

sex to be highly significant (Conley 1999). The author reported that African-American

adolescents were three times more likely than other races to have had sex before the age

of 16. Another cross-sectional study-this one using a regional sample (n=315)-found

that Blacks ages 15 to 18 were significantly more likely to have had sex than Whites or

Mexican-Americans of the same age (Sugland & Driscoll 1999).

In a longitudinal analysis of 10 years of data (1976-1986) from the National

Survey of Children (NSC), Dorius et al.(1993) found that Blacks were 1.2 times more

likely than Whites to have sex, but this relationship was not statistically significant until

the measures of life events during adolescence (e.g., parental divorce or remarriage; drug,

alcohol, tobacco use; becoming employed; dating) were controlled. Another study using

the same NSC data set, but investigating different variables, reported that Black males in

the sample had a younger age at first sex than their White counterparts, but this

relationship between race and first coitus did not reach the level of statistical significance

(Miller et al. 1997). This second NSC study included many variables that were not part

of the life events study, including religious attendance and more involved measures of

education, family processes, peers, and dating.

Perhaps the best means of evaluating the extent of racial differences in transition

to first intercourse among youth aged 15 to 17, however, comes from a recent meta-

analysis of nationally representative surveys (Santelli et al. 2000). The authors compared

and contrasted the estimates of adolescent sexual activity in three longitudinal

surveys-the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG, 1988 & 1995), the National








Survey of Adolescent Males (NSAM, 1988 & 1995), and the Youth Risk Behavior

Survey (YRBS, 2-year intervals between 1991 and 1997)-and the first wave of the

Adolescent Health (Add Health) survey. Because of differences in the intent and

methodologies of each survey, specific subsamples had to be isolated so that the data

considered across surveys would be comparable. Consequently, the meta-analysis was

limited to "respondents aged 15 to 17 who were enrolled in high school at the time of the

interview" (p. 157).

Both longitudinal surveys that included males (the NSFG includes females only)

reported significant declines in the percentage of males who reported ever having

intercourse between the period of the late 1980-early 1990s and the mid- to late-1990s.

In the YRBS, the decline was nine percentage points, from 56% in 1991 to 47% in 1997;

in the NSAM it was eight percentage points, from 49% in 1988 to 41% in 1995.

Interestingly, these declines among all males were accompanied by parallel statistically

significant declines among all the racial and ethnic categories examined (White, Black,

and Hispanic) in the YRBS, but in the NSAM significant declines were found only

among Whites. Rates of intercourse experience declined six percentage points among

Hispanics between 1988 and 1995, but the trend was not statistically significant.

Comparing the 1995 point estimates from the YRBS, NSAM, and Add Health, the

researchers found that the estimates of males who had ever had intercourse were

significantly higher in the YRBS (53%) than in the NSAM (41%) and the Add Health

(45%). This pattern of differences between the estimates remained when only White

males were considered, but no significant differences were found between the estimates

for Blacks, even though there was an eight percentage point difference between the Add








Health (73%) and the YRBS (81%) estimates. Among Hispanic males, the YRBS

estimate (63%) was significantly higher than the NSAM estimate (47%).

Taken individually, each survey confirmed the general pattern of racial

differences found in cross-sectional and single longitudinal studies: Black males have the

highest rates, followed by Hispanics and then Whites. Specifically, in the period between

1988 and 1991, the surveys put the rate of intercourse experience among Whites at

between 44% and 50%, among Hispanics in the range of 54% and 66%, and at between

78% and 87% among Blacks. In the late 1990s, the rate for White males is reported to be

between 39% and 48%, between 47% and 63% for Hispanics, and the range is 73% and

81% for Blacks.

Trends in the relationship between race and extent of intercourse experience

among males in late adolescence (ages 17-19) have been reviewed by Ku and colleagues

(1998) using data from the three waves of the NSAM. Conducted in 1979 (then called

the National Survey of Young Men and focused exclusively on urban males), 1988, and

1995, the surveys involved the completion of in-person interviews and self-administered

questionnaires about heterosexual and contraceptive behaviors by a multistage national

probability sample of adolescent males. Because of limitations in the demographic

information collected in the NSYM (1979), comparable data across the surveys only

exists for late adolescents from urban areas and can only be compared in racial terms as

Black or non-Black. Within this somewhat restricted sample, however, notable racial

differences in intercourse experience are still evident. The percentage of all urban males

aged 17 to 19 who had ever had sex increased significantly from 1979 to 1988 (65.7%

versus 75.5%), decreased back to near-1979 levels by 1995 (68.2%). Among Blacks,








however, the percent who were sexually active remained significantly higher than the

overall rate across all years (from a low of 71.1% in 1979 to a high of 87.8% in 1988)

and did not decrease significantly in 1995 after the sharp increase between 1979 and

1988. Given that the primary goal that motivated this analysis was to examine the

relationship between AIDS education, sexual attitudes, and sexual behaviors, the authors

did not attempt to control other factors to isolate the degree of correlation between race

and the initiation of intercourse. However, they did find evidence that more conservative

sexual attitudes and AIDS education were significantly associated with the overall

decrease in sexual activity between 1988 and 1995 among non-Blacks. Although Blacks

during this period also reported more conservative sexual attitudes and received AIDS

education, they did not experience a concomitant decrease in intercourse experience.

Age at first intercourse thus appears to exhibit moderate variance over time and

substantial variation between races. For all males, the proportion aged 15 to 19 who have

had intercourse varied between 55% and 60% between 1988 and 1995. While nationally

representative surveys indicate that more than half of all males are likely to have lost

their virginity by age 17 (Alan Guttmacher Institute 1999), the age at which half of all

Black males would report being nonvirgin is likely significantly younger. Collection and

analysis of additional nationally representative survey data are needed to track more

recent trends and to improve our knowledge of intercourse rates among other racial and

ethnic groups, particularly people of various Asian nationalities.

"Why?" (and "Why Not?"): Antecedents and Correlates to First Sex

In this section, I review those studies that have tried to determine what factors

either precede (i.e., are antecedents to) or are frequently associated with adolescents








making the transition from virgin to nonvirgin by having sexual intercourse for the first

time. This literature spans over 30 years and includes perspectives on adolescent

sexuality that range from the biosocial, focusing on the influence of hormones, to the

sociological and social psychological, emphasizing the role of psychosocial and

demographic factors, such as self-esteem and socioeconomic status. Although a number

of the studies reviewed here address these domains of influence simultaneously, I have

tried to tease out the purported influence of individual factors. In this way, I am able to

present a picture of the role each individual factor has been reported to play as the

literature has evolved. From a biosocial perspective, the sole factor that I address here is

testosterone, a singular focus that is consistent with the literature. The psychosocial and

sociological variables that must be reviewed, however, are legion. They are

socioeconomic status, family structure, education, substance abuse, dating/peers,

attitudes/knowledge about sex, religiosity, and self-esteem. I also give passing mention

to other variables and concepts that have been addressed in isolated studies, and I

conclude by examining studies that have addressed why some students consciously

choose to delay first intercourse. Race/ethnicity are not treated here, as they receive the

most attention with respect to the timing of first intercourse. Because of the particular

focus of my work, I restrict my attention primarily to research and results that bear on the

heterosexual behaviors of adolescent males (ages 13 to 19 years).

Testosterone

The examination of possible hormonal predictors of transition to first intercourse

has been virtually the exclusive province of J. Richard Udry, Carolyn Tucker Halpernm,

and their colleagues. In 1985, they reported on a cross-sectional study that showed a








strong, positive association between testosterone levels in adolescent males and sexual

activity. The authors asserted that these findings provided definitive evidence that male

hormones exert a strong influence on the sexual motivation and behavior of males (Udry

etal. 1985).

In a subsequent regional, longitudinal study (Udry & Billy 1987), they tested the

combined effects of biological and social factors on initiation of first sexual intercourse.

The conceptual model for that study grouped independent variables into three broad

dimensions-motivation, social controls, and attractiveness-with motivation having

both biological (hormonal) and social components. Among the 264 white males who

completed both rounds of the survey, seven different variables, most of them relating to

motivation, were found to be significant zero-order predictors of transition to intercourse

between rounds 1 and 2. In a multivariate model testing all interaction effects, however,

only a boy's popularity with the opposite sex (as reported by friends) and his intentions to

have sex in the future remained statistically significant predictors. These findings

differed greatly from those for white females, where a multitude of variables were shown

to predict transition to intercourse. (Comparable tests involving Black males could not be

conducted because their numbers in the sample were too small to allow the necessary

statistical manipulations.) Considering these results in light of the earlier study that

showed the importance of androgens to male adolescent sexual behavior, the authors

concluded that motivational hormonal effects and social attractiveness are the factors

most at work in White males' initiation of intercourse in early adolescence.

In the 1990s, the efforts of the biosocial scientists concerned with adolescent

sexuality shifted to trying to demonstrate the effects of testosterone on sexual activity








over time. In the early part of the decade, a 3-year longitudinal study involving one

hundred 12- and 13-year-old White boys did not find significant correlations between

boys' reports of sexual experience and semiannual measures of testosterone from blood

samples (Halpem, Udry, Campbell, & Suchindran 1993). Several years later, however,

Halpem, Udry, and Suchindran (1998) revisited the issue by looking at more the frequent

measurements they had gathered: weekly behavior checklists and monthly salivary

measures of testosterone. They found that increases in testosterone did predict

meaningful increases in what the authors called "partnered activity" (i.e., intercourse and

other noncoital sexual acts that involve another person), a statistical relationship that

remained when pubertal development was controlled. The authors took these findings as

confirmation that testosterone does, in fact, have a direct effect on sexual activity, not just

an indirect one through the visible pubertal changes it produces.

An ancillary finding with regard to this sample involved the relationship between

testosterone, religiosity, and sexual behavior (Halpemrn, Udry, Campbell, Suchindran, &

Mason 1994). Using the semiannual blood measurements of testosterone and the surveys

completed semiannually, the authors divided the sample according to dichotomous

measures of church attendance (where low attendees were those who reported going to

religious services less than once a week) and testosterone (high and low based on a

median split). Some intriguing findings from that analysis were that (1) in a risk ratio

analysis, higher rates of testosterone doubled the risk of first coitus; (2) higher rates of

church attendance reduced the risk by two-thirds; and (3) church attendance, not personal

commitment to religious beliefs, appeared to be the critical predictor of sexual behavior.

Involvement with religious institutions demonstrated a protective effect against sexual








behavior and sexually permissive attitudes regardless of how the attendees rated the

importance of religion in their lives. An important statistical footnote is that there were

no significant interactions found between testosterone measures and religious attendance

measures, indicating that the two predictors operated independently of one another.

As in the other study that used this protocol, the results from this investigation

leave the impression that testosterone levels are operating through pubertal development,

not having a direct hormonal effect on behavior. However, given the findings from the

most recent study of testosterone effects that used more frequent, salivary assays, it is

possible that direct effects of testosterone might be documented here if the same methods

were used.

Socioeconomic Status

In most studies investigating the correlates to first intercourse, family income and

mother's education were used as proxy measures of socioeconomic status (SES). One of

the longitudinal NSC studies (Dorius et al. 1993) found a statistically significant inverse

relationship between mother's education and sexual intercourse. Every year added to

mother's education decreased the odds of the adolescent having sex by .086. As with

race, however, the authors who conducted the other NSC study (Miller et al. 1997)

reported different results. First, they found no effect of family income on age at first sex.

Second, they, too, found an inverse relationship between mother's education and sexual

intercourse; however it was statistically significant for females but not for males. Aside

from the fact that one study controlled for gender and the other did not, one reason for the

difference may be that Miller and associates reported the effects of independent variables

in terms of changes in age at first sex, rather than odds of having first sex. Yet the








general notion that propensity for early transition to sexual intercourse increases as SES

decreases has been supported by studies from the 1980s (Hogan & Kitagawa 1985;

Moore, Simms, & Betsey 1986).

Other contemporary studies that have measured SES differently only complicate

the issue. Conley (1999) reported that adolescents whose mothers have received welfare

were significantly more likely than others to have first intercourse before age 16. But a

recent study that used household income, parental education, and parental employment to

create a dichotomous SES variable (low/working class versus middle/upper class) found

that the summary variable was not a significant predictor of virginity status among the

15- to 18-year-olds in the sample (Sugland & Driscoll 1999).

Family Structure

A number of studies indicate that family structure has a substantial impact on

adolescent sexual behavior. Hogan and Kitagawa (1985) reported that adolescents who

grow up in a single-parent household and those who have an older, sexually active sibling

are likely to initiate intercourse at an earlier age than their peers. Another early study

found that having an older brother was positively associated with an adolescent's risk of

early transition to intercourse (Rodgers 1983).

Echoing some of the findings of Hogan and Kitagawa, an investigation focusing

on the older teens (ages 17 to 19) involved in the 1979 NYSM found that both Black and

White males from single-parent families were significantly more likely to have sex than

those from two-parent families (Young et al. 1991). A regional, cross-sectional survey of

more contemporary adolescents in a similar age range (15 to 18) replicated these findings

(Sugland & Driscoll 1999). The latter investigation also found that adolescents whose








mothers worked full time were significantly more likely to be nonvirgin than their

counterparts whose mothers did not work or worked only parttime.

A study using a 10-year span of the NSC to explore the effect of life events on the

likelihood of adolescents' first intercourse experience found that if a teen's parents

divorced in a given year, the odds were 1.5 times greater that the teen would have first

intercourse that year (Dorius et al. 1993). Risk of first sex also varied by the family

structure that the adolescent had just prior to adolescence (i.e., at age 12). Adolescents

who had a parent who was widowed ran the highest risk of having sex, while those whose

parents were married were the lowest risk group. This investigation also reported that the

effects of family structure did not vary by race.

A final, intriguing finding of this study was that if an adolescent's parents were

divorced before the child reached age 12, the divorce had little effect on the youth's risk

of sexual initiation. This last finding, however, is contradicted by a later study using the

same data set (Miller et al. 1997). The authors of this later analysis insist that their

analysis shows a significant negative effect of marital disruption at exactly the ages that

the authors of the earlier study present as benign. For males, they report that each change

in parents' marital status when the child is between the ages of 6 and 11 results in an

increase in the risk of intercourse of about one-third. As in the case of other

contradictions between the findings of these two studies, some, if not all, of the

difference may be attributable to the operationalization of concepts. In this particular

case, while the more recent analysis by Moore and colleagues would document multiple

disruptions if a parent divorced and remarried several times during a child's first 12

years, the older study by Dorius and associates would show the same parent simply as








"remarried." Without additional analyses, however, the exact period in an adolescent

male's life in which marital disruption is most likely to put him at risk for early sex

remains an open question.

Education

Though different studies provide different forms of evidence, the literature is

virtually unanimous in asserting that an adolescent's level of investment in education has

a strong, negative correlation with his or her likelihood of initiating sexual intercourse at

an early age (Miller & Sneesby 1988). Behaviors that have been reported to be

significantly associated with risk of early onset of sexual intercourse include failure in

one or more core subjects, trouble with teachers, and having been expelled (Conley

1999). In one recent study, fighting in school was significantly associated with early age

at first intercourse for males (Miller et al. 1999), and Black males were significantly more

likely to have sex before age 16 if they had trouble with teachers (Conley 1999). In the

extreme case, males who drop out of school are at greatest risk of having sex in the years

following the year they drop out (Dorius et al. 1993).

Commitment to academics, on the other hand, is associated with a reduced

likelihood of early sexual intercourse experience. For instance, Sugland and Driscoll

(1999) report that the older adolescents that they studied were significantly less likely to

have had sex if they expected to go to college. Similarly, a study of Canadian youth of

high school age found that virgins spent significantly more time than nonvirgins on

homework (Feldman et al. 1997).








Substance Use

Most studies have found that, statistically speaking, the use of legal and quasi-

legal substances (all of which are now illegal for minors in most U.S. states) is positively

associated with a greater risk of youth having their first sexual experience. Cross-

sectional studies have linked cigarette use, marijuana use, drinking and driving, and

heavy drinking to being nonvirgin (Conley 1999; Feldman et al. 1997). A 10-year

longitudinal study dating back to 1969 suggested that early onset of sexual intercourse is

among a host of behaviors, including cigarette smoking and alcohol use, that tend to

occur among the same teenagers and therefore may constitute a "syndrome" of problem

behavior (Donovan and Jessor 1985; Jessor, Costa, Jessor, & Donovan 1983).

A more recent longitudinal study, while not picking up on the notion of a deviant

syndrome, supported the finding of a positive association between early sexual

intercourse and substance use (Dorius, Heaton, & Steffen 1993). The authors reported

that males who smoke, for instance, were most likely to have sex if they started smoking

between the ages of 12 and 14. Marijuana use showed a stronger relationship to sexual

activity than alcohol use or cigarette smoking. Users were 2.2 times more likely than

nonusers to have intercourse, though females were more likely than males to have sex if

they were marijuana users. As with cigarette smoking, the highest risk group was

adolescents ages 12 to 14. The next highest risk group was 15 to 17. This study found

no significant effects of alcohol use on risk of first intercourse. Among a sample of 1228

parochial students between the ages of 12 and 18, 15.6% of the sexually active males

reported that drugs or alcohol use was part of their first sexual experience (de Gaston,

Jensen, & Weed 1995).








Dating/Peers

Whether or not an adolescent dates and how frequently he or she dates are clearly

factors that influence the likelihood of transitioning to the status of nonvirgin. In one

study, adolescents who dated were seven times more likely than those who did not date to

have sex some time during the ten year span covered by the research (Dorius et al. 1993).

While females' level of risk was more effected than males, there were age effects for the

entire sample. A greater than average likelihood of having intercourse was associated

with beginning dating early (between the ages of 12 and 14) or late (after age 17). The

increased risk associated with an early start to dating was also found in an analysis of

Add Health data (Conley 1999).

In terms of frequency of dating, going on dates one to two times per week was

reported to be positively associated with onset of first sex, while dating less than once per

month appeared to statistically lower one's risk of having intercourse (Miller et al. 1997).

A cross-sectional study in Canada found a significant inverse correlation between being

involved in a serious relationship and being nonvirgin (Feldman et al. 1997).

Dating alone does not account for the influence of peers on adolescents' sexual

behavior, however; friendships are also important. An important finding from research in

the 1980s related to race and sex differences in the impact of same-sex friendships on

initiation of first sex. Evidence from a longitudinal study indicated that White girls were

the most influenced by their friends' sexual behaviors (Billy & Udry 1985). White

female virgins were more likely to lose their virginity between waves of the study if they

had sexually experienced friends. White males were not influenced by friends' sexual

behavior, but they appeared to pick their friends based on who was sexually active and








who was not. Black youth of either sex did not appear to be influenced, as were white

females, nor did they use sexual experience as a basis for developing friends, as white

males did. Echoing these results, to a degree, a 1986 Harris poll of adolescents age 12 to

17 found that 73% of females and 50% of males believed that social pressure was a

reason why adolescents did not wait until they were older to have intercourse (Harris and

Associates 1986).

Finally, a youth's assessment of him or herself relative to peers may also be

relevant. Adolescents aged 16 or younger who rated themselves as better looking than

their peers and had friends that they believed were sexually active were found by one

study to be significantly more likely than others to initiate first intercourse (Miller et al.

1997).

Attitudes/Knowledge About Sex

There is surprisingly little research that attempts to link adolescents' attitudes

about sexual matters to their likelihood of becoming sexually active. A recent study

reported that adolescents who said their friends place a high value on avoiding risky

behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex, were themselves less likely to be

involved in sexual relationships (Sugland & Driscoll 1999). Along the same lines, youth

who perceived that drugs, alcohol, and sex were rampant at their school were less likely

to have sex. An adolescent's risk of sex appeared to increase as his or her knowledge of

sex increased. However, given that this finding comes from a cross-sectional study, it is

difficult to determine the direction of the relationship. Does being knowledgeable about

sex lead to sexual experimentation, or are those who are sexually active simply more

likely to be knowledgeable?








Evidence regarding the effect of parental attitudes on adolescents' sexual behavior

is mixed. One study using a national data set found that adolescents were more likely to

have had sex before age 16 if they reported that their fathers were accepting of youth

having sex in the context of a steady relationship (Conley 1999). On the other hand,

Sugland and Driscoll (1999) reported that parental opinion had no significant effects on

the likelihood that youth in their sample had had intercourse.

Multiple studies have also looked at whether parents can reduce their teen's

likelihood of having intercourse at a young age by communicating with them about sex.

The results, again, are mixed and suggest that communication in and of itself is not a

panacea. Rather, it matters who does the talking and what they say. A couple of studies

found communication to be associated with a lower probability of sex or greater use of

contraception (Fox & Inazu 1980; Furstenberg, Moore, & Peterson 1985). However,

another study reported that while communication with the mother was associated with a

prohibitive effect on sex, boys who discussed a larger number of sexual topics with

fathers were more likely than other boys to have had premarital sex (Kahn, Smith, &

Roberts 1984).

One of the earliest examinations of adolescents' transition from virgin to

nonvirgin sought to distinguish youth who had made the transition from those who had

not in part on the basis of their general attitudes, rather than their attitudes specifically

related to sex (Jessor, Costa, Jessor, & Donovan 1983). The researchers responsible for

this 10-year longitudinal survey, which dated back to 1969, reported that early onset

groups (those that had intercourse earlier) demonstrated "greater proneness to engage in

transition-making behavior" (p. 613) on 1970 measures. Compared with those who made








a later transition to sexual intercourse, early transitioners placed a higher value on

independence and a lower value on academic achievement. They also had higher

expectations of independence and lower expectation for their own academic achievement.

They held more socially critical beliefs about society, were more tolerant of deviance,

and were less religious.

Religiosity

A number of studies in the 1980s (Forste & Heaton 1988; Miller & Olson 1988;

Thornton & Cambumrn 1987) advanced the notion that religiosity had a protective

influence against early onset of sexual intercourse among adolescents. Three key

findings relating to religion and its prohibitive effect on teen sexual activity were that (1)

An adolescent's devotion to religious teachings and customs were more important than

any particular religious affiliation; (2) Adolescents in churches that teach abstinence

before marriage were less likely to have had intercourse than youth in churches with

other teachings; and (3) the highest rates of premarital intercourse were found among

adolescents with no religious affiliation. Furthermore, one study reported that the effects

operated in both directions: Religious adolescents were less likely to have sex, and

adolescents who had had sexual intercourse were less likely to be religious (Thornton &

Cambumrn 1989).

A study from the late 1990s reported the surprisingly result that, among Black

males, those who said that religion was very important in their lives were significantly

more likely than others to have first sex before age 16 (Conley 1999). At about the same

time, however, a longitudinal study based on the National Survey of Children offered a

more conventional result, showing that religious involvement had a negative but not








significant correlation with early initiation of coitus among males (Miller et al. 1997).

Interestingly, the authors reported that it was not so much the males' commitment to

religious ideals, but rather their mere presence at services, that was linked to their

delaying first intercourse.

Self-Esteem

A few studies have tried to untangle the relationship between self-esteem and

sexual behavior. The results have been mixed. One study in the mid-1980s found that

self-esteem levels did not differentiate female adolescents who became pregnant from

those who did not (Vemrnon, Greene & Frothingham 1983). However, another study from

the same time period reported a more complex dynamic. Self-esteem was positively

related to sexual intercourse experience among adolescents who believed that premarital

sex was usually or always right, but negatively related to intercourse among those who

believed it was wrong (Miller, Christensen, & Olson 1987). More recently, Conley

(1999) found that both male and female adolescents were more likely to start sexual

intercourse early if they felt unwanted or unloved.

Other Factors

A coupe of additional concepts that conventional wisdom might suggest are

correlated with adolescents' initiation of first sex have been included in a limited number

of investigations but have not, as yet, received the degree of attention given to the

elements discussed earlier. For instance, much has been written about the impact of

family structure, but researchers have not seemed inclined to question how the quality of

parent-child relationships might influence adolescents' sexual behavior. The lone

exception is the inclusion of measures relating to the mother-child relationship in the








National Study of Children. Researchers examining the relationship of these measures to

reports of adolescents sexual behavior report that the mother-child relationship showed

no significant association with age at first sex for boys. For girls, receiving intrinsic

support from and feeling closeness to mothers showed bivariate correlations with a higher

age at first sex, while mothers withdrawing love from daughters was associated with

early transition to intercourse (Miller et al. 1997).

Employment is another underexamined variable that may be associated with

adolescents' initiation of intercourse. The lone study I found that addressed this variable

indicated that taking a job actually increased the likelihood that a teen would have sex

(Dorius, Heaton, & Steffen 1993). The relationship between employment and first sex

that they found was weak, however, and its causal direction was uncertain.

Reasons for Delaying First Sex

In contrast to the many studies that have investigated possible correlates and

antecedents to adolescents' initiation of first sex, a small number of researchers have

taken a different tact and asked why some youth do not lose their virginity. The

groundbreaking work of this type was a survey conducted in the early 1980s that focused

on a sample of 16- to 22-year-old high school and college females (Herold & Goodwin

1981). This study began a radical transformation of how researchers thought about

virgins. Whereas most scholars of adolescent sexuality had considered virgins a single

homogenous group, Herold and Goodman instead painted a picture of two "camps." In

one camp were potential nonvirgins, females who tended to be younger and date less

frequently than nonvirgins. They were accepting of premarital sex, and most of them

said they had not had intercourse because they had not found the right person yet. In the








other camp were adamant virgins, females whose reason for abstaining was most likely to

be religious or moral in nature. There was some common ground: One-quarter of each

group said they had not had sex because they were not yet ready to do so. Also, neither

group appeared to be terribly concerned about pregnancy. Only 15% of the potential

nonvirgins and 7% of the adamant virgins gave fear of pregnancy as a reason for being

virgin. The overall picture, however, was that some females had made a deliberate

decision to remain virgin, while others were open to having sex eventually, given what

they considered the right circumstances.

In the first half of the 1990s, Sprecher and Regan (1996) revisited the question of

long-term virginity with a survey involving 289 college-age (mean age: 19.2 years), self-

identified virgins. These researchers improved on the earlier design by (1) including

men; (2) treating the likelihood of becoming nonvirgin as a continuous, rather than

dichotomous variable; and (3) attending to respondents feelings about, as well as their

reasons for, being virgin. The authors also transformed the scheme for categorizing

reasons for being virgin. The category "moral beliefs," which in the earlier study had

encompassed three reasons--"against religion," "parental disapproval," and "premarital

intercourse is wrong"-grew to include not feeling ready for sex and was renamed

"personal beliefs." A fourth category of fear-based reasons, involving pregnancy and

sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), was added.

As might be expected, young men's responses differed substantially from

women's, illuminating meaningful gender differences in young people's experience of

virginity. Paramount among these differences was that long-term male virgins were

likely to be troubled by their sexual status, while females who were long-term virgins








tended to regard their status positively. Males were less likely than females to explain

their virginity using reasons associated with love or the status of their relationships, and

more likely to attribute it to perceived insecurities, inadequacies, or the unwillingness of

a partner. Sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy were prominent concerns for all

of the youth, but women generally indicated more worry, particularly with regard to

pregnancy. Men were not as likely to cite personal reasons than were women; however,

for the men who did, virginity was perceived in a positive light, just as it was by women

with similar convictions. Men who reported relationship length or not having found the

right partner as reasons also tended to view their virginity positively. In some cases,

men's reasons for or feelings about being a virgin were correlated with their future

expectations. Specifically, men whose reasons for virginity related to inadequacy or

insecurity or who felt either guilty or anxious about being virgin were likely to indicate

that they expected to become nonvirgin in the near future.

More recent studies have shed some light on abstinence among younger youth.

The results of one survey of a predominantly White sample (mean age: 14 years) that

included 282 self-identified male virgins indicated that fear of STDs and pregnancy were

the most common reasons given for abstinence (Blinn-Pike 1999). Males reported lower

degrees of fear than did females; unfortunately, the author provided no additional gender

comparisons of the results.

Another investigation provided a cross-sectional look at the sexual and romantic

relationships of a racially diverse (i.e., White, African-American, and Mexican-

American) sample (mean age: 16.7 years) (Sugland & Driscoll 1999). The authors

identified a subsample of 205 youth who said they had not had intercourse with their first








romantic partner. Among males, the most common reasons were that they were not ready

or they feared STDs or pregnancy. Males were significantly less likely than females to

indicate that they abstained because their feelings for their partner were not strong

enough or they believed premarital sex was wrong.

Among these younger samples, then, fear appears to take a more prominent role

than among the older group; however, comparisons are difficult to make because the

newer studies do not raise the issue of inadequacy or insecurity as directly as did

Sprecher and Regan (1996), if indeed they raise it at all. Across all age groups, however,

it seems clear that males are less likely than females to refrain from first intercourse

because of concerns about the strength of their relationship with their partner or the

presence, absence, or amount of love they feel.

"How?" and "How Was It?":
Context and Consequence of First Intercourse Experience

In addition to examining the predictors and timing of adolescents' transition to

nonvirginity, researchers have also wondered how, exactly, the incident of first

intercourse comes to pass. What is the nature of the relationship between the partners?

How intimate, interpersonally and physically, do partners typically become before

actually having intercourse? Do adolescents usually plan their first intercourse

experience in advance? Do they use alcohol, drugs, or other external factors to facilitate

the incident? These and related questions are relevant to a broad conception of the

context of adolescents' first sex, and it is to this issue of context that we now turn. We

begin by examining what some have called "sexual scripts": the interpersonal and logistic

circumstances under which first intercourse occurs. Next, we focus on the dynamics of








physical intimacy that may precede intercourse, and we conclude with a brief look at

adolescents' emotional response to their first experience of intercourse.

Sexual Scripts

Based on retrospective accounts from 1,659 Midwestern college students, one

team of researchers assembled what they call a "typical" sexual script for adolescents'

first intercourse experience (Sprecher, Barbee, & Schwartz 1995). Their data indicated

that a common scenario would be for adolescents to be between 16- and 17-years-old

when they lost their virginity. It would be unlikely for drugs or alcohol to be involved in

the event, but, more than likely, contraception would be used. For the most part, this

picture is consistent with other studies; however, this group may be more conscientious

about birth control than others (DeLamater 1987; de Gaston, Jensen, & Weed 1995).

Also, it should be noted that the sample for the Midwestern study was nearly 90% White.

Multiple sources also suggest that first intercourse typically is an unplanned event that

occurs in the home of one of the partners (de Gaston, Jensen, & Weed 1995; Harris and

Associates 1986; Sprecher, Barbee, & Schwartz 1995)

Dynamics of Physical Intimacy

For both males and females, first intercourse most often occurs in the context of a

dating relationship, but females typically describe their relationship with their partners as

more intimate than do males (Sprecher, Barbee, & Schwartz 1995; Sugland & Driscoll

1999). Among a sample of predominantly White parochial school students, 43.6% of

males, compared with 63.8% of females, described their relationship with their first sex

partner as "going steady" (de Gaston, Jensen, & Weed 1995). More than 20% of males,

but only 14.5% of females, said their partner was a stranger or someone they had just








met. Another indication of males' tendency to experience lower degrees of relationship

or emotional intimacy with their sex partners than females is the finding from a recent

study that males were significantly more likely than females to have had a nonromantic

sexual relationship (Sugland & Driscoll 1999). This same study also reported that Blacks

were more likely than Whites and almost twice as likely as Mexican-Americans to have

had a nonromantic sexual relationship.

When first intercourse happens in the context of an on-going dating relationship,

studies indicate that it is often the endpoint of a predictable pattern of escalating physical

intimacy. One team of researchers has described a broad "normative developmental

pattern" of adolescent heterosexual behaviors that begins with hugging and kissing,

progresses to fondling and petting, and culminates with sexual acts that may include

intercourse (McCabe & Collins 1984). Another study delineated a more detailed pattern

(Smith & Udry 1985). In a typical scenario, necking is followed by feeling breasts

through clothing, then feeling breasts directly. The next steps are feeling sex organs

directly (the female's vagina?), the female feeling the male's penis directly, then

intercourse. This sequence was found to be common among sexually experienced White

adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15, but it was not as consistent with the

experiences reported by Black youth. Apparently, Black adolescents are much more

likely to diverge from this sequence and engage in intercourse prior to or without

engaging in some of the intermediate physical acts.

Emotional Response to First Intercourse

In recent years, attention to the path that youth take to reach their first sexual

experience has taken a back seat to concern about how adolescents feel about their








experience of virginity loss. One attempt to address this question asked a sample of

1,659 nonvirgins the degree to which they felt pleasure, anxiety, and guilt when they first

had intercourse (Sprecher, Barbee, & Schwartz 1995). While it is no doubt a

simplification to distill the range of emotions aroused by first sexual intercourse down to

two relatively unpleasant and one pleasant one, the authors, nonetheless, reported some

notable patterns in adolescents' emotional reactions. For both sexes, the greater the

anxiety they felt, the greater the pleasure they reported. Conversely, the greater the guilt,

the less pleasure they felt. Also, those who were 17 or older reported more pleasure than

those who were younger. Both males and females also reported greater levels of pleasure

if their partner was the same age or older. Males reported more pleasure and more

anxiety than females, but less guilt. They were also much more likely than females to

have an orgasm, which may provide a partial explanation for their greater pleasure

ratings. The strongest emotion that males reported was anxiety, followed closely by

pleasure. Females, on the other hand, typically felt anxiety most strongly, followed by

guilt, and then pleasure. The guilt that young women felt was mitigated somewhat if they

were still in a relationship with their first sexual partner.

Other researchers see such an examination of adolescents' feelings about first

intercourse as a gross oversimplification, however, because it treats those feelings as

though they are immune to gender power dynamics. Drawing on feminist perspectives,

they argue that females' feelings about their first sexual experiences are inseparable from

the degree of control they feel they have over intimate encounters and, specifically, the

decision to have intercourse. A pioneering effort to examine how females' factor control

issues into their evaluations of intercourse experiences was conducted by Abma, Driscoll,








and Moore (1998). They examined how 2,042 females aged 15 to 24 who participated in

Cycle 5 (1995) of the National Survey of Family Growth rated their first intercourse

experiences on two scales-whether it was voluntary or involuntary, and degree to which

it was wanted (scale from 1 to 10, 10 being most wanted). Their most distressing finding

was that fully 9% of the females described their first sex as nonvoluntary, including 25

women who described their experience as rape. Nearly as remarkable, however, was the

fact that just over 25% of the women rated the wantedness of their first sex on the lowest

end of the scale (between 1 and 4). Black women were more likely to rate the

wantedness as "one" (13%), than were non-Hispanic Whites (6%) and Hispanics (4%),

while Hispanic women were more likely than their counterparts to give the highest rating

for wantedness (21%, compared with 14% for non-Hispanic Whites and 12% for Blacks).

Younger women are often believed to have less control of sexual encounters, and

this research provides support for that contention. To begin with, 24% of the women

who described their first intercourse as nonvoluntary or rape were 13 years old or

younger. This percentage represents the largest proportion of women of a single age who

experienced nonvoluntary first intercourse. Even if first intercourse was described as

voluntary, younger women were most likely to rate its wantedness as low. Thirteen

percent of women whose first intercourse occurred at age 13 or younger rated the

wantedness of that intercourse as "one," compared to only 5% of those who had first sex

between the ages of 19 and 24. Even if we assume that many of these women are being

victimized by males who are substantially older than they are, the conclusion is

inescapable that coercing or forcing intercourse is a hidden but salient aspect of the

experience of a minority of adolescent males.








"What?": Virgin Sexual Practices

Often lost in discussions of the incidence, timing, and correlates of adolescents'

first experience of intercourse is that youth may be sexually active long before they first

have intercourse. Being virgin, in other words, is not synonymous with an absence of

sexual activity. The distinction is important for a number of reasons, including the fact

that noncoital sexual activities, such as fellatio, cunnilingus and anal sex, carry a risk of

STD transmission, and messages about the safety associated with abstinence may be

miscommunicated if adolescents associate it solely with refraining from intercourse.

Researchers have been slow to recognize the importance of the distinction between

sexual activity and virginity loss, but a few have begun to attend to it and provide some

sense of the type and pervasiveness of noncoital sexual practices among virgins.

Between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s few surveys addressed the noncoital

sexual behaviors of adolescents, and some of those that did limited their analyses to

specific sex acts (i.e., oral sex) (Newcomer & Udry 1987) or populations (i.e., low-

income, urban Blacks) (Stanton et al. 1994). One exception was a study, discussed

earlier, that documented the differences between the sequence of sexual behaviors that

Black and White adolescents typically engage in prior to having intercourse (Smith &

Udry 1985). Even this analysis, however, did not attend to anal or oral sex, the two types

of noncoital practices that carry the greatest risk of STD transmission.

More recently, one U.S. study has taken virgin sex practices as its primary focus

(Schuster, Bell, & Kanouse 1996), and two others, one based in Canada, have made

contributions. The U.S. study involved over 2,000 9th through 12th graders from Los

Angeles County schools. Of the 952 self-identified virgins in the sample, more than one-








third (35%) reported involvement with at least one of a range of noncoital sexual

activities that encompassed masturbation of or by a partner, heterosexual cunnilingus,

fellatio with ejaculation, and heterosexual anal sex. Thirty percent of the males said they

had experienced masturbation of or by a partner; 11% had experienced fellatio with

ejaculation; and 9% had performed cunnilingus. There were no significant differences

between males' and females' levels of involvement in these noncoital acts; however, the

level of involvement reported among males in this sample was twice as high than that

reported among males in a Canadian sample (Feldman et al. 1997).

Consistent with the notion of the "syndrome" of problem behavior (Donovan and

Jessor 1985) that characterizes adolescents at risk of initiating intercourse, the virgins in

this study who reported having engaged in higher risk non-coital sexual activities (i.e.,

fellatio, cunnilingus) were more likely than virgins whose sexual activity was low risk

(i.e., complete abstinence or mastrubation with a partner) to have used alcohol, drugs, or

marijuana in the past year (Schuster, Bell, & Kanouse 1996). They were also more likely

than their counterparts to have a problem with unexcused school absences, staying out

late without parental permission, stealing, or running away from home.

Another U.S. study using a regional sample provided data on some of the

noncoital sexual behaviors that adolescents engaged in with the person they described as

their first nonsexual romantic partner (i.e., a person with whom they were in a

relationship but did not have intercourse) (Sugland & Driscoll 1999). The percentage of

males in this sample who report

d giving or receiving oral sex was comparable to that from the L.A. County study;

however, the more recent investigation found that males who had talked with their








partner about sex reported higher levels of physical intimacy with them. For instance,

27% of males who had talked to their partner about sex had engaged in oral or anal sex,

compared with only 4% who had not talked with their partners about sex. Indeed, having

talked with one's nonsexual romantic partner about sex was associated with higher levels

of noncoital activity for all social class, gender, and racial subgroups, except Whites.

Unfortunately, there is no way to determine how many of the adolescents who reported

these noncoital behaviors are actually virgins since being a virgin was not presumed in

the notion of one's first nonsexual romantic partner. Any or all of them may previously

or simultaneously have had another partner with whom they had intercourse.

Conclusion

The literature on adolescents' sexual behaviors, particularly initiation of sexual

intercourse, is extensive and covers a vast array of issues. In my review, I have tried to

bring some coherence to this enormity by focusing on four fundamental questions: Why

do adolescents have intercourse? When (i.e., at what age) do they do it? How does the

scenario in which first intercourse happens develop, progress, and conclude? What sort

of sexual activity, if any, do youth engage in prior to having intercourse for the first time?

From an exceedingly complex collection of sometimes contradictory and

sometimes incomparable research findings, the broad outlines of a story can be seen, the

story of what is common, if not predictable, in the development of

adolescents-particular boys and young men-as sexual beings. One part of the story is

that age, gender, race, testosterone levels, attendance at religious services, family

structure, commitment to academic achievement, and dating behaviors all influence the

timing of first intercourse. Many White youth experience first intercourse as the climax








of a progressive escalation of physical intimacy within their relationship. Black youth

appear to be less bound to this pattern, initiating intercourse after only limited physical

contact of other kinds.

When it does happen, virginity loss typically occurs in the context of a dating

relationship, but, based on their own reports, males experience these relationships as less

intimate than the ones in which females lose their virginity. But then, one must ask how

important intimacy is to males when they lose their virginity, as a noticeable proportion

of them have their first intercourse experience in a nonromantic relationship. Even so,

males tend to get more pleasure from their first experience of intercourse than females,

partly because they are more likely to have an orgasm and partly because they experience

less guilt. Having intercourse for the first time tends to provoke more anxiety among

males than females, but this anxiety level seems to add to, not detract from, the pleasure

of the experience.

On the whole, young men do not like being virgins, unless they are among a

select group who have chosen abstinence as a result of personal beliefs. Those who have

not tend to blame lack of opportunity or some form of insecurity or perceived inadequacy

for their having not had sex. Like their female counterparts, however, males who are

virgins-more than one-third, according to estimates-may nonetheless be sexually

active. According to estimates, more than one-third of all virgins have engaged in

noncoital sexual acts. While most of these are masturbating with partners, a substantial

number are participating in acts, such as oral or anal sex, which carry a risk of STD

transmission.





58

Surveys of adolescents' sexual behavior thus gives us a start, a story that

introduces us to some of the themes that are common to broad multitudes of adolescents.

But it is an impersonal story, one that extracts those elements of the youths' unique

experiences that fit particular data collection schemes and discards the rest. As I will

begin to show in the next chapter, my narrative analysis offers a new perspective on these

familiar themes and some unfamiliar ones, a perspective that highlights their saturation in

and emergence from the moral web in which the self is embedded.













CHAPTER 3
QUALITATIVE LITERATURE

The story of what qualitative research contributes to our understanding of

adolescent sexuality, particularly as it relates to heterosexual males, is necessarily a

fragmented one. It must be told by describing relevant aspects of several different

literatures and assembling these pieces in a way that suggests a whole that has male

adolescent sexuality at its center.

This somewhat tortured approach is required for a number of reasons. First,

"qualitative research" is an umbrella term that subsumes a diverse array of

methodological approaches and theoretical commitments. Researchers that may be

similar in that their work is considered qualitative may nevertheless be quite different in

how they view the world, social science, and the relationship between the two. These

differences lead them to conduct research with widely divergent background

assumptions, methods, aims, and "real-world" implications. The heterogeneity of what is

commonly referred to as "qualitative research" virtually demands, therefore, that I

address multiple aspects of the literature separately.

The second reason for approaching the larger story by means of smaller loosely

associated ones is that, frankly, there is not much of a unified larger story. There are, to

date, very few qualitative studies that focus specifically on the sexuality of adolescent

males. Adolescence has received its share of attention from qualitative researchers, but

the focus tends to be on institutional contexts, particularly the school (Simmons & Blyth








1987; Thomrne 1993; Willis 1977), not experiential milestones, such as virginity loss.

Qualitative researchers have certainly not ignored sexuality either, but their concern has

not been with the commonplace experiences or development of adolescent male

heterosexuals. Problematic or controversial realms of sexuality, such as sexual

harassment, violence, and transsexualism, have received attention. Adolescent males

whose sexuality falls outside of the heterosexist norm of "compulsory heterosexuality"

(Rich 1980) are the subject of one recent qualitative study (Savin-Williams 1998). And

in recent decades a number of feminist researchers have turned their attention to

adolescent female sexuality (Lees 1993; Lees 1986; Thompson 1995; Tolman 1994), an

interest driven by both the problematic consequences of females being so closely

identified with their sexuality in a patriarchal culture and the tendency for women's

sexuality to be silenced, undervalued or pathologized, particularly in the early years.

In sum, both sexuality and adolescence have been explored using qualitative

methods, but, consistent with the pragmatic tradition that underpins much qualitative

work, attention has been reserved for those intersections of adolescence and sexuality that

have proven to be problematic in the everyday lives of groups of individuals. Adolescent

male heterosexuality, as the early or developmental phase of a sexuality (male,

heterosexual) that represents the standard against which other sexualities have been

judged, has remained beyond the pale of immediate concern of researchers, provided that

it has not been expressed in forms considered deviant (e.g., gang rape) (Lefkowitz 1997).

With this "invisibility by default" seemingly blinding qualitative researchers to the need

to write stories with male adolescent heterosexuality at the center, what story there is to








be told must be culled out of portions of other work where it resides as a tangential

concern.

Yet one might well ask why I would not extrapolate about male adolescent

sexuality from qualitative research that includes both genders, as I did, where

appropriate, when examining the quantitative literature. Why all of this insistence on

studies that specifically target male sexuality? The answer is simply that, where

qualitative methods are used, extrapolation from a kind of collective or "nongendered"

position is frequently not appropriate. This point rests on a fundamental difference in the

aims of qualitative and quantitative methods. Where quantitative studies typically strive

to homogenize data by reducing instances of behavior or attitudes to decontextualized

numerical units that can be compared easily, qualitative research thrives on difference

because its ultimate concern is the meaning behind experiences and behaviors. So, for

example, if survey researchers report data on the timing of virginity loss for adolescents

without discriminating between results from males and females, a broad sense of the

timing of the event among adolescents still makes sense and has limited utility. On the

other hand, it would be problematic for a qualitative researcher to present findings

regarding the meaning of virginity loss without differentiating results by gender because,

at least in the context of contemporary America, the meaning of the event is likely to vary

substantially by gender. This particular strength of qualitative strategies (i.e., their

recognition that diverse meanings can and do underlie outwardly identical events) thus

makes the issue moot. Qualitative research simply does not lend itself to the kind of

undifferentiated generalizing-in terms of gender or any other category relevant to the

issue at hand-commonly associated with quantitative work.








It is thus against a backdrop that includes theoretical and methodological

diversity, gaps in the literature, and issues unique to qualitative research that this review

of the literature must be organized. Although there are probably a multitude of ways to

accomplish this, I have chosen an approach that gives equal attention to the substantive

contributions of qualitative research to the study of adolescent sexuality and the (mostly

untapped) relevance of narrative analysis to the topic.

I begin with nonnarrative, naturalistic qualitative work on virginity and adolescent

sexuality because these studies provide the strongest thematic link to the quantitative

research discussed in the previous chapter. In the same context, I then focus on work that

addresses adolescent sexuality specifically through the lens of masculinity. For the

remainder of the chapter, I turn my attention to narrative. Here, I first briefly explain

how narrative analysis differs from other qualitative approaches, then I locate my notion

of narrative and my analytical strategy within the broad spectrum of existing theoretical

and analytical approaches to narrative. These two tasks together will demonstrate the

importance of, and unique contribution offered by, narrative studies. With that

foundation set, I turn to a brief survey of narrative studies involving sexuality, and an

examination of the rare existing study that addresses male adolescent sexuality using a

narrative approach. Organized in this manner, the chapter begins with substantive

concerns, delves at length into matters of narrative that tend to be more theoretical in

nature, then returns again to the substantive as seen from a narrative viewpoint. My hope

is that this strategy puts emphasis in the proper places as I try to tell the related-but as

yet not integrated-stories of qualitative research, narrative, and male adolescent

heterosexuality.








Naturalistic Studies of Adolescent Sexuality

The studies subsumed under this broad category are similar in that they do not

problematize the relationship between language (narrative) and reality. They assume that

language is a reflection of reality, not an element in its social construction. They differ,

however, in that some are interview-based studies and others are ethnographies.

Interviews

For the most part, the interview-based studies focus on virginity. (The sole

exception-Marsiglio, Hutchinson, & Cohan 2001-addresses males' reproductive

ability as an aspect of the construction and transformation of masculine identities and is

thus considered in a subsequent section.) Among a sample of 29 British youth (ages 16-

29; male and female; heterosexual, gay, and lesbian), Mitchell and Wellings (1998) found

that virginity loss (i.e., first intercourse experiences) tended to occur in silence,

particularly if intercourse occurred at an early age. (Unfortunately, the authors did not

specify what constituted "intercourse" for the participants of various sexual orientations,

nor did they quantify ages that would be considered "early.") In lieu of verbal

communication, sexual encounters were primarily advanced through nonverbal

communication, which, in some cases, superceded any verbal communication that took

place. The authors believe that many young people resist preplanning intercourse with

their partners because they do not wish to spoil the spontaneity and because they realize

that at their age there is a taboo against assuming or expecting sex.

Regardless of why it happens, this dynamic may be particularly problematic for

young women. A number of the female respondents reported that they had been

ambivalent about having intercourse, but found themselves unable to communicate their








unwillingness directly. In other cases, women appeared ill equipped to interpret

contextual and nonverbal clues that signaled that their partners believed intercourse was

imminent.

It appears, furthermore, that some young men take advantage of silence and,

particularly with female partners, an imbalance in power, when seeking first intercourse.

While a young man's intent may not be malicious or deceptive, by not talking about sex

beforehand, males may not provide their partners the opportunity to object, and females'

socialization to be accommodating and avoid conflict may compel them to "go along"

with the scenario as their partner advances it. Alternatively, the sexual initiator, who is

typically male, may respond to their partners' mild protests or excuses with verbal silence

and nonverbal behavior that ignores the protests. Essentially, the young man challenges

his partner to resist more directly, and gets what he wants when the partner does not.

Clearly not all adolescent males exploit silence or ignore females' resistance to

get sex. But this study alerts us to the fact that these scenarios can occur and that

communicative and power imbalances are ever-present features of the context within

which adolescent males become sexual decision makers.

Another recent study (Carpenter 2001) addressed the meanings that young people

attributed to their experience of virginity loss when they reflected back on it. Carpenter

found that the 61 men and women (ages 18-35; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual)

made use of three distinct "interpretive frames" (p. 127) to assign meaning. The "gift"

frame cast virginity as something special and valuable that one offers to one's partner as

a token of love. Seen through the "stigma" frame, on the other hand, virginity was

something to be hidden and escaped when possible. Occupying a sort of middle ground,








the "process" frame interpreted virginity loss as simply one step in a broader

developmental journey or rite of passage.

These interpretive frames "profoundly shaped respondents' expectations,

experiences, and retrospective evaluations of virginity loss" (p. 137). In other words, as

the respondents talked about losing their virginity, it was evident that the meaning they

attached to virginity at the time influenced their behavior and the experience they had.

For instance, among men in the sample it was most common to regard virginity as a

stigma. Respondents who interpreted virginity in this way often took intentional steps to

protect their "secret," either by lying about their sexual histories or allowing others to

assume they were sexually experienced. Many of the respondents in this group lost their

virginity to relative strangers, who were less likely to know or question their sexual

status.

Fear of "exposure" also may have kept many of these people from using

contraception. Respondents who saw virginity as stigma were least likely among all

participants to have used contraceptives when they lost their virginity, and at least one

adherent to the "stigma" frame reported that he did not use or discuss contraception

because he feared looking inexperienced. By contrast, the group that used the gift

frame-a group which included half as many men as women-was most likely to use

contraception during virginity loss.

It should be emphasized that what Carpenter documents are tendencies, not

statistical trends. Her goal is not to predict, for instance, the degree to which men are

more likely than women to use particular interpretive frames. Rather, she identifies the

variety of frames that respondents employ and notes differences across groups (e.g., men








and women; heterosexuals and nonheterosexuals). What is important for my purposes is

the interpretive terrain that Carpenter's findings suggest for male adolescent sexuality.

Young men may orient to virginity as a gift, as a stigma, or as a process, but heterosexual

men may be most likely to see virginity as stigma. The assumption of particular

orientations is likely to have consequences in terms of the degree of openness or

deliberateness in the communication they have with their partners, the likelihood that

they use contraception during virginity loss, and their subjective evaluation of their first

intercourse experience. Just as important, the meanings these males attribute to the

experience may change over time. A full one-third of all the respondents in Carpenter's

study (men and women) said their perspective had evolved, which meant that they drew

upon more than one interpretive frame over the course of the interview.

Another important finding of Carpenter's study was that multiple definitions of

virginity loss exist and that definitions tend to vary according to group membership. For

instance, 59% of nonheterosexuals believed that one would cease to be a virgin after

experiencing vaginal, oral, or anal sex, but only 18% of heterosexuals believed each of

these acts was equally capable of resulting in virginity loss. In terms of heterosexual sex

acts, three-fourths of respondents believed that a person who engaged in oral sex with an

opposite sex partner would not have lost his or her virginity. This high proportion is

consistent with the notion that, since the 1920s, it has become increasingly more common

for Americans to engage in all sorts of sexual acts and, provided that they stop short of

intercourse, still consider themselves "technically" virgin. In fact, it supports Rubin's

(1990) assertion that the content of "everything but" coitus (e.g., the behaviors that don't

"endanger" one's virginity) has expanded over time and now, for many people, includes








oral sex. Although Carpenter does not provide a specific breakdown of how the

heterosexual men in her study defined virginity loss, the variation in definitions that she

documents point to the relevance of my decision to explore with my respondents what

sexual event they would or did define as virginity loss.

An anonymous internet study (Donnelly, Burgess, Anderson, et al. 2001) that

included 34 older virgins (26 male and 8 female; 85% aged between 18 and 34 years)

provides a kind of elaboration of the notion of the "stigma" frame used by some of

Carpenter's respondents to make sense of virginity. The open-ended responses to on-line

questions that these virgins provided suggest that as adolescents move into adulthood,

they are more and more likely to experience virginity as a stigma because they associate

it with being "off-time." Experientially speaking, they feel that they are lagging behind

others their age. Indeed, several of the virgins in this study described feeling immature or

childish because of their lack of sexual experience.

Information collected from the participants also illuminates some of the social and

social psychological factors that contribute to long-term, involuntary virginity. The most

common factors cited by respondents were shyness, lack of dating experience, and body

image concerns. Problems with work and living arrangements and with transportation

were also mentioned. For some male heterosexual virgins, masculinity also appeared to

have contributed to their troubles. By following notions of masculinity that emphasize

education and the "hard" sciences, they entered academic programs and professions that

were heavily sex segregated. As a result, their "manliness" became a barrier to their

ability to meet and date women.








Ethnographies

A number of ethnographies provide information that enriches our understanding

of adolescent male sexuality as a by-product of exploring adolescent or preadolescent

culture in various contexts. In her study of gender and play behavior among middle and

junior high school students, Thome (1993) observes that when preadolescents first start

to experiment with the adolescent concept of heterosexual dating, their coupling tends to

be quite impersonal. While personal affections may be involved, such relationships are

almost inevitably also "a way of claiming status with one's peers, and a qualitatively

different, more mature ("teenage") form of femininity or masculinity" (p. 153). And, in

fact, the establishment and dissolution of "goin' with" relationships at this age is typically

a social process that is engineered as much by members of the partners' friendship groups

as by the boy and girl themselves. Later, in high school, the direct involvement of friends

in the management of couplings wanes, but the peer influence remains in the form of

informal rankings about the desirability of particular partners and collective assessments

of "how far" intimacies between couples should progress.

At the conclusion of this discussion about the progression from preadolescent to

adolescent, Thomrne makes the following observation: "In middle school or junior high the

status of girls with other girls begins to be shaped by their popularity with boys; same

gender relations among boys are less affected by relationships with the other gender" (p.

155). Certainly her claim with respect to girls is consistent with others' observations of

shifts in the social landscape that occur once preadolescence gives way to the sexually

charged teenage years (Pipher 1994). The existence of such a dynamic is also supported

by studies of women in higher education (Canaan 1986 or 1987?; Holland & Eisenhart








1990). It may be to our advantage, however, to withhold judgment on Thomrne's claim

that boys relationships with each other are not similarly affected by their relationships

with the other gender. To be sure, the dynamic is not identical. But as we examine the

narratives of the adolescent males I talked to, we may find that among boys there is a

different, perhaps subtler, way in which relationships with girls figure into male-to-male

relations.

Two other studies, both of which are ethnographic in nature but do not rely solely

on traditional methods of participant observation, offer evidence of how young males

learn about sex. The first of these is the classic study of adolescence in a small

Midwestern town that A.B. Hollingshead (1949) completed with the help of his wife in

the mid-1940s. The Hollingsheads complemented their observations with analysis of

secondary data, quantification of behaviors, structured and unstructured interviews, and

questionnaires in their quest to document relationships between the social behavior of

adolescents and the social position of their families. In terms of sex, the Hollingsheads

observed that information was passed from older kids to younger ones in homosocial

groups, with boys typically learning about sex beginning between ages 10 and 12. For

boys, becoming knowledgeable about sex included learning that girls can be "played" for

sex and that "girls are expected to be submissive to physical advances after the boy has

made the proper overtures by bestowing material favors such as a show, a ride, food,

candy, perhaps some small gift" (p 314). Some also learned about sex in other ways.

Nearly half of the boys who were high school dropouts admitted having sex with farm

animals, and some reported masturbating with a friend. (Leaving aside group

masturbation, none of the boys admitted having had a homosexual experience.)








Among both high school boys and dropout boys, dating below one's class was

much more common than dating within it or above it, and there was consistent evidence

that boys exploited girls of lower classes for sex. Some times males' youthful sexual

explorations took on a decidedly predatory cast in the context of male friendship groups.

According to the boys, it was common for groups of two or three boys to spend an

evening touring local hangouts with the express goal of finding girls and seducing them.

This cultural practice found its most sexist and extreme incarnation in a clique of boys

from the highest social class. The members' enormous pride in their ability to get girls

was announced in their group name, "The Five F's," which stood for "Find 'em, feed

'em, feel 'em, f--- 'em, and forget 'em." The name also indicates that their predatory

sexual activity was central to their purpose and identity as a group.

This sort of predatory sexual behavior among adolescent males is not an

aberration or a relic of the era in which it was documented. Recent examples (Associated

Press 1993) and research (Lefkowitz 1997; Sanday 1990) confirm the persistence of a

particular, collective expression of adolescent male sexuality that denigrates women and

can culminate in sexual violence. Indeed, the research points to a number of social

circumstances and dynamics that often characterize the groups and group members that

approach sexuality in this manner. These males tend to spend most of their time among

other males. Their interactions with women are almost exclusively a means to the end of

sexual gratification, and they have few, if any, meaningful relationships with members of

the opposite sex. Among their male peer group, they receive recognition and status for

their sexual conquests. In fact, the members of the friendship group may engage each

other in friendly competitions regarding sexual "accomplishments." In its most extreme








expressions, the tendency for the youth's sexuality to be an exchange between group

members, with females as meaningless intermediaries, may become manifest in group

masturbation, collective viewing of pornography, and sexual episodes involving group

members, including gang rapes. Sexual activities may even be video taped for later

consumption by all group members.

An important theme that runs through the sociological literature on gang rape and

male sexual predation is that such behavior must be viewed as much as a product of the

social environment, as the aberrant acts of unstable individuals. Social historian Bernard

Lefkowitz (1993) recognized this fact after he completed his 7-year investigation of the

community of Glen Ridge, New Jersey. The quiet, affluent suburb had gained notoriety

in the early 1990s when a group of the most popular student athletes in the local high

school were convicted of the gang rape of a 17-year-old retarded girl. Using a mix of

ethnographic and other methods similar to what the Hollingsheads used, Lefkowitz

assembled a strong argument that the local culture of Glen Ridge championed modes of

masculinity that made the gang rape incident a tragic, yet almost predictable, extension of

community values. First, the social and political climate of the town rewarded masculine

athletic accomplishment to the point that male athletes developed a sense of entitlement.

Part and parcel of this entitlement was an ethos of "boys will be boys" that tended to keep

repeated incidents of delinquent behavior by these teens-from incidents of vandalism

and alcohol consumption to harassment of girls and sexual misconduct-below the

"radar" of official punishment or even recognition. The glorification of male sporting

accomplishments also served to marginalize females; women and girls achieved status

primarily by playing a supporting role to male athletic endeavors. Additionally, the type








of adult, upper-middle class masculinity cherished by the town's leaders facilitated a

"problem-solving" dynamic that privileged the image of the community over constructive

engagement with issues. It made troubles, such as their sons' incidents of drinking and

vandalism, "go away" (usually through the transfer of money) without their being solved.

Ethnographic studies that address adolescent sexuality, such as those by

Lefkowitz and Hollingshead, are important because they examine male sexual behavior

in its local cultural context in a way that is unavailable through interviews or surveys

alone. Not only does the research reveal aspects of sexual behavior that individuals

might otherwise prefer to keep hidden, it demonstrates how that behavior is fostered by

existing social conditions. One important aspect of these social conditions is, of course,

the ways in which boys are raised and the models of manhood they are given. Thus,

Lefkowitz's search to discover how the "perfect suburb" could be the site of a malicious

gang rape ultimately leads him to question the ways in which sexuality and masculinities

are linked in the values of the town.

Masculinity as an Interpretive Lens

Other researchers have long recognized that sexuality is an important part of how

contemporary males define themselves as men, and they have self-consciously brought

masculinity studies to bear on questions of sexuality. The findings of one recent study

(Mandel & Shakeshaft 2000) indicated that middle-class White boys as young as middle-

school age constructed their identities in the most polarized gender terms. They

consistently denied any aspect of femininity in their identities and defined their

masculinity in terms of avoiding the feminine and exhibiting machismo, athleticism, and

heterosexuality. The authors, who conducted both interviews and field observations at








two middle schools, contend that this hypermasculinity contributed greatly to the

atmosphere at the school, which was characterized by (1) sexually harassing and

disrespectful language; (2) homophobic attitudes toward those perceived to be lesbian or

gay; and (3) sexually intensive gender relations. Each of these aspects of the middle

school environment served to limit the identities available to both boys and girls. Girls,

for instance, felt pressure to date and to give in to boys' sex-related requests. They also

felt little power to counter sexually aggressive or inappropriate activity or comments by

boys. For their part, boys felt required to date, display heterosexuality, and exhibit

machismo around other boys.

These findings thus confirm some of the theoretical notions about masculinities

that I set out in Chapter 1 (e.g., masculinities being defined against the feminine;

masculinities operating through homophobia; masculinities displayed for other males),

and they are consistent with other studies that have documented the bind for girls that

emerges when adolescent femininity confronts adolescent masculinity (Mitchell &

Wellings 1988). But more than this, they also demonstrate the eagerness of very young

boys to articulate their identities in terms of gender discourses, and they point to the

strictures that certain enactments of masculinity can place on selfhood.

An innovative way of exploring the ties between sexuality and masculine

identities has been advanced by Marsiglio (1998). Combining elements from symbolic

interactionism, identity theory, and the scripting perspective, Marsiglio has developed a

conceptual model for examining what he calls the "procreative realm" of men's lives.

This realm encompasses the diverse array of physiological, social psychological, and

interpersonal experiences men can have with respect to pregnancy, birth control, and








procreation. Using procreation as the organizing principle recognizes that experiences

that had previously been considered in isolation are in fact related by their association

with a man's ability (or lack of ability) to sire children. Marsiglio offers a sense of these

connections when he provides a sampling of what falls under the purview of the

procreative realm:

The procreative realm includes such things as men's perceptions about
begetting or not being able to beget children, their contraceptive attitudes
and behaviors, their thoughts about and their actual involvement in their
partner's pregnancy, their reactions to various permutations of in-vitro
fertilization and artificial insemination, men's sense of obligation to their
offspring prior to and after their birth, and the symbolic meaning that men
associate with begetting and raising children. (p. 15)

In essence, the notion of the procreative realm concretizes examinations of sexuality

through its link to procreation.

Within this model of the procreative realm, two sensitizing concepts, procreative

consciousness and procreative responsibility, are central. The former references men's

attitudes, impressions, and feelings about themselves as individuals who are (presumably)

capable of procreating. The latter describes two related matters: (1) Men's perceived

sense of obligation related to paternity and social fatherhood roles; and (2) their thoughts,

attitudes, and behaviors with regard to the practical aspects of events in the procreative

realm (e.g., talking with a partner about contraception; choosing a contraceptive method;

accompanying a partner for an abortion).

In-depth interviews about procreative impressions and experiences with a diverse

sample of single young males (ages 16 through 30) have begun to elaborate how young

men recognize that they could impregnate a woman and become a father (Marsiglio,

Hutchinson, Cohan 2001). It appears that most males become aware of their fecundity








between the ages of 13 and 15, but some reported awareness as early as age 10. In their

minds, some boys immediately link this awareness to the possibility of paternity. Others,

it seems, require a more experiential connection to their own fecundity (e.g., first orgasm

during vaginal intercourse; pregnancy scare) before it becomes a meaningful part of their

procreative identity. Also, partners are often influential in determining how a male's

procreative consciousness becomes manifest in particular situations. For instance, a

partner who is extremely concerned about avoiding pregnancy may raise issues of

contraception before every sexual episode, thereby forcing the male to be conscious and

responsible.

Marsiglio's conceptual approach is important because it encourages us to think

about all of the multifarious ways that men can engage issues of impregnation, birth, and

fatherhood in terms of a more or less unified, more or less developed identity. In my

interviews, I did not specifically seek to "activate" the young men's procreative

identities, and discussions of procreative issues were uncommon. This is not surprising

because the stories I sought to elicit from my respondents were about sexual, not

procreative, decision making. Also, every time I oriented the interviews toward one of

the major organizing elements, virginity, I was literally asking respondents to speak from

a position nearly outside of the procreative realm. In spite of these contextual

"inhibitors," procreative issues did occasionally emerge as relevant to particular decisions

youth made about sexual behavior. This point is important because it remains to be seen

to what degree or in what contexts young men articulate a procreative identity when they

talk about their sexual behavior without specific prompting about pregnancy, birth

control, or paternity. The answer to this question may help to indicate the degree to








which young men experience their sexual selves and their procreative identities as linked

or integrated. For the most part, this issue is beyond the purview of the current study, but

to the extent that my respondents address procreative issues, Marsiglio's work warrants

attention.

Narrative Analysis

As I mentioned earlier, a narrative approach to qualitative research differs from

the traditional naturalist approach in that narrativists treat language, whether it be

interview speech or verbal exchanges observed in the field, as a constitutive element of

the data. Recognizing that what we say cannot be separated from how we say it,

narrativists are as interested in the way experience is "storied" as they are in the content

of the stories.

The Narrative Quality of Experience

The explosion of interest in narrative across academic disciplines in the past

decade is the result of a new (some would say, renewed) appreciation of the narrative

quality of experience. Recent proponents have hailed the impetus to narrate as a cultural

universal (Maines 1993, Richardson 1990), an intrinsic feature of human nature

(Plummer 1995; Sandelowski 1991), an engine of social life (Plummer 1995), and a

property of experience itself (Crites 1997). Possible hyperbole aside, there is a

conviction among those who study narrative that telling stories is a fundamental and

ubiquitous means by which people create meaning in everyday life (Reissman 1993),

experience over time (Richardson 1990), the world, ourselves, and others (Berger 1997;

Holstein & Gubrium 1995). Story telling is not simply "spinning tales," it is a way to

"impose order on the flow of experience to make sense of events and actions in our lives"








(Reissman 1993, p. 2). Examining people's stories, then, represents a powerful means for

sociologists to explore subjective experience. At the same time, the narrative quality of

social life beyond the everyday (e.g., the textual mediation of institutional processes;

cultural and organizational discourses) makes narrative strategies viable at any level of

analysis (Maines 1993).

Narrative and Identity

For social psychology, a particularly important implication of narrative sense-

making is that talk is crucial to the production of individual identity. In life stories or

stories of everyday life, we try to assemble pictures of our selves that make sense of our

past and are consistent with a future that we project for ourselves (Hinchman &

Hinchman 1997; Holstein & Gubrium 2000b). What's more, all this narrative identity

work must be done in accord with the contingencies of the storytelling moment. The

process is complex, and the stakes are high. Gergen and Gergen (1997) have

demonstrated, for instance, that effective narration of the self is an important social

survival skill. Social life demands that we convince others that we are certain selves,

such as a stable partner, a diligent workers, or a devoted father, and accomplishing these

depictions is largely a narrative task. But the social nature of identity construction can

work to assemble as well as compel stories. Mason-Schrock's (1996) work with a

support group for transsexuals showed, for example, that when the identity task is

particularly treacherous and the cultural resources for constructing relevant identities are

scarce, individuals may learn appropriate self stories from others. Selves and stories are

thus inexorably social, interrelated phenomena.








Defining Narrative

When it comes to identifying narratives for the purposes of analysis, notions of

what constitutes a narrative are as varied as narratives are ubiquitous. Most analysts use

the word "narrative" more or less synonymously with story. For these researchers, there

is consensus that, at minimum, stories are distinct segments out of larger sequences of

talk that are characterized by a selecting and ordering of past events in a manner intended

to be personally and culturally coherent and persuasive (Berger 1997; Hinchman &

Hinchman 1997; Reissman 1993; Sandelowski 1991).

They differ on a number of finer points, however, such as the degree of emphasis

they place on two aspects of event ordering: sequencing and employment. Most

narrativists believe that a passage must place events in some temporal sequence to be a

true story (Berger 1997; Hinchman & Hinchman 1997; Maines 1993; Reissman 1993),

and some insist further on chronological sequencing (Reissman 1993). These

expectations are not surprising, since they are consistent with the way that Western

listeners are accustomed to telling and hearing stories. But some researchers have

specifically recognized these expectations as arbitrary cultural limitations and argued that

thematic sequencing-in which story episodes are tied together by theme, rather than

time-also be considered a legitimate way of ordering a narrative (Reissman 1993).

The other aspect of narrative order, employment, refers to the introduction and

arrangement of people, places, and actions in stories. It is essentially the narrative

production of the "drama" that a narrative is intended to convey. David Maines (1993)

argues that what he calls emplotment-a story structure that involves plot, setting, and

characterization-is the most important, defining element of narrative. Echoing his








perspective, Seymour Chatman (see Sandelowski 1991) and Faye Ginsburg (see

Reissman 1993) have specifically examined employment across different narratives, on

the assumption that similar story elements, differently plotted, result in very different

narratives (and, by extension, very different meanings).

In other popular definitions of narrative, employment is implied but not

highlighted. For instance, William Labov's classic definition of "narrative as story" (see

Reissman 1993) asserts that "fully formed" narratives have six essential elements: an

abstract, which summarizes what is to come; orientation in terms of time, place, situation

and participants; complicating action; evaluation, which offers the narrator's

interpretation of and attitude toward the action; a resolution that tells what finally

happened; and a coda that returns the narrator's perspective to the present. Here, the

orientation and complicating action would most likely identify the place where

employment occurs. Likewise, in Kenneth Burke's description of narrative (see Reissman

1993) as consisting of act, scene, agency, and purpose, we can intuit which elements

would contribute to employment, but the ordering scheme emphasizes a dramatic

metaphor more than the meaning-making process.

Still other researchers retain the idea that narratives are discrete portions of talk

with a beginning and end, but they broaden the definition, in part by deemphasizing

employment. For instance, Reissmann (1993) recognizes several narrative genres, of

which the story is just one. She asserts that narratives can also be habitual and describe

events that repeat, with no peak in action like a story; hypothetical in that they depict

events that did not happen; or topic-centered, so that themes, not the passage of time, link

events. Of these alternative genres, the habitual and the topic-centered diverge most from








the more restrictive definition of "narrative as story." Habitual narratives diverge

because of the absence of culminating action, and topic-centered ones are not "story-like"

because the sequencing is not temporal.

The most liberal definition of narrative of all, however, puts much less emphasis

on the identification and deconstruction of structures within talk (such as stories and

hypothetical narratives) and instead focuses on what people do with talk and how they do

it. "Narrative" in this context becomes virtually any sequence of talk, whether it be the

discussion of a particular topic in an interview or an exchange between natives in the

field. While it may be a stretch to claim that this broad notion of narrative has active

proponents, it is implicit in the empirical (Gubrium 1993; Holstein 1993) and theoretical

(Gubrium & Holstein 1997; Holstein & Gubrium 2000b) work of Gubrium and Holstein.

Susan Chase (1995a) also draws on it in her study of women school superintendents

when she notes that she analyzed stories using Labov's definition of narrative in

conjunction with attention to "the entire linguistic event through which a woman

constructs her self-understanding and makes her experiences meaningful" (pp. 24-25).

Narrative, in this use, is more synonymous with talk or verbal interaction than with story.

Some authors (Reissman 1993) would even say that what is actually referenced here is

discourse, but I disagree. To conflate "narrative as linguistic event" with discourse, it

seems to me, is to ignore the sense of collective understanding-a particular, cultural

perspective on reality-that discourse connotes (Chase 1995a).

Examining Narrative: Analytical Strategies

Given that researchers hold different beliefs about what constitutes a narrative, it

should not be surprising that narratives are approached analytically in many different








ways. Differences arise not only in terms of what qualifies as narrative for the

researcher, but also how thoroughly narrative the analysis is. In some studies,

examination of talk as narrative is employed as a kind of supplement to the broader more

naturalistic strategies and aims of the project. These projects might be said to exemplify

a limited narrative approach. Other studies are designed, top to bottom, with narratives

and narrative analytical techniques at their centers. They represent what I call a

comprehensive narrative approach. These two distinctions do not represent the full range

of analytical approaches to narrative, however. A third, novel approach is Ken

Plummer's "sociology of stories" paradigm, which does not examine the construction of

meaning in individual instances of talk, but is nonetheless undeniably sociological and,

analytically speaking, as focused on narrative as anything that might be identified with

the comprehensive narrative approach. In the interest of providing a faithful survey of

the breadth of existing strategies for examining narratives, I begin with a brief description

of Plummer's sociology of stories. Next, I review an example of limited narrative

analysis. I conclude with two examples of comprehensive narrative analysis, both of

which inform my study of the sexual decision-making narratives of adolescent

heterosexual males.

According to Plummer (1995), "a sociology of stories seeks to understand the role

of stories in social life" (p. 31). Thus, the focus is not on stories as texts, but on stories as

"social actions embedded in social worlds" (p. 17, emphasis in original). The questions

that such an approach generates include the following: Who is involved in story telling?

(Plummer identifies producers, coaxers/coercers, and consumers.); How are stories made,

told, and consumed?; How do ways of telling effect how stories are received?; And how








do stories "fit" within larger frameworks of power, including cultural hierarchies of the

acceptability or desirability of different narratives? The meanings conveyed in stories are

certainly relevant to answering these questions. As Plummer demonstrates, the stories

told about particular experiences (e.g., rape, "coming out") have a history and are

enmeshed in social and political webs with other, related stories. But Plummer's aims are

too historical and macro-sociological to leave room for interest in the intricacies of

narrative structuring that characterize more textually oriented narrative analyses. At

base, he is trying to offer a glimpse of a new way that analysts interested in narrative can

address the interplay of narratives and the social world(s) in which stories are produced

and circulate.

In an examination of the life stories of pro-choice and antiabortion political

activists, sociologist Faye Ginsburg (see Reissman 1993) also shies away from in-depth

analysis of the construction of meaning in individual accounts, but for a very different

reason. Whereas Plummer eschews such analyses because they are too microsociological

for his project, Ginsburg seems to do so because she is committed to a naturalistic, rather

than a narrative, framework. As a result, she ends up conducting narrative analysis "lite."

The analysis is limited with respect to narrative in two ways: First, no attention is paid to

language use or narrative forms, such as stories or other narrative genres. In fact, the

entire interview text is considered the narrative. And second, for the most part, the

interview material is used in a naturalist way. She compares the life stories of her pro-

choice and antiabortion respondents and produces a traditional thematic analysis that

highlights differences in experiences and understandings between the two groups. What

qualifies this study as a narrative analysis in some sense is Ginsburg's attention to








narrative sequencing. Working from the recognition that cultural and narrative

conventions guide how women in contemporary America typically tell their life stories,

Ginsburg traces how both groups of activists construct and account for stories that

deviate from these conventions. Still, the attention to narrative in this project cannot be

considered comprehensive because the production of meaning is a secondary concern and

the treatment of language as constitutive of meaning is, at best, intermittent.

Now, as I turn to examples of what I call comprehensive narrative analysis, a

word of caution or at least explanation is in order. My criterion for designating

something as "comprehensive" is exactly what I mentioned earlier-putting the notion of

language as constructive of reality at the heart of the analysis. I suspect that

others-notably Catherine Kohler Reissman, author of the very influential and practical,

Narrative Analysis (1993)-would take issue with my standard as being too "loose," too

liberal. For Reissman and others, truly comprehensive examinations of narrative involve

transcribing that accounts for pauses and tries to use line breaks to mimic speech patterns,

and parsing (interview) text into segments of some kind, whether these be stories, story

segments, or stanzas, as in Reissman's own examination of poetic structures in talk

(1990). In some form or fashion, the analyst gets his or her "hands dirty" with the nitty-

gritty of word choice, speech patterns, speech units, metaphors, even word repetitions,

rhythms, and verb tense.

While I agree whole heartedly that these strategies are indicative of

comprehensive narrative analysis, I do not believe that they are requisites for it. To be

sure, any analysis that foregrounds the construction of reality through talk will make use

of at least some of these techniques. But Reissman's equation of "true" narrative analysis








with the intricate deconstruction of talk segments ties the analysis too tightly to the text

or speech event. While she does recognize the interview context as constitutive of

meaning, she leaves little or no room for the examination of the social conditions of story

telling, even at the level of local culture. In this view it seems that there is nothing but

the text (or speech), no recognition of the influence that cultural and biographical

particulars (e.g., discourses, personal histories, and material objects) have on the stock of

resources available for constructing particular narratives in particular contexts (Holstein

& Gubrium 2000b; Gubrium 1988). The examples of narrative analysis to which I now

turn are comprehensive, in my view, precisely because they never lose sight of the fact

that narratives are as much social as individual products.

Susan Chase (1995a) is very clear on this point in the introduction to her study of

the work narratives of women school superintendents. She argues that the narrative

process is at once personal and cultural because when the women tell their stories they

draw on existing discourses (Chase defines these as "meaning systems"). Indeed, her

contention is that narrative is an ideal avenue for exploring the relationship between

culture and experience because, for her, narrative represents "the embodiment of that

relationship in actual practice" (p. 6).

Her study involving women school superintendents brings the person-culture

relationship into sharp relief because the women are in a precarious social position that

complicates how they make sense of their professional standing. By virtue of being

women in a male-dominated, executive-level position, they have likely faced

discrimination in their pursuit and performance of their jobs. Yet their very presence in

these high-level jobs seems to testify to their individual abilities and argue against the








existence of discrimination. So when these women talk about their professional lives,

how much weight do they give to their experiences of inequality on the one hand and

their own abilities on the other? Her analytical method for answering this question is a

hybrid approach that combines a liberal definition of narrative with Labov's narrower

"story" definition. Beyond separating out excerpts that qualify as stories, she does not

parse the narrative into minute segments or transcribe it in a way that mirrors

respondents' speech. So in terms of the "depth" of the analysis of the narratives in and of

themselves, her approach might be called superficial. But Chase's analytical goal targets

something broader (and, I would argue, something more social) than the structure of the

narratives: She examines how, in their narratives, these women negotiate the implicit

tension between drawing from both a discourse of individual achievement and a

discourse of inequality to tell their stories.

Another approach to narrative analysis that is comprehensive yet not predicated

solely on the identification and explication of narrative structures is what Holstein and

Gubrium (2000b) call narrative practice. In narrative practice, as in Chase's work, the

social conditions of narrating are given equal footing with the production of meaning

within the narrative. This balance is a deliberate goal of the method, and it is achieved

through a recognition that all instances of narration involve both discursive practice and

discourses-in-practice.

The "discursive practice" part of this dyad refers to the interest that is common to

virtually all narrative studies-that is, the way language is used to make meaning and

persuade. The notion of "discourses-in-practice" brings in social and cultural elements; it

represents the authors' recognition that stories do not come out of thin air, but instead are








the result of people's artful appropriation and manipulation of existing resources for

meaning-making. Personal experience-writ as large as possible to include memory,

expectation, and imagination-is a vast narrative resource, but there are also

"impersonal" resources that can shape our stories. These "coherence structures" are

existing ways of knowing, framing, and talking about experience ("language games") that

make it familiar and malleable. Professional therapeutic models and self-help programs

are common examples, but virtually any organization, institution, or group that seeks to

sort, help, or control people develops a coherence structure that guides workers and

clients in constructing narratives relevant to the "going concern" (see Holstein &

Gubrium 2000b) of the agency. Group memberships, such as those based on race,

gender, or sexual orientation, can also shape stories, but for most people their influence

varies with the salience they have in particular contexts.

The important point here is that personal experience, personal choice, and

creativity are never the only ingredients that go into a "personal" story. Discourses of all

kinds facilitate, condition, and are otherwise "put into practice" in the telling of stories,

even (perhaps especially) ones of the most "personal" nature (Plummer 1995). In

practical terms, that means that narrative analysts must look not only at how a narrative is

put together (discursive practice), but also at the narrative resources it uses and how it

uses them. For instance, Holstein (1993) has explored the varied and situational

relevance that gender and age are given in legal proceedings concerning involuntary

commitment. As Holstein and Gubrium (1995) indicate, analysis of this type truly has an

artfulu" aspect to it. The analyst must examine rhetorical elements (i.e., word choices,








bits of jargon, viewpoints expressed) throughout the interview and draw on her or his

own cultural knowledge to decipher what discourses are being put into practice.

Narrative Studies of Adolescent Sexuality

As my presentation of the various ways of examining narrative has no doubt made

clear, I believe that the most "comprehensive" narrative analyses are those that

investigate the ways in which narrative production is linked to its social context, rather

than those that most thoroughly deconstruct narratives and compare narrative structures.

Unfortunately, there is a dearth of narrative analyses of any kind in the literature on

adolescent male sexuality, never mind ones that take a comprehensive approach. In my

exploration of the literature, I have uncovered one that comes closest to offering a

comprehensive narrative analysis with regard to boys and sexual talk. The majority of

the "review" that follows focuses on this study. I begin, however, with a study involving

preadolescent boys that has something to say about how they use talk with respect to

sexuality. Although the boys involved in it are younger than my respondents, I present it

briefly because the issues it raises are relevant to my study.

"Where the Boys Are"

In the course of conducting participant observation in the late 1970s among

preadolescent boys in several Little League baseball teams in northern U.S. and New

England, Gary Alan Fine (1988) took note of how the boys used sexual talk and

occasional sexual behavior to present themselves in particular ways to their (male)

friends and teammates. He argues that, for the most part, boys of this age are unprepared

physiologically for sex and not particularly motivated to have sex. They are, however,

interested in earning the respect and awe of their friends that comes with demonstrating








that they are "sexually mature, active, and knowledgeable" (p. 88). Sometimes they vie

for this esteem by actually engaging in sexual or quasi-sexual behaviors, such as mutual

masturbation, homosexual experimentation, or comparing penis lengths.

Just as often, if not more so, however, the boys use talk to demonstrate sexual

competencies. One way of doing this is to tell "the guys" about intimate involvement

that one has had (or purports to have had) with a girl, such as kissing, necking, or

"making out." Since the act is not readily verifiable, the success of this strategy hinges

on the boy constructing a convincing narrative. Another strategy is simply to sexualize

one's everyday speech, peppering it with sexualized insults and talk about biological and

physiological processes. In this latter case, the mere fact of being able to use sexual

words and ideas in talk in a way that the other boys hear as competent achieves the goal

of identifying the speaker as "one of the guys."

Two factors that represent threats to the "mature," masculine identities that the

boys seek to claim with sex talk are girls and the ever-present potential for homophobic

taunts. With respect to girls, boys must walk a fine line with their male friends between

showing enough interest in the opposite sex to seem "adult" and not effeminate, and

showing "too much" interest and seeming "girl crazy." As Fine states succinctly, "Girls

can easily break the bonds of brotherhood among boys" (p. 89).

More often than not, when a threat of "eviction" from the brotherhood comes, it

arrives in the form of homophobic taunts. Fine argues that sexual orientation and sexual

behaviors are not really at issue when boys call one another "queers" or "faggots," rather

the taunt indicates that the target is immature. However, he goes on to say that, for

preadolescent boys, being gay is synonymous with being a girl. It signals that a boy's








speech, manner, interests, or behavior are not consistent with an idealized (and quite

traditional) notion of maleness. So even if preadolescent boys are not directing hatred

toward homosexual behavior when they use this sort of talk, they are certainly enforcing

a particular, rather stringent, code of acceptable masculinity.

In sum, Fine's work reminds us of the robust tie between talk and identity, and it

also provides evidence that, at a very young age, boy's interactions with other boys are

predicated on using talk to police boundaries between the sexes and assert heterosexual

masculinity as a prerequisite for acceptance. Although his observations are now some 20

years old, many of my respondents talked about girls and male friendship groups in ways

similar to those he described, suggesting that the dynamics he documented continue to

influence today's adolescent males.

"School Talk"

Support for my conviction is provided by an innovative narrative study conducted

in the mid-1990s. A four-person research team led by Donna Eder (Eder, Evans, and

Parker 1995) logged the collective equivalent of over two years of observations in a

Midwestern middle school as they explored how early adolescents construct peer culture

in everyday informal talk. Their observations, which were complemented by a number of

formal and informal group and individual interviews, focused on what the researchers

called speech routines, that is, ritualistic, interactive modes of talk. Study of insult

exchanges, teasing, collaborative storytelling, and gossip, illuminated many aspects of

adolescent culture, including how the youth reproduced and, in some cases, challenged or

altered traditional notions of gender and gender inequality.