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Straight talk

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

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Subjects / Keywords:
Adolescents ( jstor )
African Americans ( jstor )
Discourse ( jstor )
Human sexual behavior ( jstor )
Masculinity ( jstor )
Men ( jstor )
Narratives ( jstor )
Piety ( jstor )
Virginity ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
Dissertations, Academic -- Sociology -- UF ( lcsh )
Sociology thesis, Ph. D ( lcsh )
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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.

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Copyright [name of dissertation author]. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
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50818298 ( OCLC )

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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.




Full Text
99
respondents imagined future wife, while the three groups are mentors or authority
figures, nonvirgins, and like-minded friends.
Most of these others assume great importance within the discourse because of
their association with the provirginity message. Sometimes the guys say they receive the
message through prayer, and sometimes they reference Gods Word as revealed in the
Christian Bible. More than a disembodied source, however, God is commonly articulated
with an identity in His own right. Both the importance of God as messenger and the
tendency to personify Him are evident in the answer Matthew (R for respondent) gives
when I (I for interviewer) ask him what virginity means to him.
R: To me its just that, you know, you dont do anything, you know, that God
wouldnt want you to do, like sex or kissing. You know, kissing to some
people could be right, you know, if God tells them, You can kiss that
person, or whatever. I mean, I dont really know. I mean, for me, I
wouldnt say it is. But, I mean, so just whatever God doesnt want you to
do or whatever, just dont do it.
I: And how do you, uhm, keep up with what God wants?
R: Prayer. I mean, pray and talk to my parents, thats the main thing. 1 guess
I've always thought, you know, if God wants me to really, you know, do
something, then he would tell my parents and me. You know, itd be a
pretty bold thing. So I just pray and talk to my parents.
(Matthew: 15-year-old, White, virgin)
Mentors and authority figures, who are, by and large, parents and youth ministers,
gain their relevance within the discourse from their association with this religious
message about sex, as do future wives. Sean articulates these others when he talks about
a kind of thought experiment he took part in on a retreat with his church youth group.
My youth pastor on the [retreat], he made us, uh, write a letter, write a, write a,
write a letter to our, to the person were gonna marry and, like, tell em if we
waited or not. And be, like, you know, I just wanted be ajust wanted tell you


263
of their differing ways of being masculine. The analytical focus on group behavior in
these examinations can create the impression that each individual involved is committed
fully to his groups masculinity. My research cautions us to be wary of such
assumptions, for it shows that individual guys typically negotiate and construct their
masculinities with full knowledge of the variety of discoursesand associated competing
notions of manhoodthey can draw from. Believing that a combination of elements
from multiple discourses best reflects who they are as young men, some guys try to
construct hybrid masculinities on the basis of partial commitments to two seemingly
contradictory masculinities. Guys who present their sense of manhood in this way should
hardly be treated as members of some recognizable group masculinity. Instead, their
cases should be taken as evidence that, at the level of narrative practice, masculinities are
constructed as much through negotiation and integration as through competition.
Moreover, even when guys seek to articulate a single, consistent mode of
masculinity, such as the hegemonic standard, they rarely if ever achieve the kind of clean,
simple, and complete identification that is assumed in the ethnographic studies. Claiming
the qualities associated with hegemonic masculinity too stridently raises the specter of
being deemed hypermasculine, and all claims to it involve pressures to demonstrate that
one measures up in seemingly endless, sometimes contradictory ways. So although
there is value in studies that document the competition between masculinities that occurs
at the level of social groups, my research reminds us that these portrayals are narrative
productions. They gloss over any inconsistencies or complications in individuals
commitments to particular masculinities to bring the story of group contentions into
sharper focus. My research suggests that groups of men who identify or are identified


55
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 reporte
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


81
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 1 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
Plummers 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 Plummers 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


185
The Relationship of the Discourse of Conquest to Hegemonic Masculinity
These challenges are likely to involve the discourse of conquest as well, since this
discourse provides the narrative resources for the hegemonic project. As I have noted in
previous chapters, discourses are repositories of narrative resources for constructing,
among other things, masculinities. In and of themselves, however, they do not produce
masculinities. That said, it should be clear from my description of the three discourses in
Chapter 4 that each discourse includes resources that facilitate the construction of certain
masculinities over others. For instance, with its emphasis on relating to girls, basing
sexual decisions on ones degree of connection with partners, and striving for
commitment, the discourse of relationship provides resources more amenable to a
sensitive, nurturing masculinity than the dominance-oriented hegemonic masculinity.
By the same token, I think it is appropriate to say that the discourse of conquest
provides the resources for the construction of hegemonic masculinity. This is not to say,
however, that articulating the discourse of conquest invariably produces hegemonic
masculinity. As with all instances of narrative practice, the meanings that result depend
on how resources are assembled and managed. One guy may draw heavily on the
conquest discourse and construct an identity consistent with the hegemonic model of
manhood. However, another may use similar resources in ways that exaggerate
hegemonic characteristics to that point that the identity he produces is hypermasculine.
Still a third guy may manage the resources of the discourse such that his masculinity does
not exhibit the focus on dominance associated with hegemonic masculinity, but
nonetheless privileges the pursuit of sex over the pursuit of relationships. In sum, while
it is fair to say that hegemonic masculinity represents a convenient code for the axis


84
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 1 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 testily to their individual abilities and argue against the


63
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
exceptionMarsiglio, Hutchinson, & Cohan 2001addresses 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


242
One-night stand. The next day they back at it again. So they with a
different girl. So Im sayin thats confused. A player is the most
confused person. They confused a lot, a whole lot.
(Jerry: 19-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Whereas Jerrys earlier articulation of the discourse of relationship put little emphasis on
collective ways of being a man, this one is predicated on the rejection of the player as the
embodiment of what Jerry considers an untenable masculinity. Focusing solely on sex,
wanting for love and trust in relationships, and always ending up alone, the player
provides the straw man, the contrast against which Jerry stakes his claim to a masculinity
that privileges its opposite.
Jerrys relational masculinity is not the antithesis of hegemonic masculinity,
however. His dismissal of players represents a rejection of manhood based on the
relentless pursuit of sex, but it is silent on other dimensions of sexual decision making,
such as virginity and sex talk. Furthermore, Jerry is not a virgin. So while he may
distance himself from the discourse of conquest with respect to its fundamental
orientation to sexual decisions, he stands to gain masculinity dividends by linking his
identity with these other signifiers of hegemonic masculinity. The challenge within this
narrative challenge for Jerry is constructing these links in ways that are consistent with
his avowed commitment to relationships.
With respect to virginity, constructing a compatible link presents few difficulties
since a guys constructions of virgins and virginity can remain largely independent of his
notion of relationships. Jerry associates himself with conquest interpretations of virginity
by placing virgins in an unfavorable contrast with nonvirgins:
I think they, virginsmen virginsthey crazy. They can flip it this way and
sayin they not a virgin and be all macho about it and all this about it. But a
mans that not a virgin, hes like laid back. Like, Okay, Ill let this out. This


199
and when he says of the second virgin, We call him Mikey. These two instances
indicate that he does see himself as part of the group, but the distancing that characterizes
the rest of the passage suggests that he is taking pains to separate himself from this
particular fraternal activity. In doing so, Drew not only avoids linking his identity to the
notionendemic to the discourse of conquestthat virginity loss is a prerequisite for
achieving manhood, but he also demonstrates a degree of independence from his male
fraternity. Both of these rhetorical accomplishments suggest that his adoption of the
discourse of conquest is less than total, and therefore they help insulate his identity from
the damaging implications of the hypermasculine label.
The second means by which Drew mitigates the intensity of his commitment to
the discourse of conquest is by making intermittent articulations of the discourse of
relationship. For instance, although he orients to sex in terms of the discourse of
conquest throughout his interview, he also asserts that his first sexual experience was
about love, not conquest:
R: I dont just go around havin sex with anybody. I definitelyLike, I like
for there to be something there, but at the same time, Ive also had like
one-night stands. [Int: Okay.] But I definitely, I like it better if theres
something deeper involved. It means a little bit more.
I: Okay. Uhm, so the ideal situation for you, to be with somebody and
sexually active would be what?
R: Like with my first girlfriend. I loved her a lot, and she loved me back.
(Drew: 18-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
I have presented parts of this passage before. It bares repeating, however, because even
in this passage Drew hints at the importance of the discourse of conquest to his sexual
decision making: He prefers that his sexual experiences occur in the context of
relationships, but he does not avoid or regret those that do not. Still, the indication that in


255
My examination of the struggles faced by guys who articulate the discourses of
piety and relationship as they seek to manage the mediating effects of belong,
masculinity, and independence brings my substantive analysis to a close. It is, literally,
the final chapter in the story of how these guys construct their identities in the process of
explaining their sexual decisions to me. It is not, however, the final chapter of my study
of that story. What remains is for me to review the analytical tale that I have told and
explore what can be learned from it, what it lacks, and, most importantly, what I and
others can do with that information. The next and last chapter is devoted to these tasks.


119
good now (Jerry: 19-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin). Drawing on some rather
ironic evidence, Grady suggests that girls faults include being untrustworthy and
promiscuous:
I learned to never really trust girls like I used to. I used to trust 'em and be quick
to fall in love with em all the time, but that made me figure out, [time time (?)]
like crazy they are and how they think, how they act toward other people.
Because if a girl just like talkin about you right in front of your face to other girls
and stuff, I mean, shes not anything. If me and my other homeboy is havin' sex
with her at the same timewe just takin turns on hershes not nothin' that
turns me off, to me. I just dont like that.
(Grady: 18-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
And finally, in a statement that synthesizes the attribution of failings to girls with the
concern for peer approval of ones sex partners that characterize this discourse. Drew
cannot even explain why he knows that a particular woman he finds attractive is
unacceptable as a sex partner:
R: Theres this one girl, [pause] And, I mean, shes the kinda girl that I
would, like, I would have sex with her, but then the next day Id realize
what I did, and I would feel bad about it and hope no one ever found out
cause they would make fun of me.
I: Okay. Why? Whats?
R: I dont know what it is about her that people dont like, but she just isn't
the kind of girl that you can hook up with and go tell everybody about.
(Drew: 18-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
Drews dilemma is in some ways the logical extension of the typical constructions of
girls in the discourse of conquest. Collectively, girls are associated with so much
nebulous negativity and subjected to so much judgment by (predominantly male) peer
groups, that ultimately neither guys nor girls can win. Guys like Drew are inclined to
relate to girls through a haze of negative, sexual preconceptions, even when those
expectations cannot be supported in particular instances. And girls are consistently


56
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 ones 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 ones 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
adolescentsparticular boys and young menas 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


8
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
peoples 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


require or motivate guys to engage the discourse of conquest since it represents the
repository of articulations they reject.


209
sexual experience occurs because guys recognize many authority figures disapprove of
their being sexually active. Most likely they oriented to me as an authority figure
because I was twice their age. Whatever the reason, when guys articulating the discourse
of conquest minimize their sexual experience, they generate a narrative challenge for
themselves. They must bolster their claim to a mode of masculinity that exalts sexual
experience in spite of the fact that they have tried to abdicate responsibility or credit for
their own experience.
Many guys neutralize the threat to their identities at least in part by staking claims
to other emblems of masculinity offered by the discourse of conquest. For instance, in a
passage that I noted in an earlier chapter, Evan allies himself with the conquest
promotion of the importance of sex by disparaging virgins. His willingness to criticize
virginseven though he does not know why they warrant scornis evident when I ask
him to imagine remaining virgin until his late teens:
I: How do you think your friends would treat you?
R: Totally differently, I bet.
I: Like what?
R: Theyd probably think I was gay or somethin.
I: Why?
R: I have no clue. Thats just kinda how it is, you know. Its just one of
those secret things that nobody tells you about.
I: Have you seen that kinda thing happen to people here? [silent agreement]
Can you give me an example?
R: Uhm. Like, uhm, [one of(?)] my friends, D., he used to make fun of
people. Its just one of those things, you know. I mean, you dont
reallyNot many people know, if youre a virgin, that youre a virgin,
unless you actually tell em. But, I mean, some people are that stupid


121
Another example is provided by James assertion of how everybodyby which
I assume he means guysexpresses their sexual interest in attractive girls:
See cause most people whenever they talk about girls, they say whoes. They be
like, Man, that whoes fine. And then somebody be like, Man, Ill fuck that
whoe, or somethin like that right there. And then you gottaThats basically
how everybody talks.
(James: 16-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
In this hypothetical scenario, the guys convey attraction toward a girl by demeaning her
and intimating a desire to dominate her sexually. Describing a girl as a whore who is
to be fucked goes a long way to reducing her to mere flesh, yet James attributes this
way of talking to everybody. This unabashed tendency to normalize such
dehumanizing language, which was demonstrated by others besides James, provides a
stark indication of the pervasiveness and power of the discourse of conquest among
adolescent males.
Articulating Others
As articulated by the guys I interviewed, parents and advisorstwo of the
primary others in the discourse of pietyplay a much smaller role in the discourse of
conquest. Affiliates of churches do not play a significant role as others in this discourse.
Where elders do appear in the guys talk, they do so because they encourage the guys to
interpret their experience with girls in terms of sexual conquest, and they foster the guys
ability to do so by providing the relevant rhetorical constructions and strategies for
meaning-making. In fact, some times they offer this encouragement whether the guys
want it or not. For instance, Donnie is committed to abstinence until marriage, yet he
cannot ignore the conquest perspective because it is consistently articulated by his uncle,
and it is part of his Latin heritage:


29
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 studythis 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.(l 993) 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
surveysthe National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG, 1988 & 1995), the National


194
Navigating Narrative Challenges Related to Masculinity
As the preceding discussion makes clear, when the guiding discourse is conquest,
adolescent guys efforts to belong hinge on their aligning themselves with aspects of
hegemonic masculinity. In particular, assuring acceptance requires the repudiation of the
feminine and the assumption of a sex-sawy player identity. In this sense, the
mediating effects of belonging and masculinity on the guys articulation of the discourse
blend together. Since, in the context of this discourse, belonging means assuming certain
emblems of a particular type of masculinity, I could not discuss the mediating effects of
belonging without revealing some of the influence of masculinity.
There are, however, many ways in which masculinity mediates guys use of this
discourse that are distinct from their efforts to belong. This mediation gives rise to three
broad narrative challenges: (1) avoiding a spoiled identity; (2) managing partial
commitments to the discourse; and (3) navigating threats implicit in the discourse. The
first of these challenges arises for guys who adopt the discourse wholesale. The second
confronts others who make claims to a masculinity consistent with the discourse but who
also reject key features of the discourse. The third category refers to three specific
challenges that confront all whose sexual decision making is guided by the conquest
discourse, regardless of whether their commitment to it is partial or complete. I call these
challenges the dilemma of advertising sexual conquests; the challenge of declining sex;
and the challenge of negotiating to secure sex. Examples of discourse mediation par
excellence, these challenges are simply by-products of the intersection of the discourse of
conquest and adolescent concerns about masculine self-presentation. In the next three


11
[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 Foucaults, 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


217
Jordan is not a virgin. He has had sexual intercourse once and received oral sex
numerous times. In that regard he is no different from the people he criticizes. He sets
himself apart, however, by insisting that his sexual encounters are always acts of
individual choice made with only his interests in mind, not scenarios created and played
out for the benefit of a male fraternity.
Perhaps the last thing we would expect someone who presents himself as so
fiercely independent to do is interject elements of a discourse of piety into his narrative.
Given the large role that religious doctrines and faith-based communities typically play in
the discourse, appealing to it seems antithetical to the almost defiant self-reliance Jordan
espouses. Jordan does articulate the discourse, however, when he discusses his studies of
Catholicism and their role in his decision to be a born-again virgin. And with some artful
narrative practice, he manages to construct his religious commitments in a way that
compliments rather than contradicts his independence. His basic strategy is to focus less
on his commitment to religious principles and more on how his commitment provides a
forum for him to demonstrate his independence from temptation and peer pressure:
I: What do you think being a virgin says about a person?
R: I dont think it says very much. I know rotten people that are virgins [Int
laughs], so I really dontUh. One, it says self-control. And it always
says self-control if thats your key. If you wanna be a virgins, but you
cant be a virgin, then that means you have no self-control. But if you
dont care about bein a virgin, then it really doesnt show self-control,
since youre not concentrating on not being a virgin. [Int: Right.] So to
each his own.
I: In your case, is it gonna be an issue of self-control or?
R: In my case, when I say Im not gonna do somethin, Im not gonna do it.
So its self-control.
(Jordan: 18-year-old, African-American, born-again virgin)


113
presented as the primary health threat posed by sex. That is not to say that the boys who
articulate this discourse do not recognize the dangers associated with being sexually
active, only that this particular discourse foregrounds virginity and downplays STDs as
threats.
Finally, within the discourse of conquest, virginity is believed to leave a guy open
to control by girls. A guys eagerness to have sex leads him to become enthralled with
the girl who gives it to him, which, in turn, exposes him to manipulation. This scenario is
often described by the term pussy-whipped, a phrase that dramatically captures the
image of a male beat down by his addiction to the sexual availability and talents of a
particular female. As articulated within the discourse of conquest, the danger of
becoming pussy-whipped is everpresent, and it is believed to be particularly great for
virgins, who are new to the joys of sex. L.J. makes this point, and also articulates the
belief, consistent with this discourse, that some women and girls are quite deliberate in
their attempts to control males using sex:
The majority of the females I know, the grown women, they like virgins. They
like young boys cause they figure they could overpower em and like break em
in, and like put the whipping pill, pussy whip em and have em like walkin'
around, have em like followin the girl around doin anything the girl want.
(L.J.: 17-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Although some guys, including L.J., argue that males, too, try to control their partners
with sex, virgin guys are constructed as particularly vulnerable, especially given that a
guys attentions to a sex partner necessarily draw him away from his male peer group.
This point is a critical aspect of the discourse of conquest, in fact, and it will be explored
further in Chapter 6.


261
insulate their identities from the paradox of their multiple commitments, or otherwise use
the existence of multiple discourses to their advantage.
By illustrating this dynamic, my study brings new perspectives to both discourse
and narrative practice. Discourses, which Foucault tends to depict as detached from
everyday life, are shown here to be fundamental contributors to the construction of
meaning at the level of narrative. And while they represent competing orientations in
their ideal abstractions, their inherent differences and even their conflicts are open to
interpretation and revision through strategic narrative work. Thus, at the same time,
narrative practice is revealed to involve the management of competing discourses, not
just the production of stories. These new perspectives thus pave the way for more studies
of narrative that attend as much to speakers selective articulation of various discourses
as to their storytelling.
The intense, creative narrative work done by the guys in this study also sheds new
light on established understandings of what is involved in moving through the life course.
The notion of life transition is common currency in most discussions of adolescence. It
suggests that the challenge of adolescence is essentially one of moving through time from
point A to point B and enduring or achieving a number of developmental milestones.
This study suggests that it is much more than this. Adolescence requires a great deal of
narrative work in the interest of navigating a veritable sea of discursive and semantic
possibilities, and each of these possibilities implicates the youths identities in the courses
of action to which it relates. In other words, youth do not simply pass through the time
between childhood and adulthood the way a kitten grows into a cat. As human beings
who are self-reflectivealbeit to varying degreesthey are at virtually every moment


238
Similarly, the insight that supersedes an interest in belonging for Andrew is his
recognition that guys sexual activity and the other behaviors that make them cool" are
essentially acts of conformity. Andrew thus redefines coolness as conformity and rejects
conformity as ignorance:
And people shun the idea of being a virgin cause youre supposed to be sexually
active, you know. The real, the cool people, the mature people, the mainstream,
MTV people, theyre the people that are out there runnin around havin' sex. And
those are the people that are idiots, you know. [Int: Right.] Those are the people
that are, you know, that are being force-fed, uh, brand names and being force-fed,
you know, women have to make themselves puke and wear makeup so that men
can be happier with them. And men have to be big and buff and burly so that they
can, you know, punch each other in the shoulder all homoerotically to prove [Int
laughs] to prove how homosexual theyre not, you know. [Int: Right.] And its,
its so idiotic that people wont just look at themselves and realize how wrong
theyre being and doing. And, you know, theyre gonna shun somebody because
of their sexual ethics and theyre sexual morals and how they live their lives.
(Andrew: 17-year-old, White, virgin)
To Andrew, the necessity of having sex is just one of a multitude of erroneous ideas
that young people have been force-fed by mainstream influences. It is ludicrous to him
that anyone would even want to achieve insider status among a group that accepts such
ridiculous, destructive ideas uncritically. Since his perspective equates conformity with
ignorance and a conquest orientation toward sex, being an outcast emerges as the only
reasonable option for him.
Andrew is, in fact, explicit about extolling the virtues of being an outsider. He
regards it as a sign of superior mental toughness:
You know, theres a lotta people out there that are just not mentally as, as strong
as others and can handle, you know, being outcast or thrust aside for a little
while, maybe, because they havent found the right niche for their ideas. So
instead theyll change their ideas to fit everybody elses and run around and start,
you know, having sex and, you know, being all MASCULINE and, Oh,
football!
(Andrew: 17-year-old, White, virgin)


161
Although L.J. mitigates the distancing somewhat by insisting that he can be a
player if he wants to, both he and Donnie are emphatic in defining themselves in
opposition to the player. In these passages, neither guy provides affirmative statements
about the kind of person he is in relation to girls; all the identity work is done in the
negative, as it were, through distancing.
Rhetorical distancing, the other form that this narrative strategy can take, is not so
overt as direct distancing. It does not involve the construction of explicit contrast
structures; rather, it is evident more in how meanings are phrased and structured than in
the actual words used. Frequently, this form of distancing is not so much a matter of
opposition as mollification. Where direct distancing seeks a deliberate, intentional break
from something, rhetorical distancing simply insinuates some degree of separation. With
rhetorical distancing a speaker does not say, Thats not me, the message is more akin
to, I may associate myself with that, but I wont commit myself to it. A fascinating
example of rhetorical distancing is offered by Morgan, when he describes the situation in
which he lost his virginity:
I dont know how I went there. I was kinda stoned when that happened. It was
just on the bus. Wasnt feelin too well. And the girl had like for a long time,
since kindergarten. And she called me at my dads house, where she lived right
next door to me. So I just went over there. Started makin out, got a little bit
further, little bit further, and finally, intercourse.
(Morgan: 17-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
In this excerpt, Morgan describes an event in which, it is safe to assume, he was
fully and actively involved, at least in a physical sense. Yet throughout the story he
introduces elements that militate against the notion that he actively pursued or desired the
sexual encounter that occurred. To begin with, he emphasizes the fact that he was stoned
and feeling sickboth states that might lessen the likelihood that he would be interested


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
23


210
where they go like promoting it. And then thats when they get hit, you
know. They get made fun of and everything.
(Evan: 15-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
Evans insistence that others would think he was gay or somethin if he remained a
virgin indicates that he interprets his own sexual experience in terms consistent with the
discourse of conquest. In this way he affirms a masculinity consistent with hegemonic
ideals both by denigrating nonvirgins and subtly reaffirming the fact that he is not a
virgin. Within the accounting scheme of dominant masculinities, such claims may not be
a substitute for sexual experiences that are advertised and recognized by others, but they
help to bridge the gap.
In addition to the common strategy of laying claim to other signifiers of
hegemonic masculinity, Evan employs another, more idiosyncratic means of neutralizing
the threat to his conquest-inspired masculinity: He emphasizes how he plays the role of
tutor for a male friend of his, helping him gain experience with girls. While this tutelage
does not go as far as facilitating his friends virginity loss, it aims to at least initiate him
into the ways of players:
R: Cause, I mean, he feels that if hes that popular, he should at least get one
or two girls. I mean, he goes out on dates all the time, because I have lots
of friends and everything, and I like to set him up. My friends are all cool
with it. Its just like. Its like one of those rules, you know, if you screw
up on this date.... They like tell me, If he screws up. Im never gonna
go out with him again or anything, you know. So.
I: So is that, when he screws up, is that that hes not, just saying the wrong
things?
R: Yeah, stuff like that. Like, uhm, like he becomes clumsy or something
cause he gets really nervous, you know, and like he stutters and says the
wrong things. And, like, its kinda retarded. Its funny to watch. Its
extremely funny to watch.
(Evan: 15-year-old, White, nonvirgin)


184
1. No Sissy Stuff!: Masculinity is the relentless repudiation of the feminine.
2. Be a Big Wheel.: Masculinity is measured by power, success, wealth, and
status.
3. Be a Sturdy Oak.: Real men never show their emotions, particularly
emotions that might be associated with weakness, such as fear or crying.
4. Give em Hell.: Real men are daring, aggressive, and eager to take risks.
(adapted from Kimmel 1994, pp. 125-126)
Despite the passage of a quarter century, Brannons description needs little revision to be
current. If we add a phrase like, Be a Player, that points to the importance of active
and routine demonstrations of heterosexuality to the contemporary model of masculinity,
I think this characterization provides a useful touchstone for our subsequent discussions
of masculinity as a mediator.
In practice, few men, if any, can live up to this ideal (Kimmel 1994) and some
have intentionally stopped trying to (National Organization of Men Against Sexism 1998;
Stoltenberg 1993). Nevertheless, it exists as the standard, and most guys feel compelled
to account for even minor deviations from it. Groups who experience significant social
or practical barriers to meeting the standard often construct and seek to validate
alternative masculinities. Franklin (1984) and, more recently, Majors and Billson (1992)
have documented this trend among African-American adult males, for instance, and Brod
(1994) has examined the construction of Jewish masculinities. Adolescent males, too,
may seek to develop different masculinities that de-emphasize the emblems of hegemonic
masculinity that are less accessible to them, such as financial success or certain
indications of independence (e.g., housing of their own). Still, these alternative
masculinities reflect back on hegemonic masculinity in as much as they are adaptations
of or reactions to it. Thus, hegemonic masculinity creates narrative challenges for guys
whether they seek to embrace or resist it.


54
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-


76
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, Marsiglios 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


144
Telling
In Chapter 4,1 indicated that the guys do not rely heavily on stories to convey
meaning. That statement is certainly accurate, particularly if we define stories narrowly
as sequences of talk that present an ordering and evaluation of past events. Such
constructions are not so central to each of the guys narratives as to warrant making them
the basis for an entire narrative analysis. Far too much narrative work would be left out.
The limited importance of stories should not, however, be taken to mean that the guys do
not tell stories. A small number of guys tell a lot of full-blown stories. Others tell fewer,
less involved stories. These guys seem to make up for this, however, by producing what
we might call pseudo-stories, narrative constructions that satisfy some but not all of the
criteria by which stories are typically identified. In short, many of the guys do not
produce an appreciable amount of what analysts would hear as complete stories, but they
all rely to some degree on an activity I would call telling, which results in stories or
pseudo-stories.
Telling, as it appears in these interviews, comes in four forms. In addition to full
blown stories, guys tell hypothetical narratives and habitual narratives, and with my
involvement they produce collaborative narratives. The three pseudo-narratives deviate
from the strict definition of story in patterned ways. Hypothetical narratives dispense
with the expectation, essential to stories, that the events described are real and happened
in the past. Habitual narratives breach the expectation that the past referred to in the
narrative is a single moment or time frame, and collaborative narratives violate the rather
traditional assumption that stories are individual productions.


267
the strongest assault against hegemonic masculinity. We can thus expect that the attack
will be repulsed in the same way that the dominant masculinity subjugates subordinate
masculinities. On a personal level this occurs through belittling (particularly
feminization and homophobic taunts), intimidation, and physical violence.
In terms of racial politics, the nearest equivalent to this scenario might be light
skinned Blacksoften disparaged by dark-skinned Blacks for being too
Whitearguing that color is irrelevant. Unless the more dominant group (i.e., dark-
skinned Blacks; guys who claim hegemonic masculinity) join the subordinates in their
renunciation, all the subordinates have succeeded in doing is relinquishing their position
(i.e., their Blackness, their masculinity). But here, again, the analogy breaks down.
While a light-skinned Black might then develop alliances within the White community
and thus have his or her color blindness rewarded with some of the privileges of the
dominant group, a guy who renounces his masculinity has nowhere to go, except perhaps
to a group even more subordinated by gender categories, women. I am not suggesting
that men should be hesitant in any way to align with women. I am only pointing out that
a mans appeal to gender blindness does not benefit him in terms of power or status
within the gender order. Already marginalized by other men, if he denies the relevance
of masculinity, he seems to risk even greater isolation and powerlessness.
The one exception I can foresee to this downward spiral for gender-blind men is if
their closer affiliation with women prompts them to appreciate gender oppression and
join women in the fight against sexism. In this case, their individualized attacks against
hegemonic masculinity become part of a broader, sustained social effort to undermine the
institutional sexism that sustains that hegemony. At least one of the guys I talked to


270
downside of what makes this study different from the ethnographic ones I mentioned
earlier. In discussing the interplay between masculinities, I argued that my focus on
narrative practice allowed me to see nuances in individual guys production of
masculinities that were lost to researchers who remained fixed on the competition
between masculinities represented by different groups. By the same token, however, it
appears that my attention to narrative practice makes it difficult for me to see the
collective masculinities to which the guys I interviewed belong. Some of this limitation
might be circumvented by increasing the sample size. As I interviewed more guys,
distinct masculinities defined by race, class, religion, or attitudes toward girls might
emerge. Kathleen Gerson (1993) demonstrated that large sample sizes can accomplish
exactly this elaboration of masculinities in her narrative study of men, family, and work.
The fact that she had to interview 138 men to do it, however, may be an indication that a
interview-based, narrative approach simply is not as conducive to identifying collective
masculinities as other qualitative methods, such as ethnography.
Adolescent Males Sexual Decision Making
Although I designed this study such that the investigation of guys sexual decision
making was largely indivisible from issues of masculinities and narrative, the lessons we
can learn from these guys about their sexual decisions deserve their own spotlight. I
believe there are three fundamental things we hear when we listen to these guys
narratives. First, they confirm that it is important to explore guys strategies for making
sexual decisions. Second, some guys need strategies for coping with pressures to be
sexually active, and the kernels of these strategies can be found in the words of the guys
themselves. And lastly, guys efforts to resist the undue influence of the discourse of


176
should not diminish our appreciation and recognition of this narrative strategy. The need
for interpretation is no greater with regard to parroting than it is with telling, and
parroting may be a more important strategy than telling for these guys. A cursory
examination suggests that use of the former is at least as prevalent as the latter. Indeed,
the strategy may be attractive to guys precisely because it does not require the production
of sophisticated narrative structures associated with stories and, to a lesser extent, pseudo
stories.
Conclusion
Some of the narrative strategies I have reviewed in this chapter are quite
sophisticated; stories can be intricate, lengthy tales and parroting involves purposeful
manipulation of other narrative voices, for example. But if we consider categorizing,
identity claims, distancing, contrasting, and the pseudo stories, many of the strategies are
remarkably simple; they are just statements, particular words, or the loose ordering of
less-than-real events. The fact that they are simple does not mean that they are trivial,
however. In fact, just the opposite is the case. As I noted at the beginning of the chapter,
the relative lack of dependence on stories in the interviews with these guys prompted me
to ask the following question: How do they convey their ideas, some of which are quite
sophisticated, without making liberal use of stories? I, like many narrative analysts,
assumed that complicated ideas needed sophisticated narrative vehicles to carry them. I
was wrong. The strategies described in this chapter represent the primary means by
which the guys achieved their rhetorical goals in our interviews, and, by and large, they
are deceptively simple. In retrospect, it makes sense: If your experience does not include
a large storehouse of stories or you do not have the narrative sophistication to construct


73
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 mens lives.
This realm encompasses the diverse array of physiological, social psychological, and
interpersonal experiences men can have with respect to pregnancy, birth control, and


What?: Virgin Sexual Practices 54
Conclusion 56
3 QUALITATIVE LITERATURE 59
Naturalistic Studies of Adolescent Sexuality 63
Interviews 63
Ethnographies 68
Masculinity 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
Where 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/Women 104
The Discourse of Conquest 106
Articulating Sex 106
Articulating Virginity Ill
Articulating Virgins 114
Articulating Women/Girls 116
Articulating Others 121
The Male 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 Way: Worry as an Horizon of Meaning 133
Conclusion 138
vii


126
Not all of Drews sexual decisions have been guided by the discourse of relationship. In
fact, he often articulates the discourse of conquest. But he indicates that to be considered
ideal, sex must occur in a relationship that has the levels of both quality and intensity
associated with love.
In still other instancesones representative of the strong relationship
articulation of the discourselove is a necessary, but not sufficient, prerequisite for sex.
At this end of the spectrum, sex is constructed as such an intimate act that it is
inappropriate and perhaps even dangerous to engage in outside of a relationship that
promises love, long-term commitment, and mutual understanding. Consequently, the
perspective provides a nonreligious rationale for remaining virgin until one is married or
establishes a marriage-like, life-long commitment:
Thats one of the most intimate things you can do. I mean, probably stay together
for almost the rest of your life if it works out.
(Del: 14-year-old, White, virgin)
I dont feel Im ready for it. I personally think it implies three things: you love
the person, youre willing to commit, and you wanna have kids eventually.
(Donnie: 18-year-old, Hispanic, virgin)
With this particular construction of sex, the discourse of relationship resembles a secular
version of the discourse of piety. In both cases, the quest for sex is sublimated to a
greater, more valued interest. Within the discourse of piety it is the quest for purity or
spiritual rewards; in the relationship discourse it is the quest for the one, the single
person to whom one can commit. In both discourses, too, sex is given sacred or near-
sacred status. In the context of the piety discourse, this status is God-given, while in the
relationship discourse sex is treated as near-sacred by virtue of its being, as Del said, the
most intimate thing you can do.


239
Andrews strategy for meeting the narrative challenge of belonging within the discourse
of relationship thus amounts to an all-out assault on the discourse of conquest and
hegemonic masculinity. Reversing established interpretations, Andrew insists that guys
who follow the hegemonic script are not strong; they are weak because they adopt
traditional notions of masculinity out of fear of not belonging.
Although both Andrew and Donnie are not social pariahs in the sense of having
no friends and being isolated completely, they perceive that many others consider them
outsiders in terms of their orientation to sexual decision making. In contrast to the pious
virgins, who either capitulate to conquest notions of belonging or seek belonging in
religious enclaves, these relationship virgins reject the social pressure to belong.
Insisting that pursuing sex is an ignoble means of bonding with others, they seek to
justify and even celebrate their outsider status. In this way, they also simultaneously
manage to forcefully assert their independence.
Navigating Challenges to Masculinity
When guys articulate either the discourse of relationship or piety, concerns about
masculinity influence their narrative tremendously, just as they do for guys who articulate
the discourse of conquest. In fact, guys whose commitment to relationships is weak tend
to confront challenges and produce responses that are analogous to those I have discussed
with respect to conquest adherents. Committed virgins articulating either discourse,
however, face a different challenge, by virtue of their complete rejection of the
construction of sex associated with hegemonic masculinity. In some instances, they
respond to this challenge by constructing alternative masculinities, but they are as likely
to instead produce critiques of the notion of gender itself. I begin this section by


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 Elbe 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 fiance, deserves more thanks than I can give her for
the patience, attention, love, and concern she has given me over the last three years. 1
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
u


224
instance, when the relationship discourse is articulated in this manner, the construction of
virgins is virtually the same as it is in the discourse of conquest. Yet even in these
instances, the discourses are difficult to reconcile because of the effects of the mediators,
particularly masculinity and belonging. In the subsequent discussion I explore these
difficulties through the case of Grady, whose narrative includes a tortured effort to
reconcile the discourse of conquest with the weak version of the discourse of
relationship.
In a whole host of ways, Grady satisfies the adolescent male narrative agendas
associated with belonging and masculinity with articulations of the discourse of conquest.
He describes having a grave distrust of women, expresses a fear of being pussy-
whipped, and identifies his male fraternity as the place to which he retreats to escape
girl trouble. All of these aspects of his efforts to construct his masculinity and assert
that he belongs are evident when he compares himself to other guys who are committed
virgins:
1 gotta do somethin, Man. I couldnt do it. I gotta have some kinda experience
with a girl, cause. Girls, like, theyll make you happy one minute, but. like, if
you really get into em too much, they can really make you mad, like everyday,
all day. Because, just the stuff that they do. It just makes you mad. And you'll
just be upset all day or whatever. You go out there. You get off the phone with
em or whatever, talkin and stuff. You cant have sex with em so. You ask "em
can you come overthey home by they selfyoull go back up to where you're
homeboys hang out at. Youll just got up there and just try to relieve all that
stress.
(Grady: 18-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Grady presents himself as someone who is trying to strike a delicate balance. On the one
hand, he cannot be like the committed virgins and forego sex. On the other hand, he
seems hyper-aware of the conquest assumption that too much involvement with girls
results in a guy becoming pussy-whipped and needing to retreat to his male fraternity.


60
1987; Thome 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


252
A different strategy that other pious virgins use is to acknowledge that their ideas
about virginity came from authority figures, but emphasize the process by which they
adopted these teaching as their own. For instance, when I ask Matthew how he learned
about the importance of virginity and staying pure, he couches his explanation in a
transformation story. The story details a progression that begins with Matthew
committing to purity out of obedience to his religious mentors, primarily his mother and
stepfather, but culminates in his deciding that purity and virginity are things he wants for
himself:
kinda did it over, like, you know, a process of time. You know, when I was saved,
you know, I still didnt know exactlyI just got saved, so I didn't really know what
was up. [Int: Right] Uhm, but, yeah, over a length of time, you know I was, you
know, I guess, you know, they were saying, you know, You shouldn't have sex
before marriage. And I was, like, You know, okay, you know, I won't do that
just because that was more of like a rule to me. [Int: Right] You know, You
dont do that. And I was, like, You know, thats fine, whatever. And then, but
then over a length of time a started thinking, you know, I don't want a kid, so 1
dont want to do that just because I dont want to. Its not that its a rule, its that I
dont want to. I believe thats what God, you know, wants for me. So that, you
know, is over a length of time.
(Matthew: 15-year-old, White, virgin)
Matthew admits that his commitment to virginity was not, initially, an independent
choice; he accepted it because it was more of like a rule to [him]. This dependent state
represents only the starting point of his story, however. As the story progresses over a
length of time, Matthew reflects on his attitudes toward paternity and his sense of Gods
plan for him. He determines that he does not want to have sex or compromise his purity,
regardless of whether others set these commitments up as rules or not. Constructing this
story, therefore, allows Matthew to do more than assert that his choice of virginity is an
independent one. It provides a dramatic and undeniable contrast between his present
state of independence with his former one of dependence. The story asserts that Matthew


64
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 mans 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.


205
some defense against the claim that his articulation of the discourse of conquest is an
anomalous exaggeration of its terms.
As the cases of Jordan and Drew demonstrate, commitment to the discourse of
conquest has its pitfalls for guys who are conscious of making claims to masculinity at
the same time they articulate their orientation to sexual decision making. Although
articulating the discourse of conquest carries the appeal of linking ones identity to the
emblems of hegemonic masculinity, it also brings the danger of over committing to the
discourse and seeming hypermasculine. Concerns about masculinity, therefore, mediate
how the guys articulate the discourse of conquest. Stories, distancing, and contrasting
appear to be especially useful narrative strategies as speakers try to distinguish their own
identities from those that might come across if their commitment to the discourse of
conquest appears too complete or too fervent.
Managing Partial Commitments to the Discourse
If articulating a commitment to the many facets of the conquest orientation to
sexual decision making has its hazards, so too does the opposite tact of making only a
limited commitment to the discourse. Guys like Jordan and Drew express their adherence
to the discourse of conquest so strongly that they have to employ narrative strategies to
ensure that others do not deride it as too strong. But other guys find their claims to
hegemonic masculinity stand on shaky ground because they do not commit to a central
aspect of the discourse. Consequently, they have to manage their articulation of the
discourse carefully in order to address this threat to the identity they wish to construct.
A case in point is L.J. In some ways, the identity he constructs over the course of
our interview is unfalteringly consistent with the discourse of conquest and supportive of


67
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
Carpenters 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.


244
R: Man, every time man. With guys its natural. I could be a gentleman and
just be like, Man, damn, man.
[end side 1 ]
R: I could just be like, Man that girl looks good over there, Man. Oh, man.
she look good. And, Ill beat.... Its all natural. You could still be a
gentleman and talk. I mean, its nothing wrong with, its amongst us guys.
Butyou know what Im saying?You dont have to blow it out of
proportion like some men do. You know what Im saying? Some men.
theyre [in a lusty voice] Oh man, I want to hit that. Oh yeah, theres no
telling what Ill do. Ooh! You know what Im saying? You don't even
have to be all like that. If you want to compliment a woman, be a man
about it and go up and say, Hey, you look nice, Or, Can I get your
phone number? Maybe we could talk or go out some time. Stuff like
that. Or you could just be, like, Man, she look good, if you dont want
to talk to her. Okay, its amongst yall guys. If she looks good, she looks
good. If you feel likeIf you wanna beat, you just tell in your mind, like,
Man, she look good enough to have sex with.
(Jerry: 19-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Jerrys perspective is that it is natural for guys to talk about sex. But whether that talk
occurs between guys or in the presence of girls, there are right and wrong forms that it
can take. Using the narrative strategy of contrasting, Jerry constructs two different types
of sex talkersgentlemen and othersthat embody the two ways of talking about sex.
The others, who represent the wrong way, are guys who blow it out of proportion and
talk about girls in vulgar, ultra-sexual, dehumanizing ways. Jerry, by contrast, is a
gentleman. Gentlemen talk about sex when they are with their guy friends, but their
language remains respectful. They use phrases like, Man, she look good, rather than
the more crude, Oh man, I want to hit that. And when it comes to approaching girls,
they arein Jerrys estimationmore manly than the others. While other guys use crude
talk to cover their fear of talking to girls, gentlemen display their superior masculinity by
appealing to girls in a way that shows class. The category of gentleman thus designates a


191
like, Well it was great, but I kind wish I waited off. I tend to believe it more
than just, Oh, she was GREAT! Three or four times! Oh my God!
(Donnie: 18-year-old, Hispanic, virgin)
As Donnie sees it, excessive boasting about sexual exploits is the mark of the liar; it is the
way a guy talks when he is putting on a show of being experienced. In contrast, guys
who have actually lost their virginity speak in less vulgar, hyperbolic terms, and will
likely express some regret about having had sex. For Donnie, who is a committed virgin,
the poles of belonging are reversed in favor of virgins. But his description of a strategy
for identifying those who lie about their status belies his recognition that virginity status
is an important aspect of belonging among adolescent guys.
Other guys take a more interactive approach. When a guy makes a claim about
his sexual status, they challenge it, believing they can establish the guys true status
through his response. In essence, they force the guy to endure a rhetorical gauntlet, the
experience of which they believe will expose those who are lying about their status.
Morgan describes a particularly viscous version of this gauntlet that he uses with guys
who claim to be committed virgins. In this case, the challenges to the guys claim
degenerate into a kind of shaming ritual:
I: So a guy who says he doesnt wanna have sex till hes married is lying?
R: Oh, most definitely. You know for a fact theyre a liar. We both know
theyll lie. Lets put it that way. I mean, come on, you know he's gonna
lie.
I: So what do you think of a guy that does that?
R: I call him a liar, until hell admit it. And if he dont admit it, and you keep
sayin it. Alright. And then he finally cries and breaks down and says,
Yeah, Man, I'm still a virgin. Then Ill believe him. Till he cries and
proves to me hes not, youre a liar.
(Morgan: 17-year-old, White, nonvirgin)


109
they facilitate or hinder the guys goal of having sex. Morgan demonstrates this goal-
driven articulation of girls in his own inimitable style when I ask him to distinguish
between instances in which he did and did not heed his friends advice that he keep it in
his pants (i.e., not have sex):
Times that I have is when theres people, like, they, like I said. Titanic size. I
aint gonna mess with it. Theyll squish me. Ill just let them go. Well chill, be
friends, you know, whatever. And times that [aren't (?)], its my girlfriend and
she looks really good and were, Choo-choo-choo. Go, go, go.
(Morgan: 17-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
In Morgans explanation, the girls relevance to his sexual decision making is limited to
whether or not he deems her attractive enough to be a sex partner. Similarly, girls enter
into Gradys talk when their teasing frustrates his attempts to get sex.
Its just like if the girl turns you on that much, you gonna wanna have sex. And if
she just playin wit you, you gonna get really, really mad because the tesall that
stuff runnin', you getting all hot and stuff. So you just get mad if they dont
wanna have it. And you just sittin there tryin to, tryin to get them to do it the
whole time.
(Grady: 18-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
When sex is viewed in terms of the discourse of conquest, it is distinct from partnership
or relationship, so girls merit mention solely in sexual, not relational, terms.
A final oddity of how sex is articulated within the discourse of conquest is how
remarkably blas guys can be about pursuing and getting sex. In the context of a
discourse that treats sex as a goal to be accomplished, the guys typically downplay that
they sought sex when it actually happens. Instead, they portray it as an accident of
circumstances, an unforeseen, spontaneous event that just happened: I don't know.
Its just kinda one of those spur of the moment type things. Ive never really decided.
Im gonna have sex with that girl. Its just, it just kinda happen, you know (Evan: 15-


212
R: Yeah, but see thats like sometimes you wanna go through with it, but not
with that person. So you just be like, Naw. And then they think you're
scared. But then again, at the same time, you just don't wanna have sex
with them. So theyre gonna think youre scared, even though you just
dont wanna have sex with em. Thats what it is.
I: Okay. And you dont wanna have sex with them, why because ... ?
R: Because youve heard stuff aboutem. They got STDs or they have sex
with a lot of people or theyre just ugly. They just dont appeal to you.
(James: 16-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
James strategy for responding to the emasculating assumptions of others is essentially to
offer a dose of realism. In the face of the presumption that he should have sex with every
girl who shows interest in him, he insists that the decision to have sex must be situational:
Sometimes sex should be avoided because a girl is believed to pose a high STD risk;
sometimes a guy is simply not attracted to a girl who wants him. Although this argument
is quite sensible, it amounts to an abdication of his claim to hegemonic masculinity on the
grounds of being ready for sex. For although he states at the outset that he wants to have
sex all the time, the conditions he later applies belong to a more logical and cautious
masculinity than the dominant one associated with the discourse of conquest. Thus, for
James, the mediating effect of masculinity on his articulation of the discourse of conquest
creates a narrative challenge that he cannot answer with resources from that discourse.
His efforts to respond to the challenge ultimately compel him to appeal to an alternate
masculinity.
The third and final threat implicit to this discourse involves talking about sex. In
order to achieve a sexual liaison with a girl, a guy must somehow convey his interest in
sex. Yet young guys, like just about everyone, find it difficult to talk about sex. Thus,
the need to get a girland thereby confirm ones masculinityplaces guys on a


229
In each of these instances, the reality of the situation runs counter to the template
provided by hegemonic masculinity, which emphasizes demonstrating masculinity
through sex, being fearless, always being ready for sex. Trying to square that reality with
the sense of manhood to which they aspire moves guys to all manner of strategic
meaning-making. Some guys seek to minimize the particular disconnect between their
experience and hegemonic masculinity by asserting their claim through other aspects of
the discourse. Some meet the narrative challenges by finding indirect or creative ways to
satisfy the expectations of hegemonic masculinity. Still others address the challenge by
asserting a claim to an alternate masculinity and insisting on the superiority of this
definition of manhood. Regardless of how they grappled with the challenge, however, all
of these guys are confronted with the mediating effects of masculinity on their
articulations of the conquest discourse.
As I reflect on guys engagement with the narrative challenges they face as they
articulate the discourse of conquest, I am left with two strong impressions. The first has
to be the incredible flexibility, creative, and seeming intentionality with which the guys
manipulate the resources of the discourse. Through categorizing, distancing, storytelling,
and contrasting, the guys construct meanings for notions like belonging, virginity, sex
talk, and independence that satisfy the demands of particular contexts. The same
resources that help one guy construct a player identity are used by another to produce a
masculinity that dismisses the player as a charlatan. This narrative elasticity in the
production of meaning provides dramatic evidence of the power of discursive practice.
At the same time, however, I cannot help but be struck by the futility of some of
the narrative work that guys engage in when trying to identify themselves with


91
interview-based approach that I have chosen provides equally important, though
different, analytical opportunities. First, it brings into focus entirely different forms of
talk. Rather than ritualized interactive speech routines that are produced as part of social
contact within peer groups, the unstructured interview allows investigation of how youth
respond to questions on potentially sensitive topics outside of the context of their peer
group. Routines of teasing, insulting, and collaborative storytelling are supplanted in the
analytical lens by accounts, stories, and biographical work. Second, talk in this context
does not presume the immediate relevance of the peer group to the issues at hand, rather,
if, when, and how peer groups are referenced in talk becomes an important analytical
concern. Indeed, the one-on-one interview scenario could provide a useful check on the
power of peer-group speech routines. In other words, it may be beneficial to investigate
to what extent young males rhetorically distance themselves from peer group norms when
they are physically separate from the groups.
Conclusion
Although I have tried, in the preceding pages, to bring some organization and
coherence to the qualitative literature on adolescent male sexuality, my earlier
characterization of the story told by this literature as fragmented and incomplete remains
apt. Few studies address the topic directly, so relevant findings must be culled from
diverse sources, including naturalistic studies of virginity and procreative issues,
ethnographies, research in the subdiscipline of masculinity studies, and narrative analyses
of adolescent and preadolescent sex talk. The scant existing literature provides a
tantalizing glimpse of what qualitative research methods could contribute, making the
current state of fragmentation and obvious deficiencies all the more frustrating.


16
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 mens 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.,


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 patients 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.
1


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The candor and passion of L.J.s speech are rather unique, but his suggestion that guys
betray their brethren when they choose relationships with girls over the camaraderie of
the male friendship group is not. Indeed, the notion of pussy-whipping, which is hardly
L.J.s creation, functions as a check on guys commitments to their fraternities. Much
like cooties to elementary school boys, the term pussy-whipped carries the
implication that a guy has strayed too far into the girls camp and risks contamination.
As such, it encourages and reinforces the repudiation of the feminine that is a hallmark of
hegemonic masculinity.
Virginity Status Tests
While baiting guys with the epithet pussy-whipped primarily functions to
establish the rules of belonging within male fraternities, the strategies guys have
developed from the resources of the discourse of conquest for establishing who belongs
are not limited to this insulated environment. Those who articulate this discourse assert
the importance of interest in sex and the display of heterosexuality in larger social circles
by making an effort to separate the virgins from the nonvirgins. To that end, several
guys, even some who tend to articulate the discourse of relationship, report that they have
tactics for ferreting out virgins based on how they talk about sex. Donnie, for instance,
does not so much describe his strategy as display it in a passage that combines parroting
and contrasting. He speaks in the voices of two guys claiming to have had sex; one
displays excessive bravado while the other is more pensive and reticent, almost contrite:
You know, when you hear a guy, Oh, she was GREAT! Im like, You know,
youre so insecure of yourself you have to just fuckin go head and say it to the
whole world. I dont believe you. Your eyes do not lie. Thats one thing. Your
eye wont lie. And when a person can tell, look you in the eye and say, Yeah,
look it happened. I wasnt expecting it. And I regret it. Or, most times their


120
handicapped in their relations with these guys by cultural constructions that demean them
and subject their behaviors to the least flattering interpretations.
Another consequence of this array of harsh constructions of females is that girls
are objectified and dehumanized, rather than spoken of as individuals or fellow human
beings. Indeed, if the comments of Andrew and Grady are any indication, the tendency
to objectify is ever-present when guys talk amongst themselves:
And then outside a school all my friends, you know, they were male. And, you
know, the whole conversations wed ever have about girls are, Oh, yeah, she was
fine. You know, Nice set a tits on that girl. Oh Geez. You know, thats the
guys talkin that Ive always been with.
(Andrew: 17-year-old, White, virgin)
[Guys] compare, like, sex and the face, the attitude, all that. They just all
compare it together. Is this girl doin it better than this one did, and does she have
a better booty, titties or whatever.
(Grady: 18-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Girls are reduced to parts, mostly breasts and rear ends, as the guys use their ability to
objectify girls much as they do demonstrations of sexual experienceas a means of
relating to one another.
In some instances, however, the reduction of girls to their sexual potential takes
on a more ominous quality, and it becomes clear that this discourse offers guys the
rhetorical tools by which they can strip girls of their humanity altogether. Consider, for
instance, Jordans description of girls with whom he had sexual encounters that he
intentionally stopped short of intercourse: Really, they were just flesh to me, so. Pbbt!
(Jordan: 18-year-old, African-American, born-again virgin). In this one damning
sentence, Jordan makes actual people with whom he was sexually involved
indistinguishable from cadavers.


221
I: How so?
R: By wasting time with people that I dont care about. But at the time it
seems right.
I: Why was it easier in high school? Partly because the girls are
R: Because the girls are puttin the brakes on. And you, as a male, hot-
blooded, are just, whatever theyll let you do, youll do. And now, its
like, Oh my God, Ive gotta like1 have to put the brakes on 'cause
theyre not gonna. And that, to me, makes me wanna avoid the situation
because I know that its gonna be hard to put the brakes on, especially if
Im the only one puttin em on.
(Derrick: 18-year-old, White, virgin)
Rhetorically speaking, this passage is quite complex. In the first several lines, after
asserting that he would love to be able to not do anything, Derrick constructs a
hypothetical narrative that dramatizes how the attractiveness, availability, and desire of a
girl with whom he is dancing virtually compels him to make out with her. Derricks
participation in encounters like this one enhances his player identity, but the narrative
suggests that this is not a case of Derrick seducing someone. As the story would have it,
Derrick is almost a victim; he has no reasonable alternative but to make out with the girl.
Following this hypothetical narrative, Derrick reaffirms his desire to put limits on
his contact with girls, but then immediately employs another narrative strategy that
allows him to abdicate control over that contact. This time, the strategy is a contrast
structure between the girls he encountered in high school and the older girls he meets
now. High school girls, he says, are resistant to guys advances, but older girls are
sexually aggressive and actually make advances themselves. This shift in girls approach
to physical intimacy complicates Derricks efforts to balance the conquest and piety
discourses enormously. With high school girls, he could be a hot-blooded male" and
depend on them to ensure that the encounters did not infringe greatly on his commitment


88
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
ones 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 boys


46
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


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


262
narrating their identities into being in ways designed to present a consistent identity
(Gergen & Gergen 1997), navigate the immediate narrative challenges posed by the
interview context, and meet the broader challenges raised by the identity agenda that
characterizes male adolescence. Orienting to adolescence solely in terms of recognizing,
achieving, and coping with various developmental milestones thus glosses over the
critical interpretive work youth do as they determine how to address these challenges of
adolescence. Just as this study shows the important interpretive work young men do with
respect to virginity loss, one could imagine other studies that would explore the
interpretive work involved in a whole host of other milestones of adolescence, such as
the experience of the bodily changes of puberty or the changes in social life that
accompany the deliberate pairing off into heterosexual couples.
Masculinities
Because of the prominent role masculinity plays in guys articulations of their
sexual selves, my examination of narrative practice in this context offers much to the
academic study of masculinities. Specifically, the current study contributes to our
understanding of the interplay of multiple masculinities, the construction of adolescent
masculinities, and methodological issues related to studying masculinities in interviews
with young guys.
The Interplay of Multiple Masculinities
The well-established notion that masculinities exist in a state of competitive
hierarchy has been demonstrated empirically in a number of ethnographic and historical
studies (Connell 1995; Espritu 1998; Hayward & Mac an Ghaill 1997). These studies
examine how conflict between groups of men or boys grows out of and is fought in terms


100
that Im still waiting for you, Im still waiting. And I was kindakinda hit home.
[That (?)] was kinda cool.
(Sean: 16-year-old, White, virgin)
Seans description of his experience shows how mothers, fathers, and, in this case, youth
ministers are important to the discourse of piety because they teach and support the pro
virginity message. They construct virginity as something to be valued and buttress that
construction with the idea that its untimely loss represents a failure not just to God, but
also to a flesh-and-blood (though as yet unknown) human being, ones future wife.
Within this discursive context, nonvirgins are foils that can either remind
committed virgins of the importance of their choice or stand as troubling lures toward a
more permissive view of sexuality or life in general.
R: You know, so they kind of look down on you, you know, like, you know,
Are you gay? You know, theyll say stuff like that a lot, but. So, yeah,
I mean, theres onlyI mean, not a lot because I dont really hang out
with em anymore. Im always with, you know, my group of friends, so.
Not as much any more, but it has happened.
I: How does it make you feel when they do that?
R: Nah. I, I really dont care. Im like, Okay, you know, whatever. If
you say so. I mean, I think its sad for them because, you know, they just
dont know any better. You know, they might, theyre gonna regret it, I
would think, in the long run, but.
(Matthew: 15-year-old, White, virgin)
Its kinda I just get stressed out a lot and, uhm, and I just look at my other friends
who, who do drugs and who have sex, and theyre just like so carefree. Theyre
like, Oh, whatever, you know, Ill go to school today, or I wont go to school
today, or, you know. And its just like, its just like, its like, Wow, I just wish
I could just blow everything off like them, just be like, Who cares.
(Sean: 16-year-old, White, virgin)
Regardless of how a religious virgin responds to the example of nonvirgins,
however, nonvirgins gain their relevance within the discourse by virtue of the contrast
they represent to virgin guys commitments. Guys who articulate the piety discourse


172
Parroting
In our interviews, it is common for the guys to occasionally take on different
voicesfiguratively and sometimes literallyand to signal in other ways that their
words should be bracketed, via quotation marks, from other speech. This narrative
strategy, which I call parroting, can be put to a number of strategic effects. By way of
introduction to the strategy, I describe three of these uses: quotations as adjectives,
speaking for collectives, and quotations as straw men.
Quotations as Adjectives
On the face of things, it seems reasonable to assume that a primary reason why a
speaker would assume a different narrative voice would be to attribute some idea or
attitude to the person or group spoken for. Yet in some instances this function, while
present, appears to be superceded by a different purpose. The guy speaks for others
primarily to dramatize a point that he is trying to make or to articulate an idea for which
he cannot find his own words. In this unique scenario, the words that the speaker
attributes to some other subjective position become, in essence, an adjectival or adverbial
phrase in a sentence that the speaker begins from his position as narrator. Matthew
demonstrates this strategic use of quoting others when he explains what he believes
would constitute having sex in opposition to (out of) Gods will:
Out of Gods will I think theyre just doin it for pleasure, the spur of the
moment, you know, Lets get high or off of this for the moment, and well
do it. Do it with anybody you want just for the thrill of it, just to get, you
know, pleasure for that one moment.
(Matthew: 15-year-old, White, virgin)
While Matthews quote certainly reflects an attitude that he attributes to this generalized
otherthis they that has sex for funthe phrase he speaks for them is not a separate


259
Finally, although there is enormous creativity in the ways in which the guys draw
upon the five narrative strategies as they confront narrative challenges, there are some
commonalities, if not in their narrative practices, certainly in the strategies that support
those practices. In other words, we can speak in general terms of the guys meta
strategies for addressing narrative challenges. Regardless of the discourse mediator in
question or the discourse being articulated, guys appear to confront narrative challenges
by manipulating definitions and being selective about where they place emphasis.
Committed virgins redefine manhood, for instance. Guys who fear that their identity will
be seen as hypermasculine are selective about the aspects of the discourse of conquest
they articulate, and they distance themselves from certain features of hegemonic
masculinity in order to preserve a favorable identity. Whatever the narrative challenge,
the powers of language that these guys harness to their advantage are its abilities to make
distinctions, introduce shades of gray, and control which elements take the foreground
and which recede into the background.
This basic summary of the development and results of this study does not tell the
whole story, however. The project is multidimensional, and as such it is the product of
several interrelated stories, stories of discourse and narrative, masculinities, and
adolescent sexual decision making, and interviewing. In the remainder of this chapter, I
take a closer look at each of these stories more or less individually, with an eye toward
what can be learned from them, what they lacked, and how they might be improved in
future efforts to examine the sexual identities of adolescent, heterosexual males.


48
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,
mens 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


77
(Reissman 1993, p. 2). Examining peoples 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). Whats 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-Schrocks (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.


89
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, Fines work reminds us of the robust tie between talk and identity, and it
also provides evidence that, at a very young age, boys 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 todays 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.


201
Unlike Drew, whose masculine presentation tends toward the excessive most
noticeably in terms of his approach to sex, Jordans excess is most evident with respect to
his attitudes toward girls. In the earliest moments of our interview, he boldly claimed a
masculinity that embraced even the most misogynistic elements of the discourse of
conquest:
So I somewhat look at mostly women as not on the same level as myself, even
though that they may be more intellectual than myself, but I don't look at them on
the same level, physically, emotionally. And I dont think that were equal,
basically.
(Jordan: 18-year-old, African-American, born-again virgin)
This commitment to male superiority, in turn, provides the rationale for sexual behavior
that, like Drews, is such an extreme expression of the goal-oriented approach to sex that
it could be described as predatory. In the following passage, for instance, Jordan
categorizes girls in different ways. These different categories confer varying degrees of
humanness on them and construct them as suitable for varying types of sexual acts:
I: It sounds like with previous girlfriends, you went to a certain point, maybe
as far as oral sex.
R: Yeah.
I: And then with your current girlfriend, youve sort of gone all the way,
as they say.
R: Well, really they werent girlfriends. They were justwhores, I guess
you could say.
I: Okay.
R: I dont wanna use the term so loosely, but they werent reallyThey
didnt mean anything to me, really.
I: And how long were you with them, in general.


175
Quotations as Straw Men
Speaking for someone, some collective, or some thing also appears to be an
effective and popular way to tell others that they are wrong. It is extremely common in
the interviews for the guys to take on another subjective position for the express purpose
of then returning to their voice as narrator and contradicting, disagreeing with, or
distancing themselves from what has been said. Andrew provides an example of this use
of quotations in talk when he makes it clear that he does not agree with males or females
who believe they can control members of the opposite sex with sex:
You know, you see a girl, and shell be like, Ha, you know, I got him
wrapped around my finger because Im having sex with him. And the
guys like, Ah, shes gone in a week, once I get my kicks off. And
[pause] both those ideals are pretty friggin wrong.
(Andrew: 17-year-old, White, virgin)
In this and other cases of quotations as straw men, the evaluative statement that
concludes the quotation is as important as the quotation, if not more so. The words that
are spoken in the narrative voice or voices of others are set ups that allow the Respondent
as Narrator to clarify his or her position, often in an evaluative statement, by means of
stark contrast to that attributed to others. With complete rhetorical control over not only
what they say, but what others are alleged to say, the interview is an ideal context for
respondents to raise and raze straw men in the interest of constructing meanings that
serve the demands of both persuasion and self-presentation.
As the example of these three particular uses demonstrate, parroting is a powerful
and flexible narrative strategy. With it, speakers add multivocality to interviews in ways
that serve a variety of rhetorical ends. To be sure, researcher interpretation is involved in
deciding exactly when speakers make shifts in narrative position, but this ambiguity


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March 21, 1993, Section 1; Page 22; Column 4.
Bell, S. 1988. Becoming a Political Woman: The Reconstruction and Interpretation of
Experience Through Stories. Pp. 97-124 in Gender and Discourse: The Power of
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Berger, A. A. 1997. Narratives in Popular Culture, Media, and Everyday Life.
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Billy, J.O.G., & J.R. Udry. 1985. The Influence of Male and Female Best Friends on
Adolescent Sexual Behavior. Adolescence, 20:21-33.
Blinn-Pike, L. 1999. Why Adolescents Report They Have Not Had Sex: Understanding
Sexually Resilient Youth. Family Relations 48:295-301.
Brod, H. 1994. Some Thoughts on Some Histories of Some Masculinities: Jews and
Other Others. Pp. 82-96 in Theorizing Masculinities, edited by H. Brod & M.
Kaufman. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Carpenter, L. 2001. The Ambiguity ofHaving Sex: The Subjective Experience of
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Chase, S. 1995a. Ambiguous Empowerment: The Work Narratives of Women School
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Chase, S. 1995b. Taking Narrative Seriously: Consequences for Theory and Method in
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in Relation to Womens Issues. The Sociological Quarterly, 38: 303-319.
285


150
Another example of a history-making story is provided by L.J. when we discuss
committed virgins. I ask L.J. if he thinks he would have been able to remain virgin if he
had been taught he ought to save himself for marriage. In response, he tells a story
about his younger years that ostensibly explains why he is not someone who can wait:
I: Do you think that when you were younger, if you had been taught that you
shouldnt have sex, until you are married, do you think you could have
waited?
R: I dont think so. Because when I was younger, I can remember sneaking
in the living room like around 12 oclock, watchin a little Cinemax, had a
little Red Shoe Diaries and stuff like that. And when I went to my uncles
house one day, I had saw a flick. It was a hard-core flick. And I saw it
and it just caught my eye. In my head, the wheels started turning. I'm
like, Man, I could be doin that. So it is just like that influenced me. I
got caught up in society that influenced me. I would have waitedI
probably still would have did it cause I seen what was going on.
Everybody around was talking about it at my age. Like, I was ten years
old, little boys talking about her boobies and stuff and like right there,
[unintelligible3 words] It just hypnotize me so. That's me.
(L.J.: 17-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
At one level, L.J. is making the argument that his experiences with soft- and hard
core pornography helped make him who he is todaysomeone who lost his virginity at
age 13. In this sense, the story is a simple example of history making. But on another
level, it is an especially remarkable instance. Because my question asked him to
speculate about alternative paths he might have taken in terms of his sexual decision
making, L.J. also manages this story in a way that rejects these alternatives and confirms
the inevitability of the life he has led. When L.J. says, I probably still would have did it
cause I seen what was going on, he suggests that even if his past had not included the
specific incidents he described, other similar experiences would have awakened his
fascination with sex. With this rhetorical maneuver, L.J. binds even the alternative paths
I have suggested to the end result that he has lived. Regardless of what he might have


127
An interesting twist on this strong relationship scenario is presented by Andrew.
Like others who articulate the discourse of relationship, Andrew intends to stay abstinent
until he finds, the one. However, he does not construct sex as a near-sacred act that
must be confined to a committed, intimate relationship. Instead, he attributes near-
sacred status to the nonsexual intimacy of relationships, and insists that sex is just one
expression of that intimacy, and a rather unimportant one at that:
Being able to be so connected with another human being that it doesnt even
really matter if you have sex. That you are so, just, happy and wonderfully in
tune with another person that, that sex is just a little, you know, a little thing on
the side, you know, a little perk [Int: Right.] of having another human being
mentally connect. You know, the chi, the mental life force, uh, flowing through
two people, you know, that whole idea. And I dont think sex really even ties in
at all.
(Andrew: 17-year-old, White, virgin)
The understandings that guide Andrew sexual decision making are clearly derived from
the discourse of relationship. But his commitment to relationships is based on an
articulation of sex that minimizes, rather than elevates it, as a form of intimacy.
Articulating Relationships
The notion that relationships are valuable is implicit in the fact that this discourse
constructs them as essential for the justification of sexual activity. But their value is
critical to the stability of this meaning system, so it should not be surprising that the
discourse also offers resources for articulating their value directly. These articulations,
for the most part, depict relationships independent of the link between relationships and
sex.
One way these boys articulate the value of relationships is by describing some of
their features that are important to them. Some speak of intimacy or having someone to
go home to. Honesty and trust are mentioned frequently, just as their absence is when


160
a kind of every man, and the way girls respond to him tells a lot about what they really
look for in a guy. Jerry claims the identity gentleman to indicate that he will take care
of his procreative responsibilities in the event that he is responsible for a pregnancy.
Taken together, these cases demonstrate the power and flexibility of identity claims. In
making them, guys do not simply associate themselves with established categories or
typifications, they mold and modify them to fit their own sense of themselves and the
rhetorical demands of the situation at hand. In the previous examples, each guy
constructs and claims a nuanced notion of manhood that produces a relevant, situated
identity.
Distancing
In some cases, the guys construct who they are through opposition, by articulating
who they are not. This is the narrative strategy of distancing, a sort of inverse of identity
claims, and it comes in two forms. In what I call the direct form, the guys make overt
statements that separate their own identities from undesirable characteristics or qualities,
often associated with some typified group. In this form, distancing amounts to the use of
what Dorothy Smith (1990) calls contrast structures in the specific interest of
constructing ones identity. For instance, in the course of our conversations, two of the
guys deliberately distance themselves from the identity of player, which describes a
kind of playboy who is intent on showing off his ability to attract and seduce girls:
Some girls might say that and they be like, L, hes a pimp player and all that
stuff. Man, that aint me. I can be if I want to. If I choose to. But that ain't me.
(L.J.: 17-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Im not a player. I dont pretend. Im not a player. Thats not my thing. I dont
see women as a game in any way shape or form.
(Donnie: 18-year-old, Hispanic, virgin)


interviewers 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 peoples 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


204
rejection of hegemonic masculinity. When I ask Jordan about sexual urges and how he
copes with them, he says he only gets urges in the context of intimate situations:
Naw,just. When Im with my girlfriend, uhm, sometimes I get urges. But I
neveroutside of my girlfriendI never get urges. So I never have the feeling to
cheat or anything like that. [Int: Right.] And I never needed it. I never needed
sex. After Ive had sex, I never needed it, unless IWhen I have sex, its not
because I need it. Its because just that intimate thing. [Int: Okay. Okay.] It's
not something thatIm not a [fiend (?)] for it or anything like that.
(Jordan: 18-year-old, African-American, bom-again virgin)
Although squaring this passage with Jordans history of meaningless sexual encounters
may be difficult, the excerpt counters the hypermasculine identity in several ways. First,
Jordans assertion that he has never needed sex and that it has always been a by-product
of intimacy represents a turning away from hegemonic masculinity. Jordan is essentially
portraying himself as indifferent to sex as an act distinct from relationships. Whether this
portrayal is true or not, the rhetorical move amounts to a renunciation of the "masculinity
dividend awarded within the hegemonic mode for always being ready and willing to
have sex. Second, by playing up the importance of intimacy, Jordan encourages us to see
his sexual behavior through the lens of the discourse of relationship, not conquest. And
finally, the most direct counter to the hypermasculine identity comes in the last line,
when Jordan says he is not a fiend for sex.
Each of these maneuvers manages the construction of Jordans masculinity in
relation to the discourse of conquest in a different way: One relinquishes his claim to a
specific aspect of hegemonic masculinity, another draws on a different discourse to
reframe Jordans masculinity, and a third explicitly distances his mode of masculinity
from the type that one might associate with hypermasculinity. Taken together, they help
mollify the strident claims to hegemonic masculinity Jordan makes and provides him


254
Consequently, the narrative challenges of adherents to the discourses of piety and
relationship are largely struggles for legitimacy, battles to stake out underappreciated
ground. In the process, guys often have to choose between completely rejecting
privileged avenues for meeting identity agendas, or trying to construct interpretations of
their identities that draw on the resources of the dominant discourse. Pious virgins, for
instance, must adopt one of two mutually exclusive strategies. They can assert that they
belong in terms that minimize the difference between being sexually active and having
opportunities for sex, thereby associating themselves with dominant modes of belonging.
Alternatively, they can reject the relationship between the display of heterosexuality and
belonging altogether, and affirm that they belong on other terms, such as their association
with a religious community.
Similar choices face committed virgins as they seek to construct masculine
identities: By virtue of their decision to remain abstinent, they place themselves in
opposition to hegemonic masculinity, which privileges sexual conquest over relationships
or religious principles. But how do they position themselves with respect to gender after
rejecting privileged definitions of manhood? Do they construct alternative masculinities
founded on the sense of responsibility, interconnection, and caring that underlie their
commitments to virginity, or do they renounce the relevance of masculinities altogether
and stake out a precarious position outside of the gender order? My analysis does not
suggest any ready guidelines for choosing between strategies, as each approach brings
with it its own pitfalls and rhetorical struggles. It does, however, make those pitfalls and
struggles visible. As a result, it brings depth and specificity to our understanding of the
difficulties of articulating a subordinate discourse.


286
Cohan, M. 2001. Quotations in Interview Talk: Researcher Interpretation and the
Construction of Subjectivities in the Active Interview. Presented at the Annual
Meeting of the Southern Sociological Society, Atlanta, Georgia, April 5-7, 2001.
Coltrane, S. 1994. Theorizing Masculinities in Contemporary Social Science. Pp. 39-
60 in Theorizing Masculinities. Edited by H. Brod & M. Kaufman. Thousand Oaks,
CA: Sage.
Conley, S.O. 1999. Early Sexual Onset: A Study of the Relationship Between Social
and Psychological Factors in the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Males.
Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities & Social Sciences, 59(7-
A):2369.
Connell, R.W. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Connell, R.W. 1998. Disruptions: Improper Masculinities and Schooling. Pp. 141-
154 in Mens Lives, Fourth Edition, edited by M.S. Kimmel & M.A. Messner.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Connell, R.W. 2000. The Men and the Boys. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Crites, S. 1997. The Narrative Quality of Experience. Pp. 26-50 in Memory, Identity,
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& S.K. Hinchman. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
de Gaston, J. F., L. Jensen, & S. Weed. 1995. A Closer Look at Adolescent Sexual
Activity. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 24:465-479.
DeLamater, J. 1987. Gender Differences in Sexual Scenarios. Pp. 127-140 in:
Females, Males, and Sexuality, edited by K. Kelley. Albany: State University of New
York Press.
Denzin, N. 1989. Interpretive Biography. London: Sage.
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Celibacy: A Life Course Analysis. Journal of Sex Research, 38:159-169.
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Young Adulthood. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 53:890-904.
Dorius, G.L., T.B. Heaton, & P. Steffen. 1993. Adolescent Life Events and Their
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Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.


247
goes on to assert his own masculinity on the grounds that self-awareness and self-
controldemonstrated in his case by his not having sex until he can lose his virginity on
his own termsare the stuff of which true masculinity are made. Sean, on the other
hand, does not claim an alternate masculinity. In fact, he actually rejects the relevance of
gender categories altogether:
I mean, if Im not a man, than Im not a man, just as long as I feel that I*m who I
wanna be and who I think is the best person for me to be, then its the best thing
for me, cause bein happys the most important thing in life.
(Sean: 16-year-old, White, virgin)
Taking a radically individualized view of the significance of gender, Sean insists that
masculinity is irrelevant to his self-image. What is important, he says, is his state of
being, not how he is categorized. In this way, Sean solves the identity issue of
masculinity by negating it. From a sociological standpoint, Seans denial will not stop
gender categories from influencing his life. In terms of the presentation of identity in the
context of our interview, however, it provides an answer for Seans deviation from
mainstream standards of masculinity. If the gender game is stacked against him, he
chooses to quit playing.
Andrew, a relationship virgin, takes a dizzyingly paradoxical approach to the
mediating influence of masculinity. He rejects the quest for dominance exemplified by
hegemonic masculinity adamantly, but he does so in a way that implicates him in his own
quest for dominance. After indicating that he considers himself a fairly masculine person
and that he likes to fight, Andrew admits that he has occasionally fought with guys who
were trying to assert masculine dominance over him:
I just get into a lot of little small quarrels over guys that are trying to prove their
masculinity to you, you know. Oh, Im, Im more bad ass than you, so if you
wanna come up to me and ask me about, you know, my actions, I dont have to


36
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
mothers 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 mothers education and sexual intercourse. Every year added to
mothers 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 mothers 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


96
represent narrative possibilities, not full-blown actualities. They might best be described
as linguistic and semantic stocks of knowledge, invisible narrative storehouses of what
we might say and how we might say it. We cannot see them or touch them, and the only
proof of their existence comes in instances of language use, at which point what we
have are not discourses at all, but articulations of discourse, acts of speech or writing that
remind us that certain ways of making meaning are culturally available for use,
manipulation, and modification.
For all their elusiveness, however, discourses are identifiable from the traces they
leave behind. Confronted with a long series of articulations from the same discourse, we
recognize the consistency and interconnection of ideas and perspective that form a more
or less unified way of understanding some category of phenomenon. Training manuals,
position papers, and theoretical treatises provide some of the most tangible evidence of
the existence of discourses precisely because they are designed to delineate particular
ways of acting or thinking. By the same token, incompatibility of the meanings conveyed
by various articulations can signal the presence of competing discourses, as when public
policies are debated.
So although I cannot produce for inspection the discourses used by my
respondents, in the pages that follow I will reproduce excerpts from the respondents talk
and explain why I see them as articulations of particular discourses of sexual decision
making. Presenting a series of articulations from various respondents may have the effect
of decontextualizing their comments, but such an effect is hard to avoid when the goal is
to point to a larger, textual entity. In subsequent chapters, where I focus on specific
narrative challenges faced by particular respondents, context receives its proper attention.


227
different ways for the guys to resolve their need to present some form of masculinity,
assert their independence, and establish that they belong.
What do these efforts at discourse reconciliation mean in terms of how guys talk
about and orient to sexual decision making? First and foremost, I think they remind us of
the limits of the interplay between narrative resources and narrative practice. In spite of
their creative use of narrative strategies, language users are hard pressed to construct
compatible meanings from discourses that are essentially in contradiction. Put more
concretely, when guys approach sex and relationships primarily from the viewpoint of
sexual conquest, it is difficult for them to simultaneously make the claim that other
considerations, such as religion or love, are important. This is not to say that narrative
practice is inconsequential. While the reconciliation efforts I explored were largely
unsuccessful at blending discourses, they certainly succeeded in creating tensions in
identities and exposing the multiple ways that a guy can cope with discourse mediators.
In that sense, the narrative work these guys did reaffirms that discourse is not destiny and
that language users artful manipulation of discourse resources will always be a
destabilizing force on the boundaries between discourses.
Conclusion
Exploring the mediation of the discourse of conquest by the social factors of
masculinity, independence, and belonging is a tall order. Like all discourses, the
discourse of conquest is multifaceted, meaning each of the three mediators can influence
its articulation in multiple, complex ways. My investigation of these mediating effects
demonstrates that each of the mediators does have an effect on the guys articulations, but
not to equal degrees.


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Sexual Behavior: Estimates and Trends from Four Nationally Representative
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Savin-Williams, R.C. 1998. Memories of Childhood and Early Adolescent Sexual
Feelings Among Gay and Bisexual Boys: A Narrative Approach. Pp. 155-167 in
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Allyn & Bacon.
Schuster, M.A., R.M. Bell, & D.E. Kanouse. 1996. The Sexual Practices of Adolescent
Virgins: Genital Sexual Activities of High School Students Who Have Never Had
Vaginal Intercourse. American Journal of Public Health 1996: 1570-1576.
Schwalbe, M.L., & M. Wolkomir. 2002. Interviewing Men. Pp. 203-219 in
Handbook of Interview Research: Context and Method. Edited by J.F. Gubrium &
J.A. Holstein. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Simmons, R.G., & D.A. Blyth. 1987. Moving into Adolescence: The Impact of Pubertal
Change and School Context. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Smith, D. 1990. Texts, Facts, and Femininity: Exploring the Relations of Ruling.
London: Routledge.
Smith, E.A., & J.R. Udry. 1985. Coital and Non-Coital Sexual Behaviors of White and
Black Adolescents. American Journal of Public Health 75:1200-1203.
Sonenstein, F.L., L.C. Ku, L.D. Lindberg, C.F. Turner, & J.H. Pleck. 1998. Changes in
Sexual Behavior and Condom Use Among Teenaged Males: 1988 to 1995.
American Journal of Public Health, 88:956-959.
Sonenstein, F.L., J.H. Pleck, & L.C. Ku. 1989. Sexual Activity, Condom Use, and
AIDS Awareness Among Adolescent Males. Family Planning Perspectives,
21:152-158.
Sonenstein, F.L., K. Stewart, D.L. Lindberg, M. Pemas, & S. Williams. 1997. Involving
Males in Preventing Teen Pregnancy: A Guide for Program Planners. The
California Wellness Foundation: The Urban Institute.
Sprecher, S., A. Barbee, & P. Schwartz. 1995. Was It Good For You, Too?: Gender
Differences in First Sexual Intercourse Experiences. The Journal of Sex Research
32:3-15.
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Their Sexual Status. The Journal of Sex Research 33:3-15.


266
thrust upon them by peers or the media. Recognizing these terms as the foundation of
these alternative masculinities should allow researchers conducting future studies on
adolescent males to rapidly identify them through their points of conflict with other
constructions of manhood, particularly hegemonic masculinity.
Other guys resist hegemonic masculinity by claiming a position outside the
gender order, an approach that is similar to the move toward color blindness that some
people, most often Whites, espouse as the answer to racial tensions. In both cases, people
who generally advocate equality and reject any intention to oppress others argue that the
best way to end the inequality in question is to deny the relevance of the category on
which it is based. The philosophy purports to be profoundly humanistic: We need to
stop treating each other as White people, Black people, men, or women, and relate to one
another just as people.
In race and ethnic studies, color blindness has been criticized as a naiveif often
well-intentionedmaneuver of the dominant group (Whites) that allows them to
maintain their power and privilege without engaging the institutional racism on which it
is based. In a very basic sense, this criticism can be leveled at gender blindness as well.
A male who repudiates the importance of gender as a social category obscures his male
privilege and the subjugation of women on which it is founded. The similarity ends
there, however, because appeals to gender and color blindness resonate differently within
their respective dominant groups. Within the dominant White racial group, renouncing
the importance of color is typically met with benign acceptance, except in communities
that espouse White supremacy. Within the gender order, however, a guy rejecting
masculinity is explicitly or implicitly attacking the masculinities hierarchy and directing


38
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 teens 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 adolescents 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


101
frequently counterbalance this mention of nonvirgins with reference to like-minded
friends who share their commitment to abstinence before marriage. The discursive effect
is to set up a traditional good versus bad struggle within which the virgin guy can
locate his identity and judge his decisions about sexual behavior.
Articulating Self
As they locate themselves within the discourse of piety, virgins try to construct a
favorable identity. By and large, the qualities they strive to portray are their interest in
self-improvement, resoluteness in their commitment to virginity, and independent
mindedness. In the following interview extract, for instance, Matthew describes how his
commitment to virginity evolved from something he accepted out of blind faith to
something he has decided that he wants for himself in his quest to be the best person he
can be.
Over a length of time, you know I was, you know, I guess, you know, they were
saying, you know, You shouldnt have sex before marriage. And I was, like,
You know, okay, you know, I wont do that just because that was more of
like a rule to me. [Int: Right] You know, You dont do that. And I was, like,
You know, thats fine, whatever. And then, but then over a length of time a
started thinking, you know, I dont want a kid, so I dont want to do that just
because I dont want to. Its not that its a rule, its that I dont want to. I believe
thats what God, you know, wants for me. So that, you know, is over a length of
time.
(Matthew: 15-year-old, White, virgin)
For the most part, commitment to virginity allows these guys to construct a positive self-
image by identifying with religious and moral values. They are, in a sense, winning the
battle for the side of good.
The overarching scenario of a battle makes the possibility of failure ever-present,
however, and selves sometimes appear susceptible to temptation or torn by the effort to
maintain virginity, as the following exchange illustrates.


85
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 Labovs 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 studiesthat 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


141
Identifying Narrative Strategies
Before I introduce the five narrative strategies that I will examine in this chapter, I
should provide the caveat that identifying narrative strategies is, like identifying and
describing discourses, an act of interpretation. There are no hard and fast rules that guide
an analyst in deciding that a speaker is doing something significant with language at one
point and not another, nor are there directives for how he or she should define and label
what that significant something is. Likewise, once a narrative strategy is identified,
even one as ubiquitous as story, interpretation is still required to determine whether
particular sequences of talk should be included in the category. All of these
qualifications are not to say that narrative analysts are chasing ghosts or that anything
goes. The fact that stories do get identified and do get analyzed is proof against that
suggestion. Nevertheless it is worth noting that this can be slippery business. Focusing
on what the guys accomplished with language in any given sequence and how they did
so, I have identified five general categories that I believe represent distinct strategies of
meaning-making that pervade the interviews. My decisions were guided by my interest
in the guys presentation of sexual selves, a desire to examine any formal narratives
that were presented, and the need to characterize how guys asserted meanings in the
absence of formal narratives. Other analysts, guided by other imperatives, would likely
identify some other strategies or categorize particular sequences of talk differently. I am
confident, however, that their interpretations would share much with mine and they
would recognize the reasoning and interpretive value behind my decisions.
By my reckoning, five narrative strategies were essential to the self-construction
that took place in the interviews. I call those strategies telling, presenting selves,


137
epiphany story is a well-established form of narrative (Denzin 1989; Woodward 2001),
and its use in these cases has a number of important implications. First, it represents one
form of story that guys do have in a meaning-making arsenal that is relatively bereft of
story forms. (The full compliment of stories that guys made use of in my interviews will
be described in the next chapter.) Second, it provides further evidence that guys tend to
experience and articulate their introduction to different discourses or horizons of meaning
in different ways. We have already seen, for instance, that different sorts of people tend
to be described as conveyers of the discourse of piety (e.g., parents; youth ministers) as
compared with the discourse of relationship (e.g., female friends; media sources).
This is not to say that the epiphany story could never be the vehicle through
which guys articulate their appreciation of other discourses. Matthew, a religious virgin,
articulates his decision to commit to virginity as one consequence of his being saved, and
he conveys the experience of being saved and accepting Christ into his life through an
epiphany story. The point is simply that the nature of the others that propagate ways of
interpreting the sexual realm does generally vary across discourses because different
meaning systems link most effectively to different cultural concerns.
Given that worry, as an horizon of meaning for sexual decision making, is
organized around risk and fear, it should not be surprising when guys present their
awareness of it through epiphany stories. Certainly fearful experiences, as much as any
others, have the potential for transformative impacts on our lives. Also, the epiphany
stories remind us that the outside influences or others we speak of should be considered
most broadly to include influential experiences as well as people.


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Habitual Narratives
Like some hypothetical narratives, habitual narratives amalgamate multiple events
and thus are presented in an indefinite time frame. They differ from hypotheticals,
however, in that all of the events are purported to have actually happened. Indeed, much
of the force of the narrative results from the assertion that the events described do not
change from one instance to the next. For instance, when Drew and I are discussing sex
education, he volunteers this habitual narrative about the impact the possibility of STDs
has on his sexual activity:
Well, youre always worried about getting an STD. I dont usually think about
that till afterwards. And then I like, Huh. Well, I used a condom, so I guess it's
alright. Im not gonna worry about it. I dont really worry about much.
(Drew: 18-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
Beginning by asserting that one is always worried about STDs, Drew presents a
series of events that typify his response to that ever-present concern: He keeps it out of
his mind until after he has had sex, then reassures himself that he is safe because he used
a condom.
Another example of a habitual narrative is provided by Darryl when I ask him
where he got his information about sex:
Like, you know, like, school they always have presentation. They always used to
talk about it. So through that. And like sometimes, you know, through classes,
you know, talk about it or teachersll bring up the topic and like they'll debate
about it, you know. It wasnt likeI never had sex educationbut [I got
information] through middle school through high school. So I was aware of
certain things.
(Darryl: 18-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Here, Darryl constructs a habitual narrative as a way of demonstrating the
pervasiveness of sexual information in school, rather than its concentration in a single
instance, like a sex-education class. Darryl produces an image of his middle and high


83
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 earlierputting the notion of
language as constructive of reality at the heart of the analysis. I suspect that
othersnotably 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 Reissmans 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 Reissmans equation of true narrative analysis


269
think it would behoove me to prepare better strategies to help guys if I attempt to brook
the topic in the future. At this point, I can only speculate as to what those strategies
might be. One option might be asking about male role models. Given that masculinities
are largely produced and enacted for male audiences, another helpful strategy might be
encouraging guys to talk about situations that affected their standing among their male
peers. The key, I think, is to make the issue more relevant and less daunting to the guys
who face it. My experience with this study has demonstrated to me that that is not easy.
Getting at guys sense of their own masculinity is important, however, so developing
these strategies is a high priority for me and should be for anyone who wants to explore
masculinities in an interview context.
Another limitation I see in this project with respect to the study of masculinities
has to do with the identification of types of masculinities from guys articulations of the
three discourses. With my focus on the production of meaning at the level of narrative, I
think I have done a good job of demonstrating how guys personalize resources for
constructing masculinities through narrative practice. Such personalization can be
overemphasized, however, leading to the impression that all masculine identities are
distinct, individualized. One starts to imagine that there is little that is social about
masculinities at all, since each guy simply creates his own from available resources.
I have tried to prevent this misinterpretation by relating the narrative work of
individual guys to more or less cohesive modes of masculinity, such as hegemonic
masculinity and others I have called gentlemanly masculinity and relational masculinity.
But in retrospect, it seems to me that these notions of collective masculinity are
oversimplifications, and I believe I know why. I think my efforts were frustrated by the


157
with two qualifications in mind, both of which remind us of the active aspects of the
interview context.
First, the narratives that result from my exchanges with a participant are
collaborative productions, not completions of preexisting stories. Although it may seem
that my role is to help a guy finish a story, in truth what my intervention does is direct
his meaning-making process. In some cases, this may remind him of aspects of a story he
has neglected, but it is just as likely to encourage him to produce meanings that would
not otherwise occur to him. For instance, had I not specifically asked what Matthews
girlfriends position on dating was, would the story have ended with the two of them
realizing they shared a common perspective? The point is simply that collaborative
narratives do not help to advance some innate script that guides the interview. They are
productions that take the interview into new territory, and they occur primarily because of
my assumption that stories are a powerful means of conveying meaning.
The second qualification is that calling these exchanges collaborative narratives
should not blind us to the fact that the entire interview process is fundamentally a
collaboration. In most cases, the collaboration operates with me, the interviewer,
orienting the other participant to particular issues and encouraging them to produce
accounts in relation to them. Such was the case, for instance, when I asked L.J. to
speculate about the effects of having a different sort of upbringing. But there are
instances in any interviewand particularly in deliberately active onesin which the
subjective positions of interviewer and interviewee are contested, suppressed or modified.
For instance, Derrick comments during our interview that it is difficult to know how to
frame certain responses about his sexual decision making since he does not know where


43
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 teens
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


25
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


158
I was coming from. Taking this as an implicit question, I essentially take his place as
respondent and tell him the story of the evolution of my sexual decision making and
my virginity loss. Situations like this that destabilize the presumed roles of the
participants occur to a greater or less extent in virtually every interview and should serve
as a constant reminder that interviewing is always and unalterably collaborative.
In sum, the guys in this study often produce meanings by sequencing and
interpreting events; however, this telling, as I call it, does not always take story form.
Sometimes the scenarios described are hypothetical, sometimes they exemplify
circumstances that are experienced as habitual, and sometimes the production of the
telling is dependent on collaboration with me. The question of why many of the guys tell
few bona fide stories is an important one that I take up in Chapter 8. For our immediate
purposes, however, the important feature of the interviews is the proliferation of tellings,
not the shortage of stories, for the tellings demonstrate the guys active use of the story
form as a narrative strategy, regardless of whether actual stories are produced.
Presenting Selves
When the guys narrate their experience using one of the forms of telling, one of
the results is almost always some sense of themselves. But they do not depend solely on
tellings to narrate themselves. The guys also make use of three unique narrative
strategies to produce direct, deliberate depictions of themselves. The first two of
theseidentity claims and distancingare typically short declarative statements of who
the speaker is or is not. The third, biographical work (Holstein & Gubrium 2000a),
describes a more extensive passage in which an identity is not so much claimed or
disclaimed, but negotiated. Although each of these narrative strategies can be used in the


152
his wife and family are more valuable than the sexual satisfaction he might get having
sex with (hittin) some random woman. While I certainly wonder about the
designation of a mans wife as in-house vagina, I cannot deny that Jerrys hypothetical
effectively articulates his sense that married men ought to be able to weigh the benefit
of infidelity against the cost of risking ones family.
A more down-to-earth example of a hypothetical narrative appears in my
conversation with Sean. In the course of our discussing sex differences in young
peoples interest in and reactions to virginity commitments, I ask Sean if he thinks guys
and girls respond differently to social pressures to be sexually active. His answer is
dominated by a hypothetical narrative that compares girls' and guys reactions to
attractive people:
When youre with guys, for a guy, youre more pressured into doing it than if you
were a girl [Int: Uhm-hm.] because I think that guys are more open to talk about
than, than girls are. I mean, I mean, you sit with some guys and if a good-looking
girl walks by, theyre gonna comment. You know, theyre gonna be like, you
know, I wouldnt mind getting some play with that girl, something like that.
And girlsll just be like, That guy, that guy, that guy theres hot, you know.
[Int: Right.] I mean, so its kinda like, guys are more open than girls, I think, are.
Or from, from what I know, they are.
(Sean: 16-year-old, White, virgin)
After a sentence that suggests how we should hear what is to come, Sean launches
into a narrative (starting at the third line) in which fictional events happen (e.g., a girl
walks by; guys make sexually suggestive comments) to actors that are mere typifications
(a group of guys, a good-looking girl, and a group of girls). Like Jerry, Sean is thus able
to reveal something about how he understands a specific issue, even though his own life
experience may not include one distinct story that conveys that understanding.


219
of the discourse of piety into a narrative that began with identity claims consistent with
the conquest discourse, the two discourses are intertwined in Derricks narrative from the
outset. Throughout his narrative Derrick stakes claims to the identities of both the
player and the pious virgin. As the following passage demonstrates, this rather
convoluted identity work is evident early on in the interview. After briefly describing his
religious upbringing, Derrick talks about his current partying lifestyle, and the clash of
identity claims is startling:
I: What happens at those parties? [laughs]
R: What do you mean?
I: Well, uhm, in terms ofI mean, are they tame? Are they wild? Is there a
lot of alcohol? Is there?
R: Depends on the night. Theres always a lot of alcohol. They will get to
the point where theyre wasted out of their mind and they dont even
comprehend whats going on, so theres no chance of them picking up.
And then theres points where its a few beers and, you know, I'm in the
mood to, in the zone, kind of thing. Game A. A game.
I: Right. Now thats for them. Or is that for you, too?
R: Thats for me, too. I mean, I get wasted and stuff where I dont know
whats goin on, but I do notYou know, Im a virgin and I plan on
stayin that way. But, you know, Ive come close after nights like that,
goin to parties or goin out to clubs or whatever.
I: So you definitely hook up with women.
R: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, there hasnt been like 20, but more than one,
so.
(Derrick: 18-year-old, White, virgin)
By his own admission, Derrick is enjoying wild, alcohol-soaked nights with his
roommates and friends, and he clearly enjoys hooking up with girls in the course of
these festivities. In this regard, he is every bit the player that epitomizes hegemonic


53
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 scaleswhether 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.


206
claims to hegemonic masculinity. He highlights his curiosity about and readiness for sex
at an early age, identifies his experience of virginity loss with his emergence as a man,
and describes girls as threats to male social groups. At the same time, however, he
rejects the identity of the player, which is at the heart of the conquest notion of
manhood:
Everybody, when they see me, they be thinking I got a lot of kids cause how old I
look. They be like, You bout twenty-five. You got like four kids. Some girls
might say that and they be like, L, hes a pimp player and all that stuff. Man,
that aint me. I can be if I want to. If I choose to. But that aint me. Cause I'm
lookin for something besides just having sex with women and just goin on like
that. I want something that I know I can just come home to and know she gonna
be there and not with no bullshit. Even though bullshit is gonna be in a
relationship anyway because thats basically how life is.
(L.J.: 17-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Considered in light of his unqualified acceptance and promotion of so any other aspects
of the discourse of conquest, L.J.s insistence that he is not a player seems incongruous.
Suddenly, a guy who associates himself with so many of the characteristics of hegemonic
masculinity is drawing on the discourse of relationship to depict himself as someone who
wants more than just sex.
I do not want to dismiss L.J.s assertion that he is interested in having meaningful
relationships. In several parts of the interview he describes relationships he has had that
have lasted more than 6 months, and more than once he expresses strong, caring feelings
for his partners. But considered in context, L.J.s rejection of the player identity does
not translate into a repudiation of the conquest discourse in favor of the discourse of
relationship. Rather, it represents one element in the construction of a different
masculinity predicated on conquest resources, one that privileges action over self
promotion. Rhetorically speaking, the primary reason that L.J. distances himself from


243
feels good. A virgin is uptight all the time. They, like, pushy-pushy. They got
like a little attitude, just like girls. They always got a little attitude. To me. they
just need, you know, a little piece.
(Jerry: 19-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Depicting virgins as pushy-pushy and just like girls and insisting that they can
resolve these conditions by getting a little piece (i.e., losing their virginity), Jerry
constructs a connection between virginity loss and manhood that reflects hegemonic
ideals to a tee. This denigration of virgins, furthermore, carries with it an implicit
affirmation of Jerrys own status as a nonvirgin, which bolsters his claim to this marker
of hegemonic masculinity. Thus, Jerrys belief that relationships are a necessary
prerequisite for sexual intercourse does not prevent him from constructing his manhood
in terms that privilege being experienced.
He faces greater rhetorical challenges, however, when he tries to link his
masculinity to another hallmark of hegemonic masculinitysex talk that objectifies
girlswhile simultaneously maintaining the importance of relationships. The
objectification of girls is part and parcel of the conquest reduction of females to their
sexual potential, and it underlies the restriction of girls to the borders of guys lives that is
policed by notions like pussy-whipping. Therefore, if Jerry wants to identify with this
treatment of girls, he must somehow finesse the contradiction that it appears to create in
his masculine self-presentation. His strategy is to align himself with the objectification of
girls, but in a modified way. He qualifies his acceptance of this behavior by
distinguishing between inappropriate talk with acceptable talk, the latter of which he
associates with the identity of the gentleman:
I: Like around school and stuff, the guys that you hang out with, how much
talk about sex is there?


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Mark David Cohan was bom in Hartford, Connecticut, and raised in Ormond
Beach, Florida. In 1989 he graduated with high honors from the University of Florida
with a degree in English. For the next several years, he worked as a medical editor at the
Anesthesiology Department of the Health Science Center at the University of Florida
before beginning graduate work in the University of Florida Department of Sociology in
1993. He received his masters degree in 1995, and his masters thesis was subsequently
published in The Sociological Quarterly under the title, Political Identities and Political
Landscapes: Mens Narrative Work in Relation to Womens Issues. Since the
publication of his thesis, he has co-authored numerous articles on fatherhood and
qualitative methods with William Marsiglio and presented on various aspects of active
interviewing and interpretive sociology at regional sociological meetings. He currently
lives in Seattle, Washington, with his fiance, Dr. Randi Lincoln, where he is a part-time
instructor for Western Washington University.
296
j


228
The need to belong affects how the discourse is articulated a moderate amount, as
guys actively construct the importance of male peer groups (male fraternities) and
routinely engage other guys in virginity status tests to determine whether or not they
belong with nonvirgins. Independence is not as powerful a mediator of this discourse,
but Jordans narrative demonstrates that it can influence how guys articulated the
discourse of conquest if they reject the importance of the male fraternity.
Masculinity is by far the most influential mediator of how the discourse is
articulated. Articulating the discourse of conquest affords guys the opportunity to claim
hegemonic masculinity, but it also confronts them with a host of related narrative
challenges. Presenting themselves as too enamored with the trappings of hegemonic
masculinity raises the possibility that their identities will be discredited as
hypermasculine. Conversely, rejecting key elements of the discourse leaves one's claim
to hegemonic masculinity in doubt. In both instances, guys feel compelled to account for
their level of commitment to the discourse in an effort to achieve the masculine
presentation they desire.
Even if their degree of commitment to the discourse is not an issue, however,
guys strategies for articulating it are effected by concerns about masculinity. In the
course of presenting themselves in terms consistent with the discourse of conquest, guys
face the imminent danger that some aspect of their experience will be inconsistent with
hegemonic masculinity. Out of concern for the opinions of authority figures, they may
minimize the role they play in achieving their sexual accomplishments. For reasons
particular to a given situation, they may have declined a sexual opportunity they had. Or,
they may be uncomfortable about raising with their partners the possibility of having sex.


33
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 Halpern,
and their colleagues. In 1985, they reported on a cross-sectional study that showed a


7
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


189
member of a fraternity that consists of older males, including his uncle. Most of the guys
indicate that their male fraternities consist of guys who are their age. The age difference
between Alvin and the rest of the members of his male fraternity likely accentuates the
sense of hierarchy in this case. At the same time, it aptly reflects the kind of striving for
emblems of adult masculinity, like sexual experience, that characterize male fraternities.
Jamals description of the terms of belonging he associates with his fraternity
underscores this point. Among his peers, acceptance and standing are garnered not just
by demonstrating success with girls, but by displaying other hallmarks of hegemonic
masculinity as well, such as fighting and being wealthy. The inclusion of these latter
criteria in the status accounting of the male fraternity is not common among the guys I
interviewed, but it is consistent with the notion of male fraternities as domains within
which the terms of belonging are linked to the practicein all senses of the wordof
hegemonic masculinity.
An interest in sex and the display of heterosexuality are not the only ties that bind
a male fraternity together, however. Male fraternities are also constructed as groups that
extol the bonds of brotherhood. As such, they emphasize and encourage guys social
distance from girls, and they foster the notion that guys owe loyalty to other members of
the fraternity precisely because they are males. L.J. articulates the centrality of maleness
and loyalty to the fraternity in a story he tells about a friend who isin L.J.s
wordspussy-whipped. The evaluation portion of that story sums up his points:
Man, its like this cat he dont wanna keep with the boys no more, Man. He be
like at the girls house all day, all night. [Us two (?)] he aint wanna spend time
with. But, Man, your boys were here before your girl. Know what Im say in'?
Keep it real. Hang with your boys. He was just getting pussy-whipped and
wanna go walk to the girls.
(L.J.: 17-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)


57
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
virginsmore than one-third, according to estimatesmay 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.


20
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.


112
Furthermore, the vulnerabilities associated with virginity within this discourse are
not limited to susceptibility to others taunts. Virginity is also presented as a direct threat
to the bearers physical and mental health and his self-concept. It threatens the self
because guys internalize the message that it must be shed, preferably sooner rather than
later. Evan articulates this concern (linked to a presumed hyper-sexuality among people
in his generation) when I ask what it would be like for him if he had stayed virgin into his
late teens:
R: I would probably think something was wrong with me.
I: Why?
R: Because, I mean, nowadays more people are havin sex than becoming
virgins. I think it used to be, back then, like in the olden days, like when
like my grandparents were around, it used to be more people were virgins
in the teenager-type thing.
(Evan: 15-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
Virginity threatens physical mental health, according to this discourse, because guys find
it difficult to cope with unsatisfied sexual urges:
I: Do you remember anything about what it felt like to be a virgin?
R: Uhm, stressful.
I: Yeah?
R: Its like all I thought about.
I: For how long?
R: [laughs] I went to sleep thinkin about sex. I woke up thinkin about sex.
[Int: Okay.] It was on my mind all day.
(Drew: 18-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
Here, the conquest of discourse fosters another strange irony: In an era of global concern
about the spread of deadly sexual transmitted diseases, virginity (not having sex) is


79
perspective, Seymour Chatman (see Sandelowski 1991) and Faye Ginsburg (see
Reissman 1993) have specifically examined emplotment 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, emplotment is implied but not
highlighted. For instance, William Labovs 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 narrators
interpretation of and attitude toward the action; a resolution that tells what finally
happened; and a coda that returns the narrators perspective to the present. Here, the
orientation and complicating action would most likely identify the place where
emplotment occurs. Likewise, in Kenneth Burkes description of narrative (see Reissman
1993) as consisting of act, scene, agency, and purpose, we can intuit which elements
would contribute to emplotment, 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
emplotment. 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


90
Eder and her colleagues found, not surprisingly, that traditional norms of
masculinity held great sway in the developing adolescent culture. Dominance, disregard
for the feelings of others, and an orientation toward girls as sexual property" and tokens
in competitions between boys were values that received continual reiteration and
reinforcement in boys and girls speech routines. The collective and constructive power
of these routines is evident when the researchers describe an instance in which interaction
with male peers encouraged one boy to alter his narrative regarding sexuality from one
that considered what was situationally appropriate to a more impersonal and aggressive
one. Eder and associates contend that examples like this one demonstrate how traditional
notions of masculinity come to dominate and constrain adolescents constructions of
gender and sexuality and their notions of appropriate sexual scripts.
Though all routines frequently served to reproduce and reinforce traditional
gender norms and hierarchies, some provided greater opportunities for the construction
and adherence to nontraditional gender dynamics. For instance, several male friends
telling a story together could support each other in the construction of a narrative that
subverted the traditional male stricture against showing fear in the face of danger. On the
other hand, insult exchanges among boys (and even among mixed-gender groups)
typically depended on traditional notions of hegemonic masculinity and were structured
in such a way that resisting them could easily cause relatively playful exchanges to turn
deliberately hostile.
While the decision by Eders team to study adolescents primarily through field
observation has the advantage of addressing the children in their natural setting and thus
making the youths everyday modes of interpretive practice available for analysis, the


250
own terms, Andrew seeks to topple the hierarchy and earn a privileged spot for
nongendered humanness. Finally, it may simply be that Andrews identity is
contradictory with respect to masculinity: He believes that gender should be
unimportant. He certainly believes that sex should not be associated with manhood. At
the same time, however, he prefers to think of himself as masculine, and in the absence of
other mainstream avenues for demonstrating that masculinity, he turns to fighting.
Andrews response to the narrative challenge to masculinity faced by committed
virgins is unique in being so convoluted and seemingly contradictory. But the basic
problem he wrestles with confronts all these guys: How should a guy respond to the
expectation that he display masculinity when his choices with regard to sex alienate him
from the discourse associated with ideal manhood? The virgin guys are united in
challenging the established ideal of masculinity, but they have different ideas about what
sort of identity to claim in its place. Some, like Donnie, construct an alternative
masculinity on terms consistent with their chosen discourse of sexual decision making.
Others, like Sean and Andrew, flirt with rejecting the need to be masculine in the same
way that Andrew abandons the need to belong. Whatever resolution they seek, the
intense rhetorical work these guys do in relation to masculinity is testament to its
presence as a pressing identity concern, even among guys who wish to reject it.
Independence and the Discourse of Piety
In the same way that guys recognize that committing to virginity place them outside
of mainstream articulations of adolescent male masculinity, pious virgins seem keenly
aware that their adherence to religious interpretations of sexual issues raise questions
about their independence. Considered alongside many guys who spend their adolescent


69
1990). It may be to our advantage, however, to withhold judgment on Thorne'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.)


28
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.


21
In Part II, I delve into the construction of the young mens 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 5,1 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
adolescencemasculinity, 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 agenamely, that they be masculine, independent, and
accepted by others. Chapter 6 examines how these three identity agendas mediate boys


233
belonging and independence according to peer standards. To the extent that the
discourses of piety and relationship offer different ways for guys to address these aspects
of their identity agendas, they constitute resources for dissidence from the dominant
approach. But this dissidence frequently comes with a price, as guys feel compelled to
account for the subversive identities they construct. Thus, the narrative challenges
faced by those who articulate the discourse of piety or the discourse of relationship are,
by and large, generated by and relate back to the mainstream orientation to adolescent
male sexual decision making that is consistent with the discourse of conquest.
My explication of the narrative challenges associated with these two dissident
discourses is organized in terms of the mediating factors that prompt them. I begin by
examining the narrative challenges associated with belonging and then shift attention to
those related to masculinity. In each case, the nature of the challenge dictates logical
divisions within the section, but these divisions are different for each mediator. With
belonging, it makes sense to tell a separate story for each discourse. With masculinity,
however, it is more constructive to group those who articulate the discourse of piety with
those who articulate a strong commitment to relationships, and then tell another, unique
story about guys who articulate a weak commitment to relationships. Finally, since
independence appears to create challenges primarily for guys committed to piety, this
mediator is discussed solely in relation to that discourse at the close of the chapter.
Navigating Challenges to Belonging
The tendency for the narrative challenges associated with these discourses to be
driven by their variation from the discourse of conquest is nowhere more evident than
with respect to belonging. Guys who articulate either the discourse of piety or


183
These and other poignant depictions of boys struggles to claim masculinities during
adolescence date from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, loosely mirroring the period
during which some men were spurred to a personal, self-conscious examination of their
manhood by their encounters with feminism.
Although the promulgation of such stories appears to have abated in the past ten
years in favor of theoretical and sociopolitical critiques of masculinities, many of the
cultural features that provide a context for such stories remain, including age-segregated
school environments that invite boys to compare themselves with their peers and a
relative lack of bona fide sexual education in a culture that is saturated with sexual
messages. In light of this context and the persistence of the coming of age narrative as
an expression of adolescent male experience, I feel confident in asserting that coming to
terms with the masculine (however defined) is an on-going, pressing identity concern for
contemporary young men. As such, it is bound to mediate how the guys I interviewed
use available discourses to account for their decisions about sexual behavior and how
they present themselves in relation to those decisions.
Masculinity, Mediation, and Hegemony
Managing this on-going identity concern compels these boys to relate themselves
in some way to the hegemonic mode of masculinity. As the commonly accepted ideal of
manhood, the mode that tops the hierarchy of masculinities, the hegemonic form
ostensibly represents how every guy should strive to be a man. In the mid-1970s,
psychologist Robert Brannon summarized this standard of manhood in four catch
phrases:


155
I: What was her, uhm, part in the situation? What was her approach?
R: It was the same. She talked to her parents. She talked to some of her
friends. And we both decided, you knowShe came back and, it was
weird because she was like the same thing, you know, both at the same
time, we were like, you know, I dont think thats right or whatever. So
weShe was basically the same way as I was.
I: Well, thats good.
R: Yeah. Thats was pretty cool.
(Matthew: 15-year-old, White, virgin)
At Matthews first turn in this exchange, he simply answers my question: He
knew he needed advice because he was having doubts. However, he also suggests that
his prospective girlfriend was having similar doubts and that he was going to talk to his
parents and friends. In essence, he insinuates that there was a series of events that
unfolded, but only clearly describes the first one (i.e., the doubts). As to the rest, he
leaves us wondering, What happened next? With some additional prompting, Matthew
provides an answer to that question and evaluates the whole experience as pretty cool.
The end result is that Matthew and I collaboratively produce a story that begins with
Matthews doubts about dating and ends with a meeting of the minds between two
youth who are concerned with staying pure.
In my interview with Morgan, there is an instance in which narrative
collaboration proceeds in a rather unique way. We are discussing the ways that virgins
are treated in his high school, and Morgan indicates that a group of kids he calls preps
are the ones most likely to ridicule virgins. I intend to ask Morgan if he has ever
witnessed one of the preps hassling a virgin, but he takes the conversation in a different
direction:


226
masculinity? Does he somehow hope to belong both to a male fraternity and a
committed, love relationship?
In subsequent parts of his interview, Grady might have endeavored to resolve
these contradictions in favor of one discourse (and view of himself) or another. For
instance, he might have renounced the male fraternity or rejected the tendency, associated
with the conquest discourse, to generalize negative attributes of some girls to all girls.
Either of these rhetorical moves would have strengthened his claim to a relational
masculinity and located his sense of belonging more in relationships than in male peer
groups. Conversely, one option that might have allowed him to preserve love as
something more than an illusion while simultaneously demonstrating a masculinity
consistent with the discourse of conquest would be fighting for exclusive rights to a
girl. Grady employs none of these strategies, however, and as a result the identity he
presents is contradictory, plagued by the incompatibility of his desire for love and his
belief in the conquest depiction of girls as fickle and threatening.
The cases of Grady, Jordan, and Derrick demonstrate vividly the enormous
challenges inherent in attempting to construct identities by blending resources from
competing discourses. In some instances, exemplified by Derrick and Jordan, one
discourse appears to be dominant, and the articulation of aspects of another end up,
intentionally or unintentionally, fortifying that dominance. In others, like Gradys,
neither discourse assumes uncontested dominance, and the result is unresolved
contradictions. Regardless of the outcome, every effort at reconciliation brings the
mediating effect of social factors to the fore, for these mediators are the focal point of the
incompatibilities between the discourses. As we have seen, each discourse offers


258
So, starting from the simple ideas that it makes sense to explore young men's
sexual decisions on their own terms and that doing so would shed light on their strategies
for self-presentation, I developed a rather complex analytical framework. The products
of the consequent analysis can, however, be presented in relatively simple terms.
First, it is clear that the discourse of conquest holds a preeminent position among
the three discourses for these guys because the orientation to girls, sex, virginity, and
manhood it offers is consistent with popular, well-publicized images of adolescent life
and how boys should live it. When guys construct their sexual identities, they necessarily
account for the position they stake out vis-a-vis the discourse of conquest.
Similarly, masculinity appears to be the most pressing of the three identity
concerns that mediate the guys articulations of the discourses. It raises the greatest
number of narrative challenges and is the target of some of the most complex narrative
practice. In confronting the narrative challenges associated with masculinity, guys also
variously construct, reinforce, and challenge a hierarchy of masculinities. The
hegemonic form at the top of this hierarchy is predicated on sex as an indication of
manhood, the importance of homosocial bonds between males, the denigration of
virginity, and the marginalization of girls. Guys who commit to virginity face the
greatest difficulty constructing a sense of masculinity against this ideal, but even guys
who aspire to identify with the hegemonic standard often find it riddled with
contradictions and hazards. Concern with masculinity also contributes to the importance
of the discourse of conquest, as that discourse provides the narrative resources for the
construction of hegemonic masculinity.


45
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 (Vernon, 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


13
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 brothers 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 ones 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.


253
is not the dependent person he once was, and he can never go back to that state because
of the personal, intentional growth that he made happen. In this way, Matthew's claim to
independence may be as strong or stronger than that of guys who do not identify with an
initial state of dependence because his transformation story creates an insurmountable
distance from that dependence.
The cases of Sean and Matthew demonstrate two very different strategies for
asserting independence. Whereas Sean describes actual opportunities he had had to be
sexual and emphasizes his ability to resist temptation, Matthew focuses on the
philosophical process through which he internalized his commitment to virginity. These
two diverse examples thus demonstrate the variety of strategies pious virgins can bring to
bear on this narrative challenge, at the same time that it confirms the relevance of
independence to these guys identity agendas. Expecting that they may be seen as
followers at a point in the life course that practically demands rebellion, they expend
considerable energy to construct independence in their narratives.
Conclusion
The preceding discussion demonstrates clearly that guys who articulate the
discourses of relationship and piety face narrative challenges that are qualitatively
different, but no less pressing, than those who adopt the discourse of conquest. Indeed,
the challenges that confront the former group are largely a product of the ways in which
their orientations to sexual decision making differ from the conquest discourse.
Particularly among committed virgins, guys efforts to construct themselves as ones who
belong, as masculine, and as independent are complicated by their awareness that the
discourse of conquest provides the mainstream responses to these identity agendas.


271
conquest will continue to be an uphill battle unless they are supported by broader cultural
change. In the remainder of this section, I explore each of these lessons in turn, and,
where appropriate, I discuss changes they seem to warrant in adults perspectives on
adolescent males and in public policy.
The current study demonstrates the value of eliciting narratives of sexual decision
making from adolescent males, although one might argue it does so in a negative way.
The narratives provide a glimpse of the social world within sexual decisions are made,
and this glimpse should give us pause. To be sure, there are enclaves in this world in
which girls are respected; love, connection, and even spirituality are central to bonds that
become sexual; and virginity is treated as a virtue at best and a nonissue at worst. But
these are only enclaves. Regardless of their own orientation to sexual decision making,
all of the guys I interviewed indicate that the heart of this male adolescent world is far
different. By their own accounts, this is a world saturated with sexism and homophobia
that not only goes unchallenged but is a social lubricant in male-to-male interactions. It
is a world suffused in myths and half-truths about girls, sex, and STDs, and it is
populated by other malesusually friends, but sometimes older brothers, fathers, and
uncleswho seem to feel a duty to ensure that their charges adopt the conquest discourse
and lose their virginity. Much of this boy culture is hazardous to girls, who become
pawns in guys efforts to help other guys lose their virginity, are victimized by the sexual
double standard, or are derided as harpies that threaten the independence and brotherhood
of guys. Perhaps anyone, male or female, who has survived adolescence in an American
school has an inkling that this is how it is. However, narratives like the ones I have
collected give us the opportunity to look at it with new eyes and get beyond vapid clichs


98
elements of concern, but they receive different degrees of attention, depending on which
discourse is being articulated.
Also worthy of mention is the notion of risk as a factor in the guys sexual
decision making. Although my interviews do not suggest that worry over pregnancy,
STDs, or both inform a system of constructions and interpretations so complete that it can
be called a discourse, it clearly exists as a fourth way of relating to some aspects of male
adolescent sexuality. I discuss it briefly at chapters end as a distinct horizon of
meaning (Gubrium 1993) relevant to sexual decision making.
The Discourse of Piety
The organizing principle of the discourse of piety is the belief that youth ought to
stay abstinent until marriage because a higher, spiritual power decrees that they should.
In particular articulations, the boys may provide varying descriptions of what constitutes
abstinence or how their Gods words should be heard or interpreted, but the fundamental
message is that premarital sex should be avoided because, in a moral and religious sense,
it is wrong. Given the preeminence that teachings and religious doctrines are given in
this discourse, it is not surprising that boys using this discourse place great emphasis on
the influence of others.
Articulating Others
The designation others is a catch-all category that includes everyone that the
guys might talk about besides themselves, partners or potential partners, and women in
general. As articulated within the discourse of piety, others encompasses two specific
entities and three broad groups of people. The specific entities are God and the


CHAPTER 8
REFLECTIONS ON NARRATIVE AND IDENTITY
At the start, I pointed out that much of our understanding of life comes to us
through stories, and I noted that a research report like this one is, itself, another story,
albeit one that aspires to convey systematic, empirical knowledge, perhaps even a form of
truth. In keeping with this openness about the constructed nature of research knowledge,
I think it is appropriate at this juncture to reflect critically on the story I have told and
explore how it has been constructed.
Reorientation
The first point that becomes evident upon reflection is that this story is not the one
I initially planned to tell. When I envisioned this study and began conducting interviews
for it, I expected that it would focus on the stories young men told that exemplified their
sexual decision making. It soon became clear, however, that stories carried a relatively
small portion of the burden of meaning-making in the guys narratives. I took a step
back, then, and began to think about the narrative resources guys had at their disposal.
These resources could be used to construct stories, but they could also be arranged
meaningfully in other ways that typically slipped through the net cast by narrative
researchers who fixate on stories. Discourses, as repositories of narrative resources,
came to the fore, and the focus of the analysis shifted from the storying of sexual decision
making to the production of approaches to sexual decision making through the
articulation and management of discourse.
256


274
problem. In the case of the sex-related peer pressure faced by adolescent males, that
problem is homophobia. Consequently, if we want to help guys resist the discourse of
conquest and the pressure to be heterosexual that it fosters, our focus needs to be squarely
on combating homophobia. While it is unrealistic to expect that public policy or
education will eradicate the human tendency to form in-groups and out-groups, we can
teach young people that it is unacceptable to form such groups on the basis of
presumptions about and prejudices toward anothers sexual orientation. It is critical,
furthermore, that these efforts involve all youthboys and girls, virgins and nonvirgins,
heterosexuals and nonheterosexualsbecause the message will be ineffective if it
reaches just the victims and not the perpetrators of homophobia.
Giving youth the tools, knowledge, and social support to understand and combat
homophobia should help reduce the indignities guys visit on other guys, but by itself such
action is not enough to challenge the dominance of the discourse of conquest. Yet doing
so is critical, I think, for those who want to entice young men away from the discourse of
conquest toward other discourses, such as relationship or piety, or address the
dehumanizing effects the discourse can have on young women. Given the degree to
which the power of the conquest discourse is predicated on dehumanizing depictions of
girls and the feminization of other guys, any serious challenge to it needs to confront
sexism as well as homophobia.
Based on what the guys in this study have said, I think that two central elements
of any such challenge should be (1) working to counter the isolation from females that
guys tend to develop, as epitomized by male fraternities; and (2) advancing gender
awareness in much the same way that racial diversity is promoted. It seems to me that


61
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 generalizingin terms of gender or any other category relevant to the
issue at handcommonly associated with quantitative work.


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40
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).


283
male social groups, we only have access to the masculine display, never to an
individuals sense of self in the absence of pressures to perform masculinity. The
narratives that we collect in this context are no less valid than ones generated in one-on-
one interviews, but we must be aware that they are qualitatively different. For this
reason, a method that combines group interviews or observation with individual
interviews might be the most fruitful avenue for expansions of this project.
Final Thoughts
The multiple, interrelated stories that comprise this study can each teach us
something. The story of discourse and narrative demonstrates the interplay between
discourses that are seemingly in competition, and it forces us to rethink our understanding
of how life course transitions transpire. The story of men and masculinities offers an
appreciation of how the hierarchy of masculinities plays out at the level of narrative and a
glimpse at the struggles of those who align with subjugated masculinities. The story of
adolescent males sexual decision making demonstrates the value of analyzing narratives
on the topic. It also provides us knowledge we can use to try to foster more inclusive,
humane approaches to sexuality among future generations of young men. Finally, the
story of interviewing encourages us to reflect on the limitations of what I have
accomplished here and offers some ideas on how future studies can be more successful at
developing rapport with guys and soliciting stories from them.
I anticipate that all of these lessons will be helpful to me as I continue to pursue a
research agenda that emphasizes masculinities, sexualities, and qualitative methods. In
particular, this study suggests that in future projects I might (1) explore the questions of
narrative sophistication and recollections of virginity loss experiences by examining the


211
In describing what he tries to teach his friend and pointing out his friend's difficulties,
Evan creates an implicit contrast between his own and his friends knowledge of and
abilities with girls. Through the contrast, Evan asserts a claim to the player identity
(and its link to hegemonic masculinity) that might otherwise elude him, given his self-
effacing depictions of his sexual encounters.
The difficulty raised by declining sexthe second implicit challenge to conquest
masculinitiesis easy to imagine. The resources for constructing masculinities offered
by the discourse of conquest stress always being ready and eager for sex, being tough,
and showing no fear. On its face, choosing not to have sex when the opportunity presents
itself runs counter to these mandates and thus threatens a guys claim to these types of
masculinities. For instance, when James tells me about instances in which he turned
down opportunities for sex, he clearly recognizes this admission might raise questions
about his readiness for sex and, by extension, his masculinity. In an effort to head off this
implicit threat, he accounts for his actions with an elaborate hypothetical narrative that
contrasts his true motivations with the ones he expects others will impute to him:
R: Oh, all the time. I want to. I dont always go through with it [sex], but, I
mean, I want to. But I dont go through with it all the time.
I: Are thereWhat are theWhat distinguishes times when you go through
with it and times when you dont?
R: Feel better whenever you go through with it. You know what I'm sayin?
You just, you justWhenever you go through with it, you probably want
to. Youre probably thinking in your mind, I want to do this. I want to
do that. But whenever you dont want to, youre just thinking about it,
but you dont go through with it. Its just. I dont know why, but its just
harder to go through with it when you dont want to. And if you dont
want to, dont go through with it.
I: I guess I dont understand cause it sounds like you feel better when you
do go through with it.


5NARRATIVE STRATEGIES
140
Identifying Narrative Strategies 141
Telling 144
Stories 145
Hypothetical Narratives 151
Habitual Narratives 153
Collaborative Narratives 154
Presenting Selves 158
Identity Claims 159
Distancing 160
Biographical Work 163
Contrasting 167
Categorizing 169
Parroting 172
Quotations as Adjectives 172
Speaking for Collectives 173
Quotations as Straw Men 175
Conclusion 176
6 MEDIATING THE DISCOURSE OF CONQUEST 178
Narrative Challenges 178
The Three Mediators 180
Masculinity, Mediation, and Hegemony 183
The Relationship of the Discourse of Conquest to Hegemonic
Masculinity 185
Constructing the Importance of Belonging Within the Discourse of
Conquest 186
Male 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
Navigating Threats Implicit 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
Navigating Challenges to Belonging 233
Discourse of Piety 234
Discourse of Relationship 237
viii


CHAPTER 5
NARRATIVE STRATEGIES
In earlier chapters, I described how narrative practicethe analytical mode that
guides this studybrings together interest in discourses-in-practice and discursive
practice. The examination of the three discourses in Chapter 4 addressed the former. By
drawing on one or another of the discourses or meaning systems I described, the guys
bring various cultural understandings into the practice of providing relevant responses in
an interview. Turning to the latter, discursive practice, means shifting focus from the
cultural resources available for meaning-making to the role of the language user in
assembling meanings. Some of this meaning-making derives from rhetorical moves that
are idiosyncratic; a particular guys perspective on sexuality hinges on his interpretation
of a particular word, for instance. But much of the meaning-making process involves
context-specific use of general narrative strategies that all or many of the guys use and
that are, ostensibly, available to any competent speaker in virtually any instance of
narrative production. In Chapters 6 and 7,1 want to be able to examine the confluence
of discourses and idiosyncratic and general narrative strategies as the guys confront
specific narrative challenges. So in this chapter, I provide the last building block for that
analysis by examining general narrative strategies that the guys commonly used in the
interviews.
140


128
girls and relationships are articulated through the discourse of conquest. But guys also
say that relationships are valuable because they provide companionship and a context in
which two people give support to one anotherin the colloquial language, they are
there for each other. Darryl hinted at the importance of these aspects of relationships,
albeit in a one-sided manner, when I asked him what role girls play in his life: Hmm.
Someone, you know. Like, someone whos like a companion toward you. Shes there
for you. Someone you can rely on, trust (Darryl: 18-year-old, African-American,
nonvirgin). Another value attributed to relationships hinges on the notion of
understanding and being understood, and is often captured in the word connection:
Me and her had a connection, like a serious connection. Like anything I would
talk about she agree with and shell disagree with it, cause, you know, everybody
have their own opinion. She was cool like that. Anything I did she always just
tell me, Let me know where you are at. Make sure you let me know who youre
with, so anything happen so I can let somebody know what is going on or where
you at when your momma call. And she was telling me that right there. We had
like a deep discussion. That let me know she was real down for me.
(L.J.: 17-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
I dont see how people cant put, you know, 98.5 percent of the emphasis on, you
know, being able to connect with someone mentally. And that little physical
connection should be in their somewhere because ... if youre sexually attracted
to someone or not, you really cant just throw that aside completely, you know.
(Andrew: 17-year-old, White, virgin)
Connections, being there and the other features mentioned all buttress the discourse
of relationship because they suggest why one might chose to make the pursuit of a
relationship the guiding principle of ones sexual decision making.
The value of relationships is also articulated in terms of loss or absence. Many
guys describe breaking up with a girl or realizing that a prospective relationship is not
going to pan out as an emotionally difficult experience. Grady, for instance, presents


31
Health (73%) and the YRBS (81%) estimates. Among Hispanic males, the YRBS
estimate (63%) was significantly higher than the NS AM 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,


257
This analytical reorientation facilitated a particularly deliberate examination of
the constituent elements of the guys narrative practice. On the side of narrative
resources, I traced the contours of three discourses of sexual decision making (plus a
horizon of meaning) suggested by the guys ways of talking about sex, virgins, virginity,
girls, manhood, and other aspects relevant to sexuality. Then I attended to the guys
active use of these resources by identifying five primary narrative strategies they
employed in constructing their sexual identities. Isolating discourses and discursive
strategies from their context in the guys talk was an artifice, but it provided the
necessary background for an analysis of the guys narrative practicesthat is, how they
drew on both discourses-in-practice (narrative resources) and discursive practices
(narrative strategies) to make meaning.
When I turned my attention to narrative practice, it was evident that the guys I
interviewed confronted issues that were unique to them as young males. In particular,
three pressing identity concernsmasculinity, belonging, and independencemediated
how they articulated the discourses of sexual decision making. That is to say, in the
process of accounting for their decisions regarding sexual behavior, the guys were also
inclined to manage discursive resources so that the identity they ascribed to themselves
projected a form of masculinity, a sense of belonging, and a degree of independence. The
challenges the guys faced in this effort differed depending on the discourse and the
discourse mediator (i.e., masculinity, belonging, or independence) in question.
Examining how guys sought to resolve these challenges in their narratives thus provided
a natural organizing principle for my study of their narrative practices.


9
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
beingspsychologists, 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 souland 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.
Foucaults 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 kindler, 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, Foucaults 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


220
masculinity. In the same breadth, however, he lays claim to a masculinity that
emphasizes restraint and piety by insisting that hes a virgin and plans on staying that
way.
Derrick employs a two-pronged strategy for reconciling these two identities and
the discourses from which they emerge. On the one hand, he insists that he cannot be
expected to have the self-control necessary to avoid all the situations that threaten to end
in the loss of his virginity. On the other hand, each time he describes a provocative
encounter he had with a girl, he expresses guilt about it and reaffirms his religious
commitments by interpreting the situation in terms of the discourse of piety.
One instance in which Derrick draws upon the first strategy is when I ask him
what limits he would, ideally, like to put on his interactions with girls. Parts of his
response have been quoted earlier, but the full breadth of his response is important for the
purposes at hand. In it, Derrick points to several features of the social context in which
he finds himself, including his age, the fact that he is out of high school, and the sexual
aggressiveness of college-age girls, to insist that he can not be expected to live up to his
ideal:
R: [pause] I would love to be able to not do anything, but that is impossible
to me at this point right now, it seems. There is no way that Im gonna be
out and this great-lookin girl and, you know, were dancin or whatever
and then its like, Oh, well, Im not gonna kiss you. I mean, that isI
mean, I feel bad about it the next day. And like, regardless of how far I go
past the point of kissing, its likeI mean, this is making-out full-on kinda
thing. I dont know. Id like to curb it at just that, if at all. But, I mean,
especially now, especially at this age. It was a lot easier in high school.
But now, I mean, these girls are just ready to go. Theyre like more
aggressive than I am. Its like, Oh my, God. Gimmie a break. So thats
where Id like to. And I feelAnything past that I feel bad, and its like,
I cant believe I did that. I dont even like this chick. I mean, its more
of a sense that Im cheating myself.


151
been taught, some incident would still have led him to be curious about sex and to lose
his virginity at a young age. The introduction of the notion of alternative lives, then,
creates a narrative challenge for L.J., which he meets with creative use of the history
making story.
Hypothetical Narratives
When the guys are not being creative with stories, they are often telling about
their lives in other ways. The most common alternative or "pseudo story form is the
hypothetical narrative. In this form of telling, speculation is essentially given a narrative
form. The speaker indicates that the events described are fictional, then sets them in
motion in a narrative sequence. In this way, guys demonstrate how their ideas might
take concrete form in actual situations.
The use of a hypothetic narrative to concretize speculations or ruminations is
aptly demonstrated by Jerry when he and I discuss how men deal with sexual urges. He
comments that he thinks most men can handle their urges and remain faithful to their
partners, and he supports his contention with a hypothetical narrative that demonstrates
how he thinks this fidelity is maintained in practice:
But its like some guys know how to handle it. I say some of the married men,
most. Because if youre married, youre gonna get those kind of, like, Man,
wooh! Only if I was 20 years younger. Oh, wooh! Only if I wasn't married.
But then when you think about and you got beautiful kids, beautiful wife. You
gotwhat more? You got in-house vagina, thats yours for life. You know what
Im saying? I mean, whats the use of going out hittin this girl, hittin that girl,
when you gonna get the same satisfaction.
(Jerry: 19-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Jerry begins his hypothetical narrative in the second line, when he introduces an
imaginary, typical, married man. As the narrative unfolds, the man is tempted by
beautiful women who make him long for a bachelors freedom, then he recognizes that


154
schools as places where there were always presentations, talk, and debate about sex,
and can thus assert that he learned about sex almost incidentally by virtue of being
immersed in those mediums.
Collaborative Narratives
The final type of pseudo-story, the collaborative narrative, refers to instances in
which my ability as the interviewer to raise and pursue topics is instrumental to the
production of a story. Typically, in these cases, a guys initial response to a question
references a specific past event, but it does not seem to complete the sequencing of this
event with other, related ones. Also, in some cases, the speaker does not provide a sense
of how the events are meaningful to him. In essence, the speaker produces the
beginnings of a story but leaves it incomplete. By indicating my interest in the matter
and sometimes asking additional questions, I help the speaker continue the sequencing,
develop the story, and reflect on the meaning it has for him. A case in point is an
exchange I had with Matthew when we are discussing the advice he gets from others
about how to stay pure, even when he is attracted to a girl. When Matthew begins to
talk about a specific instance involving a particular girl, I try to help him advance the
story:
I: Well, how did you know that this was a situation that you needed to get,
that it was potentially more than friendship, that you needed to get some
advice on it?
R: Well cause you know, me and the person were both, we were both
asking each other, you know, Should we do this? or whatever. And we
were still having doubts and whatever. So IThats probably how, you
knowI would talk to my parents, and then I'd talk to my friends and
I: And you talked to her, as well?
R: Yeah and then I talked to her.


51
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 females vagina?), the female feeling the males 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


52
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,


10
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 Foucaults 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 peoples 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
Foucaults. 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:


168
gotta work for it. Dudes gotta work for it. But if a girl wants it, she can
have it just about any time.
(James: 16-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
In his response, James equates readiness with availability. The essential
difference that he articulates is that sex is always available to girls, particularly attractive
ones, while guys always have to pursue it and persuade girls to give it to them. The
contrast structure introduces this difference in the first two sentences (Cause a girl, a
nice ooking girl can get it anytime she wants it. But dudes have to like work for it.),
then emphasizes it by shifting back and forth between depictions of guys and girls. The
striking thing about this passage, as with all contrast structures, is that it polarizes topics
and places differences in sharp relief. In this case, for instance, the implication is that
there is little if any common ground between how guys and girls experience their
readiness for or the availability of sex. And while it may be argued that my question
asked for such a stark contrast, such entreaties also leave open the possibility for the
person responding to contradict or seek to amend the terms of the question.
At any rate, guys often produce contrast structures without any prompting from
me. For instance, when I ask Del what he thinks it will be like to loss his virginity, he
uses a contrast structure to convey his sense that the quality of the experience will depend
on the context:
Well, depends on who it is with. I mean, if its someone I dont really know, like
a hooker or something like that, not be too great. But if its someone I really love
and care about and they care about me, its probably gonna be one of the best
things in the world.
(Del: 14-year-old, White, virgin)
Dels choice of sex with a hooker and sex in a loving relationship as the targets of
his contrast makes the relationship between the partners the defining feature of the


245
masculinity characterized by a kinder, gentler form of sex talk that is not inherently
inconsistent with a relational masculinity because it does not dehumanize girls.
In sum, the masculinity that Jerry constructs strikes an uneasy balance between
his weak commitment to relationships and certain aspects of the discourse of conquest.
On the one hand, Jerry is the kind of man who values relationships; on the other hand, he
presents his status as a nonvirgin and his participation in sex talk as emblematic of his
manhood. He suggests that in his case these two notions of manhood are not mutually
exclusive, however, because his code of gentlemanly masculinity tempers his expression
of the conquest orientation to girls.
In terms of rhetorical strategies, Jerrys case thus has similarities to that of L.J.,
who espouses only a partial commitment to the discourse of conquest. Both draw
selectively from the discourse to satisfy narrative challenges. But while L.J. manages his
articulations in the interest of a securing a stronger claim to hegemonic masculinity. Jerry'
produces an alternative masculinity that purported to be more refined than the hegemonic
masculinity with which it shares some roots.
Commitment to Virginity
With respect to masculinity, the narrative challenge for guys whose articulations
of the discourses of piety or relationship include a commitment to virginity differ
substantially from that of guys like Jerry. Those who articulate a weak commitment to
relationships have grounds from which they can make claims to hegemonic masculinity if
they choose, such as through the denigration of virgins or the objectification of girls. For
committed virgins, however, the incompatibility between their orientation to sexual
decision making and the conquest discourse that supports hegemonic masculinity is


203
The first maneuver acts as a kind of convoluted defense against the suggestion
that he is a sexual predator. In the process of explaining how he approaches girls and
relationships, Jordan shows us the flip side of the male superiority he espouses elsewhere:
R: I approach relationships mostly not trusting the woman in the beginning,
and having her have to earn my respect, really.
I: Okay. And how does she do that?
R: The things she does. How she acts. For instance, my first girlfriendMy
girlfriend nowWell, actually, any girlfriend I went outI didn't kiss my
girlfriend for the first three months that I went out with her. [Int: Wow.]
Because I believe in knowing, for her to earn my respect first, before I
even go into in an intimate relationship.
(Jordan: 18-year-old, African-American, born-again virgin)
Whereas in other instances what we see is the denigration of girls that is inherent in such
claims, in this passage Jordan directs our attention to the high esteem in which that
philosophy encourages him to hold himself. Concerned about the trustworthiness of the
girls he dates, he actually holds himself back, reserving his kiss as a symbolic act of trust.
The perspective inverts the traditional image of guys placing girls on proverbial pedestals
and having to win them over. By placing himself on the pedestal as a defense against
girls presumed failings (i.e., their lack of trustworthiness), Jordan effectively changes the
definition of sexual encounters from male conquest to male capitulation. In that
context, he cannot be a predator, since being involved with girls who have not won his
trust becomes a matter of giving in that threatens his integrity, not a matter of
accomplishment that confirms his masculinity.
The other defense Jordan mounts against identity spoilage also relates to his
construction of sex and relationships and, paradoxically, it involves something of a


26
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.


149
One last example of story types is what I call the history-making story, which
makes the statement, This is why I am who I am. This strategic use of story amounts to
a particular sort of identity work. The story delineates particular events from the past and
asserts that these help explain some aspect of the tellers current self. For instance,
Andrew engages in history making when he tells stories about his family life in an
effort to explain why he has developed such a strong commitment to the mental but not
the physical aspects of intimacy:
I was raised by a single mother, and she, you knowMy father left her, and I've
never met him. And, uh, shes always had like, a, I, I was the product of an
unhappy coupling, you know. I was always a fault. And, you know, I was always
spoken down to and, uh, never anything physical. And, uh. I remember, when I
left for college, my mom told me she loved me, and it sounded really weird.
cause she had never said it before. I had never heard the words come out of her
mouth, and I was like, Oh my God! It just sounded really weird. It sounded
really awkward. And IveYou know, when I was 14, er, 13 or whatever and
wanting to explore my sexuality, I never did because by then, I had read, like, just
so much stuff that I wasnt willing just to go out and have sex, just to go out and
just do it for whatever. You know? Since then Ive been looking for that mental
connection and, uhm, I think it was just never, never really having that sort of
connection, ever, to this point, with another human female.
(Andrew: 17-year-old, White, virgin)
The main events of Andrews story are the recognition that he is unwanted, his
being the target of verbal abuse, and a more recent incident in which his mother
awkwardly professed her love for him. In the evaluation portion of the story, Andrew
posits these occurrences as causal factors that help explain his reticence to explore the
physical side of sexuality and his yearning to bond intellectually with a female, to
experience a mental connection. He states explicitly, I think it was just never, never
really having that sort of connection, ever, to this point, with another human female.
With this last sentence, Andrew completes the history-making process, drawing an
emphatic link between what he has experienced and the person he has become.


251
years rebelling against authority figuressometimes by having sexthe pious virgins
risk seeming like do-gooders, who are fettered to the wishes of church and family.
Each of these guys, therefore, uses narrative strategies to depict his commitment to
virginity as one of free choice, not simply blind conformity to religious dictates or the
wishes of parents.
One strategy pious virgins use to assert their independence is to play up the fact
that they had had opportunities to be sexual. Sean makes a point to do this when he
asserts his independence from the people who taught him his religious values:
Being a virgin is something that I wanna do, I mean, like, like, I know that, that
like, all the teachings Ive had from my youth pastor, my mom, and my church, I
mean, theyve probably influenced me to do that, but Im only a virgin because I
wanna be a virgin. Cause, I mean, you know, I mean. Ive had opportunities, too.
I mean, I mean, Im not like the best-looking guy at school or whatever, but, I
mean, I mean, I mean, I, I could have sex if I wanted to. [Int: Right] But I choose
not to because I dont want to.
(Sean: 16-year-old, White, virgin)
Indicating that he could be having sex if he chose to bolsters Seans claim to
independence in two ways. First, it demonstrates that he is not simply repeating an
abstract ideology he has learned; his personal commitment to the choice of abstinence has
been tested in a context where religious and parental influences have difficulty
reachingnamely, his intimate interactions with girls. Second, it suggests that his
decision to remain abstinent is not ultimately a cover for an inability to relate to girls. In
this way, his claim that he has had opportunities to be sexual also shrinks the gap
between the discourse of conquest and piety. Although he does not go through with
having sex, he makes a limited claim to being a player by indicating that he can pique a
girls interest.


145
In the discussion that follows, my goal is twofold. I want to provide examples of
the different forms of telling, but I also want to demonstrate the strategic use of each
form of telling. These examples should not be seen as an exhaustive delineation of
strategic usage, but merely suggestive of how particular guys made them relevant to
specific narrative needs raised in the interview.
Stories
What the narratives collected under the rubric of stories have in common is that
they relate actual past events or states of being, sequence these in some way, and offer
some explicit or implicit evaluation of these happenings. By this definition, stories can
be as simple and brief as the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme (Berger 1997) or as lengthy
and complex as a womans in-depth description of her recognition that she has an
inherited disease (Bell 1988).
The stories the guys in this study tell certainly reflect this diversity. Some stories
are quite involved and contain nested narrativesthat is, related stories or pseudo stories
told within the boundaries of the over-arching story. These highly developed stories
sometimes run for three or four pages when transcribed. In other instances, stories last
for just two or three sentences and include the story elements described above in their
barest forms.
Not surprisingly, there is also great diversity in the rhetorical uses to which the
stories are put. The guys tell stories about everything from their most influential mentors
to their experiences of virginity loss in the interest of goals as diverse as presenting
particular selves, explaining sexual decisions, and typifying groups of people. At the
same time, the fact that I elicit the stories in interviews that share common themes means


107
R: Like a person that already had sex, they got, they kinda confident in they
self that they can go head and, like, get them. And add them to they
collection. Thats all they wanna do.
I: So guys have collections?
R: [laughing] They keep a collection in the back of they mind. They know
who they had sex with.
(Grady: 18-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Well, like, sometimes Ill, like, Ill just be really fuckin homy, and Ill want to
have sex. So Ill go out with that, like, that is my sole purpose for tonight. My
mission tonight is to find someone to have sex with.
(Drew: 18-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
Sex is also understood as a powerful, potentially dangerous, means by which one
can exert control or be controlled, and an important way in which one conforms and gains
acceptance.
A guyll become a cop, so he can feel up girls when he arrests em, and stuff like
that. I mean, Ive read a lotta really weird True Crime stuff, and. uh, you know,
people, people do this. And its because of ideas that have been put in their head
from childhood that they areYou know, the more women you have sex with,
the more dominant you are, the more powerful person you are. If you can control
another person and make them do what you want sexually, well then you can, you
know, control everything about them.
(Andrew: 17-year-old, White, virgin)
I: Why do you think that you had sex when you did?
R: Because I could a did it. Cause I could a did it, and I would a been, like,
doin what everybody else was doin'.
(Jamal: 16-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
None of the qualities of relationship or partnership often associated with sexual
interactions enter into articulations of sex within this discourse. Meanings are
constructed and arranged so as to have the bizarre effect of making acts that typically
involve coupling seem solitary.


62
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 relatedbut as
yet not integratedstories of qualitative research, narrative, and male adolescent
heterosexuality.


163
In this passage, Derrick does not omit references to self from his talk, as Morgan
does in his story of virginity loss. Instead, he distances himself from the crude comments
of his friends by distinguishing his level of involvement. He says that he laughs at and
even encourages the talk, but he does not take an active part in it. In fact, he tries not to
get involved in it. With this rhetorical maneuver, Derrick aligns himself with his
friends, but not so closely as to be branded a purveyor of vulgar sex talk. For himself, he
stakes out the less-damning territory of consumer.
Biographical Work
With the last narrative strategy for presenting selves, identity takes center stage.
Whereas identity claims and distancing occur in the context of the production of other
meanings, biographical work describes those instances in which who the speaker is
constitutes the going concern of the talk. As a result, these passages tend to be longer
than the simple statements that can convey most identity claims and distancing. Also,
among the guys in this sample, biographical work is relatively uncommon, perhaps
because many of the guys are only minimally self-reflective.
Those who dwell on who they are and how they present themselves, however,
often spend as much time articulating, questioning, and negotiating their identities as they
do discussing their sexual experiences and sexual decision making. For these guys,
biographical work is critical to their efforts to share their experiences because their sense
of self is an integral part of the context that makes those experiences meaningful.
One of the most striking examples of this dependence on biographical work is
offered by Donnie. In the early part of our interview, when we are discussing his time in
high school, he tells a lengthy story about an incident that occurred in his Junior year.


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.
IV


280
The notion of narrative sophistication opens up all sorts of questions about child
development, language learning, the acquisition of rhetorical skill, and how that skill may
vary by subject and the context of narrative production. I do not pretend to have the
answers to these questions, but they are certainly ones that should interest narrative
researchers. At the same time that we celebrate and base research agendas on peoples
seemingly inherent status as narrators (Plummer 1995), we should recognize that not all
narrators are created equal, and the capacity to narrate may be subject to social
stratification. In the case of this study, that recognition means that the limited nature of
these guys use of stories is attributable as much to the lack of narrative sophistication
adolescent males bring to this topic as to any deficiencies in my interviewing technique.
All that being said, I think it behooves interviewers to assume that the people they
interview have the highest levels of linguistic competency and to focus on developing
their abilities at eliciting stories, rather than blaming participants for narratives that lack
sophistication. Taking this tact strikes me as the best way to ensure that participants
reach their potential in terms of narrative sophistication and the only way that systematic
differences in sophistication, if they exist, will come to light.
Power Dynamics
Another methodological issue that deserves comment is the impact of my
presence as the interviewer, particularly in terms of the power dynamic that is involved
when an adult interviews youths. Much of my interaction with each guy before the
interview began officially was designed to equalize that dynamic. I tried to talk
informally with each guy about what was going on with them and find out about their
interests. When I prepared them for the interview, I told them what types of questions to


32
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


143
results while other narrative goals are also being pursued. The presenting selves"
strategies are unique only in that articulating the self of the speaker is their only effect
and it occurs in a context in which identity is the going concern.
Another important note is that all of these narrative strategies are collaborative, to
some degree or another. It is appropriate, I think, to place most of the emphasis on what
the guys are doing with language since, for the most part, they are the ones being incited
to produce meanings. We should not lose cite of the fact that the interview is active,
however. I, as the interviewer, shape narratives by the topics I rise, the way I phrase
questions, and the manner in which I respond to the guys comments. In some cases this
influence is obvious, as with the form of storytelling I call collaborative narratives. In
other instances, it is less visible but no less consequential, as when guys appear to relate
to me as an authority figure, calling me sir and asking if their answer gave me what I
wanted. For convenience sake, I will most often refer in this section to what the guys
did with language, but it should be understood that their narrative strategies always
operate in the context of parameters set, heavily influenced by, or negotiated with me.
Just as the guys narrative strategizing is not done independent of my influence,
the strategies themselves are not independent of one another. Although it is convenient
for me to separate the strategies for examination, as I did with the three discourses, in
practice the guys may use multiple strategies simultaneously to construct an intricate web
of meanings. Even in this discussion, in which I endeavor to keep each strategy separate,
some meshing of them will be evident. But the complex interplay that guys create
between the narrative strategies will be fully evident when I examine narrative challenges
in Chapters 6 and 7.


117
R: Oh. That tells a lot, but at the same time you cant judge somebody by
how they dress. Like the more skin they show, the dudes are gonna think
like, Oh, shes havin sex a lot, and stuff like that right there. But the
girls that wear jeans and stuff like that right there, theyre gonna think
like, Oh, shes not havin sex.
(James: 16-year-old, White, nonvirgin)
See, we like number the girls from, like, 1 to 10. And like well call em 8 or 7 or
6 or 5. They real, real nasty, they about a 3. So you can't mess with no real, real
nasty, ugly girls, cause youll get clowned. But a dime, a dime is the finest girl.
Is a real, realYou just gotta find a dime. A dime is like the tightest thing that
you ever messed with, and the tightest thing that anybody else done seen. And
thats the one you like really get a relationship with and bring home to mom or
whatever.
(Grady: 18-year-old, African-American, nonvirgin)
Notice that in both of these passages, the guys assessments of girls are inextricably
linked to an anticipated response from other guys. James grounds his assessment of how
girls dress in what the dudes will think, and Grady notes that guys must pursue girls
who have a certain degree of physical attractiveness or risk getting clowned (i.e.,
mocked). These examples demonstrate that, like so many other aspects of sexual
decision making as articulated through the discourse of conquest, the designation of "nice
girls is bound to the guys peer groups.
The same is true of the other end of the spectrum, nasty girls. Indeed, the
influence of others is perhaps even stronger here because identifying undesirable girls
and linking other guys to them feeds into some guys seemingly insatiable desire to tease
and ridicule one another. Certainly, there is a more developed language for undesirable
than desirable girls in this discourse. The term nasty girl is more or less synonymous
with a range of designations, including freak, whore, scummy girl, and trashy girl. The
effect of placing a girl in one of these categories is first and foremost to designate that she
is undesirable as a sex partner. Sometimes a girls physical looks contribute to her


I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Professor of Sociology
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
William Marsigli
Professor of Sociology
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy .S
Hernn Vera
Professor of Sociology
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
fi.
Rodman B. Webb
Professor of Educational Psychology


41
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 ones 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


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.
xi


27
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


116
Articulating Women/Girls
As I indicated earlier, girls are invisible within this discourse, except as suppliers
of sex. This limited role does not leave them short of attention, however. Through the
lens of conquest, girls are divisible into categories based on their suitability as potential
sex partners, which is often inversely proportional to their perceived level of sexual
experience or interest in sex. (In this construction we see yet another manifestation of the
sexual double standard: The more sex males have, the better. But the more sex women
have, the more they are stigmatized.)
Although there is a seemingly endless inventory of names that guys use for types
of girls and some guys recognize several fine gradations within categories, in broad
terms, the categorization systems distinguish between nice girls and nasty girls. The
term nice or clean girl is often, but not always, synonymous with virgin. In any
case, it indicates a girl who, by virtue of having little or no sexual experience, is attractive
as a potential sex partner because she is believed to carry a low risk of STDs. Nice girls
are also physically attractive, and their dress and demeanor are reserved, not showy. Put
simply, they are demur, proper, even classy. In the following passages, James articulates
the link between comportment and sexual behavior believed to characterize "nice girls,
while Grady provides an example of how guys associate a girls physical attractiveness
with her suitability as potential partners:
R: You just cant go around school yellin and acting like youre somethin
all special like and everything. You gotta just carry yourself like a lady.
You cant just beLike, its alright to be a girl thats like got a loud
mouth and talks a lot and looks good. But at the same time isnt like
really sexually active a whole lot. Its alright, but.
I: What about the way they dress?


265
picture of themselves that responds to the conversation's going concerns. In this context,
ambiguity and contradiction in self-presentations are as much responses to limitations in
the resources for meaning-making as evidence of failure to construct a consistent"
masculine identity.
With respect to the construction of masculinities, this study also provides a new
understanding of how inequities between masculinities are managed. As l mentioned
previously, the discourse of conquest and the hegemonic mode of masculinity it supports
represent the standard against which other approaches to sexual decision making and
manhood are judged. Consequently, those who construct masculinities from the
resources offered by the discourses of piety and relationship find that they must account
for the masculinity they did not construct (one consistent with the discourse of conquest)
in the process of articulating the one they claim. The narrative work they do in this
regard not only provides concrete evidence of the hierarchy of masculinities, it also offers
a glimpse into the strategies of narrative resistance devised by foes of hegemonic
masculinity.
In many cases, resistance involves an assertion of a different definition of
manhood, the construction of an alternative masculinity. What it really means to be a
man, these guys say, is to be more prescient of the long-term consequences of present
actions, deliberate about ones choices, self-aware, resistant to peer pressure, or cognizant
of the social or religious implications of intercourse. By and large these redefinitions are
predicated on knowledge and self-control. From this perspective, pious and relationship
virgins are better men than those who aspire to hegemonic standards because their
behavior is guided by their intellectual or spiritual interests, rather than libidinal ones


44
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 & Cambum 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 adolescents 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 &
Cambum 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



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