Young women, desire and heteronormativity: the relationship between sexual experience and the sexual double standard


Louth, Meg

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A heteronormative discourse often assumes that men want sex and women want love (Bryant & Schofield 2007). It assumes gender structures sexuality in distinctly masculine and feminine ways and appropriate behaviours are defined according to these gender structures. This discourse fails to acknowledge the complexities of contemporary sexualities and positions women as passive and men as active which eliminates the need for negotiation in sexual relationships. Through analysis of in-depth interviews with women aged 22-31, this study sought to identify young women's perceptions of how accumulated sexual experience mediates the sexual double standard and to what extent they believe it influences their sexual relationships. It also explored women's subjective experiences of sexual agency, sexual pleasure and sexual desire. There is very little Australian sociological research that explores the accumulation of sexual experiences for women beyond school age and this thesis addressed this gap in the literature. Above all, this research will argue that the participants' experiences of sex and sexuality are complex and contradictory. The results suggest that, for the women in this study, accumulated sexual experience influences young women's subjective experience of sexual agency, desire and pleasure. It will also argue that women face many challenges in expressing their agency desire and pleasure within the dominant discourse of heteronormativity.

Publication year


Thesis supervisor

Deborah Dempsey

Publication type

Thesis (Honours)


Copyright © 2009 Meg Louth.

Thesis note

Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours, Swinburne University of Technology, 2009.