Gender and Sexuality in Young Adulthood

Social scientists are turning their attention to young adulthood, which is increasingly viewed as a life-stage between adolescence and adulthood. During this period, youth engage in increased cross-sex interaction, experiment with adult sexualities, and begin to sort into different romantic and career trajectories. These processes are organized by the principles of gender and (hetero)sexuality and institutionalized in higher education.

Several themes run throughout my work on gender and sexuality in young adulthood. First, I focus on the ways in which gender and heterosexuality are interlinked and reinforcing. This theme is developed in a solo-authored article, Trading on Heterosexuality: College Women's Gender Strategies and Homophobia (Gender & Society 2007). Here I use the first wave of the five-year ethnographic and in-depth interview College Social Life Project, or CSLP (of which I am a co-director along with Elizabeth A. Armstrong). This project following a dormitory floor of women as they move through and beyond college. I explore how some women's efforts to navigate inegalitarian gender contexts may fortify their efforts to meet heteronormative standards of femininity and motivate homophobic attitudes and behaviors. This article received both the 2008 American Sociological Association Sociology of Sexualities and Sex and Gender Section Graduate Student Paper Award. It has also been reprinted in Feminist Frontiers, 8th edition, edited by Taylor, Whittier, and Rupp.

Second, I take a multi-level perspective on gender. For example, in Sexual Assault on Campus: A Multi-Level, Integrative Approach to Party Rape, I (along with Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Brian Sweeney) use the first wave of data from the CSLP to show that sexual assault on college campuses is a result of the synergistic intersection of gendered processes at the individual (e.g. women's internalized desire for menís erotic approval), interactional (e.g. cultural expectations that women be nice and defer to men), and organizational (e.g. male control of Greek parties and the structure of university housing) levels. This article appeared in Social Problems in 2006 and has been reprinted three different collections.

Third, my work is also explicitly intersectional. In Gendered Sexuality: Double Binds and Flawed Options I, along with Elizabeth A. Armstrong, explore the power of gender and class beliefs in organizing college sexual and romantic interactions. This paper was published in Gender & Society in 2009, and uses the first four waves of the longitudinal ethnographic and interview CSLP data. We show that college women contend with public beliefs about the nature of women's sexuality that — even when they do not personally endorse them — disadvantage women across all forms of intimate interaction with men. College women also contend with classed beliefs about appropriate sexual and romantic conduct that push against gender and create difficult double binds. Recently, a Contexts piece highlighting findings from this paper was published.