Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Joyce Nielsen

Second Advisor

Stefanie Mollborn

Third Advisor

Isaac Reed

Abstract

This dissertation examines the experiences of fifty-one young people who were adolescents as high-speed Internet access became widely available in the United States. The data are drawn from semi-structured, open-ended interviews with thirty-nine women and twelve men. Interviews covered topics related to sexual socialization. These included formal sexual education experiences in school, informal interactions with peers, early sexual experiences, and information from media. Sexual scripting theory frames both the data collection and data analysis of this research. While participants describe a wide and predictable variety of sources of sexual information including movies, television, books, magazines, family, friends, and personal experience, the majority reported the Internet served a central role in how they learned about sexuality. As the Internet is a relatively new source of information about sexuality, and one that has been minimally researched in this capacity, in my analysis I emphasize the role of the Internet in sexual socialization. Despite popular concerns around adolescent use of such technology, the majority of participants reported positive experiences with the Internet as a source of sexual information. Participants reported accessing sexually explicit material as well as accurate sexual information on the Internet. The Internet was described as a relatively safe and easy means of accessing sexual information specific to their concerns and readily available in the absence of other sources. I place the findings within the cultural context of moral panics regarding teen sexuality and technology as well as emergent theories and debates about citizenship in order to fully understand the key social and theoretical implications of the experiences of these young people.

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