Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Research Student: Helen Williams

Young people, sexual cultures and new technologies in contemporary Britain

Photo of Helen Williams

My research seeks to examine the experiences and opinions of young people on the topics of sex, sexuality, sex and relationships education (SRE) and the media. The controversial nature of school-based sex education means that sex is frequently located in a biological framework, which can be said to rely upon the assumption of heterosexuality and its concomitant gendered identities of masculinity and femininity. A preoccupation with lowering the level of teenage conceptions and the number of sexually transmitted infections among young people, can lead to the adoption of a sex-negative approach to teaching, in which the pleasurable aspects of sex and intimacy are noticeably absent, particularly for young women. Yet, this sits awkwardly alongside a culture which is often charged with being overly “sexualised”, one in which sex is highly visible and sexiness becomes an all-important attribute.

I am interested to find out how young people negotiate these competing discourses and the effects they have on the formulation of young people’s sexual identities. Furthermore, advances in technology such as the internet, mobile phones and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter mean that young people are able to source and circulate information and, therefore, navigate the sexual world, in new ways. My project will investigate the ways in which these advances allow young people to select, reject, or reinterpret sexual discourses.

I will use a combination of focus groups and qualitative interviewing with participants aged between 14 and 18 years. Data will then be analysed using critical discourse analysis, with particular attention paid to the variables of age, gender and class.

Research Interests

  • (radical) Sex education
  • Youth sexualities
  • Sexualisation of culture
  • Sexual violence and the politics of consent
  • New media technologies and online self-representation

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