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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2011

3 - Sex


When we consider young women's experiences across the continuum of sexual violence from choice to pressure to coercion to force, it becomes apparent that the social and cultural context in which sex occurs is enormously important and has very real effects. This chapter explores the immediate context and the rules surrounding not only sex but also love, relationships, pleasure and safe-sex practices, since these are all relevant to the negotiation of mutual, reciprocal and consensual sex. This chapter discusses the day-to-day meanings of young people's sexual relationships and the more general pressures affecting them. How do young people understand their love/sex relationships? How do they understand pressures or the unwritten rules of love/sex relationships? To what extent are these pressures evident in their descriptions and experiences of love/sex relationships? Finally, this chapter explores, and begins to account for, the ways young people experience and make sense of their love/sex relationships. By beginning to understand these meanings and where they come from, we can then consider their more particular influence on experiences of pressured and unwanted sex and their implications for the negotiation of consent.


The young women and men I have spoken to while undertaking this research all distinguished between different types of love/sex relationships. This is consistent with similar international research. These were mostly grouped into ‘casual’ or primarily sexually-based encounters, and the more ‘committed’, ‘serious’ or love-based relationships, as these high-school-age young women explain.

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