The Making of Unwanted Sex: Gendered and Neoliberal Norms in College Women’s Unwanted Sexual Experiences

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By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Building on extant research regarding the role of gendered norms in women’s consent to unwanted sex with male partners as well as recent studies of how the sociopolitical discourse of neoliberalism shapes sexuality at the individual level, we conducted a thematic analysis of undergraduate women’s (N = 22) descriptions of their experiences of unwanted sex. In accordance with previous research (Gavey, 2005; Martin, 1996; Phillips, 2000; Tolman, 2002), gendered norms (e.g., women’s sexual passivity; subordination of women’s sexual interests to those of men) played important roles (a) laying the foundation for unwanted sex, and (b) in-the-moment negotiations between partners. In an extension of the established literature regarding unwanted sex, we also noted the emergence of neoliberal norms (e.g., personal responsibility) in participants’ discussions of unwanted sex after the fact. We use these results to argue that gender and neoliberal ideologies work in tandem to (re)produce women’s consent to unwanted sex.

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