9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN23 Sexuality

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Sexuality Across the Life Course Building I, 1E8

Sexual beginners. The social construction of the debut of Italian young people's heterosexual biographies

The paper analyses the process of social construction of the "sexual debut" of a sample of self-identified heterosexual young people living in a North-Western Italian region. The empirical data were collected within a research project carried out in 2006-07, entailing a survey on a regional sample of 1000 young people aged 18-29 and 60 semi-structured interviews with young people aged 18-34.
The paper focuses on one main feature of young people's heterosexual biographies: the account of their first sexual intercourse. Within an interactionist approach, sexual conduct is led by scripts, i.e. patterns of perception, evalutation and action which define "who, what, with whom, where, when, why". Scripts are made of narrative sequences which represent the legitimated rules and moves of the heterosexual game: therefore, they work as frames that people use not only to depict their conduct, but also to make sense of their experience.
In their accounts, young people use scripts not as strict rules to be enacted, but as symbolic repertories to appropriate and combine in order to organize a meaningful sexual biography and to perform a gendered subjectivity. The paper will show the complex interwining of compliance with, adaptation, negotiation and challenge of gendered sexual scripts.
On the one hand, at the the beginning of their sexual careers young people follow gendered scripts strongly shaped by a double standard: young men more often place their first sexual intercourse within a context of emotional and relational detachment, while young women rather tend to interpret their sexual debut as a romantic experience.
On the other hand, the research findings point to processes of negotiation and re-definition of scripts based on three/different cultural logics: the denaturalization of scripts, by which young people acknowledge the socially constructed nature of sexual scripts; the reversal or inversion of gendered script, by which young men adopt an intimacy script and young women a (seemingly) predatory one; the convergence to or construction of a common script, what some scholars have controversely interpreted as a degendering process.