A Phenomenological Study of how College Students Communicate about Anal Sex and its Implications for Health

by Mumba, Mumba, Ph.D., OHIO UNIVERSITY, 2010, 386 pages; 3433979


This study explored how heterosexual anal sex (HAS) was discussed among college students. A qualitative method which utilized Moustakas' (1994) transcendental phenomenology was employed. The study followed four steps: epoche, phenomenological reduction, imaginative variation and synthesis. Semi-structured in-depth interviews and diary methods were used for data collection. Thirty self-identified heterosexual college students participated.

Theoretically, Foucault's (1990, 1977) notions of sexuality and power and Sandra Petronio's (2002) Communication Privacy Management Theory (CPM) concepts of disclosure and privacy were used to examine talk about sexuality. At a macro level, participants' sexual choices were influenced by institutional socio-cultural values (sex education, religion and some family values) which were in tension with participants' personal values of sex. Participants resisted institutional socio-cultural values because they promoted an abstinence-only approach to sexuality.

At the micro level, findings related to participant communication indicated that their communication was shaped by discomfort for anal sex. Participants used the Unmentionable IT to refer to anal sex in their descriptions of anal sex. They also acknowledged how sex and anal sex was concealed in euphemisms.

Participants' ways of communicating about anal sex indicated that disclosures of anal sex occurred among participants who engaged in anal sex and those who did not. There seemed to be tensions of disclosure and concealment related to anal sex information in peer relationships. Stigma served as a disciplinary mechanism of control that enhanced this tension. In intimate sexual situations this tension was absent because participants engaged in open communication.

Additionally, participants' meanings of anal sex signified that it enhanced male pleasure compared to females'. Some participants resisted anal sex for mutual sexual practices. Participants recognized infectious and non-infectious (tears, bleeding and dysfunctional anal area) risks of anal sex. However, some claimed that anal sex could be pleasurable. Participants suggested open communication, consent and information as ways of reducing risks.

This study demonstrated that participants encountered sexuality in dialectical ways. The study underscored the need to include sexual health promotion activities that address risks of anal sexuality. Open communication should encourage sensitive and non-judgmental programs in supportive peer groups. Additionally, anonymous peer programs may foster communication to avoid stigma.

AdviserBenjamin R. Bates
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsCommunication; Public health; Higher education
Publication Number3433979

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