Sexualities and diversities in the making

This research project, a cooperation between the University of Amsterdam and Nijmegen University funded by Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Seksualiteit (FWOS), investigates how young people in the Netherlands from different backgrounds enact their sexuality and the way this enactment is affected by and has an effect on the differences and similarities they produce among themselves.

Problem Statement

In societal discussions, the sexual development of adolescents and their way of dealing with gender differences and homosexuality is deemed problematic, in particular in relation to multicultural diversity. A sexually tolerant and gender equal society is seen as one of the latest accomplishments of Dutch modernization (Mak 2007; Mepschen et al. 2010; Dudink 2011; Verkaaik & Spronk 2011; Keuzenkamp 2011), to which migrants - especially Muslims - badly adjust.

This stereotyping view is hardly questioned in research on adolescent sexuality. Particularly the employment of a-priori defined categories in quantitative research methods does not allow for a calling into question of those categories. However, sexuality often functions as a marker for differences between groups (Mak 2001, M'charek 2010). This programme investigates qualitatively the ‘co-production' (Jasanoff 2006) of sexualities and diverse identities among adolescents.

Also, adolescent sexuality is mostly studied in relation to risks and dangers - teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, or violence (Spronk 2005; Van de Walle et al. 2010). Without denying their importance, such research does not yield information about the daily practices, pleasures and problems with regard to sexuality that adolescents experience themselves. Moreover, it tends to individualize sexuality instead of understanding it in its social interaction. Therefore, this programme investigates adolescents' sexuality as the erotically significant aspects of their social life and social being, such as desires, relationships and identities (e.g. Jackson, 2006).

This programme focuses on two crucial spaces where adolescent sexuality is enacted: schools and social media. Schools: most research regarding schools and sexuality focuses on sex education (Krebbekx, 2011). In such research, schools are primarily seen as places where information about sex is transmitted. This research, contrastingly, approaches school as a space where (sexual) knowledge is produced, (sexual) identities formed, (sexual) behaviour shaped and future opportunities for successful adult (sexual) life are created (Holland et al. 2004; Liu 2006). Social media: it is astonishing that while adolescents spend a huge part of their (social) life on the internet (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007), the research into their online sexual behaviour is confined to assessing the risks and to the analysis of passive consumption of media messages. This research investigates how adolescents actively use social media as a space to enact and shape their sexuality; and how they shape the spaces of diverse media in order to produce (un)safe or private/public environments.

Overall, we take an empirical approach to how spaces function: how they are made suitable or unsuitable for enacting one's sexuality, and how they enable or constrain diversity.

Research Aim

This research investigates the ways in which young people enact and explore their sexuality in daily practice, and the way this is affected by and has an effect on the differences and similarities they produce among themselves. It aims at giving novel insights about how young people in school-related and social media spaces make and take space to develop their sexuality in every day practice.

Research Goals

The goal of this research is to:

  1. contribute to the scholarship on the dynamics of diversity and of sexual identity of young people at schools and in social media;
  2. contribute to scholarship on the role of these spaces in adolescent identity making;
  3. to disseminate this knowledge by making it relevant for a range of stakeholders involved in sex-education and policymaking.

Research question

How do young people enact their sexuality in interaction with limiting or enabling spaces in school and social media, and how is this affected by and has an effect on the differences and similarities they produce among themselves?

Sub-questions

  • How do young people act out, experience and control sexual interactions in spaces related to school and social media?
  • What differences and similarities do young people make among themselves in these spaces?
  • What are the dynamic relations between a. and b.?
  • How do school-related and social media spaces enable or limit possibilities to explore, experience, protect, develop or display their sexuality and sexual identity?
  • How do sex education and information at school and on the internet relate to what adolescents themselves indicate as helpful or necessary?
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