The role of communication and self-advocacy in sexual relationships : exploring sexual communication among cis and trans women, trans men and non-binary people

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Sky, Oshyn Hinton

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Sexual communication, or messages exchanged between sexually intimate individuals about their wants, desires, and preferences for sexual encounters, has not been fully explored by communication scholars. Sexual communication is positively related with sexual health (Sheeran et al., 1999), relationship satisfaction (Rubinsky & Hosek, 2019), and sexual satisfaction (Babin, 2012; Brown & Weigel, 2018; Byers & Demmons, 1999; Frederick et al., 2018; MacNeil & Byers, 1997, 2005, 2009; Montesi et al., 2012; Rehman et al., 2019; Rubinsky & Hosek, 2019), but the work has not been contextualized within systems of power and policy regarding sex and sexuality, which impact relationships, individuals, and their sexual communication behaviors. Twenty-two semi-structured interviews were conducted to answer three research questions. Research question 1 asks, what sex education messages do women, transmen, and non-binary individuals receive? How do they fill the gaps in their sex education later in life? Question 2: How do women, transmen, and non-binary individuals use sexual communication with their partner(s)? and question 3: What do women, transmen, and non-binary individuals state as their motivation to reveal or conceal sexual preferences and desires to a partner? Thematic analysis of the interviews found that the sex education participants received was most often abstinence-only and as the only safe and moral way to prevent adverse outcomes. Participants had to seek sex and relationship information on topics of consent, safe sex, and pleasure for themselves from their partners, communities, and through media to access the information they were not given at home or school to engage in safe, pleasurable, and consensual sex. Sexual communication was used outside of and during sexual encounters to negotiate the sexual encounter, advocate for one’s wants, to discuss safe sex, and navigate changes to the sexual relationship over time. Having previously used sexual communication with a partner and it being received well was motivating for many participants to engage in sexual communication in the future. Participants believed that their internalized social scripts for sexuality negatively impacted sexual communication, as some participants recalled avoiding sexual communication out of a fear of being perceived negatively. Findings are discussed through emergent themes, and the inter-relationship among the themes was used to construct a model of sexual communication patterns based on individual, relationship, and societal factors.


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