Sex Roles

, Volume 51, Issue 9–10, pp 523–534 | Cite as

Connotative Interpretations of Sexuality-Related Terms

  • Virginia J. Noland
  • Ellen M. Daley
  • Judy C. Drolet
  • Joyce V. Fetro
  • Kelli R. McCormack Brown
  • Coleen D. Hassell
  • Robert J. McDermott


In this study we examined the connotative interpretations of selected sexuality-related terms by a cohort of university undergraduate students (n=567). Forty-two sexuality-relevant constructs were rated on thirty 7-point semantic differential scales. Means of the scale sum scores for men and women were compared using t tests. Among women the most favorably rated constructs were orgasm, vaginal sex, sexual intercourse, virginity, masturbation, oral sex, pro-choice, pregnancy, erection, and heterosexual. The most negatively evaluated terms were date rape, sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault, HPV, and HIV/AIDS. For men, the most favorably rated constructs were sexual monogamy, virginity, orgasm, vaginal sex, and heterosexual. The most negatively evaluated terms were rape, HPV, date rape, and sexual abuse. There were statistically significant gender differences in the evaluation of 12 terms (p<.05). The evaluations assigned to 30 possible attributes suggest that some sexuality-related terms elicit strong visceral responses from university students. A discussion of the psychological and emotional impact of sexuality-related terms (i.e., connotative meanings) may be warranted whenever dictionary definitions (i.e., denotative meanings) are presented to students, other groups of learners, and persons in health care and other settings. Moreover, a practitioner's use of language may elicit connotatively different responses for women and men.

gender semantic differential sex sexual language 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Virginia J. Noland
    • 1
  • Ellen M. Daley
    • 2
  • Judy C. Drolet
    • 3
  • Joyce V. Fetro
    • 3
  • Kelli R. McCormack Brown
    • 2
  • Coleen D. Hassell
    • 2
  • Robert J. McDermott
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Health Education & Behavior (FLG 5)University of FloridaGainesville
  2. 2.Florida Prevention Research CenterUniversity of South Florida College of Public HealthTampa
  3. 3.Department of Health Education and RecreationSouthern Illinois UniversityCarbondale

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