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Meanings for Sex and Commitment Among First Semester College Men and Women: A Mixed-Methods Analysis

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to replicate and extend research on the meanings for sex and commitment using a sample of first semester college students (N = 268). We examined responses to a series of open-ended questions about participants’ meanings for sex and how they described these meanings as connected with relationship commitment. Our qualitative analyses replicated those of Olmstead, Billen, Conrad, Pasley, and Fincham (2013). Our largest group was the Committers (sex is indicative of love and trust and occurs after commitment is developed in a relationship), followed by Flexibles (sex can hold deep personal meaning, but can also be purely for pleasure and isn’t always connected with commitment), and then Recreationers (sex is a basic need or purely for pleasure and is not associated with commitment). Groups were then examined based on demographic characteristics and pre-college hookup experience. Groups were found to differ by gender, relationship status and type, religiosity, and pre-college hookup experience. For example, a greater proportion of women than men were in the Committers group, whereas a greater proportion of men than women were in the Flexibles and Recreationers groups. Those in the Committers group had fewer pre-college hookup partners than Flexibles and Recreationers; however, Flexibles and Recreationers did not differ in number of pre-college hookup partners. We then followed up (at the end of the semester) with a subsample (n = 73) of participants to examine whether meanings for sex and commitment remained stable or changed over a brief period of time. The majority (82.2 %) of participants’ meanings remained stable. For those whose meanings shifted, meanings became more consistent with those of the Committers group than the other two groups. Implications for research and sexual and relationship education are discussed.

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Correspondence to Spencer B. Olmstead.

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Olmstead, S.B., Anders, K.M. & Conrad, K.A. Meanings for Sex and Commitment Among First Semester College Men and Women: A Mixed-Methods Analysis. Arch Sex Behav 46, 1831–1842 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0777-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0777-4

Keywords

  • Emerging adulthood
  • Sex
  • Commitment
  • Hooking up
  • Casual sex