Encyclopedia of Sexuality and Gender

Living Edition
| Editors: Amy D. Lykins

Emerging Adulthood

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-59531-3_25-1



Emerging adulthood is an important period for identity development, including sexuality development, with the majority of sexual activity among young adults occurring outside of marriage. For many individuals, early adulthood is a period in which they engage in the most liberal sexual behaviors in the course of their lifetimes. Trends suggest that emerging adult men and women exhibit similarities in their sexual behaviors, but there is evidence that men are more likely to engage in casual sexual activity. Additionally, although some sexual behavior among emerging adults today is similar to previous generations, young people today are more likely to have sex with a friend than in previous generations, such as in hookups and friends with benefits relationships.


Emerging adulthood is an important period for sexuality development...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Allison, R., & Risman, B. J. (2013). A double standard for “Hooking up:” How far have we come toward gender equality? Social Science Research, 42, 1191–1206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong, E. A., England, P., & Fogarty, A. C. (2012). Accounting for women’s orgasm and sexual enjoyment in college hook ups and relationships. American Sociological Review, 77, 435–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arnett, J. (2006). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arnett, J. (2014). Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aronson, P. (2003). Feminists or “postfeminists”?: Young women’s attitudes toward feminism and gender relations. Gender and Society, 17, 903–922.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baumgardner, J., & Richards, A. (2000). Manifesta: Young women, feminism, and the future. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  7. Bay-Cheng, L. (2015). The agency line: A neoliberal metric for appraising young women's sexuality. Sex Roles, 73, 279–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bay-Cheng, L. Y., Robinson, A. D., & Zucker, A. N. (2009). Behavioral and relational contexts of adolescent desire, wanting, and pleasure: Undergraduate women's retrospective accounts. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 511–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bisson, M. A., & Levine, T. R. (2009). Negotiating a friends with benefits relationship. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 66–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bogle, K. (2008). Hooking up: Sex, dating, and relationships on campus. New York, NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Brugman, M., Caron, S. L., & Rademakers, J. (2010). Emerging adolescent sexuality: A comparison of American and Dutch college women’s experiences. International Journal of Sexual Health, 22, 32–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chandra, A., Mosher, W. D., Copen, C., & Sionean, C. (2011). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States. Data from the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth. National health statistics reports; no. 36. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  13. Conley, T. D. (2011). Perceived proposer personality characteristics and gender differences in acceptance of casual sex offers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 309–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Conley, T. D., Ziegler, A., & Moors, A. C. (2013). Backlash from the bedroom: Stigma mediates gender differences in acceptance of casual sex offers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37, 392–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Copen, C. E., Chandra, A., & Febo-Vazquex, I. (2016). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual orientation among adults aged 18–44 in the United States: Data from the 2011–2013 National Survey of Family Growth. National health statistics reports; no. 88. Hyatsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  16. Crawford, M., & Popp, D. (2003). Sexual double standards: A review and methodological critique of two decades of research. The Journal of Sex Research, 40, 13–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Currier, D. (2013). Protecting emphasized femininity and hegemonic masculinity in the hookup culture. Gender & Society, 27, 704–707.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Delgado-Infante, M. L., & Ofreneo, M. A. P. (2014). Maintaining a “good girl” position: Young Filipina women constructing sexual agency in first sex within Catholicism. Feminism & Psychology, 24, 390–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Doan, A., & Williams, J. C. (2008). The politics of virginity: Abstinence in sex education. New York, NY: Praeger.Google Scholar
  20. Fetterolf, J., & Sanchez, D. (2015). The costs and benefits of perceived sexual agency for men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 961–970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fielder, R., Walsh, J., Carey, K., & Carey, M. (2013). Predictors of sexual hookups: A theory-based, prospective study of first-year college women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1425–1441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fielder, R. L., Carey, K. B., & Carey, M. P. (2013). Are hookups replacing romantic relationships? A longitudinal study of first year female college students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 52, 657–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fielder, R. L., & Carey, M. P. (2010). Predictors and consequences of sexual ‘hookups’ among college students: A short-term prospective study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 1105–1119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fine, M., & McClelland, S. (2007). The politics of teen women’s sexuality: Public policy and the adolescent female body. Emory Law Journal, 56, 993–1038.Google Scholar
  25. Garcia, J. R., Reiber, C., Massey, S. G., & Merriwether, A. M. (2012). Sexual hookup culture: A review. Review of General Psychology, 16, 161–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gusarova, I., Fraser, V., & Alderson, K. G. (2012). A quantitative study of “friends with benefits” relationships. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 21, 41–59.Google Scholar
  27. Hamilton, L., & Armstrong, E. A. (2009). Gendered sexuality in young adulthood double binds and flawed options. Gender & Society, 23, 589–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Heldman, C., & Wade, L. (2010). Hook-up culture: Setting a new research agenda. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 7, 323–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of mean and women aged 14–94. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 255–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Johnson, M. L. (2002). Jane sexes it up: True confessions of feminist desire. New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows.Google Scholar
  31. Kalish, R., & Kimmel, M. (2011). Hooking up. Australian Feminist Studies, 26, 137–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kuperberg, A., & Padgett, J. E. (2016). The role of culture in exploring college students’ selection into hookups, dates, and long-term relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 33, 1070–1096.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lefkowitz, E. S., & Gillen, M. M. (2006). “Sex is a just a normal part of life”: Sexuality in emerging adulthood. In J. J. Arnett & J. L. Taner (Eds.), Emerging adults in America (pp. 235–255). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  34. Lehmiller, J., VanderDrift, L., & Kelly, J. (2011). Sex differences in approaching friends with benefits relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 48, 275–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lyons, H. A., Manning, W. D., Giordano, P. C., & Longmore, M. A. (2013). Predictors of heterosexual casual sex among young adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 585–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mark, K. P., Garcia, J. R., & Fisher, H. E. (2015). Perceived emotional and sexual satisfaction across sexual relationship contexts: Gender and sexual orientation differences and similarities. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 24, 120–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McClelland, S. I., & Fine, M. (2008). Rescuing a theory of adolescent sexual excess: Young women and wanting. In A. Harris (Ed.), Next wave cultures: Feminism, subcultures, activism (pp. 83–102). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  38. McGinty, K., Knox, D., & Zusman, M. E. (2007). Friends with benefits: Women want ‘friends,’ men want ‘benefits’. College Student Journal, 41, 1128–1131.Google Scholar
  39. Mongeau, P. A., Knight, K., Williams, J., Eden, J., & Shaw, C. (2013). Identifying and explicating variation among friends with benefits relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 50, 37–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Monto, M. A., & Carey, A. G. (2014). A new standard of sexual behavior? Are claims associated with the “hookup culture” supported by General Social Survey data? Journal of Sex Research, 51, 605–615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Netting, N. S., & Reynolds, M. K. (2018). Thirty years of sexual behavior at a Canadian university: Romantic relationships, hooking up, and sexual choices. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 27, 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Owen, J., & Fincham, F. D. (2011). Effects of gender and psychosocial factors on “Friends with benefits” relationships among young adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 311–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Patrick, M. E., & Maggs, J. L. (2009). Does drinking lead to sex? Daily alcohol-sex behaviors and expectancies among college students. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23, 472–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Paul, E. L., McManus, B., & Hayes, A. (2000). “Hookups”: Characteristics and correlates of college students’ spontaneous and anonymous sexual experiences. Journal of Sex Research, 37, 76–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Petersen, J. L., & Hyde, J. S. (2010). A meta-analytic review of research on gender differences in sexuality, 1993–2007. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 21–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rudman, L. A., Fetterolf, J. C., & Sanchez, D. T. (2013). What motivates the sexual double standard? More support for male versus female control theory. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 250–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rupp, L. J., Taylor, V., Regev-Messalem, S., Fogarty, A. C. K., & England, P. (2014). Queer women in the hookup scene: Beyond the closet? Gender and Society, 28, 212–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Shulman, S., & Connolly, J. (2013). The challenge of romantic relationships in emerging adulthood: Reconceptualization of the field. Emerging Adulthood, 1, 27–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Spell, S. A. (2017). Not just black and white: How race/ethnicity and gender intersect in hookup culture. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 3, 172–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Tanenbaum, L. (2000). Slut! Growing up female with a bad reputation. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  51. U.S. Census Bureau. (2018). Current population survey. March and annual social and economic supplements, Table MS-2.Google Scholar
  52. Uecker, J. E., Pearce, L. D., & Andercheck, B. (2015). The four U’s: Latent classes of hookup motivations among college students. Social Currents, 2, 163–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Uecker, J. E., & Regnerus, M. D. (2010). Bare market: Campus sex ratios, romantic relationships, and sexual behavior. Sociological Quarterly, 51, 408–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Vasilenko, S. A., Lefkowitz, E. S., & Maggs, J. L. (2012). Short-term positive and negative consequences of sex based on daily reports among college students. Journal of Sex Research, 49, 558–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wade, L. (2017). American hookup: The new culture of sex on campus. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  56. Watson, R., Shahin, Y., & Arbeit, M. (2019). Hookup initiation and emotional outcomes differ across LGB young men and women. Sexualities, 22, 932–50Google Scholar
  57. Williams, J. C., & Jovanovic, J. (2015). Third wave feminism and emerging adult sexuality: Friends with benefits relationships. Sexuality & Culture, 19, 157–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Williams, L., & Adams, H. (2013). Friends with benefits or “friends” with deficits? The meaning and contexts of uncommitted sexual relationships among Mexican American and European American adolescents. Children and Youth Services Review, 35, 110–117.Google Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology and Child Development DepartmentCalifornia Polytechnic State UniversitySan Luis ObispoUSA
  2. 2.Political Science DepartmentCalifornia Polytechnic State UniversitySan Luis ObispoUSA