Date of Completion


Embargo Period



gender; sexuality; feminist theory; intersectionality; quantitative methods

Major Advisor

Simon Cheng

Associate Advisor

Mary Bernstein

Associate Advisor

Kim Price-Glynn

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


While the bulk of past quantitative research conceptualizes adolescent sexuality as a risk factor for negative later- life outcomes, this dissertation tests the opposite assumption: that developing a positive sexual self-concept is a normative and integral component of general health and well-being for girls and boys alike. I use data from Waves I, III, and IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to investigate one positive aspect of sexual self-concept: expectations that sex will be pleasurable. The first goal of this research is to test the sociological determinants of attitudes toward sexual pleasure when respondents were 15 to 19 years old. The second goal is to see how attitudes formed in adolescence affect long-term sexual and contraceptive behavior as well as general health and achievement outcomes when these same respondents were in their 20s and early 30s.

Multivariate analyses show differential influences of racial background and socioeconomic status by gender. For girls, positive expectations of sexual pleasure are stratified along racial lines. For boys, positive expectations of sexual pleasure are stratified not by race, but by traditional social capital measures. Parental education level, high school grade point average, and attendance at a private school are all positively associated with expectations of sexual pleasure for boys.

In terms of long-term effects, I find distinct differences between the effects of adolescent sexual behavior and sexual pleasure attitudes for both men and women. Estimates from generalized linear models show that expectations of sexual pleasure do not have negative effects on contraceptive use and sexual behavior in adulthood. I also find that sexual pleasure attitudes in adolescence have significant positive effects on other long-term outcomes (such as educational attainment and personal income), holding traditional control variables constant. These findings can be used encourage parents, teachers, and policymakers that a positive, shame-free approach to adolescent sexuality is not harmful, and is even beneficial to a child’s long-term health and well-being.