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‘Do I score points if I say “no”?’: Negotiating sexual boundaries in a changing normative landscape

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Recently #MeToo visualised worldwide the scale of sexual coercion and the connection of sexual coercion to gender norms and power structures. Negotiating sexual interactions with a partner is deeply intimate, yet it is also fundamentally influenced by surrounding social norms. We conducted in-depth interviews with 68 ethnically diverse Dutch young men and women (16‐21) about their sexual experiences to understand how norms and values shape their sexual negotiations. Narratives showed the continued relevance of heteronormative gender roles, with participants framing sexual negotiations as a contest between opposing sides, dictated by different rules for women and men. Other narratives suggested that the normative landscape may be changing, with women drawing on discourses of autonomy and men using mutuality as a guiding principle. Our findings indicate that while conventional gender norms and scripts continue to prescribe sexual negotiations, many Dutch youth also exercise alternative discourses in their sexual relationships. Efforts to reduce sexual coercion must incorporate attention to both the old and emerging gender norms that govern sexual negotiations.

Key messages

Gendered social norms have a huge impact on youths’ negotiations of sexual boundaries.

Although old gender norms are still dominant, we analysed a shift towards new gender norms for both young women and men.

Efforts to reduce sexual coercion must incorporate attention to both old and emerging gender norms that govern sexual negotiations.
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Keywords: agency; gender norms; mutuality; sexual coercion; youth sexuality

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 2018

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Gender-Based Violence (JGBV), is the first international journal based in Europe to show case the work of scholars across disciplinary and topic boundaries, and from a range of methodologies.

    The journal acknowledges both the breadth of gender-based violence (GBV) and its links to gendered inequalities. It aims to continue to document the voices and experiences of victims and survivors of GBV, to publish work regarding those who perpetrate GBV and of the varied and complex social structures, inequalities and gender norms through which GBV is produced and sustained. The journal recognises the intersection of gender with other identities and power relations, such as ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, faith, disability and economic status.

    JGBV will publish high quality papers that contribute to understanding of GBV, policy, and/or activism, on sexual violence, domestic abuse, ‘honour’-based violence, prostitution, trafficking and/or reproductive violence and abuse in a wide range of intimate, familial, community and societal contexts.

    The editors invite interest from scholars working across the social sciences and related fields including social policy, sociology, politics, criminology, law, social psychology, development and economics, as well as disciplines allied to medicine, health and wellbeing.

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