Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Administration

First Advisor

Donahoo, Saran


A significant social and personal area of the first-year of college is the freedom to engage in casual sex relationships. There is an indication that negative emotions and regret effect women longer than men (Esbaugh & Gute, 2008; Lambert, Kahn, & Apple, 2003; Littleton, Tabernik, Canales, Backstrom, 2009; Morgan & Zurbriggen, 2009; Nack, 2008). The purpose of the study is to investigate how first-year college women understand their sexual experiences. By gathering narratives directly from first-year college women regarding their sex education background and experiences, this dissertation will obtain information needed to offer the types of successful strategies and information secondary and postsecondary education can provide women to strengthen their cognitions and to enlighten their college experiences. This qualitative study investigates how women understand their sexual experiences through women's cognitive development. I conducted twelve 90-minute interviews with a diverse set of first-year college female participants using a structured interviewing technique with open-ended questions. This structure provided an opportunity for exploration of student's sexual decision-making and understanding of the experiences. My interviewing techniques mimic the strategies of grounded theory and I interpreted my data through a three phase thematic coding process guided by the theoretical framework of Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule (1986) Women's Ways of Knowing. The findings suggest that women understand their sexual experiences through informal sex education background, public sexual identity, and private sexual identity. These identities are understood through silence and received knowledge in the women's lived experiences and ownership of knowledge. The findings also suggest a model for college women's sexual identity development and how higher education can develop successful strategies to empower women and enlighten their educational experiences to assist in their academic persistence.




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