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Identity and sexual practices among college students

Michael Karl Zuschlag, University of Massachusetts Amherst


A relationship was predicted between identity and depth of involvement in sexual activity. According a theory of identity development, people with weak identities should feel threatened by the empathy and suspension of identity characteristic of deep sexual involvement. In contrast, people with strong identities should feel free to be more deeply involved in sexual activity. Marcia's ego-identity statuses were used as predictors of frequency of nonnormative sexual activities, the reasons for engaging in sexual activities, sexual conflict, and the affective quality of sexual encounters. The Extended Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status was used to assess the identity statuses of 25 female and 19 male sexually active college students. These students then documented their interpersonal sexual behavior over four weeks with forced-choice diary entry forms. Largely consistent with the hypotheses, subjects in the moratorium identity status, when compared to nonmoratorium subjects, showed greater tendencies to avoid deep involvement in sex or with their partner, but also had greater tendencies to express themselves sexually. The exact relations between identity and sexual practices depended on domain of identity crisis. An interview of the subjects designed to assess the subjects' identity statuses in the sexual domain categorized almost all subjects as foreclosed, although most subjects reported changes in their sexual preferences, standards, and behaviors over the past few years. Apparently, sexual identity development does not involve conscious and rational evaluation of alternatives, as is the case for vocational or ideological identity development, nor does sexual identity evolve from declarations of norms by authority figures or peers. The standards of students are based on their emotional reaction to past experience. These emotions draw from the students' beliefs that sexual activity symbolizes either mutual love or mutual debasement. By their actions towards each other, particularly after an episode of sex, the partners approach a consensus on which of these meanings the sexual activity symbolizes. Through this process, students unwittingly socialize each other toward a common sexual standard.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Personality|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Zuschlag, Michael Karl, "Identity and sexual practices among college students" (1989). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9011823.