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Ambiguities of sexuality in emerging relationships. The case of young female students in France

Christophe Giraud

Research Framework: In conjugal relationships, sexuality expresses the partners’ attraction and feelings for each other. In modern societies, it is also at the heart of encounters where two adults want to share a good time together without a marital perspective. Sexuality has become ambiguous.

Objectives: The objective of this article is to understand the uses of sexuality at the beginning of intimate history, at a time when it is sometimes difficult to “define the situation”. Today, a new way of getting in touch seems to be taking shape in France as elsewhere in the western world: more progressive, more uncertain, a sexualized but not only sexualized relationship, a “serious” but not immediately conjugal relationship. In these fragile and uncertain beginnings, what place and form does sexuality take?

Methodology: Our work is based on interviews with female students in the Paris region from 2005 to 2013. Twenty-six young women at the beginning of an intimate history – from one to three months ago – were interviewed at various points in their relationship.

Results: In these nascent relationships, it seems central for a woman to be able to orient herself with current cultural scenarios, as her feelings for the partner will take longer to settle down than they would have in a person of another generation. Here we will try to show how sexuality occupies an indispensable place in expressing attractiveness to the partner, and how it must both be euphemized and take specific forms so as not to steer the story towards the model of the ephemeral relationship.

Conclusions: Through its singular forms and content, sexuality today must contribute to what is at the heart of nascent relationships: the mutual knowledge of two singular individuals.

Contribution: This article offers a reflection on the meaning and place of sexual practices in young women’s nascent relationships. We insist on the “expressive” dimension of sexuality in a context where it has become difficult to orient oneself during intimate encounters and where stable relationships are being established more gradually. It provides a counterpoint to sociological interpretations that reduce young people’s intimate relationships to sexual consumption driven by self-interest.