Date of Award

Fall 12-7-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ralph LaRossa

Second Advisor

Wendy Simonds

Third Advisor

Mindy Stombler


From a sociological perspective, privacy is not an intrinsic part of our selves, but is a social agreement between us and others. Concealing information from others depends in large part on constructing boundaries around private information and doing what we can to ensure that the boundaries are maintained. Focusing on the social world of sex toy parties--a world where privacy and disclosure are delicately balanced--this research examines how disclosures of private sexual information, which are often regarded as taboo in contemporary American society, are carefully orchestrated and managed. Sex toy parties offer a unique venue to study how individuals navigate the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable levels of disclosure of sexual information, as sex toy parties involve discussions of sexual practices and products with diverse groups of women, and some disclosure is necessary to create a fun and engaging environment. To better understand how these boundaries are constructed and maintained and how violations of the boundaries are dealt with, I conducted 32 in-depth interviews with sex toy party consultants and observed 20 sex toy parties. Using grounded theory methods and a cognitive sociological approach, I argue that consultants engaged the guests in a complex “dance” of privacy, beginning with the construction of a sex toy party frame that changed the meaning of disclosures from profane to acceptable. This construction often relied upon heteronormative notions of gender; privileged heterosexuality; and involved the manipulation of time and space to create an environment that was conducive to the careful balance of disclosures the consultants desired. Despite this careful orchestration and management, guests were still occasionally “out of frame” with regard to privacy (either by refusing to participate or by over-disclosing). Consultants used a variety of tactics to move these guests back in frame and reinforce the boundaries of the frame without disrupting the party atmosphere and/or damaging their sales. This research adds to our understanding of how frame construction and maintenance occur and how existing cultural frames are selectively appropriated, adapted, and reshaped to give meaning to disclosures of private sexual information and create new frames.