Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dawn Baunach

Second Advisor

Wendy Simonds

Third Advisor

Katie Acosta


Young men experience daily struggles to live up to an American ideal of masculinity that does not leave room for emotion, tenderness, and respect for their sexual partners – and they are beginning to reject this ideal outright. In this study I give young men the space and freedom to talk openly about sex in general and their sexual experiences in particular, with the goal of ascertaining how their talk illustrates and impacts their performance of masculinity. I employed a qualitative approach, including focus groups consisting of college men of all sexual orientations, and a comprehensive survey regarding their sexual experience. The focus groups were shaped by three primary questions: to whom do you talk about sex, what do you talk about when you talk about sex, and how do you talk about sex? I analyzed transcripts from the focus groups using sociolinguistics and narrative theory, and found that the participants feel restricted by hegemonic masculinity and constrained by societal expectations for their sexual behavior. The young men in this study express their frustration via their language, both with the words they use and those words they choose not to use. Of special importance in this study is a focus on men of color, and how their experience and their language are shaped by their exclusion from hegemonic masculinity. A deeper understanding of the ways in which young men talk about sex and thus how they perform masculinity within sexuality will allow us to have a better picture of the role of language and communication in their experiences as sexual beings. With an increased understanding of the experience of young men, we might be able to help young men to feel more open about expressing themselves, to lead healthier sex lives, and to reduce rates of non-consensual sexual activity.