College - Author 1

College of Liberal Arts

Department - Author 1

Psychology and Child Development Department

Degree Name - Author 1

BS in Psychology



Primary Advisor

Jasna Jovanovic, College of Liberal Arts, Psychology and Child Development Department


Emerging adulthood is a key developmental period when individuals explore and make meaning of their intimate relationships. National trends suggest that experimentation with non-committed relationships has increased (Olmstead, 2020), particularly for females (Netting & Reynolds, 2018). Young women utilize casual sex to explore sex, while men use sex for pleasure (Sizemore & Olmstead, 2017). Moreover, the double sexual standard impacts women’s sexual satisfaction and self-esteem (Williams & Jovanovic, 2018). Little research has examined how sex influences emerging adult’s self-esteem. Previous research has primarily relied on survey data to understand women’s and men’s experiences. Narrative identity scholars posit that individuals can make meaning of their experiences when given the opportunity to construct their life in story-like or narrative terms (McAdams, 2013, Adler et al. 2017). Using a well-established narrative identity instrument, the Love Life Story Interview (Dunlop et al., 2018), we analyze the love life stories of 31 emerging adults (15 males, 15 females, and 1 transgender male; 41% White; 83% Heterosexual) in order to understand how sex impacts emerging adult’s intimacy development. Our study indicates that women and men both view sex as an opportunity for exploration, yet men are more likely to conclude that sex is not a priority in relationships whereas women strive to achieve empowerment in their sexual relationships. Our findings suggest that although today’s emerging adults may have more freedom to assert their sexual desires, women’s sexual agency is still dictated by social norms (Uecker & Martinez, 2017). This may, in part, explain why women’s but not men’s self-esteem is integral to their sexual experiences (Heinrichs et al., 2009; Thompson & Donaghue, 2014).