Purdue University Graduate School
DEPOSIT Dissertation _ Parrish Williams.pdf (2.72 MB)

Sexual Socialization and College Students' Self-Perceptions About Sex

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posted on 2022-07-27, 22:26 authored by Parrish Brooke WilliamsParrish Brooke Williams


Prior research supports the significance of sexual debut (i.e., first sexual intercourse) in Western societies. Of concern, less than 5% of this research is from a sex-positive perspective with most researchers emphasizing sexual risks, particularly for underrepresented communities (e.g., Black women) and college students. Sexual socialization (i.e., messages communicated about sex) serves a critical role in the development of self-perceptions about sex, and scholars suggest sexual/relational development is rooted in experiences during emerging adulthood. 

The primary aim of the present study was to identify meaningful subgroups/clusters of participants based on their experience of sexual socialization through messages received about sex (i.e., gendered, abstinence, casual, relational) from parents and from formal sex education and intersecting identities (i.e., gender, race). Additionally, the focus included determining if these clusters were associated with self-perceptions about sex: sexual satisfaction, frames of virginity (i.e., gift, stigma, process), gains following sexual debut (i.e., romantic, friendship, existential), and self-communicated messages about sex (i.e., gendered, abstinence, casual, relational). Participants were 435 undergraduate college students at a large, Midwestern university who completed an online survey. I used latent class cluster analysis (LCCA) and Bias-Adjusted Step-3 Analysis to address my research questions. The results of the LCCA indicated six subgroups/clusters: Relational Messaged White and Multi-Racial Women (Cluster 1, 22.99%), Under-Messaged Men (Cluster 2, 21.67%), Casual/Relational Messaged Individuals of Color (Cluster 3, 18.49%), Non-Casual and Parent Messaged Women of Color (Cluster 4, 15.67%), Abstinence/Relational and Formal Sex Education Messaged Individuals (Cluster 5, 11.80%), and Gendered Messaged White and Multi-Racial Women (Cluster 6, 9.38%). Cluster membership was significantly associated with self-communicated abstinence messaging in that Cluster 2 displayed significantly lower self-communicated abstinence messages than Clusters 1, 3, 4, or 6. The results of the present study have the potential to increase understanding of sexual socialization in the United States and its impact on self-perceptions about sex (e.g., abstinence). The findings can guide clinicians in avoiding inappropriate and harmful assumptions and support college campus professionals in creating balanced and meaningful programming to better serve college students. 


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Educational Studies

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Heather Servaty-Seib

Additional Committee Member 2

Cezanne Elias

Additional Committee Member 3

Xiang Zhou

Additional Committee Member 4

Amanda Case