University of Notre Dame

File(s) under embargo

Sexual Empowerment: Resources and Tensions in a Feminist Sexual Script

posted on 2024-05-13, 22:02 authored by Brianna J McCaslin
This dissertation is a qualitative study exploring the potential of feminism as an alternative sexual script. Feminist scholars have long been concerned with the sexual wellbeing of women, and particularly of young girls. In their critique of interpersonal power relations, poor sex education, and the sexualization of culture they implicitly highlight feminism as a way to sexually empower women. Yet, we have little empirical evidence of this assumed feminist impact on sexual outcomes. This dissertation fills this gap through in-depth interviews with feminist women in relationships with men. Comprised of three substantive chapters which demonstrate 1) how feminist women explain their motivations to engage in sex and the criterion they use to assess the quality of sex; 2) the pathways through which feminist women achieve “good sex,” and 3) the barriers to easy achievement of good sex in long term relationships, this dissertation argues that feminism as an alternative sexual script both enables and constrains good sex and sexual empowerment. Feminist women demonstrate high levels of intrapersonal empowerment: they believe deeply in equality and in their entitlement to the benefits of sexuality. They also show interactional empowerment (awareness of the needed resources or skills for achieving good sex) and behavioral empowerment (intentionally taking action to achieve their desired sexual outcomes) in specific domains of their sexuality. However, that empowerment is constrained by the limitations of their understanding of feminist sex. The power of feminism for these women is as an emotional and intellectual tool to process their experiences and the world around them, in order to identify problems. Developing their feminist identity enables feminist critique of past sexual partners, of their own prior sexual behaviors, and the cultural constraints under which they live. In fact, this critique can also be applied to some of their own feminist values – as they did when questioning the appropriate role of orgasm in sex. But their feminism does not readily supply them with solutions. Only through interactional trial and error with a sexual partner who shares their baseline sexual values and is willing to work to create practices, can “good” partnered sex be achieved. Therefore, theorizing sexual empowerment within partnered sex needs to be a relational endeavor.


Date Created


Date Modified


Defense Date


CIP Code

  • 45.1101

Research Director(s)

Abigail Ocobock,Kraig Beyerlein

Committee Members

Elizabeth McClintock|Erika Summers-Effler


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation


  • English

Library Record


OCLC Number



University of Notre Dame

Program Name

  • Sociology

Usage metrics



    No categories selected



    Ref. manager