About the Project

Knowing Sex:  

a qualitative study of the knowledge practices and experiences of adolescent girls

What is this project?

This project looks at the knowledge practices of girls aged 14-17 in Scotland and the Netherlands on the subject of sex and sexuality. What this means is that I am interested in how adolescent girls form their knowledge on sex. Sex is a subject you learn about in many different contexts, perhaps you learn about the biological functions of sex organs in biology class, maybe your school has a specific sex education class that talks about sexual health. Perhaps your doctor tells you about contraceptive methods. Your parents or other family members may sit you down for ‘the talk’. Your friends may tell you about what they know or have experienced. And that does not include the many different ways in which popular culture addresses the subject of sex. My interest is in how all of these many different things come together.

How are you planning to find out about this?

I recruited participants aged between 14 and 17, who identify as girls and live in Scotland. I interviewed the participants to get a general idea of the context of who they are. I then asked the participants to keep a weekly video diary for 6 weeks. These diary videos were short videos in which the participants talk about any thoughts they’ve had on the subject. I sent each participant some prompts to think about and possibly discuss within the diaries. I will then analyse this data to look for common themes, questions etc.

How is this related to Science and Technology Studies?

My PhD sits within the subject area of Science and Technology
Studies (STS). For those unfamiliar with STS, that might seem like an odd fit. However, the study of knowledge, (e.g: how knowledge is formed, how it is spread, and what we consider knowledge to be) is a fundamental part of STS. The subject of sex is interesting within this, as education about sex often comes in the context of biology classes, or within the context of health and healthcare settings. So although we may not think of sex as a scientific subject matter, a lot of our information about sex comes from scientific or medical sources. But there are many other sources of information about sex which are just as important. This makes it a specifically interesting subject matter to apply STS scholarship to.

Young people, sex, videos… is this ethical?

Of course I am aware that asking girls to talk about sex can be tricky. And I have done extensive work to ensure that the project can be conducted ethically, without putting anyone at unnecessary risk. I have received full ethical clearance from the University of Edinburgh for this project. You can read my data protection protocol here. There is a page for participant information here. And a page for any queries from parents/guardians here.