Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Howard R. Pollio

Committee Members

Kristina Gordon, Cheryl Travis, Julia Malia


The purpose of the study was to conduct a phenomenological analysis of the experience of consensual unwanted sexual activity (CUSA). College men and women (N=10) in relationships ranging from casual to committed who were enrolled at a university in the southeastern United States were interviewed about experiences of CUSA. Interviews were conducted in person with participants who were asked to answer the following research question: “Describe a time in which you did not want to participate in some sexual activity, but you decided to anyway.” Interview transcripts were analyzed using phenomenological research methods in the context of an interpretive research group, as well as by the author alone (Pollio, Henley, & Thompson, 1997). Analysis of interview data rendered a unique structure of the experience of consensual unwanted sexual activity (CUSA). The structure of CUSA is characterized by themes of Focus, Expectation, and Outcome, which emerged as figural against the ground of the interpersonal relationship in which CUSA occurred. These three themes are interrelated parts of an experiential gestalt. When an individual engages in CUSA, there is a minimization of focus on the desires of the self, in favor of a focus on the desires of the other, often to the exclusion of one’s full presence in the interaction (Focus). Engaging in CUSA involves the use of social rules, gender roles, and standards for reciprocation (Expectation). An individual engages in CUSA to bring about various desired outcomes and/or to avoid undesired outcomes; however, engaging in CUSA often results in unexpected outcomes (Outcome).

Findings suggest that CUSA may be experienced differently in committed relationships than in casual ones. In satisfied committed relationships, engaging in CUSA may be harmless or even adaptive, akin to other sacrifices made for the good of a relationship. In casual relationships, however, engaging in CUSA may result in negative outcomes such as regret and resentment. This study demonstrates the importance of context (the interpersonal relationship) to the experience of CUSA. Results suggest that the experience of CUSA might be gendered-- experienced similarly by men and women yet informed in complementary ways by rules dictating masculinity and femininity.

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