Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Elizabeth I. Johnson

Committee Members

Spencer B. Olmstead, Sandra Twardosz


The purpose of this thesis is to explore sexual-focused possible selves and strategies in a sample of undergraduate students at a large southeastern university. Sexual possible selves (SPS) address individualized expectations and fears regarding sex, along with the associated behavioral strategies used to attain or avoid these expected or feared selves. To date, there are no studies that examine the SPS of emerging adults. This study aims to fill this gap by examining the content of first year students’ SPS and behavioral strategies, and by considering whether SPS vary by sex, romantic relationship (RR) status, and indicators of socioeconomic status. SPS questionnaires were collected from 282 first year students at the University of Tennessee. A content analysis of the participants’ responses indicated significance of goals related to abstinence, interpersonal relationships, physical/sexual health, experimentation, reputation, risky behaviors, and rape/assault. Results further revealed that remaining abstinent was a salient focus of expected SPS, as was expected interpersonal relationship strategies, and feared physical/health SPS and strategies. Additionally, chi-square tests indicated significant associations between SPS and the participants’ sex, RR status, and RR type for the categories related to abstinence, physical/sexual health, interpersonal relationships, experimentation, reputation, and rape/assault. Findings from this study have implications for understanding sex and relationship differences among emerging adults, as well as implications for sexual education programs and possible selves-based interventions prior to entering college.

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