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Whatever She Wants: An Ethnography of American Women, Sex and the Internet


Background: The internet has revolutionized the ways that humans are able to create and maintain relationships through a variety of virtual media and portals including email, instant messaging and geolocation services. Within the realm of physically intimate relationships, the connectivity of the internet alone introduces the possibility of continuously new romantic and sexual connections across multiple media - from one's Facebook page to their smartphone. This dissertation is an ethnographic investigation focusing on how a technological innovation like the internet and opportunities such as online dating, "hooking up'' and casual sex encounters; changes women's conceptions of love, intimacy and sexual practice.

Study Purpose and Objectives: Through in depth interviews, an online survey and content analyses, this project investigates beliefs and practices around love, sexuality and modern intimacies among American women meeting their casual sex partners over the internet. Specifically, this project examines the experiences of women who meet their casual sex partners online; and the implications, if any, of moving the relationships from the virtual world to the real world.

Findings: The temporally brief casual sex encounter requires much more time and investment - "emotion(al) work"; and induces much more reflection about one's self than may have been originally anticipated. This dissertation argues that what circulates in these practices and narratives of internet mediated hooking up is an economy of intimacy that holds love, lust, and other capitalist tropes as currency, value and commodity. It asserts that while utilizing a technology that allows for greater sexual freedom, expression and experience; through their participation in this economy of intimacy, women experience hooking up in ways that serve to form new identities, norms and engagements with sex, while also forcing a reconciliation of lingering old norms around love, sexual identities and relationships. This research posits that the production of sexual selves within this economy of intimacy has come about not shaped by the internet technology per se but rather by the way in which, through their emotion(al) work, women organize themselves, their feelings and their sexual practices.

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