Seeking but not finding: a qualitative exploration of the influence of college women's perceptions of feminism on their sexual health service- and information-seeking behaviors

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University of Alabama Libraries

The connection between feelings of empowerment and improved health behavior demonstrates the relevance of feminism in sexual health. A segment of the population that is at great risk of negative sexual health outcomes is college women. Health education and promotion efforts targeting this population could have many benefits, but those benefits could be even greater if feminist tenets are incorporated. Undergraduate public health women are in a position of expertise and possess a sense of agency related to this topic. This study utilized a Feminist Theoretical framework informed by bell hooks’ understandings of feminism to explore the influence of college women’s perceptions of feminism on their sexual health information- and service-seeking behaviors. In eight narrative interviews, qualitative data related to perceptions of feminism and experiences with seeking sexual health services and information were collected from undergraduate public health women at a large southeastern university. Thematic analysis was used to evaluate the transcripts of those interviews, and found poetry was used to represent the women’s experiences with seeking sexual health services and information. Findings showed that these women have positive perceptions of feminism, which makes them feel frustrated with the experiences that they have had of “seeking but not finding” what they know they need when it comes to sexual health services and information. This caused the women to emphasize the impact of the quality of sexuality education that young girls receive, and stress the need for improved, quality, comprehensive sexuality education for all people. Their understandings of feminism made them believe that this “seeking but not finding” is unacceptable. Undergraduate public health women have a deep understanding of health and the influence that sociopolitical factors play on individuals’ well-being. Their feelings of empowerment from feminism intensify this understanding of the need for health equity, and the changes that need to be made to get there. The “hush hush” taboo nature surrounding sexuality does more harm than good. The findings of this study, through the use of language and narratives, elucidate the experiences of these women and give examples of what must be done better in the field of health education to prevent future generations from “seeking but not finding.”

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Health education, Sexuality