Women Learning about Sex
: Lessons from the Old and New (Anti)feminism in Poland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research study explores popular sex advice texts, such as teenage and women’s magazines, not only as resources for sexual learning and the construction of sexual identities but also as potential sites where the formulation, (re)production and contestation of the dominant discourses of femininity and female sexuality take place. My examination is set within the unique and novel cultural context of Poland; a country with a long-standing tradition of dissent and an unusual location of struggle between the discourses of global neo-liberalism juxtaposed against the ideals of former socialism and the powerful tradition of Catholicism. Poland is also a location where after the systemic change in 1989, feminist activism has enjoyed an increasing popularity. This research project is a feminist-informed examination of the discourses of female sexuality in popular culture and media that involves analyses of popular Polish sex advice materials as well as semi-structured interviews with young women in Poland, some of whom identified themselves as feminists. Apart from exploring topics relating to romantic relationships, the interviews also looked into the issues of sex education, sexualisation of culture, as well as feminist identification and consciousness. The text materials analysed included excerpts from archival Polish teenage magazines Bravo and Bravo Girl! and the popular psychology magazine for women, Charaktery. The analytical approaches deployed here utilised selected tools developed within discursive psychology (Edley 2001) and the textual analysis developed by Fairclough (2003). Discursive narratives of un-readiness threaded through the participants’ accounts around the themes of sex education, sexualisation and romantic love.
Other girls, but predominantly not the participants themselves when they were younger, were constructed as too sexually uneducated, sexualised and misguided by the media in their understanding of what it takes to form intimate and fulfilling romantic and sexual relationships. The positive self-presentation as a sophisticated, discerning, free-thinkingand articulate individual was achieved through the juxtaposition with other persons that lacked these qualities. The social context in which these identities and counter identities were constructed was often perceived as in need of intervention and improvement, especially within the participants’ accounts around sex education in Poland and the role of the newly-emergent media in the promotion of gender discrimination.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRosalind Gill (Supervisor) & Christina Scharff (Supervisor)

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