Wanting to Be Seen: Young People's Experiences of Performative Making Out

J Sex Res. 2017 Oct;54(8):1051-1063. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2016.1242111. Epub 2016 Nov 21.


People engage in sexual behavior for many reasons, some of which require an audience (e.g., arousing onlookers, making someone jealous). In this study, we investigated the prevalence, motivations, and outcomes of young people's experiences with performative making out-making out with someone and wanting others to see. Of the 155 female and 194 male college students who completed the online questionnaire, 32% of the women and 37% of the men reported having done this, often before entering college. Significantly more women than men reported same-sex performative experiences. We used thematic analysis to identify themes in the qualitative data. Participants' motivations included enhancing their image, causing jealousy or envy, demonstrating a relationship, sexually arousing men, and participating in fun and games. Men reported that their reputations were enhanced more often than damaged; women reported the opposite pattern. These results provide insights into the functions of sexual behavior as a means of communication and highlight gender differences consistent with problematic cultural belief systems such as "slut shaming," victim blaming, and sexual double standards.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Young Adult