College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Fall 11-26-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Gary W, Harper, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

LaVome Robinson, Ph.D.


Dating and sexual relationships among adolescents have been identified as both normative and beneficial. However, the research examining the dating and sexual relationships of African American adolescents has been narrow in scope, focusing primarily on risks of intimate partner violence, pregnancy, and STI/HIV transmission. This myopic focus has left a gap in the literature as it relates to the normative aspects of dating and sexual relationships for these youth.

The present study sought to better understand the dating and sexual partner preferences of 51 African American adolescents (male = 32, female = 19) recruited from Chicago and San Francisco. The adolescents were interviewed by study personnel using a semi-structured interview guide meant to explore gender ideologies. While the interview had a wide scope, it also included questions that specifically query respondents’ ideal dating and sexual partners. These questions served as the core of the present analysis, though the entirety of the interviews was analyzed. The study utilized qualitative analysis guided by a psychological phenomenological framework.

The study found that there were eight primary domains of relevance in the selection of an ideal dating and/or sexual partner: physical characteristics, self-presentation characteristics, interpersonal characteristics, intrapersonal characteristics, financial resources, age, preferred race, and similarity to celebrities. Contrary to expectations based on exchange theory, both young men and young women considered characteristics across the spectrum when selecting their partners. In general, both young men and young women had a great deal of similarity between their ideal dating and ideal sexual partners. However, there were some characteristics that were unique to a dating partner or sexual partner. In general, young men’s ideal dating partners had all the characteristics required of an ideal sexual partner, but they also had additional qualities related to the increased seriousness and potential length of a dating relationship. Young women’s ideal dating and sexual partners both had unique characteristics, despite sharing a large number of qualities. Young women’s ideal dating partners had qualities necessary due to the seriousness of the relationship, the amount of time which would be spent together, and the potential length of the relationship. Young women’s ideal sexual partners had qualities more related to minimizing the risk of embarrassment resulting from the primarily sexual focus of the relationship.