Relationships that develop during emerging adulthood are
foundational events. It's from these early experiences that people learn
how to be in a relationship and depending on the nature and quality of
the experiences, the effects - both positive and negative - can echo
Power imbalances in heterosexual relationships are common, but having
less power takes a greater toll on young women than young men,
according to a recently published University at Buffalo study.
The results, appearing in The Journal of Sex Research
suggest "a healthy skepticism when it comes to what looks like gender
equality," says Laina Bay-Cheng, an associate professor in the UB School
of Social Work and an expert in young women's sexuality. "This research
refutes the claim that gender equality has been reached and we don't
have to worry about misogyny anymore."
‘For young women, having less power in a relationship is associated with diminished intimacy and stability and comes with greater risk of abuse.’
Bay-Cheng says the dynamics underneath relationships require
scrutiny and the often-heard claim that girls and women have reached and
in some ways surpassed equality with men unravels quickly when examined
"We have to look closely at relationships and experiences and
stop taking surface indicators as proof of gender equality," says
Bay-Cheng. "When men are subordinate in a relationship, it doesn't
bother them very much. They don't see those relationships as less
intimate or stable than relationships in which they are dominant. But
for young women, having less power in a relationship is associated with
diminished intimacy and stability and comes with greater risk of abuse.
"Inequality within a relationship doesn't cost men as much
because they are still cushioned by a broader system of male privilege."
"It's so important that we understand that it's not that sex and
relationships are at the root of risk or vulnerability. Instead, some
young women, because of intersecting forms of oppression - especially
misogyny, racism and economic injustice - enter relationships and are
already at a disadvantage," says Bay-Cheng. "For young women,
relationships are where all different forms of vulnerability and
Bay-Cheng developed a novel research method for this study that
considered both the objectives of researchers and participants'
experience, which, she says, is as important as the findings.
For this study, Bay-Cheng used a digital, online calendar that
participants fill out using all of their sexual experiences from their
adolescence and early adulthood. The open-ended digital calendar can be
filled out over a month and participants can enter anything they want,
not just text, but audio files, images or even emoji.
The result is a more meaningful measure for researchers and participants.
"On the research side we get varied and diverse data," says
Bay-Cheng. "For participants, rather than circling a number on a scale
on some survey, they get to express themselves how they want, at their
own pace, and then look at their calendars and get different perspective
on their sexual histories and how these relate to other parts of their
lives. Participants have told us how meaningful that chance to reflect
can be. It's important for researchers to care as much about the quality
of participants' experiences in our studies as the quality of our