The Consideration of Participants within Sensitive Research upon Sex & Intimate Relations Online


The media tends to neglect the way in which sexting can impose upon men’s social and intimate lives, of which this thesis will primarily focus upon. I consider the interconnections and interactions of the private and public spheres, and how these shape our mediated knowledge of the emotional effects sexting may, or may not, have upon young adult males within contemporary society.

To introduce this methods chapter, I will consider the way in which sex and texting has become defined within a modern society in order to provide an epistemological grounding of how these definitions have shaped our understanding of intimate communications through innovative and mobile technology.

Contemporary culture has not only adapted to become a primarily dominant visual culture, as Attwood (2009:79) notes, “we are a self pleasing society”. Attwood (2009) suggests that this is predominantly based upon a mainstream level, which suggests that contemporary culture has targeted our perceived (sexual) desires. Stemming from this concept, I wish to consider the definition of emotion, which presents an analysis of Attwood (2009) theory of ‘self-pleasure society’ by Heckert’s (2010) more recent work of admissions of non-monogamous relationships. Through this recent research, it is interesting to note the difficulty of attempting to define masculine emotions within a contemporary setting, with consideration of explicit possibilities available upon mobile media devices. Kuby (2008) suggests that over time emotions are ‘shifted’ in various contexts and therefore different emotional investments occur. Boler (date) points out that emotion used to be something that was controlled in education and kept minimal. Despite this, the media tends to influence our expression of emotion by appositionally suggesting that they can become uncontrolled through reality TV that surrounds us.

Relating to the concepts of new masculinity (SEE Shilling 2003?), Crewe (2003) has recently identified that business surveillance has continued to exist: when attempting to define the use of mobile technology within contemporary society, instantly the concept of surveillance culture becomes identified. Southwell (1998:105) identified himself as a generation of men in touch with their emotions and feelings, enough to admit that “Girls could run rings around them” – already suggesting a alternative sense of masculinity within contemporary culture. Can it be suggested that mobile technology has become the facilitator between this abstract grounding of emotional discourses within masculinity? It must be considered that not all new masculinities respect the way in which new technologies function: which will be shortly covered when considering how private sexts have become acknowledged as public, with disregard to the consent of the sender (Hasinoff, 2014).

Theoretical Frameworks :

A reflective account upon Johnson’s (2009:04) research upon the role of the researcher with specific regard to qualitative research and collection of data, I am able to fully acknowledge the ethical impacts of my positionality as researcher. I will theoretically outline some of the emotional research methods I will consider whilst conducting primary and secondary qualitative research. The purpose of qualitative research is to enhance the understanding of the many current issues that can (potentially) affect people in contemporary society, (Dickson-Swift et al, 2006). I endeavour to understand primary intimate relations online and the effect it can have upon offline relationships: Holliday (2002) points out that qualitative research represents the acknowledgement of emotion and social interaction. “…To understand human affairs it is insufficient to reply on quantitative surveys and statistics… indeed, delve deep into the subject qualities and govern behaviour” (2002:07). Here, Holliday points out the key rationales of my research methodology: I am eager to conduct an ethnographic investigation of immersing myself as the researcher into male and female’s intimate social connections in order to consider the effects social media could have upon male emotions offline. Interview and focus groups provide a paradigm of immersion for the researcher, providing that their participants are honest and comfortable to freely discuss sensitive issues.

According to Micciche’s (2007) notion of ‘doing’ emotions, a concept that views emotions as a verb: something that we do and enact in relationships to each other. Kuby continues to add that emotional collisions are prompted dialogic conversations about social justice: this concept is interesting to peruse in my methodology chapter as I am interested to consider how emotions could effect men whilst sexting. From using Kuby (2008) “Doing Emotions in Social Justice Dialogue”, I consider emotional investment as a theoretical perspective whilst researching within the field of academic interviews and focus groups. Kuby (2008) explores emotions in relations to social justice dialogue and sharing vignettes in order to illustrate how emotions are embodied, situated and fissured via drawing upon a narrative. I wish to explore participants understanding of intimate relations online by being invited in recovering their own previous experiences and immersing myself as the researcher into their feelings when recovering qualitative data upon sensitive topics of sex and sexting. Lewis (2009) revisits the notion of critical engagement by complicating critical literacy into a stance that combines distance with immersion and emotional investment. Kuby (2008) expands this further by suggesting that emotions are not ‘sequentially’ learned as a set of skills but ‘shift over time, in various contexts and in relationships with others”; which harmonises when considering Butler (1993) who suggests, “there is a tendency to think that sexuality is either constructed or determined; to think that it is constructed is in some sense free…”


My research implies methods of focus groups, interviews and careful analysis of academic publications. Focus groups will be comprised of 2-6 people male and female between the ages of 18 to 30+ and from backgrounds of academia, undergraduate study and Inspectors within the West midlands police force. Therefore this variety of voices will enable me to consider the effect of sexting offline within public social spaces, such as bars and clubs, as well as online platforms used by the next generation of advanced mobile technology users. Goff (1980) suggests that the ‘focus of the mind is social but the real focus lies within the individual’. This identifies the rationale behind my research attempting to understand the social impulse of sharing private affairs upon online networks that Ellis (1991) adds gains a ‘fusion of private and public’ which can provide access to private experiences that I hope will become a opening to the participants own knowledge of intimate relations. I am interested to concentrate on the online identity my participants may, unconsciously, create whilst communicating online (Hasinoff 2014) of which I believe they will be able to share openly as before joining the focus group and/or interview there will be prior warning that sensitive subjects will be discussed. Hochchild (1983) suggests that emotional experience is an essential part to authenticating process as a clue to self–identity. I wish to remain a conscious awareness of the individual identities of my participants so that I can maintain a greater understanding of each of them specifically that will not only illustrate ethical consideration but may help to later draw a group analysis. Simiarly to Heckert (2010:05), who considered the ‘flows of eroticism, desire and emotion’ of his participants though added that he was aware some relationships were ‘romanticised’ within interviews, which may have led to his participants adopting a ‘secrecy and defensiveness in order to survive’ (Schmidt 2000).

The understanding of sensitive research is key to the respect of my participants and how I adapt to interact with them should be closely acknowledged. My theoretical research considers ‘emotional labour’ (Carroll 2012:549) which is expanded by Hochschild (2003). This will enable me my interview methods to draw upon the idea of ‘surface acting’ and ‘deep acting’ of which Hochschild claims to be required when considering emotions. In order to carefully consider the emotions my participants may encounter whilst in a focus group or interview, Hochschild suggests ‘surface acting’ involves stimulating emotions, which tend to not usually be felt, but this is probed by presenting ‘careful verbal and non verbal cues’ according to Ashforth and Humphrey (1993). Strongly considering my gender, and authority as researcher, I need to recognise the types of body language signals that is given whilst conducting interviews or to a group of participants. Self-awareness again comes into play here, where Hochschild (2003:17) suggests ‘mentally detaching from a feeling’ would be necessary to avoid any emotional investment to the participants as this could shape the research in a biased way when reflecting my primary experiences of intimate relations and technology.


When considering my positionality for my research on sexting and intimate relations online I draw upon principles posed by Moser (2008) who considers the expectations of herself as a female researcher towards her participants and recognises the negotiations that must be made during the research. Moser acknowledges that as researchers we have moved away from the traditional positionalities that tend to lead to ‘impartiality’ by ‘recognition that we belong to various social categories that position us differently within power structures. Ultimately suggesting, that the limitation and ‘silences of the discourse’ is when a lack of positionality is considered within the research itself (2008:385). The primary rational behind my research is to survey social concerns of vulnerability and privacy with high consideration to masculine identities online and emotional investment during sexting, of which the media tends to neglect. This subject is current and, as the researcher important to pursue, because I have had first hand experience in technologies used in a generation that firstly adapted to using these online resources to communicate intimately and often explicitly. Through maturely developing in this specific generation that has evolved alongside the Internet, I wish to continue to expand my comprehension of social relations online and how this could therefore affect masculinity offline. Therefore this acknowledgment of my positionality, Moser (2008), will conceive my research as insightful though I must consider how different positionalities of the participants could effect the fieldwork (Rose 1997). Such as, my position as a young woman researching intimate relations that may have effect on the outcomes of my (male) participants, who may interpret the questions posed differently based on my age, gender, and my position of power as a researcher. Here, I consider relative concepts suggested by Frankel & Devers (2000) who focus upon the experimental designs of qualitative research. It is important to consider the role of the researcher as the ‘social actor’, which Frankel & Devers (2000) suggests studies the object without providing any influence within the paradigm of intimate relations through social media.

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Reflecting on the qualitative methods that will be used in this thesis will give a particular steering point of the research. I focus primarily on the one to one interviews that will provide intimate knowledge of the participant’s own experience of sexting and intimacy online. Blackman & Commane (2011) notes that the researcher’s identity can be illustrate degrees of success if ‘their identity as researcher fades over time’. This can be understood as acceptance from the participant(s), which in turn should allow for more private information to be disclosed during an interview, as they will trust that I will receive the information they share with sensitivity and understanding. Ultimately, as Blackman & Commane (2011:231) suggests, “double reflexivity enables the researcher to demonstrate commitment in field work and write-up.” This reflexivity of the methods in which I will use to gather primary qualitative data will enable a greater understanding and provide a clear presentation of a variety of voices I wish to correctly portray anonymously though in accordance to the desire of the participant.

I intend to immerse myself into sensitive experiences of my participants in order to provide a ethnographic analysis of researcher and participant becoming interactively linked and therefore generating current research findings together, (Guba & Lincoln 1994). Maykut & Morehouse (1994) argue that through ethnographic research and full immersion of the researcher, the outcome of these studies is not the generalisation of results but deeper knowledge of experiences, shaped by the perspectives of participants who were selected for study. I will also particularly consider the reasons for those who do not wish to contribute voluntarily. My positionality as researcher inclines consideration of reflexivity: not only the method of participant selection for the study of intimate relations online but providing high consideration as to their reasons for participation in order to evaluate valid and trust worthy results.


I strongly consider sensitive research by carefully constructing the voices of a younger generation into the narrative of my dissertation though I am conscious not to reproduce duplicate knowledge that already exists. Therefore, I am demonstrating that I have an advanced awareness and respect for the voluntary voices of my research whilst still maintaining a deep commitment to the current theoretical frameworks and research that continue to occur of sexting and intimate relations online.

Wimpenny & Gass (2000) suggests that the researcher and participant are required, during interviews, to explore and acknowledge their own being in the world. Therefore, I can begin to predict that my participants and I, in order to prevent emotional distress, will be required to go through a reflective process in terms of actions and understanding of the primary aims behind conducting the research: not only is it topical and actively current within mediated news, but this research will engage in how technology has changed the method of communication of intimate relations and intend to benefit the understanding of emotional effects that could potentially become issues for masculinity within contemporary society. Johnson (2009) continues to expand Wimpenny & Grass (2000) via a modernised perspective: “…During regular intervals, the researcher is called to give considerable amount of thought to their own experiences and emotions and to explicitly reflect upon the ways in which their position relates to the issues being discussed” (2009:05). On the other hand, positivist social science researchers have argued that research had to be conducted objectively and that emotions were seen as irrational and or a contamination of the research project, according to Tillman-Healey (2001). However, I believe that this is due to the broad emotional dimension that can be brought to the researchers theoretical spectrum that may make it appear ‘contaminated’ because sensitive issues spark a number of various emotions, which potentially could be harmful to either researcher or participant. Ultimately, emotional reactions to intimate experiences to which we are exposed to are inevitable; though the method in which the research intends to deal with these reactions should remain to be sensitively conceived within the shaping of collective data. In addition to this, Bourne (1998) points out that as the researcher you could be exposing your participants to emotional distress, particularly females. Therefore, this acknowledgement can result in greater understanding of the research subject: enhancing the range of benefits mutually to researcher and participant. Reviewing this, it is in my interest to use a method shaped from Johnson (2009): to use a reflective account for both the participants and I in order to avoid either party being exposed to sensitive issues which could cause distress or emotional damage. This reflective account will result in allowing both researcher and participant to openly discuss private issues in order to help ease the interview process, sharing intimate experiences (Hochchild 1983) trust can be built.

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