Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Joint Ph.D. Program in Study of Religion

First Advisor

Katherine Turpin, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Michele Hanna

Third Advisor

Carrie Doehring


Qualitative, Religious education, Religious formation, Sexuality education, Young adulthood


The Roman Catholic Church promotes exacting norms about the sexual behavior expected of Catholics, but prior qualitative and quantitative studies have shown a mixed effect on the decisions made by young adult Catholics, especially women. This qualitative study interviewed young adult women who were raised Catholic and sought to determine both what they were taught about sex and sexuality while growing up Catholic and how they think those teachings affected their lives and decision-making as young adults. Analysis of their responses indicated an anxious climate in their childhood educational experiences where adults were hesitant to answer questions or engage in discussion about the topic, and where formal sexuality education was focused on the risks of having sex in the form of pregnancy, STIs, and incurring religious guilt. This sense of discomfort from adult educators ultimately translated into a fear-, shame-, and guilt-based lived theology in young adulthood. Participants largely made sexual decisions in a defensive manner, focused on the possibility of negative experiences rather than the desired outcomes of sexual behavior and relying on intuition and a "gut feeling" to make decisions in the moment. By creating a composite narrative, this study identifies key educational encounters across the lifespan and indicates how each moment could have been experienced as life-giving and integrated into the participants' moral religious upbringing so that as young adults, they would have felt better equipped to make sexual decisions in their own lives. Parents, religious educators, and stakeholders in the Catholic world are encouraged to consider how to incorporate sexuality education more holistically into religious education using well-established modes of Catholic religious pedagogy.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Emily Susanne Kahm


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

186 p.


Religion, Religious Education