Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Women's Studies and Feminist Research


Dr. Susan Knabe


This dissertation expands the critical literature on postfeminism, which is largely discussed in relationship to popular culture, to focus on how postfeminism permeates and shapes contemporary popular understandings of sexual health. A focus on women’s sexual health is particularly relevant considering the way in which postfeminist discourse is seen to simultaneously and contradictorily take up and reject the gains and methods of the ‘second wave’ feminist movement, within which feminist struggles relating to the women’s health movement and the sexual revolution were fought. Using a feminist critical discourse analysis methodology, I explore how female sexuality is discursively constructed in five websites offering sexual health information, including non-profit (e.g., government, professional health organization, feminist organization, Aboriginal health organization) and commercial (e.g., condom company) websites. I argue that healthist, neoliberalist, and postfeminist discourses interact to construct a particular form of sexual subjectivity for young women. I identify three themes through my analysis, including the discursive construction of: (i) an imperative of good sexual health; (ii) a choice-making subject; and (iii) the sexually savvy subject. The postfeminist subject is a sexual subject, and the display of an open, free, and active sexuality is a strong source of evidence of feminism’s success; however, sex is simultaneously constructed through these websites as integral to overall health and as dangerous for young women in particular. Within cultures characterized by healthism and postfeminism, young women are increasingly expected to be knowing health consumers, consuming both sexual health products and sexual health information. This expectation translates into a moral responsibility to make the right choices in the pursuit of good sexual health: young women are mobilized to manage sexual health risks, including sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and sexual assault.