Award Date

May 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Committee Member

Tara McManus

Second Committee Member

Rebecca Rice

Third Committee Member

Tara Emmers-Sommer

Fourth Committee Member

Lynn Comella

Number of Pages



Sex education in the United States is a widely debated issue. Christians have supported abstinence-based education in the United States for decades (Dent & Maloney, 2017). There are numerous studies that have examined how abstinence sex education is faulty, specifically religious sex education (Judge, 2020; Levand & Ross, 2021; Rasmussen, 2010; Reuther, 2008). Studies found that religious sex education led to mental, physical, and emotional health disparities in the United States (Baker et al., 2015; Nelson et al., 2017). This study explored how memorable messages received in Catholic sex education led to the formation of identity gaps in participants' lives. The author conducted a qualitative study with 15 participants and included personal vignettes throughout the results. The results confirmed that messages about heteronormativity and abstinence did contribute to the development of identity gaps. Participants also noted that the lack of messages that they felt were needed in their sex education, also referred to as message gaps, significantly impacted the development of their sexual identity as well. The personal-enacted identity gap and the personal-communal identity gap appeared in multiple participant accounts. In addition, multiple identity gap management strategies were used by participants to mitigate the gap they were experiencing. Overall, this research sought to fill a gap in the literature about Catholic sex education, expanded on the theories of memorable messages and communication theory of identity (CTI) which highlighted the interconnectedness of these frameworks, and contributed to new perspectives in the field of communication studies regarding sexual identity development.


Abstinence Sex Education; Catholicism; Communication Theory of Identity; Identity Gaps; LGBTQ+; Sex Education



Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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