Interview with Penny, 18-19, White British, upper working class, no religion. Women, Risk and AIDS Project, London, 1989. Anonymised version including field notes. (Ref: LSFS10)
Anonymised transcript of interview with Penny, who has been with her boyfriend for three years. She has been on the pill since early on in their relationship, after discussing their contraceptive options together. They use condoms occasionally - she is quite worried about AIDS, and would be adamant on condom use with any future sexual partners. Penny's sex education came from school and from her mum, who was quite open and instigated her own age-appropriate education for Penny and her siblings. She describes herself as shy and quiet, and often lets her boyfriend take the lead, but thinks this will change in the future.
Reanimating Data Project
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Q. Can you just re-cap briefly for me who you live with?
A. My Mum and Dad and brothers.
Q. Right, how many brothers have you got?
Q. Five? How old are they?
A. One of them is about twenty-eight, twenty-nine this year and the other one is twentyseven this year, the other one is just turned twenty-three, one is turned twenty-two this
year and one is turning thirteen.
Q. Thirteen? So you are the second youngest?
Q. And do you live in a big house or are you all sort of squashed together?
A. It’s a fairly big house.
Q. And is it nice having that many brothers?
A. Yes. We have a laugh.
Q. In terms of, this project is about relationships and in particular young women's
relationships including sexual relationships and things what in your life at the moment,
what are the most important relationships?
A. Well I'm with one boy at the moment, we have been for the last three years.
Q. With your boyfriend? How old is he?
A. He's just turned nineteen.
Q. And what does he do?
A. SKILLED ROLE.
Q. He is a?
A. SKILLED ROLE.
Q. SKILLED ROLE? Actually working as a SKILLED ROLE or training?
A. He's training.
Q. Because you have to have an apprenticeship. So that’s a very long-term
Q. So do you think you will marry him?
A. May be. It’s too early to tell. It takes two to have a relationship.
Q. That’s true. But are you into kind of marriage and things like that?
A. Yes. We just go out with each other and if he wants to go out somewhere he can go
out and if I want to go out somewhere he lets me. It’s like fair terms.
Q. So how often do you see him a week?
A. Every day. Apart from when I meet him because he goes to YOUTH
ORGANISATION, I meet him from YOUTH ORGANISATION, sometimes four times a
Q. Do you go to YOUTH ORGANISATION?
A. No, I used to.
Q. No, because I remembered something you had written about what you did was, one
of the things was going to YOUTH ORGANISATION?
A. Yes, I used to go there.
Q. Was that because you grew out of it?
A. No. Once you are eighteen if you aren’t a high enough rank, they like you to leave.
Q. Really. That seems a bit tough.
A. Yes, but at one stage they would(?) too many.
Q. That’s true. So how did you meet your boyfriend?
A. At YOUTH ORGANISATION.
Q. That’s what I thought. But he can carry on?
A. Yes, he's an instructor.
Q. Really, so he has done very well.
A. He was there before me.
Q. So he's been instructing you?
Q. Do you go to one another’s houses a lot?
A. No, he just comes to mine. I used to go round to his house but I don’t get along with
Q. Oh, why not?
A. Well they don’t think I'm good enough for him because he got caught bunking off
from school when he used to go to school and she thought it was my fault and I wasn’t
even with him.
Q. And it’s just stemmed from that one occasion? Well that seems a bit unfair.
A. Well they are quiet and posh and I'm not.
Q. But you would think after three years they must sort of get to think that he must be a
A. Well yes. They know he is serious, but I talk to ... but I don’t actually go down there to
Q. You said you were on the pill?
Q. How long have you been on the pill?
A. Three years.
Q. Was that from when you met him?
Q. So was he the reason you went on the pill?
Q. How did that come about?
A. We talked about it. I talked about it with him and talked about it with the doctor and
he thought it would be a good idea to go on the pill.
Q. So how old were you then?
A. Well I'm nineteen now, so sixteen.
Q. Yes, I was just thinking, so you could go along to the doctor on your own, without
your parent’s permission?
A. Well my Mum knew about it.
Q. She knew about it and that was alright?
Q. And how long had you known him when you went on the pill?
A. Well I was going out with him before that, but I wasn’t going out with him, but I had
known him for about two years before that.
Q. Really. So, he's been around for a long time?
A. Yes, before we were like close friends which just turned into a relationship so.
Q. Was that a surprise to you or was it something?
Q. It was?
A. I didn’t expect him to. Because it was just a close relationship as a friend, I didn’t
think it would be anything more.
Q. So were you already, you said it was a close relationship as a friend, were you
already doing things together but as friends?
A. Well no. It was just that we would sit down and talk and go out.
Q. And then he what, asked you seriously?
A. Well he said, "if I asked you out what would you say?" and I said "yes". So, he said
"I'm asking you out" and I said "yes".
Q. But it was a surprise, you hadn’t expected it?
A. Well I thought it was such a good relationship as a friend it wouldn’t work out as a
Q. And how long after that did you decide to go on the pill?
A. We talked about it, right, we didn’t do nothing for about two months and then he
started, like, trying to, so I said "well if you are going to then I want to go on the pill" And
he goes "if you want to go on the pill then I don’t mind waiting so I said "yes".
Q. Yes. Because had you actually kind of had sex before you went on the pill?
A. Not really. Well we didn’t make love, we justQ. Yes, but you got fairly close?
Q. Did you actually do the withdrawal thing, or did you just get as far as being quite …?
A. Well we used to nearly just get there, and I used to say "no, not yet". So, then I went
on the pill the doctor said to leave it about a month before I actually let him come inside,
so I said "you're not doing nothing for another month" and he said "alright then".
Q. And did you ever use Durex or anything like that?
A. We did sometimes. Like when he, you have to stop the pill once a month and that’s
when he uses Durex.
Q. Because what sort of pill do you use?
A. I can’t remember the name.
Q. Never mind, but it’s the normal one that you take?
Q. And was he your first boyfriend?
A. In a sexual way yes, but he wasn’t my first boyfriend.
Q. But had you had any sort of sexual experiences, I mean not actual intercourse, with
your other boyfriends?
Q. So he's the first one? And was that, I mean was it good?
Q. Because some of the girls I talked to had really different experiences, varying
experiences when they first experienced sex, some being really disappointed or disliked
it, as well as people who do?
A. No, it was OK.
Q. Was it what you expected?
A. I thought it would hurt more than it did, because everyone used to tell me it hurts, but
Q. But it didn’t?
Q. Good. It doesn’t have to. And was it kind of something that you can do, I don’t mean
easily in terms of the actual act, but in terms of you living at home obviously, does he
stay the night and things like that?
Q. And that’s fine?
A. Yes. My mum put a little lock on the door because sometimes my father, well ROB,
would come in and we would say "get out!". So she put a lock on the door but we don’t
really use it. It’s alright because everyone knocks on the door now before they come in,
Q. You've got them well trained.
A. Well I had to do towards the end, so.
Q. Yes, do your brothers have girlfriends?
A. Yes. Only two of them live at home, the oldest one is married with two kids and the
other one, he lives in a hostel and the other brother is engaged and the other brother is
engaged and his girlfriend has just come to live with us now.
Q. So you have quite a house full?
A. Well there’s about six of us.
Q. Do you like it with that many people around?
A. Yes. It’s quiet at the moment.
Q. And when you were at school did you, I can’t remember what you put on the form
about learning about sex, different sorts of, did you get a lot of sex education at school?
A. Yes. We started learning from primary school and then we started learning it again at
secondary school. My Mum already(?) the facts before going to school anyway. And
she used to leave little books lying around with babies being born and stuff like that, so
we all knew beforehand.
Q. And then did she talk to you about it as well or just leave the little books around?
A. She used to talk about it once we got to a certain age and understand what she was
trying to say.
Q. How old was that?
A. She used to talk to us when we were about eight and nine, and then she didn’t think
anything would happen to anyone anyway under that, so about eight or nine years old,
and then she started talking about birth control and babies and how it can affect your
Q. And is she easy to talk to, your mother?
Q. Because that must be nice?
A. Yes, Dad's easy as well.
Q. So you can talk to both of them about it?
Q. Well that’s nice because, that’s not the case for a lot, well you must know because
you must have some friends who can’t talk to their mum or dad about things like that.
What about your boyfriend, does he get on with your mum and dad?
A. Yes. He's like one of the family at the moment.
Q. What, so he's moving in soon?
A. He wants to. I mean he hasn’t really got a safe job and then once he has got a safe
job if he wants to move in then he can, but at the moment if he hasn’t got enough
money he can fall back on his mum, whereas if he was with us he couldn’t fall back on
Q. Would you like to actually move out and live with him somewhere?
A. Not until I've got enough money. We have talked about it, we have talked about that
Q. Have you? What have you planned?
A. Well I've got to finish my course first, then after that when I've got a steady job and
he's got a steady job and we've got the money we will go and get our own flat.
Q. And when do you finish here?
A. I finish here this year, but I've got to go over to the REDACTED for two years.
Q. Right. And then get a CARING ROLE job? So it could be another two years?
A. Yes. But I can’t wait, so.
Q. So you are not bothered about that?
A. Yes. At home is not hard to be together as we can, you know that’s not going to
Q. No, because it sounds a very free and easy. And what do you normally do together
when you go out or don’t you go out?
A. We go out.. We go to his friends or sometimes we go out to a pub, or we go out to
the pictures. It depends what mood he's in. If he's in a quiet mood we stay in the house
Q. Do you have a place where you can watch videos on your own, like in your room, or
do you have to watch them with the whole family?
A. Well my dad works as a LOGISTICS SECTOR so he doesn’t come home until about
10 o'clock, and mum is always in the kitchen because she has her own telly in the
kitchen, and my brother has got his own video in his bedroom so he always in his
bedroom, so the only time we share is when anyone comes home from somewhere, so
apart from that we are always on our own.
Q. Well that sounds alright. And do you have enough money to do what you want to do?
A. Yes. If I haven’t got nothing my mum and dad give me it. That’s if they really think I
should be getting out, because last month I didn’t really go out and my dad presented
me with the money and said go out.
Q. And he's a LOGISTICS SECTOR?
Q. So that must mean he does fairly erratic hours sometimes?
A. He does REDACTED.
Q. And if you had to think what sort of person you were to describe to somebody how
would you describe yourself?
A. Shy. Quiet.
Q. Do you do want you want to do, or?
A. Not always.
Q. Who takes the lead in things?
A. At the moment it’s my boyfriend.
Q. Do you think that will change?
Q. How is it going to change?
A. Because I will tell him my point of view and if he doesn’t like it then either , normally
we will try and agree on a place, so once we talk about what I want to do and he wants
to do, if it’s fair we agree with on it, if it’s not fair then we sort something else out, like,
well I don’t go out that place or he doesn’t go out that place so it works out fair.
Q. And who takes the lead in your sexual relationship?
Q. Do you ever think about doing it?
A. Yes, sometimes I do, but mostly its him.
Q. And is that alright or?
A. Yes. If I'm in the mood or not in the mood I tell him and he tells me, it’s whoever tells
the other, but it’s mainly him though.
Q. Do you think you are the sort of person who ever takes risks?
A. I used to, but not anymore. Because I used to, like forget taking my pill and thinking I
won’t take it this month I'll take it next month, but not anymore.
Q. What and stop taking it for the whole month?
A. I used to.
Q. Really, but you would carry on having sex?
A. Yes, that’s when we used to use the Durex, but I mean it’s still taking a risk any way.
Q. Yes because a Durex isn’t 100 percent by any means. Was that because you
decided you didn’t feel like it or?
A. Yes, because when I first started off on the pill it used to leave me all moody and
couldn’t be bothered to do anything.
Q. So it actually affected how you felt going on the pill?
A. Then the doctor changed it over and the one I'm taking now is OK. So I don’t mind
taking it all the time.
Q. Right, so you've thrown the Durex out of the window?
Q. You said that your boyfriend was the first sexual relationship you've had, do you
know if it’s the first sexual relationship he's had?
A. Yes. He's never really had a steady girlfriend before that. He only had about two
girlfriends before he asked me out.
Q. I was going to ask you in terms of the whole kind of context today about AIDS and
things like that, whether that was ever relevant to the way you thought about sex?
A. If he was to go finishing with me then I would say yes, but no, he's my first and I'm
his first so ....
Q. So do you think if you did meet somebody else and something like that happened,
you could actually assert that you wanted them to use a condom or something like that?
A. Yes, I would.
Q. You would?
A. Now I would, because the risks are high.
Q. What do you think about the whole AIDS number?
A. The risk is high, really high. I didn’t think it was as high as it was, but I started talking
about it, with my friends and that, and they were saying, I was talking to a boy there but
the risk is too high so I used to say well, it’s up to you isn’t it, if you want to do what you
want, as long as I'm not involved I don’t care.
Q. Do your friends talk about it much?
A. Not really. It’s just if it’s been on the telly a lot, that’s when they start to talk about it. I
mean now it’s not on telly that much then they don’t want to talk about it, but they just try
to get one boy and that’s it.
Q. And keep like a steady.. Do you think that’s actually changed?
A. Not really.................
Q. No, I meant with the kind of AIDS thing coming up over the least two or three years.
A. It’s quietened down.
Q. That’s what I meant, from leaping all over the place?
A. They have quietened down a lot.
Q. And do you think because of the AIDS thing?
Q. So it has in your view had an effect?
Q. Who do you think is most at risk?
A. Gays and lesbians.
Q. Why do you think that lesbians are at risk?
A. Well, maybe not lesbians, but bisexuals. They don’t know who they are having. They
are going with girls and boys, so I think it’s ....
Q. Do you think it affects heterosexual people as well?
A. I think it makes them worried because they say, "was I your first or did you have
anybody before me, was he bisexual or-".
Q. And do you know anyone who you think is at risk, people that you know?
A. Yes, there's my friend CLAIRE, she's going out with a bisexual. He wasn’t at first, she
was going out with him when he was, like, normal, but he started turning funny and
started to go towards the boys and she finished with him and because she loved him a
lot she took him back but he said to her "I still want the boy, you've got to understand
that", and she goes "yes". ................. I mean that’s her life, I can’t tell her what to do
and even if I say to her...........it’s her decision.
Q. And is she having sex with him?
Q. But is she protecting herself or not?
A. I don’t know.
Q. Do you not ever talk about it?
A. We do but she doesn’t really talk about it. I try and say to her you know, do you use
something, and she just sits there and starts going red, so I leave her out of it.
Q. No, because it is quite worrying. That is quite a high-risk position to be in. Do you
take any risks yourself? Do you take any other sorts of risks in terms of smoking,
drinking, anything like that?
A. I smoke.
Q. Do you smoke a lot?
A. About five a day.
Q. Not enormous, no. Do you think you will carry on or do you think you will just?
A. No, I'm trying to stop. I used to be really bad but I'm cutting down. When I get to
about one a day then I will stop.
Q. Have you smoked for a long time?
A. Since I was about twelve.
Q. That’s a long time? Why did you start?
A. In school.
Q. What with friends?
A. We started going round in a group and they used to smoke and we used to feel left
out, we used to think, I've got to smoke because they are smoking, and that’s how I
started, but when I tried to give up I couldn’t, so then GAVIN smoking, and now he
smokes about twenty a day, so I'm cutting down more than him.
Q. And what about anything like drinking or drugs?
A. I don’t take drugs and I only drink if it’s something special, like a party or something.
Q. And what do you think is going to happen to you in the next few years?
A. I don’t really think about it.
Q. You don’t think about it at all?
A. Just working in a CARING ROLE and hopefully getting married to the boy I'm going
Q. Do you think your family will, your brothers will move in and out?
A. There’s only one there with a girlfriend and the other one is younger. There’s mum
and dad and me and GEORGE, who’s thirteen, and my brother PAUL whose fiancé is
moving in with us. But they are trying to get a flat because they have been on to the
council for about two years now but .............they should be moving out just after
Q. Do you think if your parents hadn’t been so free and easy about you being able to
have your boyfriend back and everything like that, that you would actually be wanting to
move out of home sooner do you think?
A. Yes, because they are trying to keep us behind and, like, some boys get really
irritable and start making, I mean ...relationship as well. I think my mum knows that
Q. What are your parent’s attitude to sex. Obviously they don’t mind people having sex
A. She didn’t mind, well she did mind at first because I'm her only daughter but she
goes to me "well tell your dad", so I said "no, just tell him", so she goes to me, you
know, "is he the boy you want, are you sure you want BILLY for the rest of your life, you
know you may go off him". So, I went, no..........so she went, "well if you want him then
yes, but just make sure that he doesn’t just use you for it.
Q. And did she tell your dad, or did you tell your dad?
A. No, I told him.
Q. You did? And was that alright?
A. Well he was a bit surprised and shocked, but he goes, you're not a little girl anymore,
you've got to start your own life and if your relationship is serious with BILLY, then yes.
Q. And presumably over the last three years they have seen that it is a serious
A. He keeps asking us when are we going to get engaged and get married.
Q. They want to get rid of you?
A. That’s what I've been thinking.
Q. Is there anything else that you can think of about girls sexual behaviour that’s been
changing in the last few years that you think sexually active?
A. I don’t know. The only person I talk to is CLAIRE because her boyfriend is bisexual,
the other girls they don’t talk about it because they think ..............I mean apart from the
ones that are always swapping and changing, as far as I know they are the only ones
that have calmed down. They don’t really talk about it because it’s not really any of your
Q. No, because some groups of girls just talk about it nonstop.
A. It used to be like that when you were at secondary school I suppose.
Q. Was it like that for you at school?
A. Well, not with me, but some would say I wonder what it’s like and that and they'd say,
"well I'm not a virgin, and you’re a virgin". They used to sort out, most of them were
virgins but they would still go around saying there weren’t, sort of thing, thinking that it
was good, you know.
Q. Was it seen as being more prestige or something if you had lost your virginity?
Q. A bit daft really.
A. It was.
Q. Do you think that sex is an important part of your relationship?
A. In a way, yes. Because we have a relationship with a lot of love and if we don’t feel
we are getting it enough in the relationship it’s always there when we are making love.
Q. And is it important for your boyfriend as well?
A. Yes, I think so.
Q. Because sometimes it’s a lot more the other way round, sometimes girls say that
they think sex is more important for their boyfriends than it is for them.
A. Well maybe, I haven’t really asked him. He's is more loving, he's loving but he
expresses it more and he will say things as well.
Q. Yes, it’s a way of being sharing and intimate. Do you think in terms of the way
relationships develop and become sexual relationships that it happens, I'm talking more
generally now, although thinking of your own experience as well, does it happen at a
time when people want it, well particularly girls, when they want it to happen or just
because it’s expected at a certain point or boys want it, do you know what I mean,
whether it happens..?
A. Well with me it was if I wanted to and when I was ready to. With him, he did try
sometimes, and I would say I'm not ready yet.
Q. And he respected that?
A. Yes. Well, if he didn’t then I knew that he was just trying to get his own way.
Q. If he had tried to carry on even though you said no, was that a sort of, would you
have ended up letting him or would that have finished your relationship?
A. I think it would have finished the relationship because I think he would have been
pushing himself a bit too hard and then I thought to myself maybe I would. But when I
said no, he just said OK, fair enough, when you’re ready, and that was it, so it worked
Q. Well, it sounds like you have a nice relationship going.
A. I hope it lasts.
END OF RECORDING.
She is also on the YTS childcare course, training to be a nursery nurse. Blonde, rather
plump, quite a perky mischievous face. Aged 19. Tended to talk fast and merge words a bit.
Quite willing to be interviewed but didn't give very elaborate answers. Dressed in sloppy Tshirt and trousers. Has a steady relationship with her boyfriend who was allowed to stay at
her house with her. Parents were very liberal and they liked her boyfriend. It seemed like a
longterm thing. He is her first relationship. She was quiet and serious when talking about her
relationship, and sensible about sex. Always uses protection, is on the Pill.