Sara McClelland, Ph.D.
  • Associate Professor in the departments of Women’s Studies and Psychology at the University of Michigan
  • PhD in Social/Personality Psychology from The Graduate Center, City University of New York (2009)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Michigan’s Society of Fellows  (2009-2012)
My research focuses on studies of the “intimate imagination,” defined as the expectations individuals develop for what they deserve to feel, experience, and avoid in their intimate lives.

My research program builds on my earlier theoretical work on the concepts of intimate justice and thick desire, which urge researchers to consider the role of inequality and, particularly, the role of social policies in people's sexual lives. In this work, I argue that policies like sex education shape what people come to think of as fair, equal, expected, and inevitable. I study how contextual factors – paired with one’s sense of entitlement – shape how individuals evaluate concepts such as their own sexual satisfaction, sexual health, and relational dynamics. In short, I my research considers the social and political key when evaluating the intimate.

I often design research with translational aims, particularly in medicine, education, and public policy. This has included: studying the role of stereotypes in abortion attitudes, the effects of abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education on young adults, and gaps in clinical care for women diagnosed with cancer. Examples of the impact my research has had include Peggy Orenstein's best-selling book, Girls & Sex and her TED talk, which relied on my theory of intimate justice to examine young women's sexual development.

A major focus of my research has been the development of “critical methods” -- methods that look beyond traditional assessment procedures, and focus on subtle information about the role of imagination, histories, and uneven political rightsembedded in psychological data. For examples, see my work on the self-anchored ladder, survey marginalia, and research using Q methods.

For a description of some of the kind of research questions I work with, see the following:
Recent awards include: the 2018 Committee on Women in Psychology Leadership Award from the American Psychological Association (APA); the 2018 Distinguished Early Career Contributions in Qualitative Inquiry Award (APA Div 5); the 2016 Mary Walsh Roth Teaching the Psychology of Women Award (APA Div 35); and the 2014 Michele Alexander Early Career Award for Scholarship and Service (SPSSI, APA Div 9). 

I teach courses on the Psychology of Women & Gender; Adolescent Sexuality; Feminist Methods; and Sex, Sexuality & Public Policy. For more information on the courses I teach, see the Teaching page.

Departmental Affiliations

Ways to Contact Me