Ethnic, Gender, and Length-of-Residency Influences on Sexual Knowledge and Attitudes

Article excerpt

In a recent study of sexual behavior among Canadian undergraduates, Meston, Trapnell, and Gorzalka (1996) reported significant differences in sexuality between persons of Asian and European ancestry. Among a wide variety of interpersonal (e.g., petting, oral sex, intercourse), intrapersonal (e.g., fantasies, masturbation), and unrestricted (e.g., lifetime number of partners, number of "one-night stands") sexual behavior items, Asians reported being much more sexually inexperienced or conservative than their Non-Asian counterparts. Consistent with Meston et al.'s (1996) findings, rates of premarital intercourse among Asian undergraduates in Hong Kong (i.e., 6% of men and 4% of women; Chan, 1990) are considerably lower than those reported by U.S. college students (i.e., 87% of students; DeBuono, Zinner, Daamen, & McCormach, 1990). Further, statistics on national rates of premarital coital experience reveal that Asian nations have the lowest rates of premarital intercourse (Hofmann, 1984).

Although a number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain sexual behavior differences between persons of Asian and European ancestry (for review, see Meston et al., 1996), the most reasonable explanation is that they reflect differences in cultural norms. Compared with North American standards, Chinese culture places a greater emphasis on propriety and the observance of strict moral and social codes (e.g., Ng & Lau, 1990). Several authors have proposed that this social conservatism has led to the suppression of sexuality among the Chinese people (e.g., Suen, 1983; Tseng & Hsu, 1970). Others have suggested that the control of sexual gratification was instigated by philosophers as a means of ensuring the survival of Chinese cultural and family systems (Chun-Hoon, 1971; Hsu, 1970). In an effort to test whether sexual conservatism among Asian persons might be explained in terms of divergent cultures, Meston et al. (1996) examined whether differences in sexual behavior existed between Asian persons born in Canada and recent Asian immigrants. They expected that Asians born in Canada would be more assimilated to Western society than would recent Asian immigrants (Feagin & Fujitaki, 1972) and, therefore, would be more likely to have adopted, or to have been influenced by, North American sexual values. Meston et al. (1996), however, found no significant difference between Canadian-born Asians and either recent (post-1987) or long-term (pre-1987) immigrants on any of the interpersonal sexual behavior measures (27 items) or sociosexual restrictiveness measures (5 items), or on most of the intrapersonal sexual behavior items administered (on 22 of 25 items). Hence, length of exposure to North American values did not seem to influence the conservative expression of sexuality noted among Asian persons.

Although Meston et al.'s (1996) findings do not support a cultural explanation for differences in sexual behavior between Asian and Non-Asian persons, interpretation of their findings is limited because the Asian sample was comprised primarily of first-generation immigrants. Perhaps culturally defined sexual norms are so highly ingrained that one would need to look at second- or third-generation Asian immigrants before changes in sexual behavior become apparent. As Meston et al. noted, it may be more reasonable to expect changes in sexual attitudes or knowledge than changes in overt expressions of sexuality to occur as a function of length of residency in Canada among first-generation Asians. Meston et al.'s (1996) finding that the only three measures influenced by length of residency in Canada were fantasy items as opposed to overt behavior items provides limited support for this hypothesis.

The notion that changes in Asian immigrants' sexual attitudes may precede changes in their overt sexual behavior necessarily rests on the assumption that attitudinal variables have predictive power over volitional behaviors. …