Associations between Family Factors and Premarital Heterosexual Relationships among Female College Students in Tehran

Article excerpt

CONTEXT: Although premarital heterosexual relationships, especially those involving sexual contact, are discouraged in Iran, particularly for females, a considerable minority of young people are involved in such relationships. However, the determinants of such relationships have not been identified, especially those pertaining to family.

METHODS: in 2005-2006, a random sample of 1,378 unmarried female college students from four universities in Tehran completed anonymous, self-administered surveys that asked whether the respondent had ever had a premarital heterosexual relationship. Bivariate and multivariate regression analyses were conducted to examine associations between such relationships and family factors, including socioeconomic measures, parent-child communication and closeness, family values and atmosphere, and parental control.

RESULTS: Having had a boyfriend was positively associated with paternal income (odds ratio, 1.3), maternal educational attainment (1.3) and more liberal family values (1.3), and negatively associated with parent-child closeness (0.6). Very strict and very relaxed parental control during adolescence were both associated with having had a boyfriend, but only the former was associated with having had premarital sex. In addition, respondents were more likely to have had premarital intercourse if they did not live with both parents (2.0) or if their family had more liberal values (1.3); they had reduced odds of having had sex if they had a closer relationship with their parents (0.7).

CONCLUSION: Good family relationships may reduce the likelihood that youth will engage in premarital sex, possibly by fostering parent-child closeness. Moderate parental control may discourage premarital relationships more effectively than lesser or greater degrees of control.

International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2011, 37(1):30-39, doi: 10.1363/3703011

The age at which women and men marry has increased substantially in Iran during the past few decades. Among women, for example, the mean age at marriage increased from 19.7 in 1976 to 23.3 in 2006. (1) The proportion of women aged 20-24 who had never married was 21% in 1976, compared with about 50% in 2006 (80% in urban areas). (1), (2) As a result of this change, the gap between puberty and marriage has increased considerably. Any relationships (particularly sexual ones) between men and women outside of marriage are socially, culturally, legally and religiously forbidden in Iran, and most Iranians consider it important that young people (especially females) abstain from any physical intimacy and sex until marriage. * However, recent evidence suggests that the prevalence of premarital relationships is rising among young people. If these relationships do not lead to marriage, the psychological, emotional and social consequences tend to be greater for females than for males, because of the double standards regarding male and female sexuality and the importance of virginity for young women's marriage prospects.

The development of attitudes-regarding heterosexual relationships and sexuality, and the learning of appropriate norms, both begin early in life, and these processes are influenced by the family environment and by the values and behaviors of parents and other family members. The family provides role models, a social and economic environment and standards of sexual conduct. (3) However, the specific dimensions of family life that influence the formation of sexual behavioral patterns among young people in Iran are not well understood.

Because societal norms should be similar for most females in a particular society, variation among individuals in premarital heterosexual relationships and intimacy presumably is attributable primarily to individual and familial characteristics. Because many individual-level factors, such as attitudes and self-efficacy, are also influenced by an individual's behavior, the direction of causality is not al ways clear. …