Gender Differences in Sexuality and Interpersonal Power Relations among French-Speaking Young Adults from Quebec: A Province-Wide Study

Article excerpt

Key words. Sexuality Gender differences Power relations Young adults Quebec


Research on the sexuality of teenagers and young adults indicates that marked sociosexual changes have occurred among these age groups over the last twenty years (e.g., Sprecher & McKinney, 1993). These changes can be attributed to many factors including the emergence of feminism, the availability of contraception, the influence of mass media, the reduction of the significance between male and female occupations, and the replacement, in the realm of sexuality, of a morality of renunciation with a morality of personal gratification (Walsh, 1989; Lipovetski, 1992). A shift toward greater sexual permissiveness and recognition of female sexuality is apparent (Reiss & Lee, 1988). The years prior to 1960 were characterized by an encouragement of abstinence and the presence of a sexual double standard, while the 1970s and 1980s witnessed a liberalization of sexual norms (Robinson, Ziss, Ganza & Katz, 1991). The importance of love as an essential condition for sexual relations diminished (Walsh, 1989). Sexual behaviour also reflects a narrowing of the gap between males and females with regard to the beginning of sexual life. Compared to previous cohorts, the proportion of women who had had sexual relations increased significantly during the 1970s and 1980s, even in a "non-love" context. This, in turn, suggests an erosion of the double standard and the convergence of sexual scenarios (Kallen & Stephenson, 1982).

In Quebec, these trends are also apparent, particularly among French-speaking Quebecois (Levy & Sansfacon, 1994). However, within some ethnic groups, this modernization is less marked (Maticka-Tyndale & Levy, 1992). Studies conducted with Cegep students (Otis, 1996) indicate an increase in the percentage of sexually active students, from less than 50% in the early 1980s, to 76% in the mid-1990s. In the mid-1990s the average age at the time of first sexual relations was approximately 16 years (Samson, Otis & Levy, 1996). Furthermore, it was found that the percentage of young women who are sexually active is higher than that of men, a finding which may be an indication of a new trend. These new behavioural patterns have been accompanied by the increased use of effective contraception, often during the first sexual encounter (Maticka-Tyndale & Levy, 1992; Samson, Otis & Levy, 1996).

Relatively few studies have examined whether these major changes in sexual attitudes and behaviour have been accompanied by a significant change in personal standards and specific behaviours underlying interpersonal relationships, particularly with regard to power relations (Kalof, 1995). There are two main schools of thought with respect to the relationship between the evolution of sociosexual norms and gender-related power differentials in male-female relationships. According to one perspective, sociosexual changes related, among other things, to the feminist movement, may have resulted in new kinds of intimate heterosexual relationships and the establishment of more egalitarian relationships between young men and women (Allgeier & McCormick, 1983; Macklin, 1983; Reiss, 1986).

The second school of thought would have it that sociosexual changes in the modern world have not profoundly changed relationships between the sexes, as these continue to be marked by an asymmetry that puts women at a disadvantage, both socially and sexually. Men are more reluctant to acknowledge and support equality with regard to social roles, as demonstrated by McBroom (1984), Figueira-McDonaugh (1985), Brabeck and Weisgerber (1989) in the United States, and Maticka-Tyndale and Levy (1992) in Quebec. With regard to sex, males still maintain greater control, an observation which supports the theories of some feminist scholars who postulate that various forms of male dominance have not really been changed, but simply rearranged (e. …