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

Article excerpt

Joanne Otis Joseph Levy Jean-Marc Samson Francois Pilote Annie Fugere

Departement de sexologie Universite du Quebec a Montreal Montreal, Quebec

Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Joseph Levy, Department de sexologie, UQAM, C.P. 8888, Succursale Centre-Ville, Montreal, Quebec, H3C 3P8. Tel: (514) 987-3000; Fax: (514) 987-6787.

ABSTRACT: Gender differences in sexuality and interpersonal power relations were examined using a sample of 2,060 French-speaking college students throughout the province of Quebec. The results of bivariate and multivariate analysis indicate that several variables regarding sexual and contraceptive scenarios, personality traits, sexual self-efficacy, sexual initiative and communication styles were significantly different between males and females at the intra-individual and interpersonal level. These results suggest that the changes affecting the sociosexual life of teenagers have led to an increase in equality vis a vis a number of contraceptive and sexual behaviours, as well as greater sexual autonomy for women. However, men continue to exercise power in certain areas and the acceptance of gender equality is not yet a reality. These data indicate that Quebec adolescents are seeking new models of sexual expression. In this respect, their attitudes and behaviour reflect a transitional phase in sociosexual norms.

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). …