Psychosexual Characteristics of Female University Students in Brazil

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

To a great extent, the cultural context determines the manifestations of adolescence, although one cannot deny the importance of the psychological substratum which confers universal characteristics to this phase of development. A knowledge of these two components permits the assessment of an approximate concept of normality in a given social milieu.

The concept of normality in this case does not necessarily coincide with health, but rather with a set of norms established for a given social group. Roughly speaking, it can be said that deviance from such norms characterizes pathology, although this is a very delicate question, especially in adolescence where that deviance can sometimes indicate a greater degree of mental health. The norms of any group do, however, constitute guidelines for the behavior of adolescents and their family. These norms consequently provide an important frame of reference for the professional who works with this age group.

Unfortunately, very little data is available about Brazilian adolescents. The present study was thus designed to collect data on female sexuality in the Brazilian university milieu which were then discussed within a psychodynamic framework of sexual development.

Theoretical Framework

In psychoanalysis, the Oedipus complex is considered a central element in the development of personality. Its reactivation during adolescence leads to the reappearance of many of the characteristics evidenced during the previous stages of development. In this way, a girl who has been provided with appropriate models for identification throughout her infancy and childhood may be more able to identify with her mother in adolescence, gradually overcoming her rivalry so that she can take on her own female identity. This progressive working through of Oedipal conflicts in adolescence is associated with an increasing separation from the parents and a growing sense of autonomy, which in turn represents a fundamental step toward establishment of adult sexual identity.

The conflicts originating in the Oedipus situation are natural in adolescence, although they occur principally on an internal plane, and are, to a great extent, unconscious for the individual and his/her family. Nevertheless, these conflicts do manifest themselves within the family or social context, and the attitudes manifested toward them may facilitate the working through of the conflicts or create obstacles to their resolution, thus hindering normal sexual development. The behavior and attitudes of a girl in relation to various aspects of her sexuality and her interaction with the opposite sex and with her family are thus valuable indicators for the evaluation of her level of psychosexual development.

METHOD

Sample

A random sample composed of 240 freshmen women at the State University of Campinas in the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil majoring in exact sciences, humanities, biology, medicine, and arts was contacted. The total number of subjects corresponded to approximately 35% of the chosen population, and was equivalent to the proportion of female students in the various areas. The average age of these subjects was 19.9 years. (In accordance with the Panamerican Health Organization, adolescence refers to the eleven-year period from 10 to 20 years of age, whereas based on psychosocial criteria, it is considered to last from 15 to 25 years of age.) The majority come from the interior of the state of Sao Paulo (53%), are Catholic (61%), and receive an allowance (77%); 45% live with their families; 85% of the parents are still married; 53% of the fathers and 35% of the mothers are college graduates; and 45% of the mothers have never worked outside the home.

Experimental Procedure

A questionnaires consisting of 45 multiple-choice items was distributed during regular university class sessions, with separate versions for men and women. All class members participated, although only the results for the women are considered here. …