Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Iranian Immigrants' Perceptions of Sexuality in Canada: A Symbolic Interactionist Approach

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Iranian Immigrants' Perceptions of Sexuality in Canada: A Symbolic Interactionist Approach

Article excerpt

Abstract: Iran is a country with an established coherence of Islamic teachings and laws (Shari'a) with state laws and government policies. Iran has contributed growing numbers of immigrants to the Canadian population. Iranian immigrants bring to Canada ways of thinking about sexual relationships rooted in understandings of human nature and social order that are profoundly different from those that have set the foundations of Canadian culture and institutions. Based on interviews with 20 heterosexual, married, adult immigrants from Iran, this paper uses symbolic interaction theory to ask how these immigrants understand and interpret Canadian sexuality, including the meanings they ascribe to what they see and experience in Canada. To our participants, individualism, access to and use of divorce, cross-gender social and public interactions, and the kind of permission given to adolescents evidenced in Canada were experienced as potential threats to their own relationships and family life. To them these were seen as demonstrating a considerable divide between Canadian and Iranian values, norms and expectations related to gender, sexual and family issues. Areas of misunderstanding and miscommunication fostered a sense of difference, concern and suspicion. This study demonstrates some of the challenges faced in bridging cultural diversities, particularly in developing programming and delivering services in a multicultural society.

Introduction

Global migrations have figured prominently in the formation of the Canadian social and cultural landscape with that landscape becoming increasingly diversified as the heritage countries of the majority of immigrants shift from Europe (90% prior to 1961) to Asia and the Middle East (60% beginning in the 1990s) (Statistics Canada, 2006). These newer immigrants bring to Canada ways of thinking about sexual relationships rooted in understandings of human nature and social order that are often profoundly different from those that have set the foundations of Canadian culture and institutions (Aswad & Bilge, 1996; Barot, Bradley & Fenton, 1999; Beckett & Macey, 2001), posing a new acculturative challenge to immigrants and Canadian society alike.

Iran is a non-Arab country in the Middle-East that has contributed growing numbers of immigrants to the Canadian population. Among the countries of the Middle East, Iran is one that has established coherence between Islamic teachings and laws (Shari'a) and state laws and government policies (Moghadam, 1992; Shahidian, 1999). Thus, Iranian immigrants come from a country where Islamic world views and normative systems are not only learned as part of religious teachings, but permeate the laws and policies that govern their lives. This is particularly salient to the area of norms, roles and expectations related to sexuality since this is an area where Islamic countries such as Iran may be seen as standing in stark contrast to countries like Canada (Shirpak et al., 2007). At the root of these contrasts are beliefs related to sexual drive and desire, the role of family in the lives of individuals, and the positioning of patriarchy.

The question addressed in this paper is how Iranian immigrants understand and interpret (i.e., make sense of) Canadian sexuality, including the meanings they ascribe to what they see and experience while living in Canada. The analysis is set within the framework of Symbolic Interaction Theory and is based on interviews with 20 adult immigrants from [ran living in Ontario. These interviews were part of a larger study on the experiences and concerns of Iranian immigrants to Canada in the realm of sexual health and sexuality. This larger study is, in turn, one of a series of studies conducted by researchers affiliated with the Social Justice and Sexual Health Research Lab at the University of Windsor exploring how global migrations influence sexual health and sexuality.

Contextual frames

Iranian context

Sexual interest and drive are presented in Muslim teachings as natural and necessary parts of the human condition. …

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