Academic journal article Population

Sexual Activity after Conjugal Separation. Women and the Age Constraint

Academic journal article Population

Sexual Activity after Conjugal Separation. Women and the Age Constraint

Article excerpt

Conjugal separation is an increasingly frequent event and occurs at an ever earlier stage in life (Daguet, 1996). Demographers have examined the differences between men and women in the intensity of and length of time to new union formation, and in the age difference between partners in new unions (Bozon, 1990; Festy, 1991; Villeneuve-Gokalp, 1991). A study based on data from the Etude de l'histoire familiale family history survey of 1999 (Cassan et al., 2001) reveals that a man has a 23% greater chance, all other things being equal, of entering a new union than a woman. The age at conjugal separation is the key variable: before age 35, women and men form new unions much more frequently than after that age. All other things being equal, women who do not have a young child are only slightly more likely to form a new union (7%) than those who have one or more young children. Though the probabilities of entering a new union are relatively well known, we know little about the way in which individuals' emotional and sexual life is reorganized immediately after a conjugal separation.

The reorganization of emotional and sexual life after a separation is a preliminary to repartnering, as immediate transition from a first to a second union is uncommon. Very few people refuse to envisage a new romantic relationship, though a larger number say they have no desire to enter a new union (Villeneuve-Gokalp, 1991). Starting a relationship with a new sexual or dating partner does not always lead to union formation, either because the partners are satisfied with a non-cohabiting dating relationship, or because the necessary conditions are not satisfied. Determining the ways in which these new dating relationships are formed sheds light not only on one of the preliminaries to repartnering, but also, more broadly, on the organization of a post-conjugal dating market.

In this article, we will describe, by age and sex, the factors influencing the pursuit of sexual and romantic relationships after a conjugal separation by examining three aspects in turn. The comparison between men and women is the common thread that links them. Like repartnering, is the pursuit of sexual and dating relationships easier for men than for women? One objective is to identify pertinent indicators for comparing the situations of men and women in terms of access to new partners. A second question concerns the circumstances of separation. How does the presence or absence of parallel relationships before the demise of the couple influence subsequent sexual activity? Is the situation the same for men and for women? Lastly, a third question concerns the way in which individuals adapt to the dating market (Bozon and Héran, 1989). The problem is as follows: while up to age 25 or so, a minority of individuals live with a partner and a large proportion of the people encountered in daily life are potentially available for dating relationships, the situation is rapidly reversed as age increases. After age 25, the vast majority of potential partners are in a union or a steady relationship. Following conjugal separation, individuals looking for a dating partner find themselves in a much "narrower" market. How do they adapt to the situation? Are they willing to date someone who is already in another relationship? In particular, do market constraints affect men and women equally?

After describing the survey and the study population, we will examine the sexual context in which conjugal separation occurs. We will then present the various trajectories involved in meeting a first post-conjugal sexual partner and the characteristics of this partner. Lastly, we will describe the more complex sexual trajectories of cases where there are several partners after separation.

I. The data: a survey module on sexual activity after conjugal separation

Few data are available to study sexual activity after conjugal separation. Sexuality surveys are scarce and rarely involve the collection of event history data. …

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