Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

A Mixed-Methods Inquiry into the Intimate Practices of Partnered Mature Students and Influences on Relationship, Sexual, and School Satisfaction

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

A Mixed-Methods Inquiry into the Intimate Practices of Partnered Mature Students and Influences on Relationship, Sexual, and School Satisfaction

Article excerpt

University campuses have increasingly become responsible for, and responsive to, students' sexuality-related issues. For example, many campuses now have sexual health seminars and/or centres to communicate helpful information to the student body about maintaining a healthy sexual life. In addition, university administrations on many campuses have investigated and addressed sexual harassment and violence to end and prevent such encounters (e.g., Best, Smith, Raymond, Green, & Crouch, 2010). In both cases, students are dependent on higher education institutions for sexual information, safety, and recovery. While ad hoc curricula and practices, such as workshops on sexual health and safety, are important tools, an integrated and holistic approach to sexuality and relationships in the university setting may improve students' experiences and learning outcomes. Further, because the majority (65%) of university students fall between the ages of 18 and 24 (Statistics Canada, 2013), sexual health centres may be prone to focusing on sexuality issues that are age and demographic specific (e.g., safety around casual sexual encounters) and may not adequately address experiences of mature students (e.g., sexuality and intimacy in the context of longer-term relationships).

Mature students, whom we define as undergraduate students aged 25 and older, are considered to face unique challenges as non-traditional students. These challenges typically relate to the difficulties they face when combining school and family roles and responsibilities (e.g., Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Home, 1997, 1998; Kirby, Biever, Martinez, & Gomez, 2004; Quimby & O'Brien, 2006; Sweet & Moen, 2007). Home (1997) notes that "combining higher education and family is especially problematic, as both are 'greedy' institutions that demand exclusive loyalty, virtually unlimited time commitments, and high flexibility" (p. 336). This means that, as a result of being older than traditional postsecondary students, mature students generally experience heightened and complex financial and familial responsibilities beyond those of their traditional-aged peers, which may explain the rise in divorce rates among partnered mature students during and after the return to school (Galvin, 2006). Furthermore, the interaction between intimate relationships and academic pursuits may be bidirectional in nature. A better understanding of the nature of this changing relationship forms the impetus of this current study.

Returning to school (i.e., a formal education setting such as university) can be a stressful experience for mature students, and the strains from school demands may influence the quality and quantity of time they spend with their romantic partner (Giancola et al., 2009; Gold, 2006). For example, in Giancola and colleagues' (2009) study of transferred stress between work, school, and family among mature students, the researchers found that participants experienced the greatest conflict from school demands that negatively impacted their family. In addition, Gold's (2006) study on the topic of mature graduate students found that the stresses related to higher education (including financial strains and having less "free time" to be at home with their partners) negatively impacted their satisfaction within their intimate relationships.

Conversely, it may be that the quality of mature students' intimate relationships influences their academic success. It has been documented that the degree to which an individual is satisfied in their sexual and intimate relationship has a significant positive impact on their quality of life (Chao et al., 2011) and overall well-being (Lawrance & Byers, 1998). Specifically, individuals reporting instability in their relational and sexual satisfaction are more likely to experience depression (Whitton & Whisman, 2010) and stress (Røsand, Slinning, Eberhard-Gran, Røysamb, & Tambs, 2012). …

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