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Leila Darabi

December 8, 2003


Double standard negatively impacts sexual and social life of young adults

A recent study of young adults in Nicaragua shows that young men are encouraged to express their sexuality and engage in premarital sex, while the same behavior is discouraged and disapproved of in young women. In "The Psychological Context of Young Adult Sexual Behavior in Nicaragua: Looking Through the Gender Lens," Manju Rani et al. of Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health analyze survey responses from 841 never-married young adults aged 15-24 on their perceptions of a range of sexuality issues, including societal approval, health risks and preferred sources of information.

According to the researchers, young Nicaraguans have internalized the societal double standard that encourages vastly different behavior among men and women of the same generation. Eighty-three percent of men surveyed-compared with 26% of women--say they have received encouragement to have sex from at least one person in the past year. Conversely, 82% of women--but only 40% of young men--say they need permission from their parents to leave the house. When asked about social attitudes toward premarital sex, 51% of young men-compared with 3% of young women--think their father would approve of their having sex. Young men are also more likely to believe that their siblings, other relatives and friends would approve of their having sex.

In addition to reporting greater parental control, young women reported more frequent parental communication about schoolwork, friends and personal matters with their parents. About half of both men and women reported never discussing questions or doubts about sex with their parents. However, 40% of young women said that parents were a source of information about sex. Young men were more likely to seek information from peers, with 67% reporting friends and 24% reporting parents as sources.

These differences in parental communication and control, combined with such polarized perceptions of societal attitudes toward premarital sex, may pose difficulties for both women and men. Young men perceive themselves to be under social pressure to have sex, while young women may find themselves caught between opposing pressures from their boyfriends on the one hand and from society at large on the other hand. In Nicaragua and countries with similar gender divides, programs geared at youth must target deep-seated double standards in gender norms to improve their sexual and social lives.

The Psychological Context of Young Adult Sexual Behavior in Nicaragua: Looking Through the Gender Lens appears in the December 2003 issue of International Family Planning Perspectives. Also in this issue:

Unmet Need and Unintended Fertility: Evidence from Upper Egypt, by John B. Casterline, Fatma El-Zanaty and Laila O. El-Zeini.

Using Network Analysis to Understand Community-Based Programs: A Case Study from Highland Madagascar, by Kirsten Stoebenau and Thomas W. Valente.

Where Do Rural Women Obtain Postabortion Care? The Case of Uttar Pradesh, India, by Heidi Bart Johnston, Ranjani Ved, Neena Lyall and Kavita Agarwal.

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