Canadians rate their sex lives
‘Most people feel differently about their physical looks. How would you rate your looks on a scale of “1 to 10” with “1” being the lowest rating and “10” the highest rating?’
9 ( 4%)
10 HIGHEST ( 6%)
NO OPINION (VOLUNTEERED) ( 2%)
The mean rating on physical looks is 6.59
Canadians have changed a great deal from a time when public morality decreed that brides should be virginal, husbands kept out of the way of divorcees and children sheltered from the facts of life. Now, premarital sex is more common, divorce is at least accepted, and sex education is offered by many schools. But the shifts in attitudes toward sex in the past 10 to 20 years are clearly not acceptable to all Canadians. According to the results of The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll, most Canadians think that attitudes to sex have become more permissive but they are deeply divided as to whether those changes have been good or bad for their society.
Canadians were asked “Over the last 10 to 20 years would you say Canadians’ attitudes on sexual matters have become more permissive, somewhat more permissive, stayed about the same, somewhat more conservative or far more conservative?” Forty-one per cent of respondents said that attitudes have become far more permissive, and 35 per cent said they have become somewhat more permissive. Only 10 per cent said that attitudes have become far or somewhat more conservative. A further 13 per cent said that attitudes on sexual matters have stayed about the same. But when asked if the change to great-
er permissiveness was for the better or for the worse, 31 per cent said that it was for the better, but even more, 40 per cent, said that it was for the worse. Seven per cent said they believe attitudes have become more conservative and that the change is for the better and two per cent said they have become more conservative and the change is for the worse. Twenty per cent had no opinion or said that attitudes have not changed.
Described: Despite that notable division in views, Canadians were relatively united on one issue—they believed themselves to be sexually active individuals. According to the poll 74 per cent of the respondents are leading an active sex life. Those polled were asked “Would you describe yourself as very sexually active, somewhat sexually active, not very sexually active or not sexually active at all?” Fifteen per cent of the respondents said they were very sexually active, and 59 per cent said they were somewhat active. Eleven per cent said they are not very sexually active, and 10 per cent said they are not active at all. Six per cent volunteered no opinion.
When asked to compare their sex life with that of others, most Canadians opted for modesty. When asked “Compared to the average Canadian, do you think you are much more sexually active, somewhat more sexually active, somewhat less sexually active or much less sexually active?” five per cent of
respondents described themselves as much more sexually active than the average Canadian. Another 27 per cent said they were somewhat more active, and 18 per cent said they were somewhat less sexually active than average. Eleven per cent described themselves as much less sexually active, while 30 per cent said they were the same as the average. Eight per cent offered no opinion.
Canadians were also confident about their physical appearance without being excessively vain. When asked “Most people feel differently about their looks. How would you rank yourself on a scale of ‘1-10’ with ‘1’ being the lowest rating and ‘10’ the highest?” 24 per cent ranked themselves a 5,17 per cent said that they were 6s, and 27 per cent said that they felt that they were 7s. Only two per cent said that they rated less than a 3, and only one per cent ranked themselves a 3. On the top end of the scale, 17 per cent said that they were 8s, four per cent said that they were 9s, and an uninhibited six per cent ranked themselves as 10s. Only two per cent were unwilling to make any assessment at all.
Opposing: The poll revealed that on their attitudes to sexual matters Canadians were divided along the lines of age, sex, marital status and socioeconomic backgrounds. On the question of sexual activity, for one, men, younger people and the better-off all tended to report higher levels of activity than did those with lower incomes, homemakers, those over 55 and those with less education and income. At the same time, Canadians with higher incomes held views about sex that differed significantly from those earning lower incomes or no incomes. Young people held opposing views to seniors. Working women tended to have attitudes significantly different from those of women who do not work outside the home. Men tended to think differently from women. And even the region of the country they lived in played a factor in how Canadians felt.
There was a clear split between men and women on the questions relating to sexuality. Fully 58 per cent of the men polled said that the liberalizing changes in Canadians’ attitudes toward sexuality have been beneficial—or at least not harmful—to society. Only 38 per cent of women shared that view. Men also reported higher levels of sexual activity: 18 per cent described themselves as very
sexually active, compared to 11 per cent of the women. Another 63 per cent of men said that they were somewhat sexually active, compared to 56 per cent of women. Only nine per cent described themselves as not very sexually active, and a further six per cent said that they were not sexually active at all. By contrast, 12 per cent of women said that they were not very sexually active, and 14 per cent said that they were not sexually active at all.
Physical: Men were also more likely than women to see themselves as more sexually active than the average Canadian. Seven per cent of the men polled said that they were much more active than average. Only three per cent of women placed themselves in that category. At the same time, 32 per cent of men said they were somewhat more active than average compared to 22 per cent of women. Fully 33 per cent said they were average (women, 26 per cent). Another 15 per cent of men said they were somewhat less active (women, 23 per cent), seven per cent of men described themselves as much less active (women, 15 per cent), and six per cent had no opinion (women, 10 per cent).
Men also rated their physical appearance more highly than did women. Twelve per cent said that they were a 9 or a 10 compared to only seven per cent of women. Thirty-three per cent of women rated a 5 or less. By comparison, only 24 per cent of men said that they would rate themselves that low.
Socioeconomic and age variables alsó accounted for widely different views about sexuality. Young people were much more likely to welcome a more permissive society: 62 per cent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 said that they felt the changes of the past two decades have been for the better. By comparison, only 27 per cent of retired people said that society has changed for the better in the past two decades. “The changes for women are probably better for them,” said respondent Arthur Teale, a retired Victoria machinist. “But it is harder on the children because of the split in family life.”
Permissive: Social and economic factors emerged as powerful determinants of Canadians’ attitudes toward sexuality. Seventy-nine per cent of respondents with annual household incomes of more than $40,000 said that society has become more permissive, and 53 per cent of them added that the changes are for the better. By comparison, 72 per cent of those with annual incomes under $20,000 agreed that attitudes have become more permissive, but 55 per cent of them believe that has been for the worse. High-income earners were also more likely to describe themselves as
very sexually active although compared to lower-income respondents they did not consider themselves very much more sexually active than average. Better-educated respondents also tended to approve of shifts in attitudes toward more permissiveness. Fifty-five per cent of those who had attended university said they believe such change is for the better, compared to 38 per cent who had some high-school education.
Respondents who described themselves as teachers, civil servants, managers or professionals were also more likely to see more permissiveness as beneficial. A full 53 per cent of respondents who placed themselves in those categories said that sexual attitudes have changed for the better. By contrast, only 33 per cent of homemakers and 45 per cent of the unemployed shared that view.
Attitudes: Marital status also had a discernible effect on attitudes to sex. Single people (63 per cent) were more likely to approve of the direction that changes in attitudes toward sex have taken in the past two decades than were married people and those living in common-law relationships (43 per cent) and widowed, divorced and separated people (37 per cent). When it came to putting attitudes into practice, single respondents (32 per cent) were also more likely than married respondents (35 per cent) or widowed, separated and divorced respondents (21 per cent) to describe themselves as more sexually active or somewhat more sexually active than average.
But only five per cent of married people said that they consider themselves to be much less sexually active than average, while 16 per cent of single people placed themselves in that category, and 34 per cent of widowed, separated and divorced did so. Single people also tended to rate their looks more highly than those in the other two categories. Seventy-one per cent rated themselves a 7 or higher, compared to 50 per cent of married people and 51 per cent of widowed, separated or divorced people.
The image of rural Canada as the last bastion of traditional values was unsupported by The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll. The size of the communities in which the respondents lived had no significant effect on their responses to questions about changes in societal attitudes toward sex and about their own sexual activity. Respondents in rural areas were no more likely to object to changing sexual mores than were their urban counterparts. Nor were their assessments of their own sexual activity significantly more conservative. Fifteen per cent of city dwellers described themselves as very sexually active, compared
to 13 per cent of rural Canadians. Ten per cent of both groups described themselves as not sexually active at all.
Still, the poll results do vary somewhat regionally. At one end of the spectrum, the majority of respondents in Ontario (57 per cent), the Prairie provinces (64 per cent) and the Atlantic provinces (58 per cent) said that the changing attitudes toward sex have been for the worse. Said poll respondent Alice Spence, a 37-year-old mother in The Pas, Man.: “I think we have gone a little too far. Kids are growing up a lot earlier. They are doing things at 10 and 11 that our generation was doing at 17 or 18.” At the other end of the spectrum, 65 per cent of all Quebec respondents
‘Compared to the average Canadian do you think you are much more sexually active, somewhat more sexually active, somewhat less sexually active, or much less sexually active?’
MUCH MORE SEXUALLY ACTIVE..........
SOMEWHAT MORE SEXUALLY ACTIVE SOMEWHAT LESS SEXUALLY ACTIVE.
MUCH LESS SEXUALLY ACTIVE...........
SAME AS AVERAGE.............................
NO OPINION (VOLUNTEERED)..............
said they believe that Canadian society has changed for the better in the past two decades.
Image: Quebecers also had a generally higher self image, reflected in the fact that they rated their own looks higher than did other Canadians. Thirty-six per cent said that they would describe themselves as an 8,9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 (compared to 24 in Ontario, British Columbia and the Prairie provinces and 26 per cent in the Atlantic provinces). Still, only 10 per cent of Quebecers described themselves as very sexually active, compared to 15 per cent each of British Columbians, Ontarians and the residents of the Prairie provinces, suggesting that looks may have less to do with sex than most people assume.
Respondents in the Atlantic provinces were most likely of all to describe themselves as very sexually active (22 per cent) and to see themselves as much more sexually active than most other Canadians (seven per cent), even though on the question of physical looks they rated themselves significantly lower than average Canadians. Six per cent
said that they were 4s or less. Indeed, the most sexually active Canadian of all, or so he believes, may well be a welleducated, married male between the ages of 30 and 34 currently earning a decent living in Halifax.
Dramatic: Age, sex and socioeconomic status have traditionally been important determinants of attitudes toward sexuality, and The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll confirmed that they continue to have a measurable effect on Canadians’ views. But in the case of women, the poll also revealed a dramatic, and less predictable, determinant of attitudes toward sex. The poll results indicated that a significant attitudinal gap exists between women who work outside the
home and women who do not (page 28). Women who have participated actively in the workplace, the poll revealed, hold more attitudes in common with each other and with working men than they do with women who do not work.
Despite the dramatic divisions discovered among women, the poll results also suggest that the country is not in the grip of a conservative social backlash against sexual permissiveness. The wave of social conservatism that five years ago swept Ronald Reagan to power in the United States, where the rightwing and politically active Moral Majority now claims more than seven million active members, is nowhere evident in the poll’s results. Instead, the poll suggests that while most Canadians’ attitudes toward sexuality have changed profoundly in the past two or three decades, for the most part they have taken the changes in their stride. Their views tend to cluster, not at the extremes but rather together on the middle ground. And on most, if clearly not all, contentious issues they have quietly agreed to disagree.