In praise of monogamy

BOB LEVIN January 6 1986

In praise of monogamy

BOB LEVIN January 6 1986

In praise of monogamy


A woman in rural Nova Scotia reported having 110 different sex partners in the previous year, while a Toronto man tallied 75. Those claims were among the responses to The Maclean’s/Decima Poll—but they are clearly the exception. In fact, the poll suggests that most Canadians are monogamous and that monogamists have more fun—more overall sexual satisfaction—than people with multiple partners. In short, the sexual revolution may not be over, but its superheated heyday appears to have passed. “Sex as a recreational activity is less valued now,” said Gerald Wiviott, head of family therapy at Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute. “The adventure of the 1960s and 1970s, based on more partners and more orgasms, seems to be giving way to an emphasis on more meaningful relationships.”

Active: Experts suggest a number of possible explanations: disillusionment with easy sex, the aging of the baby boomers, concern over economic prospects and fear of such sexually transmitted diseases as herpes and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). But whatever the reasons, when asked,

“Roughly how many sexual partners would you say you have had in the last year?” 69 per cent of respondents said one, while only 16 per cent said two or more.

Those figures may be somewhat skewed by a reticence to admit to sexual affairs, but they still point toward a generally monogamous society. But monogamy does not imply inactivity: some 18 per cent of respondents described themselves as “very sexually active” and 55 per cent said they were “somewhat sexually active”—findings that show no significant change from the results of the first Maclean’s/ Decima Poll in 1984.

The respondents also seemed overwhelmingly pleased with their present sex lives. Five out of 10 said they were “very satisfied,” and four out of 10 were “somewhat satisfied.” Among the most likely to be very satisfied were people with one partner (57 per cent compared to the poll average of 49 per cent). On the other hand, almost a third of respondents with two or more partners were among those least likely to be very satisfied.

Respondent Jamie Harms is one of the very satisfied. A Calgary substitute teacher, the 25-year-old Harms and her husband, Arthur, have a 10-month-old baby. She says that she and her husband make love four to six times a week. “We try to get every chance,” said Harms.

“My husband waits up until the baby is in bed. Sex makes us happier.”

Such single-partner bliss is hardly confined to the marriage bed: people living common law were among the most likely to be active and sexually satisfied. And while 58 per cent of respondents 25 to 39 years old said they were very satisfied, advancing age is certainly no bar to the joy of sex. Divorced respondent Roger Sundin, 57, of Matsqui, B.C., has been living common law for the

past three years and described himself as “very active” sexually. Said Sundin, a construction machinist: “I have a partner that I appreciate.”

Among some respondents reporting multiple partners, there is a strong sense of caution. Michelle Farmer of Toronto, 19 and single, maintained that she and her peers were more conservative than older generations. “We didn’t grow up in the age of the flower children,” said Farmer, a computer operator. “And we’ve seen things, like parents splitting up, so we place more value on things like commitment.”

Scare: Concern over sexually transmitted diseases has also inhibited many would-be lovers. Respondent John Schonewille of Ottawa, a welding student and single father, said he has had sex with three women in the past year—down from about a dozen in 1984, the year before the height of the AIDS scare, “AIDS put a real

damper on my social life,” said Schonewille, 23. “Fm terrified.” As in the 1984 poll, respondents from Newfoundland reported themselves to be both more sexually active and satisfied than those from any other province. That phenomenon is difficult to explain. One respondent in Newfoundland cited high unemployment, arguing that sex “is about the only thing to do around here —that and drink.”

Pressure: The poll showed other demographic divisions as well. Urban dwellers were more likely to report multiple partners than rural residents (19 per cent to 12 per cent). Social class and education were also factors. Among those most likely to rate themselves as sexually active were people with household incomes of $40,000 or more (86 per cent compared to an average of 73 per cent in the sample) and those with university educations (76 per cent); those groups were also more satisfied.

Conversely, respondents least likely to be active included those with household incomes of $10,000 or less (50 per cent) and those with elementary school educations (59 per cent). And at least one woman said that she was satisfied without sex. Respondent Doini Nordman, 64, a retired cook from Sydney, N.S., said she has had no sex life since her husband died in a car accident 12 years ago. “I always feel that whatever I do, he sees it,” said Nordman. “And I have never met a man who could take my husband’s place.”

The gender gap was also clearly evident in the replies given to poll interviewers. Men were much more likely than women to claim—or admit—that they had had multiple partners in the previous year (24 per cent compared to nine per cent), and they were more likely to rate themselves as sexually active (81 per cent to 66 per cent). On the other hand, women were more likely than men to be very satisfied (57 per cent to 44 per cent). But if male respondents felt compelled to exaggerate their exploits, it was impossible to tell. “There is strong pressure on men to act the stallion,” said Mary O’Brien, associate professor of sociology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Similarly, said O’Brien, some

Would you describe yourself as very sexually active, somewhat sexually active, not very sexually active, or not sexually active at all?

1984 1985

Very Sexually Active-14% 18%

Somewhat Sexually Active — 60 % 55 %

Not Very Sexually Active — 11% 14%

Not Sexually Active At All —10% 10%

women may tend to understate their sexual activity and overstate their satisfaction.

A poll question on sexual orientation also produced results that were most interesting precisely because they were suspect. Asked, “Would you consider yourself heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or asexual,” fully 92 per cent said heterosexual, five per cent asexual, one per cent bisexual and much less than one per cent—five people out of the 1,575 polled—said homosexual. The

poll results leave open the possibility that despite the “gay pride” movement of recent years, many people do not admit that they are homosexual—particularly during a time of anxiety over AIDS.

In general, respondents revealed a positive self-image. Asked to rate their looks on a scale of 1 to 10, only one per cent gave themselves a 1 while five per cent said

Would you say you are very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, not too satisfied, or not satisfied at all with your sex life at the present time?

Very Satisfied -49 %

Somewhat Satisfied - 40 %

Not too Satisfied - 6 %

Not Satisfied at All -3 %

And roughly how many sexual partners would you say you have had in the past year?

Zero -10%

One - 69%

Two -5%

Three - 4%

Four or More7 %

they were a perfect 10; the average was a healthy 6.7 (up fractionally from last year). “This year’s results confirmed what we suspected last year,” says Bruce Anderson, Decima’s senior research consultant. “There is a strong link between feeling that you look good and a sense of well-being and security generally.” The male respondents showed a slightly higher opinion of their looks than the women (averaging 6.8 and 6.5 respectively) and Quebecers gave themselves a higher rating (6.9) than people from any other province (New Brunswick was lowest at 6.1). In follow-up interviews some respondents said Quebecers simply were better-looking, while others cited their style. “People here are more spontaneous, less inhibited,” said 28-year-old Françoise Dubé of Montreal, a self-described 9. But beauty, like money, apparently cannot buy happiness: respondents from Quebec were least likely than residents of other provinces to be very sexually satisfied.

Caution: Overall, the poll suggests a new caution in the public’s sex habits. The sexual revolution may have stirred up some excess but, said University of Montreal psychologist John Wright, it also “helped married couples to be more satisfied. People talk more about their sex lives now.” The poll respondents seem sexually active and glad of it, members of a much-publicized “permissive society” that, of late, has swung slightly back toward conservatism. Even a permissive society permits fidelity.

— BOB LEVIN in Toronto