Public Pillow Talk

Jane O’Hara December 25 2000

Public Pillow Talk

Jane O’Hara December 25 2000

Public Pillow Talk


Sexual Attitudes

Jane O’Hara

Larry Janzen, a married, 47-year-old farmer who lives near North Batdeford, Sask., is positively mesmerizing when he talks about the rutting

habits of his elk herd. During their mating season, he says, his bulls lose up to 300 lb. from their 1,100-lb. frames. “It’s the only thing on their minds,” says Janzen, who also raises dairy catde and buffalo on his 2,500acre farm. “It really wears them down. They won’t even eat.” But when the conversation moves closer to home, and his own sex life, he audibly cringes. “Ahhhhh, no,” he says, sounding as though he’s just lost his last dollar at a blackjack table. “That’s not something I want to discuss with you. It’s embarrassing.” Janzen is not alone. In the far-reaching Macleans year-end poll, the questions probing the sexual habits of Canadians are the ones most likely to cause respondents to clam up, resulting in the high levels of “won’t answer” responses.

Allan Gregg, who designed the poll questions in conjunction with editors from Macleans and the Global Television Network, says he was “struck” by the refusal rate this year—especially among women. This is the 17th straight year that Macleans has asked questions about sex, and Gregg, who has guided the project each year, has always been impressed by Canadians’ willingness to discuss the subject. But this is the first time the poll grilled respondents not just on the standard questions about their general level of sexual activity and satisfaction, or even more specifically about how many partners they

have had in the past year and in their lifetime. For the first time, it crosses a line into the closeted world of homosexual fantasies. “Clearly, this is a subject that older Canadians, in particular, feel really uncomfortable talking about even over the phone,” says Gregg. “Its like the sexual revolution never really happened.”

Still, the perennially sexy Newfoundlanders have no problem either doing it or crowing about it. For the 17th straight year, they top the “most sexually active” category. A full 74 per cent say they are having sex, and only 11 per cent decline to answer. At the opposite end of the country, just 59 per cent of British Columbians say they have an active sex life, and 14 per

Canadians reveal their sexual secrets, but draw the line when it conies to some intimate details

cent won’t touch the question. Another 27 per cent of the supposedly laid-back British Columbians—the most in any region—also prefer not to answer the question: “In your lifetime, how many different partners have you had sex with?” That reserve holds firm in Manitoba, where one out of five respondents effectively tell pollsters to buzz off when asked to rate their level of sexual activity.

Older respondents are far less likely than the young to answer the sex questions. As one unmarried 72-year-old Montreal man acknowledges: “There’s still a prudishness about this.” On the condition his name would not be used, he tells Macleans in a follow-up interview that he

had enjoyed 50 sexual partners up to the age of 52, then gave up having sex. “No wonder people are telling pollsters to mind their own business,” he says. “This is highly personal.”

But something else is happening, says Vancouver clinical therapist Ellen Tallman. After more than 30 years of listening to her clients reveal their most intimate secrets, she has noticed that fewer are coming to talk about their sex lives. In some cases, it’s because they have more pressing problems or have lowered their expectations about sex. “When I started doing therapy—when we still took Freud seriously—I wouldn’t have dreamt of working with someone long-term and not having sexual issues as a large part of the content,” she says. “Now, it seems to be in the background. Many people have just covered it up.”

On the other hand, Tallman believes that unrealistic portrayals of active but untroubled sex lives on television and in the movies make some feel ashamed that they aren’t keeping pace. “Everywhere around us, it seems like everyone is having sex,” says Tallman. “People look at that and say, ‘There must be something wrong with me.’ ”

Even relative Olympians of sexual activity feel somewhat squeamish talking publicly about their exploits. Jessica Morrison, an 18-year-old cook in Winnipeg, has had 11 lovers since she became sexually active two years ago. Revealing that number, she says, may make other people judge her as promiscuous. But she insists that— like many of her friends—she is simply part of a new breed of sexually adventurous women who have taken more control of their own needs. “My friends are all having sex,” says Morrison. “Just go to the bars. There’s dirty dancing right there on the dance floor. I don’t know anyone who’s been

Like True Newfoundlanders

Although margins for error for provincial figures are higher than the plus or minus 3.1 percentage points of the national sample,

Newfoundlanders top the list every year of those saying they are satisfied with their level of sexual activity. This year’s numbers:

a virgin when they got married.”

While Morrison may not consider herself promiscuous, she is clearly in the statistical minority, according to Macleans polling data. Only 13 per cent of Canadian women—compared with 36 per cent of men—report having had six or more sexual partners in a lifetime. (However, onequarter of the sample declined to answer the question.) The largest grouping of women—30 per cent—say they have had just one partner. That figure seems incomprehensible to Morrison. “I feel sorry for them,” she says, adding that marriage is still not on her radar screen. But when it is, she says, she’ll aim to keep her sex life exciting. “I think even when you have only one partner,” she says, “you should try different things, in different positions and in different places.”

That works for John, a 24-yearold student at Toronto’s York University. John, who asked not to be identified, boasts that he has had 30 sexual partners since losing his virginity five years ago. But that’s just a start. Along with getting a law degree, one of his goals is to try “as many partners and positions” as possible before he gets married and settles down. He doesn’t go to bars for easy onenight stands. Instead he has found lovers everywhere from debating societies to swingles clubs—members-only gather-

Who and How Many?

Percentage saying they have had sex with six or more partners in their lifetime:

Highest: Quebec 30

Lowest: Atlantic region........................22

Men 36

Women 13

Percentage acknowledging ever fantasizing about having sex with a person of the same sex:

Highest: Quebec.................................7

Lowest: Atlantic region..........................3

Men 4

Women 6

‘Even when you have only one partner, you should do different things, in different places’

ing spots for people who consider themselves swinging singles. “There’s a real resurgence of sex going on,” says John, claiming that having good sex has helped improve his school grades. He likes to sleep with women who are experimental about sex. “Shy and submissive women are not for me,” he says. “People are into a lot more sexual experimentation. You just have to look at the rave scenes and the singles clubs.” These permissive attitudes about casual sex are part of the sexual landscape for the young, creating a vast generational divide. “Older Canadians still carry baggage about sex,” says Gregg. “They believe sex without commitment is meaningless. The younger generations just says, ‘This is what we do.’ ” Whether many of their parents felt the same way when they were young is a matter of speculation, says Gregg, as there is no comparable polling data on the subject from that time.

The new permissiveness hasn’t gone unnoticed. For the past eight years, Agnes Sawchyn has been the director of studentcounselling services at the University of Saskatchewan. In that time, she has witnessed a perceptible uptick in the number of students jumping into bed together—no strings attached. “They are willing to enter into sexual relationships quite quickly,” she said. “But they are far more committed to their careers than to getting into a committed relationship. Year after year, females, in particular, seem more willing to put off getting married and having children.” Sawchyn says today’s students are sexually savvy. They are hyperconscious of the need to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. Women, she adds, are more vigilant about men who try to pressure them into having sex. “There’s a great awareness of

what constitutes sexual assault,” says Sawchyn. “They are clear about what is appropriate behaviour and what’s not.” Moreover, she says, both male and female students seem quite accepting of alternative arrangements—like same-sex relationships. The Mac leans I Global poll suggests, however, that the general population does not feel comfortable with that idea. One question asks: “Have you ever fantasized about having sex with a person of the same sex?” The answer:

a resounding No from 87 per cent of male and 78 per cent of female respondents. Again, the “no response” numbers are fairly high, at 12 per cent (16 per cent among

women). But then the five per cent who do acknowledge such fantasies (four per cent of men, six per cent of women) shrinks again with a follow-up question: “Have these fantasies ever led you to have actual sexual relations with a person of the same sex?” Half the men (52 per cent), but only a quarter of the women (24 per cent) say Yes.

Sex guru Sue Johanson, host of the popular Sunday Night Sex Show on the Women’s Television Network, feels certain people are simply not telling the truth about their fantasies. “That’s all wrong, absolutely ridiculous,” she says, speculating instead that fully 90 per cent of the population has fantasized about same-sex relationships. “That doesn’t mean you’re homosexual,” she says, “but these low responses sure say a lot about homophobia.” The famous Canadian reserve, it seems, is still alive and well when talk of sex gets too specific. Gil