Thirty years of sexual behaviour at a Canadian university: Romantic relationships, hooking up, and sexual choices.
KEY WORDS: Student sexual behaviour, romantic relationships, monogamy, hookup culture, casual sex, friends with benefits, sexual revolution, sexual scripts, emerging adulthood
The past decades have been significant for the history of North American sexual expression, with university students in the vanguard. The sexual revolution of the 1960s replaced the promise of marriage with mutual love as the primary criterion for premarital sexual intercourse (Bailey, 1988; Darling, Kallen, & Vandusen, 1984). Some scholars believed this revolution was incomplete, as the goal of gender equality was not achieved and many aspects of sexuality, especially for women, remained restricted (Bailey, 1999; Kalish & Kimmel, 2011). They predicted that as women approached the socioeconomic power of men, the love standard for sexual involvement would be replaced for both genders by the principle of pleasure with consent.
By the turn of this century, some social scientists (e.g., Bogle, 2008; England, Shafer, & Fogarty, 2007) argued this shift was under way. These studies and the journalists who popularized them (e.g., Taylor, 2013) suggested that by the turn of the 21st century, "sexual hookups" had replaced romantic relationships as the most common form of sexual activity among university students. They defined "hookups" as sexual encounters, which might include anything from kissing to sexual intercourse, between near-strangers with no commitment or expectation of commitment to each other. The multi-campus Online College Social Life Survey (OCSLS), based on questionnaires and enhanced by in-depth interviews (England et al., 2007), showed that approximately 75% of the respondents had hooked up, though less than half their hookups included intercourse. Although most hookups led to nothing more lasting, two-thirds of relationships originated as hookups (England et al., 2007). Corroborating these findings with data from the next (2008) wave of the OCSLS, Kalish and Kimmel (2011) concluded: "hooking up is today's culture of courtship" (p. 148).
Student hookup culture has been further explored in a myriad of studies, whose consensus is that most university students (between two thirds and three quarters) have hooked up, with men more likely than women to report the activity (e.g., Fielder & Carey, 2010; Owen & Fincham, 2011b). However when only hookups involving intercourse were counted, the prevalence of hooking up dropped by about half (e.g., LaBrie, Hammer, Ghaidarov, Lac, & Kenney, 2014; Lewis, Granato, Blayney, Lostutter, & Kilmer, 2012).
Some researchers now question the conclusion that hookup culture dominates North American campuses. Monto and Carey (2014) compared US university students from 1988 to 1996 with those of 2004-2012, using randomized national surveys conducted annually. They found that in both eras, over three quarters of sexually active students had committed partners, and less than one third of either group had more than one sexual partner in the year preceding their survey. Although more casual sex was reported over time, relationships were predominant in both eras. A study of 1500 university students from across Canada found that 65.5% of respondents who reported penis-in-vagina intercourse during the previous three months were in a committed relationship at the time (Milhausen et al., 2013). Similarly, most first year women students at a US university, surveyed monthly about sexual activity, reported that sex within romantic relationships was more frequent than hookups in every month (Fielder, Carey, & Carey, 2013).
Researchers have identified several characteristics which distinguish participants in hookups. Students who hook up are more likely to be male (mentioned in nearly every study), non-heterosexual (Watson, Snapp, & Wang, 2017), have a pre-college history of frequent casual sex and heavy alcohol use, and display personality traits such as impulsivity and sensation seeking (e. g., Fielder & Carey, 2010; Olmstead, Pasley, & Fincham, 2013). They are also more likely to be members of fraternities, sororities, or male athletic teams (Armstrong & Hamilton, 2013; Kuperberg & Padgett, 2016), while students who abstain or limit themselves to committed relationships are more likely to be religious, and/or from a minority conservative, often immigrant, subculture (Armstrong & Hamilton, 2013; Fielder, Walsh, et al., 2013; Kuperberg & Padgett, 2016; Olmstead, Billen, Conrad, Pasley, & Fincham, 2013). A three-factor sociosexuality scale, measuring casual sexual behaviour, attitudes, and desire (Simpson and Gangestad, 1991), is used to predict casual sex behaviour among today's emerging adults (e. g., Garcia, Reiber, Massey, & Merriwether, 2012).
The term "emerging adult" refers to people between adolescence and adulthood in modern industrial societies, generally from age 18 (completion of high school) through their late 20s, when most of the cohort has married. This life-stage, when people become independent from their parents but are not yet responsible for their own children, is characterized by identity formation through exploration (Arnett, 2000, 2014). Sexual exploration is guided by easily accessible "sexual scripts" (Kimmel, 2007; Simon & Gagnon, 1984), which portray the distinct behaviours associated with casual and romantic sex. Most emerging adults, especially those in university, enact both scripts, but at different times, with different people, and within different social situations (Arnett, 2014; Fielder, Carey, & Carey, 2013; Reid, Webber, & Elliott, 2015).
In some cases the line between a romantic and a casual relationship can be unclear. Over half of students' reported hookup partners were not strangers, but ex-partners or longtime friends (e.g., Grello, Welsh, & Harper, 2006; Lewis et al.,
2012). Nearly 60% of university students have had such "friends with benefits," or FWBs (e.g., Bisson & Levine, 2009; Owen & Fincham, 2011a). FWB relationships can be comfortable, meaningful, pleasurable, and sometimes monogamous (Bay-Cheng, Robinson, & Zucker, 2009; Mongeau, Knight, Williams, Eden, & Shaw, 2013; Wentland & Reissing, 2011), and might be the pathway through which some hookups evolve into commitments (England et al., 2007).
Other research suggests that even hookups between friends are distinctly different from romantic relationships (Olmstead, Pasley, & Fincham, 2013). Only 10-15% of FWB relationships or hookups turn into romances (Bisson & Levine, 2009; Mongeau et al., 2013; Paul, Wenzel, & Harvey, 2008), and only 20% of romantic relationships originate from FWBs or more casual hookups (Owen & Fincham, 2012), far less than the two-thirds reported earlier by England et al. (2007). Hookups that make this transformation are significantly less satisfying, have less intimate communication, and endure for a shorter time than those which have romantic origins (Owen & Fincham, 2012; Paul et al., 2008).
For over 30 years, researchers have followed changes in sexual behaviour at a regional university in the interior of British Columbia (Netting, 1992; Netting & Burnett, 2004). Every 10 years, from 1980 through 2010, students were surveyed about age of sexual initiation, number of partners, and degree of emotional intimacy within their partnerships. While the original questions remained, items were added in each decade to reflect emerging issues. In 1990, when Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) had recently appeared, the survey incorporated questions on monogamy, number of intercourse partners during the past year, and safer sex. In 2000 and 2010, the operational definition of "sexual intercourse" on the survey was expanded to be more inclusive of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, and specific questions on other sexual practices were added.
The 1990 and 2000 results indicated three sexual behaviour groups. Abstainers, monogamists, and multi-partnered "experimenters" were found to have significantly different patterns of partner choice, intimacy, and risk-taking (Netting, 1992; Netting & Burnett, 2004). The current article continues the analysis of sexual behaviour and intimacy of partnerships through 2010, using items included in at least three of the four surveys. Results for risk-taking and safer sex are currently under analysis.
Arising from gaps in previous scholarship, the following research questions emerged:
1. On this British Columbia campus between 1980 and 2010, did "hooking up" (sex with friends, acquaintances, or strangers) replace committed relationships? How have the relative proportions of monogamists and experimenters changed over time?
2. What demographic and social factors contributed to the choice of monogamy or experimentation as a student's usual sexual lifestyle?
3. To what extent did students take part in both behavioural patterns?
For all four survey administrations, a sample was drawn from introductory through advanced undergraduate classes in different university departments. With each successive decade, the sample was larger and more representative. By 2010, the small convenience sample of 1980 had evolved into a random selection of classes from every faculty, with an over-sample of departments with male student majorities. This enabled us to avoid the large predominance of female respondents common to many studies of student sexual behaviour. In 2010, numbers of male and female respondents were almost equal (469 men and 461 women), while the population of the university was only 40% male. This overrepresentation was not problematic because statistics for each gender were calculated and presented separately. Table 1 presents descriptive data from the four samples, which totaled 2009 students.
The current analysis is limited to students who had never married, to be comparable with reports on earlier study cohorts (Netting, 1992; Netting & Burnett, 2004) and with previous research on North American college students going back to the first decade of the 20th century. A key variable in the early research was rate of virginity, a question thought not applicable after marriage (Darling et al., 1984). Our final sample of never-married students over four decades was 1684 (gender: 46.4% male; age: M = 21.08, SD = 3.11, Mdn = 20). The age range was 15-44, with 67.8% aged 17 through 21, 23.8% from 21 through 25, 6.5% 26-30 and only 1.8% over 30 years old.
In this analysis students who self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (totaling about 1% of the 1990 respondents and 5% of those from 2000 and 2010) are included with students who identified as heterosexual. We believed that without the LBGTQ+ minority, we could not adequately represent overall patterns of sexual behaviour and intimacy. In addition, we had almost no valid data on sexual orientation for the first two cohorts. In 1980 there were no questions about sexual orientation, and in 1990 not one never-married student identified as bi- or homosexual. This likely reflected less respondents' actual orientation than the campus atmosphere in 1990, as well as students' unwillingness to self-identity as other than heterosexual on an in-class questionnaire.
With approval from the institutional Research Ethics Board, questionnaires were administered in university classes by the principal investigator or a student research assistant. To ensure comparability of the data over time, this method was maintained through 2010 rather than changed to an online instrument. Instructors and students had the right to refuse to participate; on each questionnaire was a tear-off information page specifying that respondents could leave any question blank, and/or abandon the questionnaire at any point, and explaining that consent was implied by filling out and submitting a questionnaire. No compensation for participation was offered. Anonymity was protected by providing respondents a blank page with which to cover their answers, and by shuffling the questionnaires after collection, so none could be linked to a particular class or faculty. Our perception is that participation was high; almost all teachers accepted us into their class and nearly every student present filled out a questionnaire.
The instrument, which took approximately 20 min to complete, increased from 16 items in 1980, through 50 in 1990, to 90 in 2000 and 2010. Most questions had a multiple-choice format. The wording of a few questions was altered over time to clarify meaning. In each decade, preliminary versions of the questionnaire were discussed by students in small groups, and pre-tested by students who would not be in the final sample. Questions judged ambiguous or confusing were revised accordingly.
Students identified their gender (male/female), age, current marital status (single/cohabiting/married/separated/divorced/ widowed), sexual orientation (heterosexual/bisexual/homosexual; 1990-2010) and whether they had ever been legally married (yes/no). Data on ethnicity were not collected, but in all likelihood reflected the overall student population, predominantly White with a small Asian minority increasing from nearly zero in 1980 to approximately 10% by 2010. We did not inquire about year in college, but judging from the classes sampled, we estimate a slight underrepresentation of first-year students. Virtually all respondents would have been undergraduates, as graduate programs on this campus began only in 2005. In 2010 post-graduate students, only 4.6% of the student population, were very unlikely to be enrolled in the courses sampled.
In this paper, all data on sexual behaviour and sexual partnerships refer to those which included sexual intercourse. Respondents were asked whether they had ever had sexual intercourse (yes/no), age of first intercourse, number of intercourse partners so far in their lifetime, number of intercourse partners in the previous year (asked from 1990 on), and self-identification as currently monogamous or not (from 1990 on).
In 1980 and 1990, no definition of sexual intercourse was presented in the questionnaire, under the (now questioned) assumption that the term referred only to penile-vaginal penetration. By 2000, researchers realized this definition excluded students with same-sex partners or with some disabilities, and the questionnaire allowed respondents to privately substitute their own definition if they felt penile-vaginal penetration was inappropriate in their case. In 2010, the qualification was refined to read:
The next set of questions refer to "sexual intercourse," which, to allow results from this survey to be comparable over time and with other studies, generally refers to penile-vaginal intercourse. However, this definition may not be applicable to some respondents, for reasons of sexual orientation, disability, or others. In these cases, please answer questions using whatever definition you feel expresses maximum physical intimacy for you and your partner(s).
Researchers have found that for most contemporary youth, "sexual intercourse" continues to refer mainly to penile-vaginal penetration (e.g., Sewell & Strassberg, 2015; Trotter & Alderson, 2007). This finding suggests that the data on sexual intercourse for all four survey administrations are likely comparable, despite differences in questionnaire wording.
Intimacy Between Sexual Intercourse Partners
The question "In your lifetime, with how many partners did you have sexual intercourse?" was followed by, "How many of these partners were: (a) serious lovers (1980-90)/ committed partners (2000-2010), (b) friends, (c) acquaintances, and (d) strangers. The numbers should add up to the number in the previous question." Each of these four responses were divided by the respondent's total, creating four new variables: proportion of respondent's lifetime partners who were (a) committed/serious, (b) friends, (c) acquaintances, and (d) strangers. To enable comparisons with earlier hookup studies, these proportions were also used to create dichotomous variables showing whether a respondent had ever had sex with a friend, an acquaintance or stranger, and/or any uncommitted partner.
Sexual Behaviour Groups
From 1990 on, with the addition of questions on monogamy and number of partners in the past year, researchers distinguished three sexual behaviour groups (Netting, 1992; Netting & Burnett, 2004), defined as follows:
1. Abstainers, who included (a) virgins reporting they had never had sexual intercourse and (b) non-virgins reporting intercourse experience, but no intercourse partner within the previous year.
2. Monogamists, who self-identified as currently monogamous, and indicated at least one intercourse partner in the previous year.
3. Experimenters, who self-identified as currently not monogamous, and indicated more than one intercourse partner in the previous year.
There were a few cases where classification into a sexual behaviour group was difficult because of missing or inconsistent data. For example, some respondents identified as non-monogamist but reported only one partner in the past year. The principal investigator or co-author read through the questionnaires of ambiguous cases and attempted a classification based on answers to related questions. After this procedure, only 45 of the 1874 respondents from 1990 through 2010 remained unclassified. Twenty-nine of these respondents were never-married, and made up 1.8% of the never-married total of these three cohorts. These 29 were excluded from analyses which required information on sexual behaviour group.
Data was entered into SPSS (v 23), and analyzed with appropriate statistical tests. To assess changes over time, especially the question of whether hooking up had replaced romantic relationships as the norm on this campus, [chi square] tests and/or analyses of variance were used to compare sexual behaviours among cohorts. We ran a logistic binary regression to assess the impact of demographic variables and past casual sex experience upon choice of sexual behaviour group (monogamy or experimentation).
Changes and Continuities over Time
Descriptive statistics of key sexual behaviours of never-married students, 1980-2010, indicate that males reported consistently higher numbers of sexual partners, both in the current year and in their lifetime. However, there was little difference by gender in age of first intercourse (about 17 years old) and proportion of students who had experienced sexual intercourse (70-80%), except for the small sample of women in 1980 (see Table 2).
One-way ANOVAs by cohort, conducted separately for males and females, showed little variation over time for having had sexual intercourse, age of first intercourse, and numbers of partners for lifetime and for the current year. For women, the only significant change was in the proportion who had experienced sexual intercourse, F(3, 895) = 4.614, p = .000, [[eta].sup.2] = .015, with a dramatic fall in virginity rate between 1980 and later cohorts, f(895) = -2.290, p = .022, [r.sup.2] = .006. Among men, the only significant difference between cohorts was in age of first intercourse, F(3, 607) = 3.750, p = .011, [[eta].sup.2] = .018, with a slight increase in age between 1980 and 90 and 2000-2010, t(607) =-2.623, p = .009, [r.sup.2] = .011 (see Table 2A).
Respondents categorized each of their partners, past and present, as serious/committed, friend, acquaintance, or stranger. Intimacy between partners over time was analyzed for men and women separately with one-way ANOVAs by cohort. While tables show actual proportions, before performing any statistical comparison on a proportion-derived variable, the arcsine transformation was used. This brought variable distributions closer to normality, as verified by reduction in skewness and kurtosis.
For women, by far the largest percentage of reported partners was within a serious/committed relationship: over 60% in the early years and slightly less by 2010. Strangers made up a very small proportion, somewhat more were acquaintances, and the remainder were friends (see Table 3). The most important shift for women was the gradual increase of friends as sexual partners, the proportion rising to 27% in 2010, F(3, 587) = 2.936, p = .033, [[eta].sup.2] = .015. Among men, the proportion of serious/committed relationships has always been smaller than for women, but their proportion has increased significantly after 1980, growing into the largest sexual partner category among males, t(536) = -2.451, p = .015, [r.sup.2] = .011 (see Table 3A).
Table 4 reports the distribution of sexual behaviour groups by cohort and gender. For men, the [chi square] analysis showed no significant difference over time, [chi square] (4) = 3.623, p = .459, T = .003. For women, some change did occur, [chi square] (4) = 17.129, p = .002, T = .008 (see following paragraph).
Monogamy was dominant for both genders in each cohort (see Table 4). Fifty-seven to 66% of all women were monogamous; for each decade this statistic was over 80% for those who were sexually active during the past year (514 out of 608, or 84.5%). For men, the monogamous percentage was lower (44-55%), but still included over two thirds of men sexually active in the past year (373 out of 532, or 70.1%). The second-largest behavioural group was that of abstainers, including about 30% of students. Except for a rise in female abstinence in 2000, this percentage has been nearly constant in all three decades despite the declining proportion of virgins, as the abstinent group also includes non-virgins who had no sexual intercourse in the previous year. Experimenters, whom the literature describes as participants in "hookup culture," have always been the smallest of the three groups, consisting of approximately 20% of men since 1990, and nearly doubling among women from 7.6% (1990, 2000) to 14.4% in 2010, [chi square] (1) = 10.115, p = .001, T = .01 (see Table 4A).
It is important to determine whether these behavioural groups represent anything more enduring than a short-term behavioural difference at the time of the survey. Current relationships for monogamists were relatively long-lasting (M = 1.9 years, Mdn = 1.5 years for 2000-2010, the cohorts who answered this question), suggesting fairly consistent monogamy for a group with average age of 21.2, and sexually active for a mean of 4.0 (Mdn - 3) years (data not shown).
Since there was little change among cohorts in age of first intercourse, number of partners, or distribution of behavioural groups, we combined the 1990-2010 cohorts and examined differences between abstainers, monogamists, and experimenters, with special attention to those who were currently sexually active.
For both genders, experimenters had significantly more lifetime partners, men: F(2, 581) = 21.195, p = .000, [r.sup.2] = .055; women: F(2, 651) = 14.268, p = .000, [r.sup.2] = .040, and a larger proportion of casual partners (acquaintances and strangers), men: F(2, 512) = 21.648, p = .000, [r.sup.2] = .077; women: F(2, 559) = 14.836, p = .000, [r.sup.2] = .046. In contrast, monogamists had significantly larger lifetime proportions of serious/ committed partners, men: F(2, 513) = 27.093, p = .000, [r.sup.2] = .094; women: F(2, 566) = 19.859, p = .000, [r.sup.2] = .065 (see Tables 5A-1 and 5A-2). Table 5B shows, by behavioural group, the proportion of respondents who ever had nonserious sexual partners, and of which type. These results indicate two different, enduring patterns of behaviour, with most students participating in long-lasting relationships, and a minority having multiple partners without commitment.
The data in Table 5B also demonstrates overlapping behaviour between the two groups. Most experimenters had at least one serious/committed partner (only 28% of experimenter males and 8% of experimenter females had none). Among monogamists, 52% of males and 48% of females had had sex with a friend (FWB relationship) while 42% of monogamist males and 31% of monogamist females had had sex with at least one acquaintance or stranger ("casual hookup") (see Table 5B). Moreover, this overlap occurred in every decade (statistics not shown).
Prediction of Sexual Behaviour Group
Binomial logistic regression (forced entry method) was used to predict which sexually active students were likely to become experimenters rather than monogamists (see Table 6). Abstention was not predicted, as we had no data on religion, religiosity, or ethnic background, which other studies have found influential in students' choice not to engage in sexual intercourse (e.g., Kuperberg & Padgett, 2016). Independent variables were those which earlier research had found relevant: gender, current age, sexual orientation, age of first intercourse, and lifetime proportion of partners who were "casual" (acquaintances and/or strangers). This was our best indicator of "unrestricted" (high) sociosexuality, as it strongly represented casual sex activity but was not part of our definition of experimenter, and was highly correlated with one of Simpson and Gangestad's (1991) original variables, number of one-night stands, for which we had partial data. The first regression model also used cohort and interactions between all independent variables, but these were dropped because all were statistically insignificant. The insignificance of cohort was evidence that the predictive equation had changed very little over our time period.
The logistic regression model significantly predicted choice of sexual behaviour group, [chi square] (5) = 112.393, p = .000, Nagelkerke's [R.sup.2] = .176. The strongest predictors of experimentation were having a large lifetime proportion of casual sex partners, p = .000, OR = 4.803, 95% CI [3.219, 7.166]; being male, p = .000, OR = .521, 95% CI [0.368, 0.736]; and being non-heterosexual, p = .008, OR = 2.654, 95% CI [1.284, 5.484]. Females were 0.59 times as likely as males to be experimenters (i.e., slightly more than half as likely), while non-heterosexuals were twice as likely as heterosexuals to choose the experimental lifestyle (see Table 6). Males with earlier sexual initiation were more likely to be experimenters, as were females who were younger at time of the survey (binomial logistic regressions for each gender available upon request).
This paper aimed to trace changes and continuities in sexual behaviour and the intimacy of relationships for students of one university from 1980 through 2010. With data from pencil and paper surveys administered in university classes at 10 year intervals, we tested the claim that by the 21st century "hookup culture" had replaced romantic relationships as the main form of sexual behaviour among university students. We found that throughout these years, the majority of sexually active students were in committed relationships, while a minority were mainly having casual sex with multiple partners. Yet most sexually active students in all four decades had engaged in sexual intercourse with both casual and committed partners. This fits the theory that university students, as emerging adults, are constructing their personal identities through exploration (Arnett, 2000, 2014).
Patterns of Sexual Behaviour in and out of Relationships
Throughout the past generation, student sexual behaviour at this university has demonstrated much continuity but also undergone some change. In 1980 nearly 40% of never-married women reported as virgins, while their male counterparts reported more of their intercourse partners had been acquaintances or strangers than had been serious lovers/committed partners. This gender difference is consistent with the double-standard of the "marriage only" scenario, in which a young woman waits for sex until her boy friend proposes, and a young man satisfies his sexual needs with casual partners (Darling et al., 1984).
In contrast to 1980, our combined data from 1990 through 2010 show that the percentage of female virgins dropped to 23%, while about half of men and approximately 60% of women were in committed sexual relationships. We believe this change reflects the transition to what social historians call the love standard, permitting penetrative sex for couples who love each other, even if they recognize their relationship might not last forever.
Since at least 1990, alongside the monogamous plurality there has been a persistent group of "experimenters," approximately 20% of men and a percentage of women nearly doubling over time to 14.4%. Experimenters' sexual behaviour is distinct from that of monogamists, involving concurrent sexual partners and lower degrees of emotional intimacy. This group appears to follow the "pleasure with consent" standard, but has never gained the dominance predicted in some early accounts of the sexual revolution. Results from this study are consistent with those of Armstrong, Hamilton, & England (2010), Arnett (2014), Fielder, Carey, & Carey (2013), Milhausen et al. (2013), and Monto & Carey (2014), who also found that committed monogamous relationships remain the prevalent pattern of student sexual behaviour.
In predicting which students would choose experimental, rather than monogamist behaviour, this study confirmed many earlier findings. A multi-partnered lifestyle is more likely for males than females, for non-heterosexuals than heterosexuals, and for those whose history already includes a large proportion of casual sex partners. Morover, this study demonstrates that predictors of student sexual lifestyle have not changed significantly over 30 years.
If we look at our data from another angle, emphasizing that among currendy sexually active, unmarried respondents, 53% of the men and 36% of the women had ever had a casual hookup (sexual intercourse with an acquaintance or stranger), and that 61% of the men and 53% of the women had ever had a FWB (sexual intercourse with a friend), we would have results very similar to those of many hookup studies (see Table 5B). However, this interpretation would miss the longstanding existence of behavioural differences between a majority that generally reserves sexual intimacy for committed monogamous relationships and a minority for whom casual sex is habitual.
Another important finding of this study is that "hookup culture" is not new. Since 1980 a large proportion of sexually active students reported having intercourse with a friend ("friends with benefits") and/or intercourse with an acquaintance or stranger ("casual sex"), and by 1990 it was clear that this number included many who were primarily monogamous. Conversely, nearly all experimenters have had some committed partners. This finding supports Monto and Carey (2014), who found a similar pattern as far back as 1988, and adds evidence to the argument that students enact different sexual patterns in different circumstances (Reid et al., 2015) and at different times in their lives (Fielder, Carey, & Carey, 2013).
The evidence-based finding of distinct yet flexible sexual behaviour norms can be linked to theories of exploration and identity formation during emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2000, 2014; Swidler, 2001), with use of sexual "scripts" (Kimmel, 2007; Simon & Gagnon, 1984), "discourses" (Phillips, 2000) or "narratives" (Wood, 2001): all referring to apparently contradictory scenarios, which are well-known, reinforced among friends, and available for personal use.
In summary, this study found the following answers to our research questions:
1. Over the past 30 years, most sexually active students were in committed monogamous relationships. Those who habitually engaged in casual sex with multiple partners remained a minority. Reports of "hookup culture" becoming the new normal for university students are greatly exaggerated.
2. Students most likely to choose experimentation over monogamy are male, non-heterosexual, and those who already have a pattern of many casual partners.
3. Most sexually active students in every decade have had both casual and committed sex, exploring both sexual scripts but generally settling into the one which they feel fits better into their own emerging identity.
This study, limited to one Canadian university, cannot be generalized to the rest of North America. However, our findings on types of sexual partners and the persistence of commited relationships are consistent with those of a national Canadian survey (Milhausen et al., 2013) and a long series of national US surveys (Monto & Carey, 2014), and therefore might contribute to our understanding of student sexual behaviour elsewhere.
Second, our 1980 survey, with limited questions and small sample size, was inadequate as a baseline measure. Our data from 1980, with its wide CIs, should be seen only as a rough indication of student sexual behaviour in that era. Similarly, along with most other studies which include students from varied sexual orientations, our study's non-heterosexual sample was too small for valid or reliable comparison with the heterosexual majority. Watson et al. (2017) suggest using an enlarged, over-representative sample of a population's LBGTQ+ community or drawing LBGTQ+ respondents from several universities, possibly giving this larger group additional questions on issues specific to their community.
Another limitation of this study is that many findings have low effect sizes, leaving the majority of variation unexplained. This reflects the reality that a great many factors influence the sexual choices of today's emerging adults. Cultural heritage, religious beliefs, family history, alcohol use, peer norms, and personality measures are some of the relevant variables not covered, an important omission in our prediction of experimenter lifestyle. Our work would also have benefited from the addition of more options for gender and sexual orientation, and specific items to check reliability, validity, and social desirability bias.
Implications for Future Research
Both the findings and the limitations of this study suggest paths for future research. First, the study of sexual behaviour at this university should be continued in future decades, retaining the core questions of earlier years while adding new ones. For example, we should ask about origins of existing committed partnerships, participation in peer subcultures, and use of online dating sites.
Since even a more comprehensive questionnaire could not explain all the decisions faced continually by every respondent, future surveys should include a qualitative component. In personal interviews, a subsample of respondents could explore reasons for partner choice and the meanings that committed relationships and casual sex hold in their lives. Such qualitative data would do much to illuminate the processes university students use as they construct their own sexual lifestyles.
Although this study is limited to one university, its strength is its long timespan. This enabled the most important finding, that one overall pattern has prevailed at this university since at least 1990. In each cohort, sexually active students included a monogamous majority and a multi-partnered minority, with most student histories containing both committed and casual partnerships. The coexistence of seemingly contradictory behaviours, backed by alternative scripts/discourses/ narratives, applies not only to sexual behaviour, but also to most other aspects of modern life in industrial societies (Arnett, 2000, 2014; Swidler, 2001). Choice of career, religion, sexual orientation, and even gender itself are now left to individuals rather than being decided by families or determined by social standards. Although many emerging adults go through a period of uncertainty, false starts, and reversals, this frustrating yet stimulating process may be essential to creating a coherent identity, in which sexual lifestyle plays an important part.
Acknowledgements: The authors wish to thank Unit 6 of the I. K. Barber School of Arts and Science, UBC-Okanagan, for generously supporting the project; the UBC-0 Research Ethics Board, for its vote of confidence; Dr. Brian O'Connor, for his statistical guidance; and our dedicated team of research assistants, Michole Goutier, Madeleine Henderson, Tassani Hoskyn, Kayla Pagliocchini, and Kim Seida. A preliminary version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Sociological Association, June 3-8, 2013, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Nancy S. Netting, Unit 6, I. K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, UBCOkanagan, 1147 Research Road, Kelowna, British Columbia, V1V 1V7. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Nancy S. Netting (1) and Meredith K. Reynolds (2)
(1) Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia-Okanagan, Kelowna, BC
(2) Department of Psychology, University of Montana, Missoula, MT
Table 1. Descriptive Data for Student Samples, 1980-2010 1980 Marital Status N % M Age (SD) Males Never Married 25 48.1 20.6 (3.5) Ever Married 27 51.9 33.9 (6.8) Total Males 52 100 27.5 (8.7) Females Never Married 36 43.4 20.1 (2.5) Ever Married 47 56.6 31.8 (6.7) Total Females 83 100 26.7 (7.8) All Never Married 61 45.2 20.3 (2.9) Ever Married 74 54.8 32.5 (6.8) Total Sample 135 100 27.0 (8.1) 1990 Marital Status N % M Age (SD) Males Never Married 94 80.3 21.8 (4.5) Ever Married 23 19.7 36.1 (8.4) Total Males 117 100 24.6 (7.8) Females Never Married 115 58.4 21.7 (4.4) Ever Married 82 41.6 36.9 (7.5) Total Females 197 100 28.0 (9.5) All Never Married 209 66.6 21.8 (4.5) Ever Married 105 33.4 36.7 (7.6) Total Sample 314 100 26.7 (9.1) 2000 Marital Status N % M Age (SD) Males Never Married 212 86.5 21.8 (2.9) Ever Married 33 13.5 32.8 (8.0) Total Males 247 100 23.2 (5.5) Females Never Married 327 85.8 20.8 (3.1) Ever Married 54 14.2 33.9 (8.9) Total Females 383 100 22.6 (6.3) All Never Married 539 86.1 21.2 (3.1) Ever Married 287 13.9 33.5 (8.6) Total Sample 630 100 22.8 (6.0) 2010 Marital Status N % M Age (SD) Males Never Married 451 96.4 20.9 (2.6) Ever Married 17 3.6 31.0 (8.7) Total Males 469 100 21.3 (3.6) Females Never Married 424 92.0 20.9 (2.8) Ever Married 37 8.0 30.8 (8.9) Total Females 461 100 21.7 (4.5) All Never Married 875 94.2 20.9 (2.7) Ever Married 54 5.8 30.8 (8.8) Total Sample 930 100 21.5 (4.1) Note. Numbers in table may not sum to total number due to missing data. Table 2. Sexual Behaviour of Never-Married Students, 1980-2010 Sexual Behaviour 1980 Males N % 95% Cl Never had sexual intercourse 7 28.0 [10.4, 45.6] Ever had sexual intercourse 18 72.0 [54.4, 89.6] Total 25 If had sexual intercourse ... M(SD) Mdn Number of lifetime partners 5.2 (4.8) 4.0 Number of partners previous year NA Age of first sexual intercourse 16.5 (1.0) 16.5 N 18 Females N % 95% Cl Never had sexual intercourse 14 38.9 [23.0, 54.8] Ever had sexual intercourse 22 61.1 [45.2, 77.0] Total 36 If had sexual intercourse ... M (SD) Mdn Number of lifetime partners 4.8 (5.7) 3.0 Number of partners previous year NA Age of first sexual intercourse 17.4 (1.9) 17.0 N 22 Sexual Behaviour 1990 Males N % 95% Cl Never had sexual intercourse 21 22.3 [13.9, 30.7] Ever had sexual intercourse 83 111 [69.3, 86.1] Total 94 If had sexual intercourse ... M (SD) Mdn Number of lifetime partners 7.5 (9.4) 4.5 Number of partners previous year 2.0 (2.1) 4.5 Age of first sexual intercourse 16.4 (2.6) 17.0 N 72 Females N % 95% Cl Never had sexual intercourse 23 19.6 [12.3, 26.9] Ever had sexual intercourse 90 80.4 [73.1, 87.7] Total 113 If had sexual intercourse ... M (SD) Mdn Number of lifetime partners 5.6 (7.2) 3.0 Number of partners previous year 1.4 (1.4) 1.0 Age of first sexual intercourse 17.0 (1.9) 17.0 N 90 Sexual Behaviour 2000 Males N % 95% Cl Never had sexual intercourse 32 15.5 [10.6, 20.4] Ever had sexual intercourse 175 84.5 [79.6, 89.4] Total 207 If had sexual intercourse ... M (SD) Mdn Number of lifetime partners 6.1 (1.9) 3.0 Number of partners previous year 2.1 (1.7) 1.0 Age of first sexual intercourse 17.2 (1.9) 17.0 N 170 Females N % 95% Cl Never had sexual intercourse 92 28.3 [23.4, 33.2] Ever had sexual intercourse 233 71.7 [66.8, 76.6] Total 325 If had sexual intercourse ... M (SD) Mdn Number of lifetime partners 4.6 (6.0) 3.0 Number of partners previous year 1.6 (1.2) 1.0 Age of first sexual intercourse 17.1 (1.9) 17.0 N 228 Sexual Behaviour 2010 Males N % 95% Cl Never had sexual intercourse 92 20.6 [16.8, 24.4] Ever had sexual intercourse 356 79.4 [76.6, 83.2] Total 448 If had sexual intercourse ... M (SD) Mdn Number of lifetime partners 7.1 (11.1) 4.0 Number of partners previous year 2.2 (2.5) 1.0 Age of first sexual intercourse 17.1 (1.8) 17.0 N 353 Females N % 95% Cl Never had sexual intercourse 83 19.6 [15.8, 23.4] Ever had sexual intercourse 340 80.4 [76.6, 84.2] Total 423 If had sexual intercourse ... M (SD) Mdn Number of lifetime partners 5.5 (6.2) 3.0 Number of partners previous year 1.8 (1.7) 1.0 Age of first sexual intercourse 17.0 (1.9) 17.0 N 339 Note. NA = question not asked. Numbers in table may not sum to total number due to missing data. Table 2A. Statistical Significance and Effect Sizes for Table 2: Changes by Cohort, 1980-2010 Sexual Behaviour n F P [eta] (a) Males Ever had sexual 774 1.354 .256 .005 intercourse Age of first sexual 611 3.750 .011 * .018 intercourse (d) Total lifetime 759 0.441 .724 .001 partners (d) Total partners 576 0.348 .706 .001 previous year (d) Females Ever had sexual 899 4.614 .000 * .015 intercourse Age of first sexual 669 0.358 .783 .002 intercourse (d) Total lifetime 679 1.139 .333 .005 partners (d) Total partners 629 2.476 .085 .008 previous year (d) Sexual Behaviour Contrast (b) t P [r.sup.2] (c) Males Ever had sexual intercourse Age of first sexual 1980-90 vs. -2.623 .009 * .011 intercourse (d) 2000-2010 Total lifetime partners (d) Total partners previous year (d) Females Ever had sexual 1980 vs. -2.290 .022 * .006 intercourse 1990-2010 Age of first sexual intercourse (d) Total lifetime partners (d) Total partners previous year (d) (a) SSB / SST. (b) When the ANOVA showed significance, a contrast was used to focus on the most salient difference over time. For males in this analysis, this occurred between 1980 and 90 and 2000-10; for females, between 1980 and the three later cohorts. (c) [r.sup.2] = [t.sup.2] / ([t.sup.2] + df). This formula for [r.sup.2] used because it results in a more conservative effect size compared to alternatives. (d) If ever experienced sexual intercourse. * p < .05 Table 3. Intimacy Level of Relationships, Never-Married, Sexually Experienced Students, 1980-2010 (%) 1980 1990 Intimacy Level % 95% Cl % 95% Cl Males Serious, committed 22.6 [3.3, 41.9] 41.1 [29.1, 53.1] Friends 48.5 [25.4, 71.6] 29.1 [18.1, 40.1] Acquaintances + 28.9 [8.0, 50.0] 31.9 [20.6, 43.2] strangers Acquaintances 13.1 [0, 28.7] 11.6 [3.8, 19.4] Strangers 15.8 [0, 32.6] 20.3 [10.5, 30.1] n 18 65 Females Serious, committed 66.9 [47.2, 86.6] 69.5 [59.4, 79.6] Friends 19.1 [2.7, 35.5] 20.3 [11.4, 29.2] Acquaintances + 14.0 [0, 28.5] 11.4 [4.4, 18.4] strangers Acquaintances 7.4 [0, 18.3] 7.8 [1.9,13.7] Strangers 6.6 [0, 17.0] 3.6 [0, 7.7] n 22 79 2000 2010 Intimacy Level % 95% Cl % 95% Cl Males Serious, committed 50.0 [41.3, 58.7] 46.8 [41.4, 52.2] Friends 27.0 [19.3, 34.7] 25.9 [21.2, 30.6] Acquaintances + 23.0 [15.7, 30.3] 27.7 [22.9, 32.5] strangers Acquaintances 14.4 [8.3, 20.5] 17.7 [13.6, 21.8] Strangers 8.6 [3.7, 13.5] 10.0 [6.8, 13.2] n 128 330 Females Serious, committed 63.6 [56.3, 70.9] 58.6 [53.2, 64.0] Friends 22.2 [15.9, 28.5] 26.7 [21.9, 31.5] Acquaintances + 14.1 [8.9, 19.4] 14.3 [10.5, 18.1] strangers Acquaintances 9.4 [5.0, 13.8] 10.2 [6.9, 13.5] Strangers 4.7 [1.5, 7.9] 4.1 [1.9, 6.3] n 168 322 Note. Table 3 shows actual percentages, as opposed to arcsine transformation. Table 3A. Statistical Significance and Effect Sizes for Table 3: Changes by Cohort, 1980-2010 Intimacy Level n F P [[eta].sup.2] (a) Males Proportion of serious/ 540 2.787 .040 * .015 committed partners Proportion of friends 541 3.006 .030 * .017 Proportion of 539 1.469 .224 .008 acquaintances + strangers Females Proportion of serious/ 596 1.537 .204 .008 committed partners Proportion of friends 591 2.936 .033 * .015 Proportion of 589 0.080 .971 .0004 acquaintances + strangers Intimacy Level Contrast (b) t P [r.sup.2] (c) Males Proportion of serious/ 1980 vs. -2.451 .015 * .011 committed partners 1990-2010 Proportion of friends 1980 vs. 2.738 .007 * .014 1990-2010 Proportion of acquaintances + strangers Females Proportion of serious/ 1980-2000 1.974 .049 * .007 committed partners vs. 2010 Proportion of friends 1980-2000 -2.489 .013 * .010 vs. 2010 Proportion of acquaintances + strangers (a) [SS.sub.B] / [SS.sub.T] Calculated from 1-way ANOVA, after arcsine transformation, which brought distribution of independent variables closer to normality. (b) When the ANOVA showed significance, a contrast was used to focus on the most salient difference over time. For males in this analysis, this occurred between 1980 and the three later cohorts; for females, between 2010 and the three earlier cohorts. (c) [r.sup.2] = [t.sup.2] / ([t.sup.2] + df). * p < .05 Table 4. Sexual Behavioural Groups among Never-Married Students, 1990-2010 (%) 1990 2000 Sexual Behavioural Group % 95% Cl % Males Abstainers 34.1 [24.4, 43.8] 25.1 Abstinent virgins 23.1 [14.4, 31.8] 16.4 Abstinent non-virgins 11.0 [4.6, 17.4] 8.7 Monogamists 44.0 [33.8, 54.2] 54.9 Experimenters 22.0 [13.5, 30.5] 20.0 n 91 195 Females Abstainers 25.8 [17.7, 33.9] 35.5 Abstinent virgins 19.6 [12.2, 27.0] 28.6 Abstinent non-virgins 6.2 [1.7, 10.7] 6.8 Monogamists 66.1 [57.3, 74.9] 57.1 Experimenters 8.0 [3.0, 13.0] 7.5 n 112 322 2000 2010 Sexual Behavioural Group 95% Cl % 95% Cl Males Abstainers [19.0, 31.2] 27.5 [23.4, 31.6] Abstinent virgins [11.2, 21.6] 20.2 [16.5, 23.9] Abstinent non-virgins [4.7, 12.7] 7.3 [4.9, 9.7] Monogamists [47.9, 61.9] 50.2 [45.6, 54.8] Experimenters [14.4, 25.6] 22.2 [18.4, 26.0] n 450 Females Abstainers [30.3, 40.7] 25.2 [21.1, 29.3] Abstinent virgins [23.7, 33.5] 19.6 [15.8, 23.4] Abstinent non-virgins [4.0, 9.6] 5.6 [3.4, 7.8] Monogamists [51.7, 62.5] 60.4 [55.7, 65.1] Experimenters [4.6, 10.4] 14.4 [11.1, 17.8] n 424 Sexual Behavioural Group [x.sup.2] p T (a) (b) Males Abstainers Abstinent virgins Abstinent non-virgins 3.623 .459 .003 Monogamists Experimenters n Females Abstainers Abstinent virgins Abstinent non-virgins 17.129 .002 * .008 Monogamists Experimenters n (a) Comparing abstainers, monogamists, and experimenters. (b) Goodman and Kruskal's T (tau), with sexual behavioural group dependent. T chosen as effect size, because, like r2 measures, it ranges from 0 to 1, indicating proportion of variance in dependent variable explained by independent variable. * p < .05 Table 4A. Never-Married Female Students: Sexual Behavioural Group (Non-Experimenters vs. Experimenters) by Cohort, 1990-2000 vs. 2010 1990-2000 2010 Sexual Behavioural n % n % Group Non-Experimenters 401 92.3 363 85.6 Experimenters 33 7.6 61 14.4 Total 434 100.0 424 100.0 Sexual Behavioural [X.sup.2] p T (a) Group Non-Experimenters Experimenters Total 10.115 .001 * .01 (a) Goodman and Kruskal's T (tau), with sexual behavioural group dependent. T chosen as effect size, because, like [r.sup.2] measures, it ranges from 0 to 1, indicating proportion of variance in dependent variable explained by independent variable. * p < .05 Table 5A-1. Characteristics of Male Sexual Behaviour Groups, Never-Married Students, 1990-2010 (Continuous Variables) Male Sexual Total Abstainers (a) Monogamists Behaviour Age M (SD) 21.3 (3.0) 20.9 (2.8) 21.4 (3.2) n 728 201 372 Age of first sexual intercourse M (SD) 17.0 (2.0) 17.6 (1.9) 17.2 (2.0) n 582 55 369 Total lifetime partners M (SD) 6.9 (10.4) 3.1 (3.6) 5.7 (9.8) n 584 55 372 Proportion of serious/committed partners (c) M (SD) .466 (.392) .522 (.444) .547 (.399) n 516 47 331 Proportion of acquaintances/strangers (c) M (SD) .271 (.317) .304 (.407) .211 (.295) n 515 46 330 Monogamists vs. Experimenters Male Sexual Experimenters F p t [r.sup.2] Behaviour (b) Age M (SD) 21.5 (3.0) 1.822 .162 -.330 .000 n 155 Age of first sexual intercourse M (SD) 16.4 (1.7) 13.710 .000 * 4.731 .037 n 158 Total lifetime partners M (SD) 11.2 (157) 21.195 .000 * -5.808 .055 n 157 Proportion of serious/committed partners (c) M (SD) .254 (.255) 27.093 .000 * 7.312 .094 n 138 Proportion of acquaintances/strangers (c) M (SD) .405 (.292) 21.648 .000 * -6.538 .077 n 139 (a) For all variables except age, only respondents who have experienced sexual intercourse are included. (b) [r.sup.2] = [t.sup.2] / ([t.sup.2] + df). (c) Actual proportions, as opposed to arcsine transformation. * p < .05 Table 5A-2. Characteristics of Female Sexual Behaviour Groups, Never-Married Students, 1990-2010 (Continuous Variables) Female Sexual Total Abstainers (a) Monogamists Behaviour Age M (SD) 21.0 (3.2) 20.5 (3.1) 21.2 (3.1) n 851 248 510 Age of first sexual intercourse M (SD) 17.1 (1.9) 17.5 (2.1) 17.1 (1.9) n 642 50 501 Total lifetime partners M (SD) 5.1 (6.2) 4.0 (5.0) 4.7 (5.9) n 654 49 512 Proportion of serious/committed partners (c) M (SD) .608 (.354) .571 (.387) .654 (.351) n 569 42 444 Proportion of acquaintances/strangers (c) M (SD) .144 (.229) .211 (.311) .117 (.210) n 562 42 439 Monogamists vs. Experimenters Female Sexual Experimenters F P t [r.sup.2] Behaviour (b) Age M (SD) 21.1 (3.5) 3.766 .024 * .293 .000 n 93 Age of first sexual intercourse M (SD) 16.7 (1.8) 2.542 .079 1.614 .004 n 91 Total lifetime partners M (SD) 8.2 (7.6) 14.268 .000 * -5.178 .040 n 93 Proportion of serious/committed partners (c) M (SD) .382 (.249) 19.859 .000 * 6.262 .065 n 83 Proportion of acquaintances/strangers (c) M (SD) .252 (.245) 14.836 .000 * -5.190 .046 n 81 (a) For all variables except age, only respondents who have experienced sexual intercourse are included. (b) [r.sup.2] = [t.sup.2] / ([t.sup.2] + df). (c) Actual proportions, as opposed to arcsine transformation. * p < .05 Table 5B. Never-Married, Sexually Active Students, 1990-2010 (Dichotomous Variables) (a) Sexual Behaviour Total Monogamists Experimenters Males Proportion whose partners .269 .363 .043 were all serious/committed n 469 331 138 Proportion whose partners .224 .199 .283 were never serious/ committed n 469 331 138 Proportion who ever had .613 .517 .842 sexual intercourse with friend n 470 331 139 Proportion who ever had .531 .415 .806 sexual intercourse with acquaintance/stranger n 469 330 139 Females Proportion whose partners .366 .423 .060 were all serious/committed n 527 444 83 Proportion whose partners .089 .090 .084 were never serious/committed n 527 444 83 Proportion who ever had .527 .484 .756 sexual intercourse with a friend n 522 440 82 Proportion who ever had .358 .308 .630 sexual intercourse with acquaintance/stranger n 520 439 81 Sexual Behaviour [X.sup.2] p T (b) Males Proportion whose partners 50.461 .000 * .108 were all serious/committed n Proportion whose partners 3.881 .049 * .008 were never serious/ committed n Proportion who ever had 43.605 .000 * .093 sexual intercourse with friend n Proportion who ever had 59.917 .000 * .128 sexual intercourse with acquaintance/stranger n Females Proportion whose partners 39.739 .000 * .075 were all serious/committed n Proportion whose partners .028 .866 .000 were never serious/committed n Proportion who ever had 20.515 .000 * .039 sexual intercourse with a friend n Proportion who ever had 30.882 .000 * .059 sexual intercourse with acquaintance/stranger n (a) Table shows actual proportions; arcsine transformation used to calculate statistics. (b) Goodman and Kruskal's T (tau), with sexual behavioural group independent. * p < .05 Table 6. Binomial Logistic Regression to Predict Experimentation versus Monogamy by Gender, Age, Sexual Orientation, Lifetime Proportion of Casual Partners, and Age of First Sexual Intercourse: Never-Married Sexually Active Students, 1990-2010 Component B Wald P OR Variable [X.sup.2] Gender -.653 13.624 .000 * .521 Lifetime 1.569 59.062 .000 * 4.803 proportion of casual partners Sexual .976 6.945 .008 * 2.654 orientation (heterosexual vs. non- heterosexual) Age -.067 5.174 .023 * .935 Age of first -.092 3.997 .046 * .912 sexual intercourse Constant 1.294 1.792 .181 3.646 Component 95% Cl OR Reference Probability Variable Category Ratio (a) Gender [.368, .736] Male .144/.244 = 0.59 (Female:Male) Lifetime [3.219, 7.166] See note (b) proportion of casual partners Sexual [1.284, 5.484] Heterosexual .366/.178 = 2.0 orientation (non-heterosexual: (heterosexual heterosexual) vs. non- heterosexual) Age [.833, .991] per year Age of first [.834, .998] per year sexual intercourse Constant Note. OR = odds ratio. Cl = confidence interval. Overall Model: N = 926. [X.sup.2](5) = 112.393, p = .000 *, Nagelkerke [R.sup.2] = .176 (a) Calculated from regression equation, while holding all other independent variables at their means. This method is not useful unless the independent variable is dichotomous, for the probability ratio varies with every change of level of the IV. (b) From arcsine transformation, 0 vs. 1, representing actual proportions of 0 vs. .71 * p < .05
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|Author:||Netting, Nancy S.; Reynolds, Meredith K.|
|Publication:||The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2018|
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