sexual behaviour

sexual behaviour
   No-one can doubt that something akin to a sexual revolution has occurred in Spain since the end of the dictatorship; yet the amount of reliable information about the sexual behaviour of Spaniards remains scarce, since surveys often point to contradictory conclusions. The 1980s was the decade when sexual permissiveness became fashionable, and this was evident in the wave of pornography that engulfed newspaper stands, theatre and club stages, and cinema and television screens, as well as in the liberated attitudes towards sexual matters reflected in opinion polls. Public, as distinct from private, sexual liberation must largely be ascribed to the waning influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Spain that accompanied, or even antedated, the rediscovery of democracy (see also Roman Catholicism). This explains the wide acceptance among Spaniards, and especially the younger generations, of contraception, premarital intercourse, cohabitation, divorce, and even, though less clearly, abortion, practices still outlawed by the Catholic Church. According to the 1975 FOESSA report, by 1973 only 22 percent of the population considered artificial birth control methods to be objectionable.
   The key to changes in sexual behaviour, and not simply attitudes, lies almost certainly in the availability of contraceptives, though the precise nature and timing of the change are not easy to gauge. Before the end of the Franco regime the Department of Health and Social Security knew that half-a-million women were being prescribed the contraceptive pill on the pretext of hormonal disorders, the only grounds on which it could legally be prescribed and supplied. Similarly, the sale of condoms was illegal but they could be bought under the counter. Nevertheless the legalization and wide availability of artificial contraceptives after 1978 made an enormous difference, not least to women who could now decide how many children to have and when. Paradoxically, the rate of abortions, estimated at some 300,000 a year under Franco (illegal of course), does not appear to have come down dramatically, suggesting that there has persisted a good deal of ignorance about sexual activity. To some extent this is borne out by the results of a 1993 survey carried out for the fifth FOESSA report: 52 percent of 18 to 21-year-olds declared that they did not use any method of birth control. The corresponding figures for older respondents are much lower (23 percent of 22 to 25-year-olds, 23 percent of 26 to 35, and 32 percent of 36 to 45), but still higher than one would expect considering the extremely low Spanish birthrate. Given that this amounts to nearly one in three of the 18 to 45 population not using birth control, it suggests lower than expected sexual activity. This hypothesis is supported by some surveys: the Durex survey of 1996 (reliability unknown) states that Spanish couples have sex on average 71 times a year compared to 96 in Italy, 124 in Britain and 128 in France.
   Other polls, however, have produced contradictory results. A study published in 1986 by the Valencian Institute for Research, of Spanish adolescents between the ages of fourteen and nineteen, discovered that no more than 14 percent had lost their virginity. Yet in a poll carried out that same year by the Instituto Nacional de la Juventud (National Youth Institute), 60 percent of respondents said they had had sex by the age of eighteen (56 percent in the case of girls). Nevertheless, despite these variations, what these polls indicate is a sea change taking place in Spanish attitudes towards sexual relations between 1970 and 1990, and especially attitudes as they affect women. As late as 1975, 80 percent of respondents in a FOESSA III poll indicated their belief that a woman should be a virgin at marriage. By 1992, in a survey by Amando de Miguel's Universidad Complutense team, only 40 percent of housewives, whom one might assume to be among the least permissive, are against premarital sex, a figure reduced to just 28 percent in the case of housewives who are university graduates. In the 1970s, no more than one-third of the population indicated acceptance of pre-marital sexual relations, but in a 1989 poll carried out by the Centre de Investigations Sociológicas (Centre for Sociological Research), 50 percent of respondents approved of sexual relations between a courting couple, 36 percent disapproved, and 14 percent did not know. In the same poll 66 percent of respondents found a sexual relationship outside marriage acceptable for men and 63 percent found it acceptable for women; a majority of those against were in the 50+ age bracket.
   There are, however, grounds for thinking that attitudes have been considerably more daring than actual behaviour. Cohabitation is accepted as normal by two-thirds of Spaniards, but those who practice it remain a tiny minority. The Instituto Nacional de Estadística (National Statistical Institute) published data based on the 1991 population survey, which showed that 1.08 percent of the population aged ten and over had cohabited at some time. These figures are incomplete, because married couples who started off cohabiting are recorded only as married. The figures also show significant geographical variations: the highest incidence of cohabitation is in Barcelona, with twice the national average, followed by Madrid, indicating that this is predominantly a cosmopolitan phenomenon. The cohorts most affected are in the 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 age brackets. The bulk of cohabitants are single, only a quarter being divorced or separated. A significant cultural factor is that there is a positive correlation between cohabitation and both high income levels and a higher than average educational level: the higher the educational level the higher the incidence of cohabitation. Even more revealing is the fact that it is the educational level of the woman, rather than the man, that is the major determining factor: among women graduates the incidence of cohabitation is five times higher than the average, but only three times higher in the case of men. Like so many other social changes in contemporary Spain, this one too appears to be intimately connected to the educational emancipation of Spanish women.
   See also: social attitudes; society
   Further reading
   - De Miguel, A. (1994) La sociedad española 1993-4, Madrid: Alianza (see pp. 316–32 on sexual relations and attitudes to marriage and cohabitation).
   - Fundación FOESSA (1994) V Informe sociológico sobre la situación social en España, Madrid (vol. 1, chapter 3 contains a section on cohabitation).
   - Hooper, J. (1995) The New Spaniards, Harmondsworth: Penguin (chapter 10 on sex is highly readable).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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