Abstract: Sexual Socialization and Culture: Comparing Young Women in the US and Israel (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

80P Sexual Socialization and Culture: Comparing Young Women in the US and Israel

Saturday, January 16, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Dana S. Levin, MSW, MA , University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Doctoral Candidate, Ann Arbor, MI
L. Monique Ward, PhD , University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Associate Professor, Ann Arbor, MI
Introduction: Women are inundated with sexual communication from an early age (Downie & Coates, 1999). Research tells us that sexual socialization messages are culturally bound. However, while some work has investigated the experiences of American young women, sexual socialization differences across cultures remain understudied. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence of three sexual socialization discourses—the double standard (e.g., “Men want sex, women want relationships”), the sexual abstinence (e.g., “Sex belongs only in married relationships”), and the positive sexuality (e.g., “Being sexual is a natural part of being human”)—as received from parents, friends, schools, the media, and religious institutions, in the US and Israel. Both popular culture and research tell us that the US is distinctive among Western countries in its emphasis on abstinence-only sex education (Dailard, 2002), while many other analogous nations tend to be more open about sexuality and sexual practices. We hypothesized that American women would receive more sexual abstinence messages, and that Israeli women would receive more positive sexuality messages.

Method: Participants were 191 American undergraduate women attending a large Midwestern university, and 48 Israeli female undergraduate women attending a comparable university in Israel. The same survey was administered to the participants, in English in the US, and in Hebrew in Israel. (This survey was translated and back-translated.) Using a 0-3 scale (0 indicated “None”; 3 indicated “A lot”) participants indicated the extent to which their parents, friends, media, schools, and religious institutions had communicated each of 60 sexual values. Through factor analysis, six subscales were developed, three of which are analyzed here: sexual double standard (α=.89), abstinence (α=.82), and positive sexuality (α=.80).

Results: American participants reported receiving more sexual abstinence messages, and more messages overall from parents and schools, than Israeli participants. American participants also reported receiving more abstinence messages from parents, friends, and schools, more positive sexuality messages from religious sources, and marginally more double standard discourses from parents and friends, than Israelis. This is consistent with research suggesting that Americans are particularly invested in sexual communication in general, and in abstinence-based messages specifically.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings suggest both similarities and differences across cultural backgrounds. American women received more abstinence messages than Israeli women, as hypothesized. However, they also received more positive sexuality messages than Israeli women, an unexpected finding. American women may tend to receive or report more sexual communication than Israeli women overall. This work illustrates cultural differences in both types and amounts of sexual socialization received by young women, and has the potential to create a deeper understanding of the source and prevalence of sexual socialization and its potential consequences, as well as how messages may affect attitudes and behaviors across cultures. Further analyses are needed to provide additional information about cultural differences, as well as relationships between these messages and identified behavioral outcomes across cultures. It is imperative for social work practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to focus more on the intersection of culture and gender as it affects behavior and identity.