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Gender Gap in Youths' Sexual Activity: Assuming the Validity of Survey Responses

Federico R. León, PhD, FRONTIERS IN REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH, Population Council (Consultant), Javier Prado 7427, Ate, Lima, L-3, Peru, 348-6559, frleon@amauta.rcp.net.pe

In Peru, boys systematically report more extended sexual activity than girls, and a similar gender gap has been found in Kenya and elsewhere. Mensch et al. (Demography, 40, 2, May 2003) interpreted the Kenyan findings considering the dual social norms for the genders, more permissive for men and restrictive for women: boys would over-report sexual activity and girls would under-report it. Yet, 1. The comparison of personal interview with audio computer-assisted self-interviewing has produced contradictory findings, 2. The gender gap found for homosexual behavior in Peru is contrary to predictions, and 3. Methodologies other than self-reports have produced findings that are consistent with the observed youths' gender gap in sexual activity. Moreover, the main theories of human sexual behavior (constructivist/feminist theory, evolutionary psychology, Baumeister's theory of gender differences in erotic plasticity) predict the gender gap. We found the gap in the questionnaire responses of 1,721 secondary-school students in central-eastern Peru. These, triangulated with narrative reports of critical sex incidents, suggested that female students' selectivity of partner and occasion limits their access to intercourse. Male students seemed to outreach beyond school settings to sexually engage girls of lower SES. Individualistic values predicted male initiation in intercourse and collectivistic values females' virginity. The gender gap needs a finer demographic description. Important power inequality issues may be involved. The recognition of substantive male-female differences expressed in the gender gap necessarily challenges the prevailing intervention paradigms and may promote the development of new models that overcome the current stagnation.

Learning Objectives:

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Factors that Affect Sexual and Reproductive Health of Young People, and How to Address them

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA