Cut-n-pasted for ya
U. of C. sex study sees love, loneliness
Fri Jan 9
By Peter Gorner, Tribune science reporter
The typical Chicagoan is now single for about half of his or her adult life, a shift that has had a major impact on cultural institutions and the ways people interact, University of Chicago researchers reported Thursday as part of a broad look at sexuality in the city.
While people of other generations tended to marry shortly after entering the work force and remain married to the same spouse, today's marriages occur later in life and often are briefer. That trend has led to new ways of coping, such as elaborate networks in which singles search for companionship and sex.
"Chicagoans are destined to spend half their lives as single people, and half their single years will be spent alone," said sociologist Edward O. Laumann, leader of the research team. "Yet, we already know that sexual well-being is very much associated with happiness and the quality of life. The implications for the future are troubling."
The survey also found that sexual opportunities are different for men and women and are defined by racial group, neighborhood and sexual orientation. African-Americans who live on the South Side generally do not look to West Side neighborhoods for partners, for example, and people on the North Side rarely go to the South Side.
Society in general has not caught up with the changes in sexual partnering, the results indicate. For instance, gay men and gay women who are victims of domestic violence have few resources available to them.
The researchers call the Chicago Health and Social Life Survey the first representative sampling of the sex life of a major city. For the survey, 50 interviewers from the university-affiliated National Opinion Research Center conducted in-depth personal interviews with 2,114 men and women, ages 18 to 59, in the city and nearby suburbs.
The researchers also talked to 160 community representatives, including police, social workers, clergy and others.
The information was kept confidential and the team had no difficulty getting people of different cultures to respond, Laumann said.
The survey found that, on average, Chicagoans stay married for 18 years, cohabit for 3.7 years and either are unattached or dating the rest of the time.
Families, communities and local religious organizations also were found to exert enormous power in the shaping of sexual relationships.
But the change in behavioral norms brought about by early sexual maturity, cohabitation, late marriage and prevalence of divorce have consequences for city-dwellers.
"Women often have a harder time remarrying," Laumann said. "Many already have kids, and men may not want to raise other men's children."
A man in his 40s will seek a woman who is five to eight years younger, forcing older women to change their strategies for meeting partners, Laumann said.
"Even though they tend to be conservative and less permissive in their sexual attitudes, they may find themselves going to bars by themselves," Laumann said. "That's not what they were doing in their 20s."
Sexual behavior is significantly limited by such factors as neighborhood, ethnicity, sexual preference and friends, the researchers found.
In heavily Latino neighborhoods, for example, the influence of family, friends and the church remains strong. However, among young upper-income people on the North Side, the workplace and college were the most important meeting places.
The survey uncovered the importance of an emotion neglected by previous researchers: jealousy.
"The rise in cohabitation has increased domestic violence because people who cohabit are much more likely to experience jealousy," Laumann said.
"Because of the lack of commitment in a cohab,' people enter it being a lot more mistrustful."
The researchers found that adultery breaks up Chicago area marriages at a rate of about 4 percent a year. However, when the adultery occurs among people who are living together but unmarried, the defection rate jumps to 15 to 20 percent.
"That means fighting increases, and with it the likelihood of physical violence," Laumann said. "These are fragile relationships, and domestic violence because of sexual jealousy is a problem in all the communities we studied."
For the survey, the researchers concentrated on four Chicago neighborhoods for case studies.
Included were questions about sexual partners, birth-control methods, lifetime sexual history, social networks, neighborhood characteristics, attitudes about religion, sexuality and sex roles and domestic violence.
The results of the survey will be published in a book, "The Sexual Organization of the City," to appear in spring. It represents the third part of a trilogy by the U. of C. team that began in 1994 with the national sex survey published as "The Social Organization of Sexuality."
That was followed by "Sex, Love and Health in America: Private Choices and Public Policies," published in 2001.
Other researchers welcomed the new survey, which was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Ford Foundation.
"Just as in his previous work, Dr. Laumann is the new Kinsey," said Eli Coleman, director of the human sexuality program at the University of Minnesota, referring to the late Alfred C. Kinsey, the prominent sex researcher.
"Laumann provides us with the data to really understand the sexual behavior of people today. This is extremely important as we face the myriad sexual health problems in America," Coleman said.
Daniel Greenberg, a sociologist and sex researcher at New York University, has specialized in studying homosexuals.
"Laumann includes them in his research but also includes everybody else," he said. "The study of sex in a big city has not been done before. It's a major advance."