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Sexual identities fluid and negotiable

By Frank Flegel


REGINA — Among adults between 18 - 25, 84.2 per cent believe premarital consensual sex is OK, but they feel guilt and shame about it and they blame that on religion.

That was one of the findings from a research project led by Dr. Pamela Dickey Young, professor of religion, Queen’s University. She talked about the research as this year’s Luther Lecturer that was held Sept. 28 at Luther College, University of Regina. Her lecture was titled Sex, Religion and Canadian Youth: Identities Under Construction.

Young made it clear the sample size was small — 486 people selected from across Canada — but she believes it is still a good reflection of how young adults see themselves in the context of religion and sex. The research has value, she said in an interview with the PM, because religious groups want young people in their group.

“Hear what they say about religion and don’t present it as a bunch of rules because they’re not looking for rules.” Sexuality, she continued, is a topic where we have to learn to be conversant politely. “Talk about it and not just shove it under the carpet.”

Her research was conducted over three years and used surveys, personal interviews and some social media. Nine religions were identified by the subjects with the largest group, 61 per cent, claiming Christian roots. Non-religious was the next largest group at 20 per cent with four per cent identified as Muslim and 3.3 per cent Judaism. Gender identities were 71 per cent female, 27.9 per cent male, 69.1 per cent said they were heterosexual, 9.9 per cent said they were bi-sexual, 10.2 per cent identified themselves as queer, four per cent trans, 4.4 per cent lesbian and 4.7 per cent as gay. “Some claimed multiple identities, religious and sexual,” said Young in her lecture, and many continued in the religion of their parents.

Many of the research subjects did not want to be pigeon-holed, said Young, which led to some curious responses like one individual who claimed to be a Catholic Agnostic. “They want to be agents of their own identity.” 60.4 per cent said religious traditions on sexuality should adapt to contemporary cultural and social values. Several responses shown on the huge screen in the auditorium drew laughter. One response in particular: the individual argued you could bend the rules if you didn’t agree with them and noted the Anglican religion as an example because it was founded on a divorce.

Most were influenced in their choices and values by friends 86.6 per cent, compared to parents at 79.1 per cent, their religion came in at 49 per cent and religious leaders at 24.8 per cent.

Identities were fluid and negotiable in the group that was studied, said Young. “They were articulate about it, they were thoughtful about it, it didn’t just come off the top of their heads and they really want to be critical thinkers and critical makers of their own identity.”

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