Sex in Malta
What is understood by the word sex?
In the current study, a total of 400 individuals successfully completed a questionnaire regarding sex via telephone/mobile interviews. One of the first questions asked in this questionnaire was “what do you understand by the word sex?”
From this question, 13 different responses amongst the 400 individuals emerged. Just over a quarter of individuals (26.9%) expressed that the word sex to them means a sexual act between two persons. This response was closely followed by 26.8% of individuals indicating that sex to them means an act of love. These two responses accounted for more than half (53.7%) of the total responses.
Other responses included sex being referred to as gender identification (17.5%). 12.1% of individuals described sex as being a sexual act, and 9.3% of individuals further described sex as a sexual act specifically between a male and a female. ‘Intimacy’ (7.1%) and ‘pleasure’ (5.1%) were also provided as responses.
The least common responses included unity (1.7%), and 1.9% of individuals provided a response to the question which fell under the category of ‘other’. The words ‘marriage’ (1.3%) and ‘a relationship’ (1.3%) were chosen respectively as a response by the same percentage of individuals. 0.5% of individuals responded ‘don’t know’, and the same percentage of individuals responded with ‘reproduction’ (0.5%) as a definition of the word sex.
When reviewing similar research conducted in different countries regarding people's perceptions of the word ‘sex’, two pieces of research in particular were found to be relevant and comparable to this current study.
Firstly the UK’s Natsal-1, a national survey regarding sexual behaviour and attitudes in the UK will be discussed. Participants were not asked directly what they understood by the word sex, but rather were asked about the meaning to them of particular words and phrases related to sex. In this survey, it was highlighted that sex usually refers to the term ‘sexual intercourse’ and when participants were asked to provide what they understand by this term, researchers found that many participants made use of “euphemisms” such as “making love” and “sleeping with”. The researchers further noted that use of street language to refer to sexual intercourse was very rarely used.
Furthermore, the researchers pointed out that few participants actually defined specifically what sexual intercourse is, and only agreed with the interviewer that sexual intercourse is the penetration of the penis in the vagina once the interviewer had introduced such terms.
Finally, the researchers found a discrepancy in the meaning of sexual intercourse between heterosexual and homosexual individuals. Whilst for heterosexual individuals the definition of sexual intercourse usually meant penetration of the penis in the vagina, for homosexual individuals, the meaning of sexual intercourse was much more broad, including masturbation and oral sex.
The second relevant research mentioned above is titled “What is sex and why does it matter?” conducted by Peterson & Muehlenhard (2007). In this study, 100 participants (51 females and 49 males) filled out a questionnaire regarding individuals' definitions of the word ‘sex’. The participants were asked to write about 4 types of situations. These included:
Almost but not quite sex
Just barely sex
Uncertainty about the experience being sex
Disagreement that the experience qualified as sex
In the results of when participants were asked what classifies as ‘almost but not quite sex’, the majority of women gave examples of Genital-to-genital contact; no penetration (28%) and Oral sex (25%). On the other hand, men gave examples of for Oral sex (27%) and vague responses such as fooling around (23%).
For results of what classifies as ‘just barely sex’, the majority of women gave examples of brief or partial penetration (63%), whereas men's opinions were more split, providing examples of brief or partial penetration (44%) as well as oral sex (25%). These results highlight the difference between what men and women understand and classify as sex.
Peterson, Z. D., & Muehlenhard, C. L. (2007). What is sex and why does it matter? Amotivational approach to exploring individuals' definitions of sex. Journal of Sex
Research, 44(3), 256-268.
Spencer, E., Faulkner, A., & Keegan, J. (1988). Talking about sex: Asking the public about sexual behaviour and attitudes. Social and Community Planning Research.
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