Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 409–437

Swedish or American heterosexual college youth: Who is more permissive?

  • Martin S. Weinberg
  • Ilsa L. Lottes
  • Frances M. Shaver


Theories of human sexuality have proposed that two factors reduce the double standard of sexuality and lead to a convergence of male and female sexual behavior: the degree of social benefits and amount of power women have in basic societal institutions and the extent to which a society accepts permissive sexual norms. As these factors increase, the strength of the double standard will decrease and the convergence between male and female behaviors will increase. Compared to the United States, Sweden has instituted more policies to promote gender equality and has been thought to accept more permissive premarital sexual attitudes. The focus of the research reported here is to examine country and gender differences in sexual attitudes and sexual behavior for a sample of university students in the United States (N = 407) and Sweden (N = 570). Results indicate that Swedish students endorsed more similar sexual standards for women and men and reported more accepting attitudes than did American students. For sexual behavior, American men reported the most sexual experience, Swedish men the least, with the women of both countries generally in the middle category. Notwithstanding this more permissive behavior on the part of American men, gender convergence with respect to sexual behavior is stronger in Sweden on several of the dimensions examined: age of first engaging in partner-related sexual activities for those who were sexually experienced, relationship with first partner, number of partners both in the last year and in their lifetime, and affective reactions to first coitus. Gender convergence, however, is weaker in Sweden than in the United States with respect to the incidence and frequency of various sexual activities and the degree of satisfaction with current sex life. Findings are discussed with respect to the questions they raise about the current theories that framed this research and the differential amount of sex education provided in the two countries.

Key words

sexual standards premarital sexual behavior affective responses gender differences Sweden United States cross-cultural 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Atwood, J. D., and Gagnon, J. (1987). Masturbatory behavior in college youth.J. Sex Educ. Ther. 13: 35–42.Google Scholar
  2. Bell, R. R., and Coughey, K. (1980). Premarital sexual experience among college females.Fam. Rel. 29: 353–357.Google Scholar
  3. Bishop, P. D., and Lipsitz, A. (1991). Sexual behavior among college students in the AIDS era: A comparative study.J. Psychol. Hum. Sex. 4: 135–148.Google Scholar
  4. Carroll, J. L., Volk, K. D., and Hyde, J. S. (1985). Differences between males and females in motives for engaging in sexual intercourse.Arch. Sex. Behav. 14: 131–139.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Christensen, H. T. (1969). Normative theory derived from cross-cultural family research.J. Marr. Fam. 31: 209–222.Google Scholar
  6. Christensen, H. T., and Gregg, C. F. (1970). Changing sex norms in America and Scandinavia.J. Marr. Fam. 32: 616–627.Google Scholar
  7. Clark, R. D., and Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers.J. Psychol. Hum. Sex. 2: 39–55.Google Scholar
  8. Clement, U., Schmidt, G., and Kruse, M. (1984). Changes in sex differences in sexual behavior: A replication of a study on West German students (1966–1981).Arch. Sex. Behav. 13: 99–120.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Craig, M. (1990). Coercive sexuality in dating relationships: A situational model.Clin. Psychol. Rev. 10: 395–423.Google Scholar
  10. Darling, C. A., and Davidson, J. K., Sr. (1987). Guilt: A factor in sexual satisfaction.Soc. Inquiry 57: 252–271.Google Scholar
  11. Darling, C. A., Kallen, D. J., and VanDosen, J. E. (1984). Sex in transition.J. Youth Adolescence 13: 385–389.Google Scholar
  12. DeLamater, J. (1987). Gender differences in sexual scenarios. In Kelly, K. (ed.),Females, Male and Sexuality, SUNY Press, Albany, NY.Google Scholar
  13. DeLamater, J., and MacCorquodale, P. (1979).Premarital Sexuality, Attitudes, Relationships, Behavior, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.Google Scholar
  14. Earle, J. R., and Perricone, P. J. (1986). Premarital sexuality: A ten-year study of attitudes and behavior on a small university campus.J. Sex Res. 22: 304–310.Google Scholar
  15. Grauerholz, E., and Serpe, R. T. (1985). Initiation and response: The dynamics of sexual interaction.Sex Roles 12: 1041–1059.Google Scholar
  16. Hacker, S. S. (1990). The transition from the old norm to the new: Sexual values for the 1990s.SIECUS 18: 1–8.Google Scholar
  17. Hendrick, S., Hendrick, C., Slapion-Foote, M., and Foot, F. (1985). Gender differences in sexual attitudes.J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 48: 1630–1642.Google Scholar
  18. Jones, E. F., Forrest, J. D., Goldman, N., Henshaw, S., Lincoln, R., Rosoff, J. I., Westoff, C. F., and Wulf, D. (1986).Teenage Pregnancy in Industrialized Countries, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.Google Scholar
  19. Keller, J. F., Elliott, S. S., and Gunberg, E. (1982). Premarital sexual intercourse among single college students: A discriminant analysis.Sex Roles 8: 21–32.Google Scholar
  20. King, K., Balswick, J. O., and Robinson, I. E. (1977). The continuing premarital sexual revolution among college females.J. Marr. Fam. 39: 455–459.Google Scholar
  21. Knox, D., and Wilson, W. (1981). Dating behaviors of university students.Fam. Rel. 30: 255–258.Google Scholar
  22. Leitenberg, H., Detzer, M. J., and Srebnik, D. (1993). Gender differences in masturbation and the relation of masturbation experience in preadolescence and/or early adolescence to sexual adjustment in young adulthood.Arch. Sex. Behav. 22: 87–98.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Lewin, B. (1982). The adolescent boy and girl: First and other early experience with intercourse from a representative sample of Swedish school adolescents.Arch. Sex. Behav. 2: 417–428.Google Scholar
  24. Lewin, B. (1987). Adolescent sexuality: Changing behavior and lasting trust in the family. Paper presented at the International Seminar on Young People and Their Parents, Freising-Munchen, Germany.Google Scholar
  25. Linner, B. (1967).Sex and Society in Sweden, Lowe and Brydone, London.Google Scholar
  26. Lottes, I. L. (1985). The use of cluster analysis to determine belief patterns of sexual attitudes.J. Sex Res. 21: 405–421.Google Scholar
  27. Lottes, I. L. (1993). Nontraditional gender roles and the sexual experiences of heterosexual college students.Sex Roles 29: 645–669.Google Scholar
  28. Lottes, I. L., and Weinberg, M. (1995). Sexual coercion among university students: A comparison of the United States and Sweden. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  29. McCormick, N. B. (1979). Come-ons and put-offs: Unmarried students strategies for having and avoiding sexual intercourse.Psychol. Women Quart. 4: 194–211.Google Scholar
  30. Moen, P., and Forest, K. B. (1990). Working parents, workplace supports and well-being: The Swedish experience.Soc. Psychol. Quart. 53: 117–131.Google Scholar
  31. Mott, F. L., and Haurin, J. (1988). Linkages between sexual activity and alcohol and drug use among American adolescents.Fam. Plann. Perspect. 20: 128–136.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Muehlenhard, C. L., and Cook, S. W. (1988). Men's self-reports of unwanted sexual activity.J. Sex Res. 24: 58–72.Google Scholar
  33. O'Kelly, C. E., and Carney, L. S. (1986).Women and Men in Society, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA.Google Scholar
  34. Person, E. S. (1980). Sexuality as the mainstay of identity: Psychoanalytic perspectives.Signs 5: 605–630.Google Scholar
  35. Phillips, D. E., and Gromko, M. H. (1985). Sex differences in sexual activity: Reality or illusion.J. Sex Res. 21: 437–443.Google Scholar
  36. Popenoe, D. (1987). Beyond the nuclear family: A statistical portrait of the changing family in Sweden.J. Marr. Fam. 49: 173–183.Google Scholar
  37. Popenoe, D. (1988).Disturbing the Nest: Family Change and Decline in Modern Societies, Aldine De Gruyter, New York.Google Scholar
  38. Qvarfort, A. M., McCrea, J., and Kolenda, P. (1988). Sweden's national policy on equality between men and women. In Kolenda, P. (ed.),Cultural Construction of Women, Sheffield, Salem, WI.Google Scholar
  39. Reinisch, J. M., Sanders, S. A., Hill, C. A., and Ziemba-Davis, M. (1992). High-risk sexual behavior among heterosexual undergraduates at a midwestern university.Fam. Plann. Perspect. 24: 116–121.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Reiss, I. L. (1967).The Social Context of Premarital Sexual Permissiveness, Rinehart and Winston, New York.Google Scholar
  41. Reiss, I. L. (1980). Sexual customs and gender roles in Sweden and America: An analysis and interpretation. In Lopata, H. (ed.),Research on the Interweave of Social Roles: Women and Men, JAI, Greenwich, CT.Google Scholar
  42. Reiss, I. L. (1981). Some observations on ideology and sexuality in America.J. Marr. Fam. 43: 271–283.Google Scholar
  43. Reiss, I. L. (1983). Sexuality: A research and theory perspective. In Houston, P. (ed.),Sexuality and the Family Life Span, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.Google Scholar
  44. Reiss, I. L. (1986).Journey into Sexuality, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.Google Scholar
  45. Reiss, I. L. (1990).An End to Shame: Shaping Our Next Sexual Revolution, Prometheus, Buffalo, NY.Google Scholar
  46. Roche, J. P. (1986). Premarital sex: Attitudes and behavior by dating stage.Adolescence 21: 107–121.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Schmidt, W. E. (1993). Sweden redefines sexual revolution. In Wren, C. S., and Ethridge, W. T. (eds.),Themes of the Times, Human Sexuality, Prentice-Hall and the New York Times, New York.Google Scholar
  48. Schwartz, I. M. (1993). Affective reactions of American and Swedish women to their first premarital coitus: A cross-cultural comparison.J. Sex Res. 39: 18–26.Google Scholar
  49. Sherwin, R., and Corbett, S. (1985). Campus sexual noms and dating relationships: A trend and analysis.J. Sex Res. 21: 258–274.Google Scholar
  50. Smith, T. W. (1990). The polls—A report: The sexual revolution.Public Opinion Quart. 54: 415–435.Google Scholar
  51. Sundet, J. M., Magnus, P., Kvalem, I. L., Samuelsen, S. O., and Bakketeig, L. S. (1992). Secular trends and sociodemographic regularities of coital debut age in Norway.Arch. Sex. Behav. 21: 241–252.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Sundstrom-Feigenberg, K. (1988). Reproductive health and reproductive freedom: Maternal health care and family planning in the Swedish health system.Women Health 13: 35–55.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Trost, J. (1985). Swedish solutions.Society 22: 44–48.Google Scholar
  54. Wade, C., and Cirese, S. (1991).Human Sexuality, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego, CA.Google Scholar
  55. Wilson, S. M., and Medora, N. P. (1990). Gender comparisons of college students' attitudes toward sexual behavior.Adolescence 25: 615–627.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Zetterberg, H. L. (1969).Om sexuallivet i Sverige [On Sexual Life in Sweden], Sweden Statens Offentiliga Utyredningar, Stockholm.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin S. Weinberg
    • 1
  • Ilsa L. Lottes
    • 2
  • Frances M. Shaver
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.University of Maryland Baltimore CountyBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Concordia UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations