There are numerous factors that influence our views on sex, one of those factors being generational.
Two residents of the Pine Grove Nursing Home filled out anonymous questionnaires detailing their perspectives on how society’s views and values are shifting in North America and Western Europe.
One resident, initials WN, is 86 years old. WN has what would be considered more traditional views on sex. WN writes that they’ve had sex with the same person all their life, and that they were married at 17 and 18.
WN expresses disapproval of pre-marital sex, and while they concede the legality of pre-martial sex, and acknowledges that young people have differing opinions on this topic, WN says that commitment is important.
“Views have changed and people have sex without commitment. If [they’re] committed to each other in sex, they should marry,” says WN.
WN also expressed disapproval of sexual relations that are non-heterosexual.
Lisa Todd, a history professor at UNB who teaches in fields that include European history and gender and sexuality, says that some younger people may only view gay rights as having been around for the past few decades, due to the considerable amount of progress in recent years.
However, she cites that, as an example, there were people who were arguing for gay rights in Germany as early as 1900.
“German culture was fairly liberal compared to other cultures, around 1900, right up until the Nazis came to power, and then everything fell apart again, and then those people had to start building after the Second World War,” says Todd.
Todd says that progress, if one is defining progress as people having more rights in society, is not always a constant incline.
“I think it’s interesting that it’s not a straight line, things kind of go up and down, so when you’re talking about differences between generations—they’re complicated,” says Todd.
UNBSU LGBTQ councillor Jackie Toner says that she’s viewed change for LGBTQ students during her years at UNB, especially in regards to visibility.
“When I started at UNB in 2014 I felt as though I was one of the only queer people on campus and had no idea where to go to find resources for myself or to find people like me,” says Toner.
Toner says more still needs to be done in terms of sex education, but she sees improvement happening in this sector as well.
“AIDS NB has some fantastic resources when it comes to LGBTQIA+ resources, but those resources should be available across the board for all students regardless,” says Toner.
Toner also notes that while the topic of sex is talked about more among young people, these conversations aren’t always healthy. An example of this would be the varying views regarding virginity and gender.
Bethany Jensen, the secretary of the Women’s Centre at UNB, agrees that virginity remains one of the topics that people of differing generations may have disagreements over.
“[For] women, it’s seen as taking something or they’re no longer pure when they have sex and it’s like this great big thing, it’s made a great big deal out of, whereas men, we don’t see that as much,” says Jensen.
Jensen says that, in her view, our society still frequently reinforces the gender binary.
“I think it’s just important to realize that there’s no right or wrong way to act out a gender and I think that not just women but everybody needs to loosen the grips that we so tightly bound around the ways in which people act and do gender,” says Jensen.
Todd says that even if you’re just looking at the 20th and 21st century, strict rules and ideas surrounding female virginity have existed for a long time.
She notes that these ideas are different in different parts of the world, in different times and religions, but in regards to North America and Western Europe, virginity was viewed as something very serious.
“Certainly for hundreds of years, thousands of years, female virginity was very heavily guarded and very heavily prized and people could be very heavily punished if they kind of stepped outside of that,” says Todd, adding that there were always people who would break the rules.
Todd acknowledges that many people would argue that a shift in societal views on virginity hasn’t really happened yet, since there are many people and movements that seek to keep virginity as something prized.
The other anonymous participant from Pine Grove Nursing Home, AZ is 85 and says that, in their view, sex is a gift.
“It is probably the most strong of all passions. It is a gift that is pleasant to experience, as well as the planned population in families,” says AZ.
When presented with the question regarding how societal views are changing over time, AZ says that while today’s reality shouldn’t be ignored by parents, these changes are not inherently negative.
“These changes can be good if they are presented in a responsible fashion,” says AZ.
Jensen says that communication between generations regarding these topics is important, and that we should be open to hearing perspectives from people of all generations.
“Of course there’s going to be a generational gap in which people believe different things but we can’t be closed to hearing all perspectives and respecting them,” says Jensen.
“Our dialogue around sex is changing and I can only imagine that it will continue to evolve as time goes on,” says Toner.
And while AZ expresses their concerns regarding young people not being ready to take on the consequences of sex, they say that they are always ready to have their views be challenged.
“Others, including older folks, have been amazingly open to their grandchildren and their beliefs. They may not always agree, but [they’ll] respect younger folks,” says AZ.