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Gender theories of welfare states offer compelling evidence that policy regimes governing family formation and the gendered rights of citizenship have a strong influence over social behaviours, including family formation, childbearing, women's labour force participation, and gender inequality in wages. Comparative approaches to state-society relations also demonstrate convincingly that social values influence the policy structures created and maintained by states, which then in turn influence social behaviours and attitudes. Similarly, research within the sociology of sexualities argues that policy regimes influence sexual behaviour and social attitudes, and of course that social acceptance of certain forms of sexual behaviour is responsible for changing policies as well.

Research Objective

Our research will build new knowledge on sexuality in Canada through a multi-method, comparative research agenda. This multi-method, cross-national research project on social and political attitudes and sexual behaviour is the first of its kind in Canada, providing empirically grounded insights to social science debates on the social organization of sexuality and the role of policy in shaping social attitudes and sexual behaviour in the contemporary context. In our times of rapidly changing policies, attitudes and sexual behaviours, this project is imperative. 

Our research has several key objectives: 

  • design and administer a Canadian survey of sexual behaviour and social attitudes that produces comparative data to a similar survey conducted by our collaborators in the United States;
  • follow-up, in-depth interviews with a sample of Canadian survey takers to collect interpretations, explanations, and elaborations on sexual behaviour, attitudes, and social policy; and
  • contribute to our theoretical understanding of sexual policy regimes through comparative analysis of policies in liberal welfare states.


The resulting analyses will produce robust, empirically-based knowledge that addresses straightforward questions about the social organization of sexuality, such as:

  • Does legal recognition of diverse family structures shape sexual behaviour or social attitudes?
  • Do social policies create challenges for non-traditional family structures, such as single male-headed households, those with female breadwinners, or same-sex families?
  • Do social and political attitudes influence divorce, age of first intercourse, or contraceptive use?
  • How do individuals attribute meaning to their sexual choices? Are their meanings consistent with their social and political attitudes? 

We will develop new theoretical concepts based on the policy dimensions of sexual rights and examine the role of sexual regimes in shaping individuals' understandings of sexuality and family. We will answer basic questions about how often people have sex, with whom, and the conditions under which people use condoms or other contraception. We will develop knowledge around sexuality in the elder years, in mid-life, and among young people, and about the role of digital communications in the sex lives of people of all ages. We will establish the meanings and narratives that individuals use to make sense of their sexual choices and political attitudes.

This study has been reviewed by the McMaster University Research Ethics Board and received ethics clearance, survey MREB protocol # 2017 113 and interview MREB protocol #2018 148. If you have concerns or questions about your rights as a participant or about the way the study is conducted, please contact:

McMaster Research Ethics Secretariat
Telephone: (905) 525-9140 ext. 23142
C/o Research Office for Administrative Development and Support

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada