Sex, drugs and the men of Whistler
Study looks at sexual behaviour of local guys under the influence
IN THE LAB: Toby Moss (left) and Jay Brinkman discuss the project and survey with Jennifer Mathews, who is interviewing young males in Whistler about sex and relationships under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Special to the Question
(Link to original article)
The private lives of Whistler guys have been under the microscope this summer as researcher Jennifer Mathews has asked young men to lay bare their sexual experiences under the influence of drugs and alcohol for her study.
Titled “Whistler Guys Study,” Mathews’s sociological study looks at two aspects of sexual behaviour that she says are understudied — the use of drugs and alcohol, and men.
“The two major topics for youth — sex and sexuality and drugs and alcohol — are not dealing with the issues together, which we know often happen together,” she said. Mathews is on the brink of completing the research phase of her study and will spend the fall analyzing data she collected through an online survey and in-person, one hour interviews with Whistler men aged 19 to 25. About 25 men responded to the survey, and from that 16 conducted interviews with Mathews, for which they received $20. Each participant was guaranteed anonymity.
Recruitment was an adventure, she said, not entirely devoid of humour.
To get the word out, Mathews put up posters in the staff rooms of bars and restaurants, coffee shops and in staff housing back in June. When she started having trouble finding men to come in and chat with her, Mathews took a unique approach and went to find men at one of the locations of the behaviour she is studying — bar lineups. “Once they stopped laughing, they said, ‘Are you serious?’ They said ‘That’s interesting’ and there were a lot of questions.”
She handed out flyers to those she chatted with and collected emails from guys willing to participate.
“That was really hilarious and really fun, and it gave them a chance to see me in person and realize I wasn’t this scary person that was going to interview them,” she said.
Mathews chose Whistler for her study because of the demographics – a large population in her target age. Originally the study was planned to look at both men and women but she chose to narrow the project’s scope and focus on a group that often gets left out of the equation.
“Men tend to be operationalized as whether there was a condom used or not,” she said. “Oddly in the research and in general they’re characterized as a risk factor, instead of trying to understand their experience as young men.”
Sexual heath education tends to be disease-focused and targeted to female and homosexual males, said Mathews.
“Women don’t get Chlamydia by themselves so we need to look at how is that happening,” she said. “I’m looking at the behaviour that precedes the outcomes — in order to understand what happened downstream we need to look upstream.”
The general impression that alcohol and drug use leads to unsafe sex practices isn’t actually proven by research, Mathews added, and said that she hopes her study will help better understand the social context of sexual behavior.
“I’m hoping it’s going to inform the larger community around sex under the influence and the needs of young men,” she said. “From there we can really start to find out, where do we need to focus our energy.”
In her interviews, Mathews asked men how easy they found it to meet women and where they went. She asked about the stereotypes of 19 to 25-year-old men in Whistler, and where her subjects fit into that stereotype. She also asked about occasion where the men had sex under the influence and about the dating scene in Whistler.
“I was corrected numerous time, it’s not the dating scene, it’s the mating scene,” she said.
Mathews said she is grateful for the honesty of the men she interviewed. Many of them mentioned Whistler’s reputation as the STD capital of Canada, a claim that Juniper Gordon at Whistler’s SAFE clinic said is unsupported.
“There’s nothing that actually says that,” she said.
As for the drug and alcohol culture in Whistler, Greg McDonnell, youth outreach supervisor for Whistler Community Services, said that Whistler is for the most part no different from any other community in BC for drug and alcohol use.
“I think the only difference is that the laws and cultural norms here are definitely favourable to drug and alcohol use,” said McDonnell. “It just so happens that 60 per cent of the population is between 18 and 35.”
One of the most unique aspects of Mathews’s study is that it asks men to reflect on an act that is very “in the moment.”
“It’s looking at something pleasure-oriented, but typically tends to be an act that guys don’t reflect on,” she said.
Though the findings of Mathew’s study won’t be released until the spring, she will present some information surrounding her study at the Issues of Substance 2007 conference in Edmonton this November.