Sexual initiation and religion in Brazil

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2010-08

Authors

Verona, Ana Paula de Andrade

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Abstract

With the growth of Pentecostalism over the last few decades, conservative values and punitive sanctions related to the sexual behavior of adolescents and unmarried youth began to play an important and systematic role in Pentecostal and renewed Protestant churches as well as in charismatic Catholic communities. Simultaneously, religion has become an important and highly present factor in the lives of many adolescents and youth in Brazil. In terms of attempting to attract this age group, these churches and communities, stand out, as they have used their resources to create a space for this segment of the population to participate in a religious environment. Youth groups, dating groups, trade courses, lectures, aid work in poor communities, confirmation and other activities such as retreats and religious trips, have been frequently observed in these churches and charismatic communities. In this dissertation, I examine the associations between religious involvement and sexual initiation in Brazil. More specifically, I investigate (1) whether religious denomination and religiosity are associated with age at premarital first sexual intercourse, (2) whether these associations have changed over the last three decades, (3) how different churches and religious leaders address sexual behavior issues, and (4) the mechanisms through which religion can influence adolescents’ sexual behavior in Brazil. These research questions are assessed by employing multiple data sources and methodologies including three Demographic and Health Surveys carried out in Brazil in 1986, 1996, and 2006 and event history analysis, as well as in-depth interview data and participant observation among different religious groups and affiliations by attending several Catholic masses, Protestant religious services, youth groups, Sunday schools, and religious talks/lectures. Quantitative and qualitative findings of this dissertation show that adolescents and youth from Pentecostal churches and communities seem more likely to delay or abstain from premarital sexual initiation when compared to traditional Catholics. I conclude by suggesting that the dissemination of conservative norms and sanctions as well as the availability of greater space for youth to maintain close relationships with these churches have helped create mechanisms through which religion can directly and indirectly influence the lives and sexual behavior of young people in Brazil.

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