Let’s talk about sex: New book sheds light on French sexual mores

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France has a certain reputation when it comes to sex. Yet believe it or not, the French have become even less inhibited in recent years.

A new book entitled “Love and Sexual Behaviour in France” (La Vie Sexuelle en France) by Janine Mossuz-Lavau, an emeritus research director with the National Center for Scientific Research, illustrates how attitudes have shifted in France by interviewing 65 men and women of various ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and sexual tendencies from across the country.

It is a follow-up to Mossuz-Lavau’s first book on the subject, which was based on a similar study back in 2000.

“I wanted to see how things had evolved in the last 17 years,” she told FRANCE 24.

Already reputed as one of the most sexually liberated countries in the world, Mossuz-Lavau found that behaviour in France is now less inhibited than it was nearly two decades ago.

“Sexual behaviour has changed. I can’t be 100 percent certain, because even if I’ve spent hours talking with my subjects, I’m not in their bedrooms. But yes, it would appear they are more liberated in their behaviour,” she said.

Mossuz-Lavau said acts that were previously frowned upon in France, such as fellatio, have been largely normalised. She attributed this to the fact that people are more comfortable discussing the subject than they were before.

“There’s also a big shift in how people talk about (sex). French people are much more open to discussing sex. Seventeen years ago, I had to ask specific questions, but now people bring things up freely,” she said.

For Mossuz-Lavau – who conducted her study between January and November 2017 – this newfound freedom of expression is in part linked to the global #MeToo movement, which sparked widespread debate over sexual behaviour by encouraging victims of abuse to speak out.

“With everything that’s happened since October 2017 with #MeToo and (the French version of the movement) #Balancetonporc, I’m really not surprised. It really opened things up,” she said.

No sex: The ‘last taboo’

Yet if there’s one thing people still aren’t comfortable talking about, it’s the absence of sex in a relationship.

“It’s what I call the ‘last taboo’ in my book: couples who have been together for a long time, who may even spend their lives together – young and old – who stop having sex. It’s very common, but we never hear anything about it,” said Mossuz-Lavau.

In writing “Love and Sexual Behaviour in France”, Mossuz-Lavau sought to make her book as human as possible, forgoing scientific references for cultural ones drawn from popular literature, music and film.

She sets the tone early on in the introduction by quoting French philosopher Ruwen Ogien: “I am not offering an original definition of love. I leave the creative reader to find one that can satisfy everyone. But… it would be a bad idea to try.”

Mossuz-Lavau said that she wrote the book in an effort to “provide a better understanding of French society”.

“They are the real life stories of real people,” she said.

One anecdote Mossuz-Lavau found particularly amusing was that of a young woman who wanted to have sex for the first time, and was fed-up with waiting for the right partner to come along. So she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“She, like a number of the young women I interviewed, decided to plan her first time having sex,” explained Mossuz-Lavau. “She chose an ‘old’ 35-year-old man who she knew, but wasn’t in love with. The experience went really well, she was very at ease. What made me laugh was when she told me, ‘I even took off my own underwear.’”

Beyond painting a portrait of the sexual mores of French society, Mossuz-Lavau said she hoped her book will help her readers gain a better understanding of themselves.

“I hope it shows that all these little stories, even the ones that end in failure, make up who we are as individuals today,” she said.

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