1For immigrants, arriving in France may represent a major break in their emotional and sexual lives. Many arrive as adults, but a non-negligible proportion migrate when they are younger and therefore become sexually active after migration. Sexuality issues are rarely broached in surveys of immigrants, except in relation to sexual health. Yet sexual behaviours, and notably the context of sexual debut, are powerful indicators of unequal gender relations. Élise Marsicano, Nathalie Lydié and Nathalie Bajos analyse the characteristics of the sexual debuts of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, based on a survey carried out in open spaces in the Paris region. They look at the timing of sexual debut, the age gap between partners, and the degree of consent to first sexual intercourse, by time and place of intercourse, i.e. before or after migration, and by age at migration. The authors reveal the broad diversity of immigrant histories in this respect, and show that for those who arrived before age 10, the conditions of sexual debut are similar to those of the non-migrant population.
2Research on gender relations and their recomposition in the migratory context, has developed considerably in recent years (Catarino and Morokvasic, 2005; Dahinden et al., 2007; Rigoni and Séhili, 2005). Some studies have shown that migration is not always a factor of progress and emancipation for women, since the living conditions in the country of destination can exacerbate gender inequalities (Catarino and Morokvasic, 2005; Falquet and Rabaud, 2008; Moujoud, 2008). In addition to the supposed opposition between the traditional societies of origin and the modern receiving societies, the countries of origin themselves have undergone changes in gender relations (Moujoud, 2008), while in France, gender inequalities persist, although in different forms (Maruani, 2005).
3Although sexuality provides a good terrain for observing how gender relations are structured and recomposed (Bajos and Bozon, 2008), few researchers have looked at the affective and sexual trajectories of migrants. Gender relations are internalized and expressed as soon as young people become sexually active, and the first sexual intercourse is revealing of differential socialization between persons born as boys or as girls (Bozon, 1993). While asymmetries in male and female situations at the time of sexual debut are observed in all societies, they are constructed differently in different contexts (Bozon, 2003; Wellings et al., 2006).
4For people who have migrated, the context in which the first sexual intercourse occurred may be different from the context of their socialization during childhood and adolescence. Sub-Saharan African migrants provide an excellent example, given the radical differences between the conditions of sexual debut in their own country and in France. In sub-Saharan Africa, women become sexually active earlier than men and the age gaps between partners are considerable (Bozon and Hertrich, 2001; Wellings et al., 2006). The recent changes observed there are reflected in a postponement of marriage with respect to sexual debut, especially for women (Hertrich, 2007). In France, the conditions of sexual debut have changed considerably over recent decades, although they still reveal gender asymmetry (Bozon, 2008).
5By analysing the characteristics of the sexual debuts of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, we hope to shed new light on the impact of men and women’s migratory trajectories on their first sexual experiences, as well as any possible changes in sexual power relations after migration. To do this, we use a 2005 survey of 1,874 respondents who had migrated from sub-Saharan Africa and were now living in the Paris region (Île-de-France). After describing the survey and the variables, we present the characteristics of the survey population, and provide a brief description of the respondents’ sexual debuts, taking account of individual and relational resources. Finally, we analyse three profiles of sexual debut according to the characteristics of the respondents’ migratory trajectories. Special attention is paid to situations that are similar in both men’s and women’s experiences, or, on the contrary, that are different.
I – A survey of sub-Saharan migrants in Île-de-France faced with HIV/AIDS
6In France, HIV/AIDS has severely affected migrant populations from sub-Saharan Africa (Cazein et al., 2008; Le Vu et al., 2009; Le Vu et al., 2010). The aim of the KABP-migrants survey (Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Practices) was to determine migrants’ level of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, along with their attitudes to, and opinions on, HIV/AIDS and condoms, their perception of risk and of the disease, and their ways of adapting to that risk (Lydié, 2007).
7The survey was carried out in Île-de-France,  the main residential region of people of sub-Saharan African origin (INSEE, 2005) and the leading metropolitan region affected by HIV/AIDS (Cazein et al., 2008). Respondents were interviewed face-to-face between June and July 2005 (Box 1). A pilot survey had been carried out in May of the same year to ensure that respondents understood the questionnaire and to test the survey’s feasibility. The final survey sample comprised 973 women and 901 men born in sub-Saharan Africa, aged between 18 and 49 years, and living in Île-de-France.
Box 1. A random face-to-face survey
The survey was conducted in open places using fixed survey points (urban transport stations, markets, post offices, shopping centres) selected for their ability to attract a variety of populations. To take account of the differential density of the immigrant African population in these municipalities, the duration of the interviewer’s presence was inversely proportional to the density at each site, in other words 2 hours if above 6 %, 3 hours if 4-6 %, and 4 hours if 2-4 %.
Data were collected by 42 interviewers of sub-Saharan African origin, and respondents were selected randomly at the survey points in the 50 randomly-drawn municipalities. The interviewers approached potentially eligible (i.e. black) people. [a] If they agreed to take part, they were asked to give their country of birth. Those born in a sub-Saharan African country, living in Île-de-France, and aged 18-49 were deemed eligible.
The interviewers followed a two-day training session dispensed by the BVA team and the survey leaders at the Institut national de prévention et d’education pour la santé (national institute for prevention and health education, INPES). In the field they worked in pairs (one man and one woman), with the male interviewers questioning the men and the female ones the women. At the end of the questionnaire, the interviewer gave the respondent a telephone card and a document on AIDS prevention. If respondents had any questions regarding AIDS, they were directed to the AIDS helpline (Sida Info Service).
The interviewers were instructed to record details of all the contacts who did not get to the questionnaire stage. Out of 14,164 contacts, 9,901 (70 %) were eligible individuals. Of these, 2,079 (21 %) agreed to reply to the questionnaire. During the interviews, 138 questionnaires were abandoned before completion. After verification, 67 questionnaires were withdrawn because they were incorrectly filled in, leaving a total of 1,874 fully completed questionnaires.
8Since the survey was carried out in Île-de-France, the results cannot be extrapolated to the entire African population living in France, even though 60 % of African migrants are concentrated in this region. Furthermore, since the questionnaire was administered in French, it may have led to an over-representation of persons with good French language skills, as well as people originally from French-speaking African countries.
9Interviewers of African origin were chosen to facilitate street recruitment; research has show that using interviewers of the same origin as the respondents improves participation (Elam and Fenton, 2003; McLean and Campbell, 2003). However, this advantage can become a drawback when administering the questionnaire, either because of an unwillingness to criticize cultural norms and admit to different values or behaviours, or because of concerns about anonymity and confidentiality (Elam and Fenton, 2003). To limit these risks and ensure that interviewers would not meet people they knew, they were not sent to the municipalities where they lived. In addition, they were all professional interviewers who had received specific training for this survey.
10While, for reasons of feasibility, convenience samples are generally preferred for surveys of migrants (Gras et al., 1999; Sadler et al. 2006; van Veen et al., 2009), this survey used random recruitment (Lydié, 2007; Lydié et al., 2008). The survey points were in places where persons of sub-Saharan African origin were likely to go, just as other people would, and not community places which might have led to greater selection bias (McLean and Campbell, 2003). Individuals who infrequently went to these places, and especially women who rarely left their homes, were probably underestimated in this survey, although the bias is difficult to assess. Regarding the high refusal rate, we only know that most people who refused to answer did so before discovering what the survey was about, often saying that they did not have time to spare.
11Young, highly educated, and recently arrived migrants were over-represented in the final sample, in equal proportions for both men and women. This was revealed by INSEE in a comparison of the data gathered in this survey with the 2004-2005 census for sub-Saharan African immigrants in Île-de-France (Lydié, 2007). Given that people who arrived after the early 1980s are younger and better qualified that people from earlier migration waves (Barou, 2002), this survey is probably more representative for more recent migrants. The breakdown by country of birth was not significantly different from that observed in the census, however. Respondents came from the six leading countries of emigration to France, namely Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Senegal, in similar proportions to the census. These six countries accounted for 60 % of the sample (Lydié, 2007).
12This methodology therefore made it possible to question a diverse population in terms of living conditions and migration trajectory. The percentage of persons living illegally in France (11 %) was the same as that estimated for the African migrant population in France as a whole (Lessault and Beauchemin, 2009). The fact that undocumented immigrants not only agreed to take part in the survey but also agreed to reveal their administrative status suggests that the procedures regarding confidentiality and anonymity were understood. Similarly, the low rate of non-response (less than 1 %), including to questions perceived as sensitive, such as religion, administrative status or experience of sexual violence in their lifetimes, suggests that respondents felt at ease.
New data on the sexuality of African migrants
13This survey presents new data on the sexual behaviour of sub-Saharan African migrants in France.  Sexuality was broached because it sheds light on issues relating to the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission (Box 2). This epidemiological approach to sexuality is not specific to research on immigrant populations (Calvez, 2004) but while sexuality has gradually become a research topic in its own right (Bajos and Bozon, 2008; Hamel, 2006), the sexual behaviour of migrants continues to be broached from the angle of AIDS in the rare studies carried out in France and elsewhere (Fenton et al., 2005; Kesby et al., 2003; Lert et al., 2002; Sadler et al., 2007).
14The variables describing the timing of sexual debut and the migration trajectory enabled us to compare the situations of men and women and identify different types of life course. Indicators relating to the age gap between the partners and consent to the first sexual intercourse enabled us to identify the power relations between the partners in a relationship.
15We identified three profiles of sexual debut by migration trajectory. They enabled us to distinguish between the context of sexual socialization (i.e. the place where the respondent lived during childhood and adolescence), and the social context of sexual debut. The role of educational and religious socialization differs according to whether the individuals lived longer in their country of birth or in France, while the context of sexual debut may affect the relations between partners and the way sexual intercourse is negotiated. To construct these profiles, we took into account the age at migration to France (which provides information about the conditions of migration and the context of sexual socialization) and the timing of sexual debut and migration to France (which indicates the context of sexual debut). Three profiles emerged:
16Profile 1: Respondents whose sexual debut occurred before migration. Sexual socialization and first sexual intercourse took place in the country of origin;
17Profile 2: Respondents who migrated after age 10 and whose sexual debut occurred after migration. In this case, sexual socialization partly preceded migration, whereas first sexual intercourse took place after;
18Profile 3: Respondents who migrated before age 10 and whose sexual debut occurred after migration. They were mainly socialized after migration.
The migration trajectory was broached though the year of arrival, the age at migration and the main reason for coming to France. Some people lived in a country other than their country of birth before arriving in France, as was the case for 14 % of men and 10 % of women in the survey, or may have returned home several times since their first migration to France. Nevertheless, the age at migration is a good indicator of migration trajectory that can be matched against the reasons for migration to France. The main reasons for migration were grouped into five categories: to join a spouse or family member, to study, to find work, for political reasons, for medical reasons. However, given the variety of reasons that may have served to obtain a resident’s permit, the ex-post reconstruction based on migration trajectory, and the fact that there are often several reasons behind the decision to migrate, this is a highly composite variable. Furthermore, migration to join a family member reflects different realities depending on age at migration and sex. Men and women who migrated at a young age joined their parents, whereas most of the women who migrated later joined their husbands.
A variable on the timing of sexual debut with respect to migration to France (i.e. before or after migration) was constructed by the difference between the reported age at migration and the reported age of sexual debut. The sexual debut of some respondents may have occurred after migration, but in their country of origin or in a country other than France. When sexual debut occurred the same year as migration (which concerned 76 respondents, or 5 % of the sample) it was classified as being after migration, given that the migration project was under way even if that person had not yet migrated.
19We used Pearson’s chi-squared test to compare the frequencies observed between groups and the medians. Logistic regressions were used to identify the factors associated with the fact of having had a first sexual intercourse before the median age for sexual debut (before age 18 for profile 1, and before age 19 for profile 2). We did not run a logistic regression on the third profile because of the small sample size.
II – Recent migrations
20Our analysis of the socio-demographic and migratory characteristics of the survey population showed that the sample was mainly representative of recent migrations – i.e. those that started at the end of the 1970s – and less for older ones. Nearly 95 % of respondents interviewed in the survey had migrated to France after 1980. The composition of African migration changed at that time, due to the arrival of spouses in the context of family reunification, and the countries of origin became more diverse (Barou, 2002). In addition to migrants from the Senegal River basin (mainly Senegal and Mali) migrants now arrived from Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, and Cote d’Ivoire. Yet despite this diversity, more than 90 % of individuals in the sample came from French-speaking African countries, and nearly 60 % from West Africa, showing the impact of France’s colonial past in the organization of current migrations (Table 1).
21Our population showed a particularly high educational level, since more than half the respondents had spent time in higher education, and 38 % came to France to pursue their studies. Their profiles matched those of the second immigration wave from sub-Saharan Africa, characterized by a higher level of education, notably among individuals who arrived in France at a young age (INSEE, 2005). Higher education is a reason for migration in itself for many African migrants, especially those who migrated to the Île-de-France region (INSEE, 2005). We observed little difference in the educational levels of men and women, contrary to the situation in sub-Saharan Africa itself, especially in the French speaking countries, where school enrolment is low and there are large inequalities between boys and girls (Lange, 2007; Zoungrana et al., 2007).
22A study of the circumstances of respondents’ migration revealed clear gender differences (Table 1). The women arrived at a younger age than the men (median age at migration 19.9 years versus 22.7 years) and more frequently for family reasons (44 % versus 19 %). For women, most opportunities for migrating are to join a spouse, so this is one of the main reasons for migration (Borrel and Tavan, 2004). Lastly, a non-negligible percentage of the sample migrated for political reasons (12 % of men and 6 % of women), mainly migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Angola.
23The migrants’ profiles in this survey reflect transformations in the organization of migration from sub-Saharan Africa. The proportion of women was the same as that of men, the level of education was high, and the reasons for migration and the countries of origin were more diverse than in the earlier migration waves of the 1960s, which mainly concerned men from rural areas. These changes in migrants’ profiles need to be considered when analysing the context of sexual debut.
III – A later sexual debut for women
24In our sample, women reported later sexual debuts than men (median age of 19.1 years versus 17.8 years), especially in the more recent cohorts (Table 2). This situation is the reverse of that observed in sub-Saharan Africa, where women have earlier sexual debuts than men, and where transformations in nuptiality have led to a convergence in the timing of male and female sexual debuts for the most recent cohorts (Hertrich, 2007). Even among West Africans, women have later sexual debuts than men, whereas a feature of this region is that women become sexually active very early (Bozon, 2003).
25This difference in timing of first sexual intercourse is mainly related to the migrants’ social and cultural capital (Table 2). In this survey, these characteristics may be deduced from information about educational levels – as an indicator of educational socialization and of the duration of schooling – as well as religion and current religious practice, which we consider to be an indicator of religious socialization, while making no assumptions about the direction of the relationship between religious practice and sexual debut (Caltabiano et al., 2006).
Interpretation: The median age at first sexual intercourse was 17.1 years for men of Central African origin, and 18.3 years for women in the same group.
Reference population: All respondents in the survey, including those who reported never having had sexual intercourse.
26In addition to individual characteristics, the information on the relationship helps to understand the conditions in which sexual debut occurred (Table 3). While not permitting an exhaustive analysis of the types of power relations in a relationship, the age gap with the partner nonetheless provides an indicator of unequal relationships (Bozon, 2005). When the man and woman are close in age, the power relation is more balanced. This was the case for more than half the men but only 15 % of the women. For women, the most frequent situation was having a partner between two and four years older, and 14 % reported having a partner at least 10 years older (Table 3).
Reference population: Individuals reporting a first sexual intercourse with a different-sex partner.
28The differences in timing between men and women are also linked to religious socialization. Men and women reporting no religion had sexual debuts at similar ages. Conversely, women who reported having a religion had later sexual debuts than men in the same groups (Table 2). While religious practice is usually associated with a later sexual debut (Bozon, 1993; Caltabiano et al., 2006), that is not the case for practicing Catholics and Protestants compared with non-practicing Catholics and Protestants. However, practicing Muslim men have later sexual debuts than non-practicing Muslim men (19.3 years versus 17.9 years). Muslim women also have later sexual debuts, whether they reported practicing their religion or not (21.1 years and 21.0 years).
29Men have younger sexual partners when their first sexual intercourse is later, whereas the majority of women have older partners irrespective of their age at first sexual intercourse (Table 3). Furthermore, far more women than men reported having accepted but not wanted the first sexual intercourse (26 % versus 8 %) or having been forced (7 % versus 2 %). Under-reporting of these events is certainly greater among men, since 40 % reported no sexual violence in their lifetimes even though they had reported a first forced sexual intercourse, compared with 10 % of women.  This may be related to a greater difficulty in discussing these experiences or a different understanding of the words “violence” and “forced”, the borderline between unwanted but accepted sexual intercourse and forced intercourse being different for each individual. The numbers concerned were very low, however, and these results should be interpreted with caution.
30For men, no link was observed between the age at first sexual intercourse and consent, which may be due to the low frequency of unwanted sexual intercourse. However, unwanted sexual intercourse occurred more frequently at younger ages for women. Sexual debut occurred at age 18.6 years for those reporting wanted first sexual intercourse, at 17.9 years when it was not wanted but accepted, and 16.9 years when it was forced on them. Very young women, without social or financial independence, find themselves in relationships where they have no room for manœuvre in negotiating sexual intercourse, particularly when they have older partners. Indeed, women with older partners more frequently reported unwanted or forced sexual intercourse. This was also true for men (results not shown), but the situation is different for men and women, since men with older partners are outside the norm and are thus specific cases.
31These initial findings highlight the role of social and cultural capital and their gender-specific effects. Educational socialization contributes to postponing sexual debut for women and advancing it for men. Being a practicing Muslim for men, and being a Muslim for women, are associated with later sexual debut. These results also reveal the assymetry in men’s and women’s situations, whether in the size of the age gap between partners or the frequency of unwanted sexual intercourse, notably for women. The differences between male and female sexual experiences must be viewed in the light of their migration trajectories.
IV – Migration trajectory and sexual debut
32The profiles we constructed shed light on the diverse conditions of sexual debut among this population. The three profiles correspond to the following situations (Table 4 and Appendix Table):
Reference population: Respondents reporting a first sexual intercourse with a different-sex partner.
33The first comprises persons who experienced their sexual debut before migration, so sexual socialization and sexual debut were concurrent and occurred in their country of origin. This was the majority situation in our sample, and concerns 75 % of the men and 58 % of the women.
34The second profile comprises individuals who experienced their sexual debut after migration, having migrated after age 10. Their sexual socialization mainly occurred before migration, whereas their sexual debut took place after. This concerns 18 % of the men and 30 % of the women
35The third comprises individuals who experienced their sexual debut after migration and who migrated before age 10. While this category only accounts for 8 % of the men and 11 % of the women (Appendix), it enabled us to consider the influence of socialization in the country of destination and especially entry into secondary school. While these individuals were migrants in the sense that they were born as foreigners abroad, their migratory experience is different from those who arrived at a later age, and is also similar for men and women, since family reunification was the majority reason for migration (72 %). These individuals were mainly socialized and educated after migration.
36The social and migratory characteristics of the individuals in each profile are given in the Appendix.
37This profile concerns individuals whose sexual debut occurred before their migration to France, and more frequently men than women because of the later age at migration (Table 1). These were the most recent migrations (half the individuals arrived after 2000), concerning new migrants who left their country in search of employment opportunities or because of political instability (Appendix Table; Barou, 2002). Migration had no real impact on these respondents’ sexual debuts, since they became sexually active well before migration (about six years) (Appendix Table).
38The median age at first sexual intercourse was 17.2 years for men and 17.8 for women (Table 4). Thus, including those who experienced their first sexual intercourse prior to migration, women became sexually active later than men. Women from Central Africa had earlier sexual debuts than their counterparts from West Africa (Table 5), reflecting the regional variations observed in sub-Saharan Africa (Bozon, 2003). However, the differences in timing were mainly due to the differences in educational capital; women with less education had an earlier sexual debut than their male counterparts (16.6 years versus 18.8 years). Conversely, women with higher education had a later sexual debut than men with the same educational level (18.4 years versus 17.0 years). Women’s education usually delays union formation, as women who devote themselves to their studies tend to avoid committing themselves to romantic and sexual relationships (Lange, 2007; Mouvagha-Sow, 2007).
39Investing in education provides access to a degree of independence and provides new opportunities that are constructed differently by men and women. Men reach adult status more quickly, which may lead to earlier sexual debut, whereas for women, education tends to have the reverse effect (Table 5). Thus early sexual debut acquires a different meaning according to a person’s sex: it relates to absence of education and a greater probability of having unwanted sexual intercourse in the case of women, whereas for men it is often linked to a higher educational level. The marker of domination or independence is not the age at first sexual intercourse in itself, but the relationship between the timing of sexual debut and educational capital.
40Many women reported having partners at least ten years older (16 %; Table 4). When the man is far older, it may imply that the woman is in a subordinate position and could indicate that the first sexual intercourse took place within marriage (Barbieri and Hertrich, 2005). Some 17 % of men reported having a first sexual partner who was older than they were (Table 4). While the distribution of age gaps between partners is different for men and women, having an older partner is associated with a younger age at first sexual intercourse for both sexes (Table 5).
Interpretation: Women with a secondary school educational level are 2.55 times more likely to have their sexual debut before age 18 than those with a higher educational level.
Reference population: Individuals who had their first sexual intercourse before migrating to France.
41Unwanted first sexual intercourse was frequently reported by women, whether unwanted but accepted (28 %) or forced (10 %; Table 4). Unwanted first sexual intercourse was reported far less frequently by men, but men from eastern and southern Africa reported an unwanted but accepted first sexual intercourse (18 % versus 7 %) or forced first sexual intercourse (8 % versus 2 %) more frequently. Many countries in these regions have experienced war (Rwanda, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo) and periods of severe instability. Sexual aggression escalates in such an environment and would explain the increase in forced sexual intercourse, notably for women (Lalou et al., 2006). Men may have been equally concerned by sexual violence but this is poorly documented, notably because masculine stereotypes are strong, and males victims dare not speak out for fear of stigmatization (Linos, 2009). These results must be viewed with caution because of the small numbers concerned, but they do shed interesting light on sexual violence towards men.
42Among the individuals who experienced first sexual intercourse before migration to France, the gap in timing between men and women is reversed with respect to the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. This is mainly due to the structure of our sample, in which educated people are over-represented. Sub-Saharan African migrants have a high educational level (INSEE, 2005) and are more qualified than the persons living in sub-Saharan Africa because of educational over-selection of candidates for migration (Beauchemin et al., 2010). Educational capital plays an important role both in the age of sexual debut and the fact of migrating, which is further accentuated by the structure of our sample. Comparisons between individuals who migrated from sub-Saharan Africa and those living in sub-Saharan Africa are limited here, because the social and, especially, the educational profiles of these populations are so different.
43However, comparisons with the persons who experienced their sexual debut after migrating to France (profile 2) do allow us to distinguish between factors linked to the context of sexual socialization and those relating to the social context of sexual debut. While the majority of respondents in these two profiles were socialized in their native country, the context of first sexual intercourse was different for each profile.
When the first sexual intercourse occurred after migration (profile 2)
44This profile comprises individuals who experienced their sexual debut after migration and who migrated after age 10. For them, sexual socialization mainly occurred prior to migration, whereas first sexual intercourse took place in the years following migration. While these people were partly educated in their country of origin, most completed their education in France. They usually migrated around the age of 15, and continued their studies beyond lower secondary school, and often up to the baccalauréat high school exit examination (Appendix Table).
45Compared with the first profile, persons in this group migrated earlier, in the mid-1980s, and education is an important reason for migration to France. This may account partly for the particularly late timing of the sexual debut, with a median age of first sexual intercourse of approximately 19 years for both men and women (Table 4). Although these respondents spent their childhood and part of their adolescence in their countries of origin, there was no difference in the age of first sexual intercourse by region or origin (Table 6). This may reflect the influence of the social context in which the first sexual intercourse occurred, despite the long period of socialization in the country of origin.
46The men and women in this profile had later sexual debuts than those who migrated after their sexual debut (profile 1; Table 4). These respondents migrated and became sexually active practically at the same time, which may have contributed to delaying their sexual debut. Like women who had their sexual debut before migration (profile 1), those with higher education were older when they became sexually active than the men with the same educational level (results not shown) and than women with secondary school education only (Table 6). School socialization contributes to postpone the timing of the women’s sexual debut independently of the social context in which first sexual intercourse occurred. Conversely, men with higher education did not have earlier sexual debuts than other men, unlike respondents in profile 1 (Table 5). This may be due to low numbers. Nevertheless, it seems that the value of educational capital differs for men depending on the social context in which the sexual debut occurred. In sub-Saharan Africa, educated men are rarer and form a selected population, which may give them a certain prestige. In France, the selection effect of education is much less important for men and sexual debut is structured by other factors, in particular religious socialization.
Factors associated with the fact of having experienced first sexual intercourse before age 19 years (profile 2) and by sexNote: The reference category is experience of first sexual intercourse at age 19 or over.
Interpretation: Women with higher education were 0.25 times less likely to experience their sexual debut before age 19 than women with secondary school education at most.
Reference population: Respondents who experienced their first sexual intercourse after migration and migrated after age 10.
47In this profile, practicing Muslim men reported later sexual debuts than other men (Table 6). The fact that their personal practice is associated with a later sexual debut may reflect their own internal control over their sexual practices. Muslim women, on the other hand, whether practicing or not, had later sexual debuts than other women, which may be a sign of family control over their social lives. This double standard (religious and family context for young women versus personal religious practice for young men), has also been observed among young men and women of North African origin in France (Lagrange and Lhomond, 1997). Nothing similar was observed for women whose sexual debuts occurred before migration (profile 1). This may indicate a tightening of control over women’s sexuality in a migration context. Moreover, religion may become a distinguishing factor in a Catholic or secular context, which was not the case in these people’s country of origin.
48Migration does not always lead to an improvement in women’s situations, nor does it reduce gender inequalities. Men reported wider age gaps with their partners than those whose first sexual intercourse occurred before migration (profile 1, Table 4). Two factors are combined here: later sexual debut after migration (Table 4) and wider age gaps with the partner when the sexual debut occurs later (Table 3), resulting in larger age gaps for men who became sexually active after migration. For women, the age gaps are very similar to those of women in the first profile and remain considerable (Table 4). However, forced first sexual intercourse is much less frequent for women who became sexually active after migration. In a migratory context, this may indicate a decrease in a certain type of violence against women. Nevertheless, some 25 % reported unwanted but accepted first sexual relations in this profile.
49Comparisons between respondents in the first and second profiles show that the social context of sexual debut modifies the role of educational and religious socialization. In a migratory context, the role of religion appears to grow stronger, notably for women, while education has a lesser influence for men. Migration does not necessarily lead to a convergence of the male/female experience, as shown by the size of the age gaps for men. Furthermore forced sexual intercourse, while less frequent than in the first profile, remains associated with an early sexual debut for women (Table 6). Independently of the social context, early sexual debut is a marker of unequal relationships in which women have little room for manœuvre.
50Although these individuals became sexually active after migration, they were socialized in their countries of origin, unlike the respondents in the third profile who migrated to France as children. These two groups can be compared to determine the role of the socialization context for persons who experienced their sexual debut after migration.
When respondents migrated as children (profile 3)
51This profile comprises individuals whose sexual debut occurred after migration and who migrated before age 10. These are people from the oldest migration waves – half arrived before 1986 – and mainly concern the children of persons who migrated in the 1970s. Like the respondents in the previous profile (profile 2), they experienced their first sexual intercourse in France. Both their socialization and their education mainly took place in France and their sexual debut occurred more than 10 years after migration (Appendix Table). While the majority arrived for reasons of family reunification, approximately 20 % reported coming to continue their education. This was probably a family project rather than a personal one, given the age at which these individuals migrated (Appendix Table).
52The men had far earlier sexual debuts than the women (16.6 years versus 18.2 years), which challenges the assumption that migrating at a young age, combined with a long period of socialization in France, necessarily reduces the inequality of male/female situations. However, these results should be interpreted with caution because of the small numbers in this profile (Table 4). These differences in timing may be due to differences between the sexes in educational attainment.  Indeed, far fewer men than women in this profile have reached higher education levels (Appendix), which testifies to the differences between sub-Saharan Africa and France in the school enrolment of boys and girls. In sub-Saharan Africa, persons who have studied form a very specific population, whereas in France these people are enrolled at school like other young people of their age. Women in this profile have ages at first sexual intercourse similar to other women of their generation in France with higher education, whereas the men’s profiles of sexual debut are more similar to men of the same generation in France who left school before obtaining the baccalauréat (Bozon, 2008). Women’s educational advantage over men was also observed among those born in France whose parents migrated from sub-Saharan Africa (Beauchemin et al., 2010). The educational levels of respondents in this profile resemble those of descendants of immigrants, more than those of immigrants themselves.
53While women again tend to have older partners, the age gaps are far smaller than in the other profiles (Table 4) and more like those observed in France for the same cohorts (Bozon, 2008). Indeed, in this profile, 79 % of men and 31 % of women had their first sexual intercourse with someone the same age, compared with 80 % and 45 %, respectively, for the 18-34 generation in France. This seems to signify a more egalitarian sexual debut compared with persons who migrated later (profile 2), as does the lower frequency of forced first sexual intercourse. For most, the first sexual intercourse was wanted and no significant difference was observed between the sexes (89 % and 81 %). Nevertheless, 11 % of men and 19 % of women reported unwanted but accepted, or forced first sexual intercourse (Table 4).
54As with the other profiles, educational capital plays a determining role in sexual debut, but unlike the other profiles, these women have higher educational qualifications than the men. Furthermore, educational levels acquire a different meaning since there was no selection by educational qualification at migration, nor was migration for the purpose of study. In this profile, the educational level and the differences between the sexes (favouring women this time) are linked to the duration of their socialization in France. The fact of having migrated during childhood provided more egalitarian conditions for sexual debut compared with persons who migrated later, and brought these people’s experiences closer to those of persons born in France.
55This article looked at the recomposition of gender relations in a migratory context, through the specific angle of the sexual debuts of sub-Saharan African migrants. There are very few indicators available for analysing gender relations and pinpointing gender inequalities in this area. The fact that men and women have sexual debuts at similar ages does not signify that their experiences are the same. Furthermore, the lack of information about the first partner makes it more difficult to interpret the signification of this first sexual intercourse.
56Nevertheless, our results show that social and cultural capital is a determining factor in the timing of sexual debut. In addition, the influence of educational and religious socialization differs according to the context of sexual debut, and in different ways for men and for women. Being in education contributes to women postponing their sexual debut, whether before or after migration. Conversely, a high educational level brings it forward solely for men who experienced their first sexual intercourse prior to migration. The role of religious socialization appears to grow stronger in the migratory context, notably for women. For individuals who became sexually active before migration, the age gaps between the partners as well as the frequency of forced first sexual intercourse (primarily for women) reflect very unequal power relations. However, the fact of having migrated during childhood paves the way for much more egalitarian sexual debuts, closer to those of persons born in France. The characteristics of the sexual debut are a marker of lasting attitudes with regard to sexuality, be it the timing of first sexual intercourse or gender interaction (Bozon, 1993). Placing migrants’ conditions of sexual debut in the context of their migration history is key to understanding later developments in their sexual trajectories.
Île-de-France has a population of 12 million (20 % of the total French population) the majority of whom live in Paris and its agglomeration. With 15 % of immigrants in the population, it is the main residential region for immigrants living in France.
In France, surveys of migrants are recent and sexuality is not a central topic. The last survey on migrants and their descendants, the 2008 Trajectories and Origins Survey, did not include questions on sexuality. There were few migrant respondents in the most recent general population survey on sexuality, Contexte de la sexualité en France (Context of sexuality in France) conducted in 2006, because of their small percentage in the French population. The Parcours survey, coordinated by Annabel Desgrées du Loû, will provide an opportunity to gather life event history data on migrants from sub-Saharan Africa in Île-de-France, and notably their sexual and preventative practices. The aim of that survey is to study sexual prevention, access to screening and care, and the living conditions of these migrants when sick.
A question about sexual abuse in respondents’ lifetimes was asked later on in the questionnaire.
Women with higher education experienced their first sexual intercourse later than the others (median age 18.7 years versus 17.6 years) whereas no difference was observed for the men (median age: 17.0 years and 16.5 years).