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Number 12 (3/2003)

Undressing the Dolls

Interview with Elina Haavio-Mannila

Hannele Keckman-Koivuniemi    
10.11.2003

Feedback on her book published in 1968 awakened Elina Haavio-Mannila's interest in sexual behaviour. Her book concentrated on the status and changing roles of men and women in Finland.
- Antti Eskola commented my book saying that the dolls were dressed. What he meant was that I had ignored sexual life.

Looking back now at the long career of professor emerita, researcher Elina Haavio-Mannila one can see that the main drift of her research has been to study everyday phenomena and informal human relationships. In addition to sexual behaviour, she has studied village fights, health care, drinking habits, migration, sex roles, women's role in the society, family, sexual harassment and sexual relationships in the workplace.

Elina Haavio-Mannila Ms. Haavio-Mannila took part in the 1971 sex survey by pretesting some of its questions in her own international family survey. Her 1980 survey on the phenomena Finns call 'the afternoon dances' contained some questions on sex life.
- But it was the joint research with Riitta Jallinoja and Harriet Strandell in 1984 with its questions on sex behaviour that brought this research area in the public eye, she recalls.

Consequences of HIV

Debate on sexual issues livened up in the 1980s along the appearance of HIV and AIDS.
- I thought we needed new research on Finnish sexual behaviour and attitudes. Osmo Kontula and I managed to get funding from the Academy of Finland for our 1992 sex survey.

An EU-funded research programme had been set up in Europe in the 1990s. The programme aimed at aggregating information on national surveys covering sexual behaviour. Haavio-Mannila's and Kontula's FINSEX project joined in the European co-operation. This gave the inspiration for the Finnish sex life follow-up survey in 1999. Additional surveys were conducted in St. Petersburg and Estonia in the name of international co-operation and to enable comparisons across countries.

Evaluation work beckons

- Recently, Osmo Kontula and I have dedicated ourselves to writing joint papers analysing the unstudied parts of our surveys, e.g. masturbation. An English version of our book Trends of Sex in Finland and Neighbouring Countries is about to be published, likewise a book on Estonian sex survey, which will be published in Estonian. I have also carried out evaluation work for sociologists in Sweden, she lists.

Five questions are enough

- The sex surveys collected over the years provide us with enough material for analysis to last for the rest of our lives. A lot of of the material has not been studied yet and may be of benefit for other researchers. Even issues already studied may be investigated from a new point of view. On the other hand, we have largely ignored certain questions, for example, sexually transmitted diseases. Let's not forget that five questions may provide a sufficient basis for good research, Haavio-Mannila points out.

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