A Critical Introduction to Human Sexuality
A Critical Introduction to Human Sexuality

A Critical Introduction to Human Sexuality

Lead Author(s): Nicole McNichols, Matt Numer

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A modern, comprehensive and research-based exploration of human sexuality that incorporates real life perspectives on contemporary issues.

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Top Hat has reimagined the textbook – one that is designed to improve student readership through interactivity, is updated by a community of collaborating professors with the newest information, and accessed online from anywhere, at anytime.


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Key features in this textbook

Human Sexuality includes Spotlight Stories: Audio interviews that relate text content to the real world, including an interview with Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands.
25-40 built-in assessment questions embedded in each chapter, as well as comprehensive test banks for students to test their knowledge.
Full set of slide decks aligned to each chapter of the book; each deck comes with interactive questions, videos and eye-catching visuals.

Comparison of Human Sexuality Textbooks

Consider adding Top Hat’s A Critical Introduction to Human Sexuality textbook to your upcoming course. We’ve put together a textbook comparison to make it easy for you in your upcoming evaluation.

Top Hat

Nicole McNichols, Matthew Numer, “A Critical Introduction to Human Sexuality”, Only One Edition needed

Oxford Press

Baldwin, Janice & John Baldwin & Simon LeVay, Discovering Human Sexuality (3rd ed.)

McGraw-Hill

Hyde, Janet and John DeLamater, Understanding Human Sexuality (13th ed.)

Pearson

Hock, Roger R., Human Sexuality (4th ed.)

Pricing

Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device

$67.95

E-book

$169.95

Hardcover print text only

$90

E-book

$180

Hardcover print text only

$199.95

Hardcover print text only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Human Sexuality. Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Customizable

Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Pricing

Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

Nicole McNichols, Matthew Numer, “A Critical Introduction to Human Sexuality”, Only One Edition needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device

Oxford Press

Baldwin, Janice & John Baldwin & Simon LeVay, Discovering Human Sexuality (3rd ed.)

$67.95

E-book

$169.95

Hardcover print text only

McGraw-Hill

Hyde, Janet and John DeLamater, Understanding Human Sexuality (13th ed.)

$90

E-book

$180

Hardcover print text only

Pearson

Hock, Roger R., Human Sexuality (4th ed.)

$199.95

Hardcover print text only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

Top Hat

Nicole McNichols, Matthew Numer, “A Critical Introduction to Human Sexuality”, Only One Edition needed

Oxford Press

Baldwin, Janice & John Baldwin & Simon LeVay, Discovering Human Sexuality (3rd ed.)

McGraw-Hill

Hyde, Janet and John DeLamater, Understanding Human Sexuality (13th ed.)

Pearson

Hock, Roger R., Human Sexuality (4th ed.)

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

John Redden & Joe Crivello, Human Physiology, Only One Edition needed

Oxford Press

Baldwin, Janice & John Baldwin & Simon LeVay, Discovering Human Sexuality (3rd ed.)

McGraw-Hill

Hyde, Janet and John DeLamater, Understanding Human Sexuality (13th ed.)

Pearson

Stuart Fox, Human Physiology (14th ed.)

Customizable

Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

John Redden & Joe Crivello, Human Physiology, Only One Edition needed

Oxford Press

Baldwin, Janice & John Baldwin & Simon LeVay, Discovering Human Sexuality (3rd ed.)

McGraw-Hill

Hyde, Janet and John DeLamater, Understanding Human Sexuality (13th ed.)

Pearson

Hock, Roger R., Human Sexuality (4th ed.)

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

John Redden & Joe Crivello, Human Physiology, Only One Edition needed

Oxford Press

Baldwin, Janice & John Baldwin & Simon LeVay, Discovering Human Sexuality (3rd ed.)

McGraw-Hill

Hyde, Janet and John DeLamater, Understanding Human Sexuality (13th ed.)

Pearson

Hock, Roger R., Human Sexuality (4th ed.)

About this textbook

Lead Author

Nicole McNichols, Ph.DUniversity of Washington

Nicole McNichols is a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she also received her PhD in Social Psychology. Over the past five years, Nicole has built her class, The Diversity of Human Sexuality, into the University of Washington’s largest and most popular undergraduate course with over two thousand enrolled students each year. Nicole is frequently a guest lecturer and speaker regarding topics in human sexuality. She was at the forefront of the University of Washington’s push to adopt and develop active learning techniques and technologies to bring scientific subject matter to life in the classroom. Nicole is an active member of a variety of societies for teaching human sexuality and was recently the keynote speaker at the University of Washington’s Psychology graduation. Nicole received her BA from Cornell University and her MA from NYU.

Lead Author

Matthew Numer, Ph.DDalhousie University

Matthew Numer is an Assistant Professor in the School of Health and Human Performance at Dalhousie University and cross-appointed to the Gender and Women’s Studies Program. He has been funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for his work in the areas of gender, sex and sexuality. His research interests include substance use, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men’s health, sexual health, online technologies, LGBTQ2S health, masculinities, Indigenous boys’ and men’s health, and post-secondary pedagogical practices. He has received numerous awards for his interactive teaching methods and is widely known as an innovator in the classroom. He is the former Chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, was a member of the board of directors for the Halifax Sexual Health Centre for eight years, and currently serves on the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia: Gay Men’s Health Advisory Committee.

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Chapter 1: Introduction to Human Sexuality

Figure 1.1. Sculpture from a Hindu temple in Madhya Pradesh, India. These groups of temples, known as the Khajuraho Group of Monuments, were built between 950 and 1050 and are famous for their erotic symbolism. [1]

1.1 Learning Objectives

By the end of the chapter, you should be able to:

  • Grasp both the intellectual and personal benefits of reading this book. 
  • Describe the current state of sex education in the U.S.
  • Compare our model of sex education to that in more progressive societies, like the Netherlands.
  • Describe some of the major historical events that have shaped our view of human sexuality.
  • Describe some of the cultural differences with regard to sexuality.
  • Explain the influence of media on human sexuality.

1.2 Welcome to Human Sexuality: A Critical Exploration

What exactly is the purpose of taking a Human Sexuality class? Why is this topic so important? Don't college students pretty much already know everything there is to know about sex? The answers to these questions are at once obvious and complex. Our sexuality lies at the center of who we are. It informs our self-identity, fuels our strongest desires and flames our greatest fears and challenges. Our sense of our bodies, our gender, our sexual orientation, attraction, pregnancy, intimacy, coercion—these are topics that are among the most meaningful in people's lives. This book is intended to provide readers with knowledge surrounding a broad range of topics related to our own and others' sexuality. Armed with this awareness, readers should achieve a sense of empowerment over their own bodies and an appreciation that one's own sexual experience, tastes, and perspectives represent only one of many.

In addition to our individual experience, we should also recognize that human sexuality is a broad, diverse domain of study. Many disciplines contribute to our understanding of sex and sexuality. Our views on this topic, probably more than any other subject, are embedded in historical and cultural values and beliefs. Value and belief systems have influenced the way we have studied, researched and presented a range of topics within human sexuality. From the outset, this text recognizes that much of the information presented herein is interpreted and discussed within a cultural context that is presented from the authors' point of view. Nonetheless, great care is taken in presenting a fair and balanced perspective of the ideas, and knowledge we have of sex and sexuality today.

​This spotlight story focuses on one student’s experience in taking human sexuality and broadening their perspective. The discussion illustrates how values and beliefs influence our engagement with human sexuality, but despite our diverse backgrounds, we can always expand our thinking on issues related to sexuality.

Question 1.01

Question 1.01

How does religiosity inform your views on human sexuality?

Question 1.02

Question 1.02

How comfortable are you discussing topics related to human sexuality with other people? Explain.

Question 1.03

Question 1.03

What do you hope to gain from studying human sexuality?

Question 1.04

Question 1.04

How comfortable or open are you to exploring different domains of human sexuality as they relate to you?

​​There is little denying that our sexual lives are integral aspects of who we are. Most of us do not need a course in sexuality to experience the act of sex. There is, however, no limit to the things we can learn about ourselves and sexuality that may benefit our satisfaction, enjoyment, and engagement in sexual encounters. ​Another major issue to consider as you work through this text is the formation of values and morals. The way we have formed and understand our values and morals almost always directly relates to how we view issues related to sex and sexuality. Our value system not only frames how we view these topics, but also helps us make sense of our own actions and behaviors. Ideas such as sex before marriage, casual sex, the way we enact our gender, and with whom we will have sex are framed within our value system. When our behaviors conflict with our values and morals, we may experience negative emotions. Consider what is acceptable and not acceptable to you. Another thing to think about is whether our ideas of morality should be used to judge other people’s behaviors. Should consenting adults have their sexual practices regulated by society and value judgements? These are all ideas to consider as you work through the various aspects of human sexuality presented in this text. 

This chapter begins with an examination of sex education and a brief history of human sexuality followed by some modern cultural aspects of sexuality. We start with sex education because the values in society are often reflected in what we teach our young people about sex. The discussion on cross-cultural sexuality is meant to broaden our perspective on human sexuality to situate it outside of our social and cultural context. Finally, we conclude the chapter with an analysis of how modern forms of media are influencing human sexuality. 

1.3 Why You Probably Need A (Good) Sex Education Class

Do college students in the U.S. really know a lot about sex? The answer to this depends on where they went to high school. According to the 2015 School Health Policies and Practices Study, a national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent School Health, only 55% of middle school and 73% of high school students receive any kind of human sexuality education at all. Moreover, the quality of the information they receive is often poor, since there are currently no national standards that legally require schools to deliver clear, consistent, scientifically accurate information. The CDC recommends covering 16 topics related to sexual health in schools, including: 

  • How to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships
  • Influences of family, peers, media, technology and other factors on sexual risk behavior
  • Benefits of being sexually abstinent
  • Efficacy of condoms
  • Importance of using condoms consistently and correctly
  • Importance of using condoms at the same as another form of contraception to prevent both STIs and pregnancy
  • How to obtain condoms
  • Communication and negotiation skills
  • Goal-setting and decision-making skills
  • How HIV and other STIs are transmitted
  • Health consequences of HIV, other STIs, and pregnancy
  • Influencing and supporting others to avoid or reduce sexual risk behaviors
  • Importance of limiting the number of sexual partners
  • How to access valid and reliable information, products and services related to​ sexual health

Think about or imagine the first time you engaged in sexual activity. Were you or are you prepared to communicate effectively with a partner? Were you or are you knowledgeable about which STIs could pose a risk? It is not surprising that 39% of high school students are not using condoms. With 20 million new STIs among young people under 24, one would think that sexual health would be a priority. The CDC states that all of these topics are critical components of sex education.  

According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of August 1, 2017, only 24 states and Washington D.C. mandate that sex education be provided in schools, and only 13 states require that sex education, when provided, be medically accurate. Approximately half of middle schools and three-quarters of high schools offer sex education that primarily focuses on abstinence-only programs, which by all evidenced based accounts lack any ability to influence teens' sexual outcomes or decision making processes. While some people may choose to remain abstinent, they should still be offered information about sexual health education to protect themselves and others should they ever engage in sexual activity. Numerous studies show that abstinence-only education does not delay the initiation of first intercourse (even among those who pledge to do so) and does not effectively prepare youth for sexual activity. A full report was published by the Advocates for Youth about the facts and myths of abstinence-only education. The following video illustrates recent history regarding sex education and abstinence-only sex ed.


Question 1.05

From the video, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine argues that sexual health information is ________\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_ and abstinence-only-until-marriage education is ________\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_.

A

Unfortunate; essential

B

A religious right; ethical

C

A basic human right; unethical

D

A privilege; world-renowned

When it comes to topics surrounding LGBTQ issues, only 12 states require discussion of sexual orientation in sex education, and of these, three actually mandate the dissemination of negative, non-scientifically backed views and opinions! In seven states—Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas—discussion of homosexuality in a positive light is strictly forbidden. Nine states in the U.S. mandate that sexual health classes taught in public schools be inclusive and provide science-based information that addresses sexual orientation. Only four states, however, which include California, Washington, Colorado and Washington D.C., require public schools to teach gender identity. 

Comprehensive sexual health education covers the full range of topics associated with sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual function, contraception, reproductive rights, communication and more. ​Opposition to comprehensive sexual health education is nothing new. Despite the controversy, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), most Americans are in favor of sex ed that includes both abstinence and information about contraception and STI prevention. The figures are as follows: 

  • 93% approve of sex ed in high schools; 84% of sex ed in middle/junior schools.
  • 8/10 Americans approve of providing young people with information on how to protect against unintended pregnancies and STIs.
  • 7/10 oppose abstinence-only education.
  • 8/10 reject the idea that sex ed increases/encourages sexual activity.
  • 63% of Americans believe that sexual exploration among youth is natural and young people should be given the information and best approaches to acting responsibly.

You might be asking at this point: why doesn’t the government just implement comprehensive sexual health education regardless of what the opposition says? The challenge is that each state is responsible for education curriculum. Further, while there may be some state mandates, there may also be variation by counties and even local school districts. The federal government, however, often influences curricula based on budget allocations. Depending on the government in power, funding may be driven by ideology rather than public health outcomes. As the debate regarding sexual health in schools rages on, you might ask yourself how beneficial your sexual health education in the school system was? Also, did you feel adequately prepared for your early sexual relationships in terms of communication, physical intimacy, and emotional well-being? 

While sex itself is not a damaging topic for young people, when we fail to educate our youth, they are left without the tools to properly understand and interpret messages about sex. For example, there is now unprecedented access to pornography and other forms of erotica. According to the American College of Pediatricians (2016), some studies indicate that a third of boys have viewed pornography at 10 years of age or younger. In another study, American boys (51%) and girls (32%) have viewed porn by the age of 13. There is concern that when youth access porn without proper education, they believe that the interactions that happen are reflective of real-life scenarios. Given the age and the negative messages that some porn can produce without proper education, should schools be restricted from exploring such topics? We also know that the argument for parents to educate young people about sex simply does not happen. Most parents are unprepared to discuss topics of sexuality with their young people, while others may be uncomfortable. 

In most comprehensive sex ed curriculums, the topic of gender and other issues related to sexuality are discussed in an age-appropriate manner. For instance, in grade three, the curriculum may challenge gender stereotypes in terms of work by presenting an example of a woman who is a firefighter. For more information on the lack of high-quality sex education in the United States, take a look at this well-researched (and hilarious) clip by comedian and political commentator John Oliver.


Question 1.06

What kind of sex education did you receive in high school? Was it anything like any of the examples provided in this video? What do you wish had been covered in high school but wasn't?

Given the inadequacy of our sex education, it should come as no surprise that the U.S has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized world (Sedgh, Finer, Bankole, Eilers, Singh, 2015). Furthermore, according to CDC data, sexually transmitted infections among U.S. adolescents are disproportionately high compared to other developed countries, with 15- to 24-year-olds accounting for half of all new infections each year in the US.  

High-quality sex education is also an essential tool in the fight to end the discrimination, bullying, and violence that gender and sexual minorities in this country continue to face on a daily basis. According to the 2015 National School Climate Survey, 85% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) students reported being verbally harassed based on a personal characteristic in the previous year. 66% experienced LGBTQ-related discrimination at school, and 32% of LGBTQ students reported missing school because of concerns about their personal safety.  As this New York Times article describes, the shooting rampage that occurred at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in June, 2016, was one of the deadliest shooting massacre ever to occur on U.S. soil and represents only one example of many hate crimes committed against sexual minorities each year.  It was also only one example of many hate crimes committed against sexual minorities each year. According to the FBI, LGBTQ people are the most likely targets of hate crimes in America.  

Sexual assault, another huge topic being discussed at a national level, also must be addressed through comprehensive sexual health education. As the number of federal Title IX investigations continues to grow at an exponential rate and students across the country continue to be sexually assaulted every year on college campuses, there is an urgent need to address this issue. 

And finally, what about the rate of divorce in the U.S.? Could our country's lack of high-quality sex education be partly to blame for the fact that over half of all marriages will likely end in divorce? Obviously, there are many factors that contribute to the dissolution of a marriage. It is important to note that our expectations for marriage are higher than they have ever been before in history. We want our partners to be our soul mates and to be incredible sexual partners. According to society and the media, we all just magically know how to please our partners and ourselves brilliantly and this requires no formal education or instruction. Is this expectation realistic? Are we really being fair?

To further understand how we arrived in the current state of sex education, the following video illustrates our history. 

1.3.1 Sex Education in the Netherlands

Do nations with consistent comprehensive sexual health education have healthier attitudes toward sex than we do? One interesting example to look at is the Netherlands, where all children beginning at age four receive age-appropriate sex education classes. They even have a Teen Facts exhibit at the NEMO museum in Amsterdam that explores puberty. In school, classes are not limited to the sterilized mechanics of anatomy (which many U.S. schools do not even have), but place a major emphasis on relationships and building respect for one's body and the bodies of others. Dutch teens are taught quite specifically how to figure out what feels good to them, as well as what constitutes sexual consent, how to say "no" if they are not ready for or do not want sex, and how to express their personal needs and boundaries. They are encouraged to speak openly with their parents about sex and to ask questions. Respect for others is also a main point of focus, with topics such as gender identity and sexual orientation addressed head-on. This is quite different from how Americans typically "learn" about sex, which, as Peggy Orenstein points out in her now-famous New York Times piece, increasingly occurs nowadays by simply watching porn

What is the result of the Dutch approach toward sex education? The Dutch teen pregnancy rate is one-eighth the U.S. rate. The number of abortions and the incidence of STIs, including HIV, as a percentage of the population are also considerably lower. In a study comparing 300 American college students with 300 Dutch college students who were matched in their religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, researchers found that the Americans became sexually active at a younger age than the Dutch, had more sexual encounters with more partners, and were less likely to use birth control during those encounters (Brugman et al., 2003). Americans were also more likely to report that the first time they had intercourse was because of pressure from friends and partners. In follow-up interviews, these same American female college students were more likely to say that they felt "unprepared for the experience," that it was driven by "hormones," that they were mostly concerned about "pleasing him," that they felt "uncomfortable," and that they had "silent parents." Dutch college women, in contrast, reported that their sexual experience was more "motivated by love," that they felt "control of my own body," had "parents as supporters and educators" and "books at young ages." In sum, the Dutch report that their first sexual experience occurs later than that of Americans and is safer, more respectful, more egalitarian and just generally more positive. Why? Because rather than ignoring the reality of sex in society, the Dutch acknowledge sexuality as one of life's great pleasures that happens to demand a lot of preparation and forethought. 


Question 1.07

Which of the following is true about sex education in the Netherlands?

A

Formal sex education begins at age four.

B

Classes include discussions on dating, love, and intimacy.

C

It is correlated with lower rates of teen pregnancy and STIs in Dutch teenagers.

D

All of the above


1.3.2 Practical Benefits of Sex Education 

In all measurable health and social outcomes, our society would benefit if we provided comprehensive sexual health education to our young people. Problems could be prevented and youth would emerge with a smarter, more diverse, perspective on sexuality. But what about at the individual level? Are there personal benefits to taking a human sexuality course that can help you, specifically? We hope you discover that the answer to this is a resounding "yes!" Below are some examples of things you can achieve by reading this book.

  • Gaining a better idea of your anatomy and functions will empower you to increase both your own and your partners' sexual pleasure, if you choose.
  • Achieving insight into a wide spectrum of sexual identities, behaviors, and relationship models can aid you in your own sexual discovery and redefine your preconceptions of what is "normal."
  • Learning about the rewards and challenges of sexual relationships and intimacy can enable you to better navigate relationships you may pursue in your own life.
  • Understanding the differences between biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality, as well as the factors that shape them, can help you better understand yourself and those around you.
  • Learning about STIs and the protections and risks of various forms of contraception and other safer sex options can help you prevent, treat and manage STIs and increase the chances of creating a pregnancy only if and when you choose.
  • Learning about the spectrum of sexual coercion can help you develop healthy, consensual relationships, prevent sexual violence and make informed decisions if violations do occur.
  • Recognizing the causes and treatments for various sexual disorders can help you to feel prepared should problems in your sexual functioning arise. 
  • And finally, learning to talk openly about sex and discuss taboo topics can improve your communication and self-advocacy with partners, peers, health professionals and maybe even your children!
Question 1.08

Which of the above benefits is most important to you, personally? Which do you think is most important to learn at a societal level? Are there any that you think were left off this list?

Sex education reflects many of societal values at a given time and place. We will now move into human sexuality outside of the here and now. In other words, we will now examine some of the historical contexts of sexuality followed by a cross-cultural analysis. In doing so, we are attempting to escape the trap of ethnocentrism in relation to sexuality. Viewing sexuality outside of our own culture can help us understand that our own thoughts, behaviors, and eroticism are largely socially produced. 

1.4 The Diversity of Sexuality Across Time

Human beings have always been sexual. It is just as much a part of being alive as eating or breathing. Although not all individuals experience sexual desire or yearn for satisfying relationships, all of us have sexual identities that are central to our personhood. Despite these constants, the role our sexuality plays in our lives, including how it is approached and expressed, has changed dramatically depending on the historical context. Below is a brief outline of how this important presence in all of our lives has developed since the beginning of history. 

1.4.1 Evolution

Who is our closest genetic cousin, and what might their sexuality suggest about our own? Up until 1928, scientists believed that chimpanzees were our closest genetic relative. This did not bear well for the human species. Chimpanzees are naturally very aggressive; alpha and beta males’ social behavior mimics many scenes from Game of Thrones. Dominant males enjoy multiple female sexual partners. Sometimes these females are willing, but often they are not. It is not unusual for male chimpanzees to beat up females, tear out their hair and kill their babies (all in the name of "love"?). Unfortunately, this behavior is rewarded from a genetic standpoint—recent studies suggest that the most aggressive chimpanzees sire more offspring than their less violent counterparts, propagating their not-so-lovely sexual tendencies (Pusey, Williams, & Goodall, 1997). Clearly, all of this paints a disturbing picture of how human beings are genetically pre-programmed to behave in a sexual context.

In 1928, however, German scientist Ernst Schwarz made a shocking discovery that gave our species reason for hope. After examining the skull of what was previously believed to be a juvenile chimpanzee in a museum in Belgium, Schwarz alerted the world, in his 1929 paper, that this skull was not a juvenile chimpanzee at all, but was rather an adult skull of an entirely different primate species, which later was named the bonobo! Later, genetic studies went on to establish that the DNA of bonobos is 98% identical to that of homo sapiens. Scientists now believe that the bonobo and chimpanzee effectively split off from one another fewer than one million years ago and both are now considered to be the closest genetic relatives of humans.

Figure 1.2. The bonobo monkey and the chimpanzee are both our species' closest genetic relatives.​

The discovery of our long-lost relative, the bonobo, had huge implications for our understanding of how evolution has dictated our sexuality. Where gorillas are mean and nasty, bonobos are kinder, gentler and more loving. Whereas chimpanzees frequently use sex as a weapon, bonobos use it as a means of diffusing tense situations. It is not uncommon, for example, for a group of bonobos who are about to eat a huge meal, to begin having sex with one another before digging in just to make sure there isn't any fighting over who gets the largest portion (de Waal, 1995).

In many ways, Bonobo sexuality bears a striking resemblance to, and in some respects is even more progressive than, that of humans. Bonobos enjoy sex frequently and in many positions. In a female bonobo, the vulva, rather than being positioned toward the rear as it is in chimpanzees where it allows only for rear entry, resides more toward the front, just as it does in humans. This makes face-to-face, or missionary style, sex a common occurrence. Before having sex, bonobos spend time staring into each other’s eyes and often cuddling and kissing. Bonobos also display complete gender equality. Females are treated with respect and often call the shots within the group. Finally, whereas homosexuality has never been observed among chimpanzees, it is common among bonobos, occurring at rates (around 10%) similar to those in people.  

Figure 1.3. Bonobo sexual behavior is remarkably close to, and perhaps even more progressive than, that of human beings. [2]


Question 1.09

The fact that human beings share close to 98% of their DNA with bonobo monkeys suggests which of the following about human nature?

A

We are aggressive and domineering.

B

We have evolved to enjoy sex for reasons other than just procreation.

C

We have evolved to have sex in only one position.

D

We are meant to have only one sexual partner in our lifetime.

Similar to humans, the social interactions among bonobo chimps are influenced by sex. Despite being remarkably close to human in genetic make-up, however, they are not the same. We now turn our attention to some of the history of sex in human societies. 

1.4.2 From Hunter-Gatherers to Settled City-States

Ancient history sheds an interesting light on how our understanding and attitudes about sex have varied over time. Although one might assume that current attitudes and beliefs are dramatically different than they once were, history paints a more complex picture. Ideas about sex have vacillated, offering drastically different perspectives depending on both the place and time. 

About 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, there was a transition from hunter-gatherer societies to settled farming communities. With large numbers of people living in close quarters, early governments needed to control social behavior. In hunter-gatherer tribes, no one paid much attention to sexual norms. Gender roles were rigid, with women mostly doing the gathering while men hunted. Sex was not tightly governed. In settled communities, on the other hand, sexual conflict and arousal were dangerous properties, capable of causing civil unrest. As a result, nudity was restricted, marriage was formalized, and sex, in general, became more tightly regulated and less accepted outside of marriage.  

This is not to say that all sexual attitudes and behaviors were drastically different than they are now. In ancient Egypt, for example, adultery may have been illegal but was still fairly common. Egyptian women also had the right to divorce their husbands. In most instances, however, non-procreative sex and sex outside of marriage were met with negative social pressure. Further, sex in ancient Egypt was an integral part of everyday life and even the afterlife. Like some ancient cultures, the Egyptians incorporated spirituality and their gods into sexual practice. Much of this ancient mythology is related to sex, sometimes presented through coded messages and euphemisms. Many of the ancient Egyptian records uncovered by archaeologists speak of love, incest, homosexuality, masturbation and even allude to necrophilia. The ancient Egyptians linked femininity and masculinity to the ability to reproduce. Interestingly, there seemed to be no concept of virginity as there is in almost all modern cultures. Masturbation was normal and even a source of creation according to some ancient myths.

Question 1.10

The development of settled city-states had what effect on society's attitudes toward sexuality?

A

Sex became viewed as a potential source of civil unrest and danger.

B

Sex was appreciated more for the pleasure it could bring.

C

Gender norms became more relaxed.

D

Marriage grew less important.


1.4.3 The Greeks

Occurring even slightly earlier in history, another large influence on modern-day sexual attitudes comes from ancient Roman and Greek society. The Greeks were much more permissive about sexuality than either the Hebrews or Christians later became. Ancient Greece is well-known as a sexual culture. Sex, love, and sexuality are interwoven with many facets of mythology including the creation of the world, gods, heavens and the underworld. In a new book titled In Bed With the Ancient Greeks, Paul Chrystal (2016) examines the many layers of sexuality embedded in Greek societies. He explores how Greek mythology centered around eroticism and fertility by incorporating intermarriage, polygamy, murder, and incest. Sex and sexuality were hallmarks of Greek mythology and, in turn, Greek civilization. Masturbation was considered a normal and healthy part of the Greek way of life. This is noted because masturbation can often signify cultural openness to issues of sexuality. 

The Greeks also clearly articulated the difference between love and sex and, as opposed to the Hebrews, recognized and even celebrated that one didn't always co-exist with the other. Love and sex even had their own separate gods. Aphrodite illuminated the passion and desire inherent in sex, whereas Eros, her son, was the more stable and kind god of love. Like the Hebrew Bible and Christianity, Greek mythology is also filled with stories of sexual misconduct, but contain far more tales of sexual exploit, including rape, incest, and even bestiality (having sex with animals), such as when Zeus assumes the shape of a swan so that he can rape Leda. Interestingly, the Greeks were one of the only civilizations in western history to formally institutionalize male homosexuality. Love was frequently expressed by philosophers in homoerotic terms; male to male non-sexual love was viewed as the utmost form of love and was considered superior to the sexual love of women. This idealization of non-sexual love was even assigned a name, platonic love, based on the teachings of the Greek philosopher, Plato.

More concretely, however, homosexuality was institutionalized through pederasty, where a post-pubescent boy who had completed his Orthodox education would accept the guidance of an older man. This older man would be charged with furthering the boy's intellectual, physical, and sexual development in exchange for sex. As the boy's mentor, the man would always assume the role of the penetrator. Socrates, for example, was famous for taking on many mentees who would frequently grow jealous if they felt their mentor's time was being spent disproportionately with any one student. Though often referred to as "homosexuality" in the Greek culture, there was no identity associated with the practice of pederasty. What was important for the Greeks was that the adult male be the penetrative partner and the youth the receptive partner. This was normal for boys, but for adult men to be the receptors was a sign of weakness. Women's fertility was also an important part of Greek civilization. Though women were not afforded the same rights and privileges as men, their ability to reproduce was highly revered in mythology. In practice, however, women were often blamed if pregnancies failed. Also, since virility was a sign of strength, infertility was also seen as the fault of women. The following video describes some aspects of the sexual Greek culture.


Figure 1.4. The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, painted around 1490, depicts the great beauty and sexual energy of ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite. [3]


Question 1.11

The idealization of non-sexual love was assigned what name by Greek philosopher Plato?


Question 1.12

What is the name of the ancient Greek custom where a post-pubescent boy would accept the guidance of an older man in exchange for a sexual relationship?


1.4.4 The Hebrews

The development of organized religion, which soon followed, also played a major role in determining sexual attitudes, with most religions promoting only procreative, heterosexual sex within the context of marriage. The Hebrew Bible, most of which was written sometime between 800 and 200 BC, for example, contains explicit rules forbidding male homosexual sex, as well as adultery and incest. It also goes to great length to explain all that can go wrong with sex, portraying vivid scenes of betrayal, jealousy, incest, and adultery. Interestingly, it balances these cautions of sexual misconduct with stories highlighting the positive side of love that stresses the importance of sex within marriage, i.e. "to be fruitful and multiply." For example, consider the following quotation from Song of Solomon:

How beautiful your sandaled feet,
    O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels,
    the work of an artist’s hands.
 Your navel is a rounded goblet
    that never lacks blended wine.
Your waist is a mound of wheat
    encircled by lilies.
Your breasts are like two fawns,
    like twin fawns of a gazelle.
Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon
    by the gate of Bath Rabbim.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon
    looking toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.
    Your hair is like royal tapestry;
    the king is held captive by its tresses.
How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
    my love, with your delights!

As illustrated by this quotation, the Hebrews certainly recognized the pleasures and beauty that sex could offer, especially in the context of a committed marriage.

1.4.5 The Romans

Similar to the Greeks, the early Romans accepted homosexual and bisexual sex as a normal part of many relationships. Whereas the Greeks stressed the dichotomy of sex and love, the Romans highlighted the independence of passionate love and marriage. In terms of providing the glue to a marital relationship, passion was seen as taking a distant back seat to respect, trust, and mutual consideration. Sex outside of marriage was such a given for men that wives often even encouraged their husbands to take sex slaves of either gender to provide them with sexual release. In addition, many of our sexual terms can be traced to Roman culture, as indicated by their Latin roots. Fellatio derives from the Latin verb fellare, to suck, and cunnilingus derives from cunnus, meaning "vulva," and "lingere," which means to lick. Fornication derives from fornix, which means an arch, stemming from Roman streetwalkers' tendency to serve their customers in the shadows of an archway near public buildings, such as theaters, pubs, and stadiums.       

1.4.6 India and the Kama Sutra

In addition to religion, the development of complex societies led to the emergence of class structure which also had an influence on sexuality. In India, for example, ample leisure time went along with being rich and powerful, which made the pursuit of elaborate sexual practices a worthwhile and realistic activity. The Kama Sutra, written by Indian Hindus around the 2nd century, provides an illustrated guide of hundreds of sexual positions designed expressly for the purpose of delivering sexual pleasure to all genders. Not everyone enjoyed the pleasures promised by the Kama Sutra, however. The poor mostly engaged in hasty, fully clothed couplings devoid of pleasure or intimacy. Despite the class divide, Hinduism is a major world religion that is highly variable and complex. Along with Kama (the pursuit of pleasure), there are other spiritual tenets of Hinduism including the dharma (social duties), karma (right worldly actions) and the artha (achievements and prosperity). Similar to the variations in Christianity, Hinduism can have very different approaches to sexuality depending on the region and historical influences. Historically, Hindu philosophy has incorporated the Hijra or third gender. This category includes a range of people, including those who possess male and female sex characteristics, those who vary in gender expression (effeminate men, masculine women), and those who identify as transgender or intersex. Similar to modern Western conceptualizations of gender identity, the Hijra had nothing to do with sexual orientation. Today, some Hijra boys are voluntarily castrated as an initiation rite into the transgender religious caste. Historically, some men, called eunuchs, were castrated as a punishment for a crime or as a consequence of being a prisoner of war. In other situations, boys were castrated before puberty in order to create eunuchs, male asexual slaves who could serve as court attendants, harem guards or performers. Occasionally, eunuchs assumed great power in Asia as advisers in court. Despite the effects of colonization on Indian culture, this video illustrates how the Hijra are re-emerging in Indian life.

Figure 1.5. The Kama Sutra is widely considered to be the standard work on human sexual behavior in Sanskrit literature. [4]

1.4.7 Islam

Historically, Islam had a relatively positive view of sexuality. In fact, the prophet Muhammad suggested intercourse in marriage as the attainment of the highest possible good. Polygyny was a valued tenet and Muhammad himself had multiple wives. Sex outside of marriage was viewed as sinful. Islam is, however, a male-dominated religion and in practice, there is often a double-standard for women in the modern practice. Though rare, adultery may result in "honor killings" in countries that have a strict adherence to Sharia law. These laws are rooted in conservative interpretations of the Koran (Qur'an). The implementation of these laws varies throughout the Muslim world, but almost universally imply a double-standard for women. In other words, women are often punished or oppressed through sexuality. Contrary to conservative Christian faiths, contraception is encouraged under Islamic law and sexuality is primarily for pleasure and secondarily for reproduction. 

1.4.8 The Christians

The fall of the Greek and Roman empires ushered in a new era of restrictions on sexuality in the Western world. The early middle ages or dark ages were highly influenced by the Christian Church, and restrictions were placed on many aspects of sex. For instance, sex was prohibited on certain days of the week and during religious events such as Lent, Advent, Whitsun week and Easter, as well as while women were menstruating, pregnant or nursing. Further, sex was generally meant only for procreation, and other acts not related to conception, such as oral sex, fondling, etc., were also prohibited. Only sex in the missionary position was considered acceptable. The Catholic church was diligent in their restrictions of sex in the general populations, but corruptness and sexual affairs within the church brought about the Protestant Reformation. As the church splintered between Catholics and Protestants, the Protestant sect ushered in further restrictions and harsher enforcement of sexual regulations. Masturbation, homosexuality, adultery, and fornication were all considered sins and carried harsh penalties, including death. A handy flowchart for permissible sex in the middle ages, drawn from James A. Brundage’s Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, can be found here.

This video illustrates some of the major influences on sex during the dark ages.

The Christian Old Testament, which is largely informed by the Hebrew Bible, agrees with many of its points concerning suitable sexual behavior but paints a more dangerous portrait overall of love and sex. Christianity further stresses that sex performed for sexual pleasure is evil, and instead, historically idealized chastity (sexual purity) and celibacy (abstinence). St Paul, for example, insisted that the highest form of love was the love of God, a virtue that should never have to compete with sexual love. St. Augustine, as described in this fascinating New Yorker article, experienced the enormous pull of sexual arousal as a young boy, fell in love and sired a child before deciding that this very arousal was the root of all evil. Although he recognized its necessity for procreative purposes, he strongly believed that the feelings of arousal experienced even during procreative lovemaking were, in isolation, an absolute sin. As opposed to the Hebrew Bible, which stresses the sexual nature of the marital union as being the ultimate expression of love and affection, where man and woman "become one flesh," the Old Testament notably leaves this idea out.  

Question 1.13

Match the society with its correct beliefs and/or legacy.

Premise
Response
1

The Hebrews

A

Acknowledges the importance of sexuality in marital relations

2

The Christians

B

Love and sex don't always coexist/institutionalized homosexuality.

3

The Greeks

C

Origin of many sexual terms including fellatio and cunnilingus.

4

The Romans

D

Kama Sutra - sex should be enjoyed in a variety of positions.

5

The Hindu's (India)

E

Chastity is one of life's greatest virtues.

​The history of sexuality is vast and complex. The eras mentioned above are meant to show how different cultures have treated sexuality through the ages. Now we will move on to how modern culture can influence our perceptions of sex, sexuality, and gender.

1.5 The Diversity of Sexuality Across Culture

​Examining cultural differences in sexuality highlights how one's own society's views on sex represent just one perspective at one specific point in time. The ways in which other cultures approach sex and sex education are highly diverse. These differences show how many of the beliefs, ideas, and practices expressed in our own society are culturally bound. Some of the practices discussed in this section may surprise you. Some may even shock, disgust or anger you. Others, in contrast, may make you wish that you lived in that culture! Remember, understanding the meaning and consequences of the data collected from these sample cultures requires an understanding of the culture as a whole. Actions performed in one culture take on a completely different meaning when performed in the context of another. Remember, all sexual practices have always existed. What has changed is the way we view and interpret them. Also, data about a culture is always collected during a specific window of time and the behavior being studied is likely to change over time. Moreover, the data is often incomplete or distorted by various factors, including the prejudices of the person collecting the data. Nonetheless, reading and thinking about these cultures will, hopefully, help you to examine and question your own attitudes and beliefs surrounding sexuality. The following sections will cover a few cultures that range from the most repressed expressions of sexuality to the most liberal. 

1.5.1 Inis Baeg (Island off the Coast of Ireland)

The Inis Baeg is a small, Catholic, farming and fishing community of about 350 people. It was famously observed between 1958 and 1966 by John Cowan Messenger in his study "Sex and Repression in an Irish Folk Community". The name "Inis Baeg" was actually a fictional name made up by researchers to protect the community's privacy. Its true name was Inisheer (Messenger, 1971).

Messenger described the Inis Baeg as "the most sexually naive, repressive society" ever documented. This is not an overstatement—the Inis Baeg truly believed that sexual behavior was fundamentally evil. They feared it and advised all members of their society to avoid it. Coitus (penis in vagina sex) was tolerated for procreation only. Any kind of sexual behavior besides coitus, including kissing, caressing and oral/manual stimulation of the genitals, was utterly shunned and viewed as deviant. Coitus was to be performed as quickly as possible, with minimal disrobing. Ejaculation was viewed as potentially debilitating for the male, as it was believed to sap the man of his essence and power. There was no concept of healthy female sexuality, as orgasm in the female was reviled and viewed as immoral. 

Within the Inis Baeg, gender roles were rigid and gender segregation was practiced throughout the lifespan. Husbands and wives lived together but were discouraged from socializing with each other or expressing any type of closeness or intimacy.    

Marriage was arranged by parents at about age 35 for males and 25 for females. There was no concern for affection between marriage partners. Courtship was not allowed, and any sexual activity before or outside of marriage was strictly forbidden. In fact, hostility between husbands and wives was quite common. Marital sexual relations were exceedingly infrequent, were considered a duty for the wife and occurred fully clothed. They were only allowed for procreation purposes.

Imagine being a female in this culture and having a child for the first time! Mothers experienced pregnancy and childbirth with no understanding of what was happening or about to happen to their bodies. Breastfeeding was avoided, as was cuddling or being "overly" intimate with a newborn. 

What about children? Childhood sexuality was, of course, completely denied. Children of the Inis Baeg were taught from an early age that nudity was sinful, even while bathing. Pleasure, whether it came from dancing, hugging, laughing or touching was also considered hideous and evil. Adolescent premarital relations were unthinkable, as was any form of male-to-male or female-to-female sexual contact. Sex education was non-existent, resulting in complete societal sexual ignorance and an inability to deal with sexual problems or issues of any kind. There was little understanding of even the most basic reproductive facts. Menstruation and menopause, for example, were treated as diseases that one caught. 


Question 1.14

Which of the following is false concerning sex among the Inis Baeg?

A

Sex was usually performed while fully clothed.

B

Orgasm in women was considered vile and a source of evil.

C

Ejaculation was seen as potentially debilitating for men.

D

The importance of sex in marital relations was acknowledged.


Question 1.15

Within the Inis Baeg, marital sexual relations:

A

Were moderately frequent.

B

Were a source of pleasure for both husband and wife.

C

Occurred only for the purpose of procreation.

D

All of the above


Question 1.16

The Inis Baeg is an extreme example of a sexually repressed society. Nonetheless, many of us come from cultures or families where elements of this kind of sexual repression may have been present. When reading this section, did anything about the Inis Baeg sound familiar or reflect in any way how you grew up? If so, how did it affect you? Please describe.

1.5.2 Muria (Chhattisgarh, India)

The Muria view sex as one of the supreme pleasures of life, approaching it with incredible positivity, enthusiasm, and institutionalized support. Since sex is viewed as essential to a happy life by the Muria, sexual education is never left to chance. Beginning at age three or four, children are taught by their parents the basics of sexual behavior. By age seven or eight, children start spending increasing amounts of time in the ghotuls, which serve as mixed-gender dormitories for the children and adolescents of the Muria people.  

During their time spent at these ghotuls children first observe, and later learn how to participate in, sexual behavior with other children. This is done in a very loving, nurturing and supportive way. Young children are not forced out of their homes and into the ghotuls suddenly, but rather start to view it as an inviting, enlightening and fun place where they'd like to spend increasing amounts of time. Ghotuls are, in fact, regarded as sacred by the Muria and during their time spent in them, children learn very concretely how to give and receive sexual pleasure. Typically, boys and girls are paired off randomly each night to practice what they have heard about from the many conversations about sex they have listened to on previous nights at the ghotul. Pairs are discouraged from spending more than two or three nights together in a row, since the goal, after all, is to gain sexual proficiency, not initiate a relationship with any one sexual partner quite yet. Should a Muria girl become accidentally pregnant, she will be married off to either her ghotul partner or betrothed. There is no shame or stigma associated in cases where this happens.  

How, you might wonder, does having such an emphasis on sex translate into marital satisfaction for such a culture? The divorce rate for the Muria people is 3%, although the divorce rate in other semi-tribal societies of India comparable to the Muria but with no ghotul range as high as 46%. This is not because the Muria view divorce as immoral or sinful or even shameful. They don't, although they do view it as unfortunate. It seems, rather, that their extreme sexual positivity affords them the aptitude required for the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure with an equally eager and competent partner. This isn't to say that regarding sex with almost god-like reverence is the secret to a happy marriage. There are many factors that contribute to a long, happy and successful marriage. For the Muria, however, their recognition that this one aspect of marriage requires training and skill quite clearly spills over into their approach toward other aspects that make for a successful marriage. If anything, the Muria demonstrate that rather than tear society and families apart, premarital sex, sexual experimentation, and even adolescent promiscuity are quite compatible with sexual and marital stability and satisfaction.

Question 1.17

If an unmarried Muria girl becomes pregnant, the consequence is:

A

She is hastily married (with no stigma or shame) to either her ghotul partner or betrothed.

B

She commits suicide as her village would view her as dead and hold a funeral for her.

C

Hope for a boy child to raise her status in her future husband's clan.

D

Have an abortion (or the infant would be killed) since the baby holds no place in their society.


Question 1.18

Which of the following is true about marriage in the Muria culture?

A

The divorce rate is equivalent to that in the U.S.

B

Divorce is regarded with shame and disgrace.

C

By the time they marry, partners are expected to be knowledgeable and proficient at sex.

D

Marriage is viewed as a negative and profoundly disappointing institution.


Question 1.19

Question 1.19

What do the Muria teach us about the secret to a happy marriage? Does it extend beyond just sex?

1.5.3 Marind-Anim (Southern New Guinea)

Figure 1.6. The Marind Anim People. [5]​

​The Marind Anim people reside in villages organized in territorial groups by clans. Their dwellings are gender-segregated, patrilocal and multigenerational. Women's houses shelter married women, unmarried girls of all ages and boys under the age of 6. Men's houses shelter married men and unmarried boys over the age of 6. Post-pubescent boys have another hangout of their own, called a gotad ("female-free zone") where they visit during the day. Occasionally, married men will visit the gotad as well, to socialize away from their wives. In addition, there is a maternity hut, used for the confinement of pregnant and postpartum women.

The very strict gender roles of the Marind Anim require that men and women socialize mostly in the spaces between each of their respective houses. Although spouses are occasionally permitted to visit each other’s houses, they never sleep together there. It is strictly forbidden for unmarried persons to enter the communal dwelling of the other gender. 

Unmarried, post-pubescent boys are restricted to the gotad and are not allowed to have social contact, day or night, with unmarried females. While living in the gotad, a post-pubescent boy is assigned a male mentor, for whom he completes chores in exchange for education. An important part of this relationship includes sexual behavior (e.g., mutual masturbation, anal intercourse) between the boy and his male mentor that ends only once the boy becomes married. An important ritual includes that of the initial semen infusion (binahorwah) of the boy by his male mentor, which signifies his entrance into manhood. Females also are assigned an adult female mentor; however, a sexual relationship between the two, if it occurs, has not been documented.  

Marriages among the Marind Anim are arranged by the families of the couple. Once a girl or woman is married, she immediately goes to live in the married women's communal dwelling of the husband's family. Occasionally, sister exchanges occur, where an entire family of sisters will be married off to a family of brothers in one wedding, and those married sisters will thereafter live in the communal dwelling of the husband’s clan.

The first marital intercourse involves a ritual ("otiv-bombari") where the new bride engages in sexual intercourse with all of the adult male members of the husband's family, including the husband. This ritual is usually repeated after other ceremonial events, including the conclusion of childbirth and postpartum confinement.

Nudity and sexual play are quite common and acceptable among the children of the Marind Anim, both for boys and for girls. Beginning In adolescence, unmarried girls typically parade around the gotad in order to flirt with boys. Premarital sex does occasionally secretly occur between unmarried girls and boys, however, should a pregnancy occur, the baby is often killed.

What about marital sexual relations? Once married, the couple is free to engage in sexual relations, but this must not occur in the dwellings of either the married women's or men's houses. Instead, couples are encouraged to have sex away from the group, either in the maternity hut or in some other separate, secluded location. Once pregnant, the female lives in the maternity hut with her mother, with the husband in another close by location. Once the infant is approximately 6-8 months old, all return to the village.  

Question 1.21

Among the Marind Anim, what is the term for the "female-free" house located outside the village, where post-pubescent boys are strictly gender segregated during the day?


Question 1.22

Which of the following is true regarding marital couples in the Marind Anim culture?

A

Married females and males live together in the same house.

B

Once married, couples are only allowed to have sex away from the village.

C

Once married, couples may enjoy sex in the women's or men's houses.

D

During postpartum and pregnancy, the female lives in the women's house and is delivered food by her family and husband.

Now that we have discussed various historical and cross-cultural aspects of human sexuality, we move into the more modern issues. Human sexuality is being significantly influenced by modern forms of media including television, internet, and mobile apps. In this section of the chapter, we will discuss some of the ways modern technology is changing the landscape of human sexuality. 

1.6 Sex and Media

Mass media has a strong influence on how we view sex and sexuality. There are numerous forms of mass media, but one of the main ways we learn social norms is through television. In North America, a significant amount of time is spent viewing television. The Nielsen Company reports collect significant information on media habits among Americans. Though cultural trends are shifting with the advent of new medias, TV remains the most dominant form.

American television plays a significant role in shaping how we view sex and sexuality. According to communication theorists, media shapes social norms through three processes. The first process is cultivation theory, in which people see what is happening on television as a meaningful representation of interactions in everyday life. In other words, the dialogues and scenes from television illustrate what is "normal" communication. For example, people who frequently view violence on television may view the world as a more dangerous place than it actually is. 

​The second mechanism through which media influences culture is agenda-setting. This is the process through which owners of broadcast companies and reporters select what to report and what to exclude (McCombs & Reynolds, 2002). Emphasizing certain types of stories and excluding others has the effect of only showing viewers what the companies and reports see as valuable and will produce ratings. For example, many experts claim that the OJ Simpson trial is a strong example of agenda-setting. The televised pursuit followed by the lengthy trial captivated audiences like no other trial had previously done. Through agenda-setting, the public came to see this as an important trial.

​The last process is social learning, which suggests that characters and interactions viewed on television serve as a model for who we should be and how we should interact with others. Commercials have often been used to exemplify this concept. For instance, if we continually see people receiving praise and admiration from others for using a product, we are more likely to use that product. We may even be motivated to behave like the characters using the product. Thus, social learning, whether we realize it or not, has influenced our actions and behaviors. Bandura, the founder of social learning theory, explains his famous example of social learning in the "Bobo" doll experiment (Bandura, 1978):


Question 1.23

Juanita spent significant time watching television during childhood. As a result, she likes guys to act in very stereotypical ways when she is on a date. For example, she prefers that men open doors for her and pay for dinner. Given that media portrays dating in gender-stereotypical ways, what media influence is Juanita most likely exhibiting?

A

Agenda setting

B

Social learning

C

Cultivation theory

D

Improvisational learning

1.6.1 The New Frontier: Social Media and the Internet

The influence of the Internet on sexuality is remarkable considering its relatively short period of existence throughout the course of human history. Part of the reason the Internet is so powerful is that it is dynamic and constantly changing to provide greater ease of access and integration into our everyday lives. Initially, the Internet was a repository of information and a rudimentary way to connect with other people (compared to modern standards). Since its inception, however, the Internet in its broadest form has become so ingrained into our lives that most people cannot imagine living without it. Further, the Internet has taken on a multiplicity of forms and expanded to phones, tablets, and laptops. In many cases, people spend their entire days connected in some way. 

Our ability to connect with others in new and dynamic ways has changed many of the social patterns that were once considered normal. For many people, texting is preferred to phone calls and pictures and videos can be shared between people with relative ease. These things can also be done from almost any location, as smartphones have enhanced our ability to perform tasks that formerly could only have been done from computers. In a book chapter by Numer, Holmes, Joy, and Thompson (2017), the authors note that the attachment to phones has become so profound that people feel lost and anxious when they are without them. In the modern age of technology, our reliance on phones and other devices is truly profound. Other research by Twenge, Sherman, and Wells (2016) suggests that millennials are having less sex because of their online presence (Twenge et al., 2016). The study suggests that for some people, online sexual activity has replaced in-person contact.

The advent of the Internet, social media, and other technologies has given unparalleled access to a diversity of things related to sexual experience. Social media sites allow us to both present ourselves in virtual space for others to view and gain an understanding of who we are. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter not only illustrate who we are but also give us a platform to express ourselves. These sites also allow us to view other profiles that interest us. For instance, people will often add others to Facebook after meeting them to view their pictures, learn their likes/dislikes and simply gain a fuller understanding of who the person is. These sites may act as a filter for who we are willing to engage with in a sexual or romantic relationship. Social media also usually offers the ability to communicate directly with others. This can act as a non-intrusive way to communicate and discuss sexual topics in a covert way. Many people find it much easier to text or use a social media platform rather than face-to-face communication to discuss sexual topics. 

Modern technology has also had a significant impact on how we meet people. In 2016, the Pew Research Centre found that 15% of US adults reported using online dating sites or mobile apps. Without question, sites such as PlentyOfFish (POF), Tinder, Grindr, and Match.com are increasingly part of the meeting and dating experience. Polls also report that more people are moving toward mobile apps rather than web-based platforms. 

According to the Pew Research Centre in 2016, one of the reasons for this jump in usage are the changing attitudes toward online dating. There is far less stigma toward online dating than there has been in the past. Another interesting aspect of dating apps is that they may be connected to other forms of social media. This allows users to find out more information about other people and gauge their interests accordingly. Before ever meeting or having an in-person conversation, there is more information about potential romantic partners available than ever before. 

Another aspect of technology that impacts human sexuality is the proliferation of pornography. There has never been greater access to erotic material in human history. Interestingly, a Forum Research Poll was conducted in 2014 and out of the 1624 people surveyed, only one eighth (16%) of North Americans 18 or older state that they viewed or purchased porn in the last year. More than a quarter (26%) of respondents chosen not to answer the question. The table below illustrates the rates of usage among various age groups.

Table 1.1. Pornography usage by age. ​​

​Despite the low numbers of self-reported access to porn in the Forum Poll, Montreal-based Pornhub suggests that there is high access to porn. According to the company's data, Pornhub.com gets 35 million visits each day. On average, people generally viewed about eight pages per visit and spent 10 minutes viewing porn. PornHub made their data for 2014 available here.

​So how big is the porn industry? It is difficult to estimate exactly what the worth of the industry is because of the diverse ways in which it profits. There are direct sales, but there are also advertisements and other forms of revenue generation. According to various reports, the global porn industry was worth $97 billion US dollars in 2014, with Americans contributing about $10-12 billion. Businesses like webcams and adult toys are other facets of the industry that make the number difficult to pinpoint. 

1.7 Recent Trends and Social Movements

Figure 1.7. This picture illustrates the complexity of modern social movements regarding sexuality. [6]

The way sex and sexuality is perceived in a given time and place can be significantly influenced by social movements. What are some of the more recent developments that have transformed our ideas about sex? Different political movements and especially media have played an important role in shaping sexuality our modern culture. Beginning with patterns of attractions, we will look at how various topics in human sexuality have occurred roughly within the last 150 years. 

​​Though attraction is experienced as a very innate feature of our human experience, if we look at cultural patterns, it becomes clear that we are very much a product of the world in which we live. If we look to more recent history, we can observe a phenomenon in which an entire country's cultural preference for a body type was shifted. In the 1980s, Anne Becker was studying the women of Fiji. When she began her studies, approximately 20% of the women were overweight or obese. It was a cultural pattern to eat beyond fullness because overeating was a sign of social position. One specific trait among the women of Fiji was large calf size, as this was seen as the ability to do work. In 1988, Dr. Becker found no instances of eating disorders. Upon describing the Western traditions of thinness and beauty, the women scoffed at her. Despite the dominance of this cultural pattern in the 1980s, today young women of Fiji strive for thinness and eating disordered behaviors are a common trend. The change can be associated with one technological change: television. In 1995, television was brought to this remote island and came to dominate the standards of beauty and attraction. Contrary to Dr. Becker's expectations, the introduction of televised media changed the cultural standards so significantly that less than two years later, 15% of the girls she surveyed had vomited to lose weight. Given this and other instances of cultural shifts associated with television, it is hard to underestimate the power of mass media. Becker and colleagues have published a number of articles on their finding from the Fiji studies (Becker, 2004; Becker, Burwell, Herzog, Hamburg, & Gilman, 2002; Becker, Burwell, Navara, & Gilman, 2003; Becker & Hamburg, 1996). Dr. Anne Becker discusses her findings on eating disorders and the women of Fiji.


Question 1.24

According to the video, in what years did Dr. Becker conduct the 2-cohort study between schools?

A

1993-1996

B

1995-1998

C

2001-2004

D

2012-2013


1.7.1 Declining Birth Rates

As societies advance and wealth increases, the rate of birth generally declines. Birth rates have been dropping in most countries since the late 18th century. The average American woman had seven or eight children in 1800; currently, she has two. Why does this matter? We have just as much sex as we did in 1800, and consequently, sex has assumed more of a non-procreational function. In other words, in the 1800s, western culture viewed the function of sex as the creation of offspring, but now it is widely recognized as something that strengthens relationships, enhances intimacy, and provides relaxation and fun. 

1.7.2 The Women's Movement

Various social movements have changed our modern day attitudes toward sex. The women's movement, though vast in scope, emphasized the idea that women had the right to control their bodies, be free of sexual coercion, and seek sexual pleasure. Despite the challenges posed in our current political climate, women now have much more control over childbearing, partner choice, and sexual activities. There is increasing recognition that sexual pleasure is just as important for women as for men, and that pleasure is a shared responsibility. 

Figure 1.8. The Women's Rights Movement had a huge impact on the perception of female sexuality. [7]​

​1.7.3 The Gay Liberation Movement 

The Gay Liberation Movement has pushed for cultural changes in attitudes toward, and acceptance of, sexual minorities. Until 1975, the American Psychological Association classified homosexuality as a mental disorder; in June 2015, the Supreme Court accepted same-sex marriage as a right protected by the Constitution. In 1978, only 27% of Americans believed same-sex marriage should be legal, in 2017, 64% of Americans approve. The following video illustrates the evolution of gay rights in America. 

Figure 1.9. A gay couple leaves Seattle City Hall on the first day after the legalization of gay marriage in the US. [8]​​

1.7.4 The Transgender Movement

The transgender movement has sought to end discrimination against transgender people by challenging the traditionally held, rigid belief that gender is binary and permanent, concerns only the genitals and entirely determines sexual orientation. By changing the term "gender identity disorder" to "gender dysphoria" in 2013, the American Psychological Association acknowledged that although transgender people may be at risk of mental illness because of how society treats them, there is nothing "disordered" about being a transgendered person. We will go into great detail about gender and transgender issues in Chapter Six.

Angelica_Ross_profile.jpg
Figure 1.10. Angelica Ross is an actress and has held the role of Candy on the FX show Pose. She is also an American transgender rights entrepreneur and activist . She is the President of Miss Ross Inc and founder and CEO of Transtech social enterprise, a company that helps trans people work. As a transgender woman of color, she's open about her struggle to understand that you could change your body to match how you feel inside. [9]

1.8 Conclusion

As you can see from this chapter, the topic of human sexuality is vast and encompasses a variety of perspectives. Throughout history, sexuality has been shaped by the dominant views in a given era and location. Culture and religious beliefs always have prescriptions for how we should treat sex and gender. It is important to consider what has shaped your conceptions of sex and sexuality. Our beliefs about these concepts inevitably influence our interactions with others in both sexual and non-sexual relationships. ​

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1.9 References

Alford, S., MLS, & Hauser, D., MPH. (2011, March). Adolescent Sexual Health in Europe and the US. Retrieved November 28, 2017, from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/419-adolescent-sexual-health-in-europe-and-the-us

Avert, L. (2017, January 17). Sex Education in the Netherlands. Retrieved November 28, 2017, from https://dutchreview.com/dutchness/the-foreign-perspective/sex-education-in-the-netherlands/

Baal, J. van (2007). "Marind-anim". World Culture Encyclopedia. Advameg Inc.

​Bandura, A. (1978). Social learning theory of aggression. Journal of Communication, 28(3), 12–29.

​Becker, A. E. (2004). Television, disordered eating, and young women in Fiji: Negotiating body image and identity during rapid social change. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 28(4), 533–559.

Becker, A. E., Burwell, R. A., Herzog, D. B., Hamburg, P., & Gilman, S. E. (2002). Eating behaviours and attitudes following prolonged exposure to television among ethnic Fijian adolescent girls. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 180(6), 509–514.

Becker, A. E., Burwell, R. A., Navara, K., & Gilman, S. E. (2003). Binge eating and binge eating disorder in a small-scale, indigenous society: The view from Fiji. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 34(4), 423–431.

Becker, A. E., & Hamburg, P. (1996). Culture, the media, and eating disorders. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 4(3), 163–167.

Cavendish, M. (2010). Premarital Sex. InSex and Society(Vol. 3, pp. 663-666). New York, NY: Marshall Cavandish Corporation.

​Chrystal, P. (2016). In Bed with the Ancient Greeks. Amberley Publishing Limited.

Cohen, Philip N. 2016. “Multiple-Decrement Life Table Estimates of Divorce Rates.” Retrieved (osf.io/zber3).

Constantine, L. L., & Martinson, F. M. (1981).Children and sex: new findings, new perspectives(First ed.). Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

de Waal, F. B. (1995). Bonobo Sex and Society.Scientific American,272(3), 58-64. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0395-82

de Waal, F. B. (2002).Tree of origin: what primate behavior can tell us about human social evolution(p. 51). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ford, C. S., & Beach, F. A. (1951).Patterns of Sexual Behavior(First ed.). New York, NY: Harper & Bros. & Paul B. Hoeber, Inc.

Ghose, T. (2014, November 13). Male Sexual Aggression: What Chimps Can Reveal About People. Retrieved November 28, 2017, from https://www.livescience.com/48743-aggressive-chimps-reproduce-more.html

​Grubbs, J. B., Exline, J. J., Pargament, K. I., Hook, J. N., & Carlisle, R. D. (2015). Transgression as addiction: Religiosity and moral disapproval as predictors of perceived addiction to pornography. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(1), 125–136.

Herdt, G. H. (1993).Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia (Studies in Melanesian Anthropology). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C. & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

​McCombs, M. (2002). The agenda-setting role of the mass media in the shaping of public opinion. In Mass Media Economics 2002 Conference, London School of Economics: http://sticerd. lse. ac. uk/dps/extra/McCombs. pdf.

​Messenger, J. C. (1971). Sex and repression in an Irish folk community. Human Sexual Behavior: Variations in the Ethnographic Spectrum, 3–37.

​Numer, M., Holmes, D., Joy, P., & Thompson, R. (2017). Profiling post-modern public sex: How Grindr revolutionized the face of gay sex. In Radical Sex Between Men: Assembling Desiring-Machines (eds. Holmes, D., Murray, S. & Foth, T., Vol. 4, pp. 190–202). London & New York: Routledge.

Prüfer, K., Munch, K., Hellmann, I., Akagi, K., Miller, J. R., Walenz, B., . . . Pääbo, S. (2012). The bonobo genome compared with the chimpanzee and human genomes. Nature

​Pusey, A., Williams, J., & Goodall, J. (1997). The influence of dominance rank on the reproductive success of female chimpanzees. Science, 277(5327), 828–831.

Rampton, M. (2015, October 25). Four Waves of Feminism. Retrieved November 28, 2017, from https://web.archive.org/web/20151119073645/http://www.pacificu.edu/about-us/news-events/four-waves-feminism

Schalet, A. T. (2011).Not under my roof: parents, teens, and the culture of sex. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Sedgh, G., Finer, L. B., Bankole, A., Eilers, M. A., & Singh, S. (2015). Adolescent Pregnancy, Birth, and Abortion Rates Across Countries: Levels and Recent Trends.Journal of Adolescent Health,56(2), 223-230. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.09.007

​Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2016). Changes in American adults’ reported same-sex sexual experiences and attitudes, 1973–2014. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(7), 1713–1730.


1.10 Answer to Discussion Questions

Answer to Question 1.01

Answers will vary depending on religious views. 


​Answer to Question 1.02

Answers will vary depending on students’ level of comfort.



​Answer to Question 1.03

Answers will vary


​Answer to Question 1.04

Answers will vary



​Answer to Question 1.19

The Muria show us that education and good sexual communication are key to developing the skills to a happy relationship. We tend to assume that as people we automatically know these things or that they will spontaneously develop, but in fact, they take practice and effort.



1.11 Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of Henry Flower in the Public Domain.

[2] Image courtesy of Rob Bixby under CC BY 2.0.

[3] Image courtesy of Dcoetzee in the Public Domain.

[4] Image courtesy of LostCause1979 in the Public Domain.

[5] Image courtesy of Переход Артур in the Public Domain.

[6]  Image courtesy of skyenicolas under CC BY 2.0.

[7] Image courtesy of Warren K. Leffler in the Public Domain.

[8] Image courtesy of Dennis Bratland under CC BY-SA 3.0.

[9] Image courtesy of Miss Ross, Inc. under  CC BY-SA 3.0.