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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Key features in this textbook

Human Sexualiuty 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.
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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 2: Theoretical Approaches to Sexuality

Figure 2.1. Theory informs our world view.​ [1]

2.1 Learning Objectives

Students will be able to: 

  • Identify the steps in the scientific method in relation to human sexuality.
  • Discuss the different theoretical approaches to human sexuality.
  • Discuss examples of theory in sex research.

2.2 Introduction

Theoretical approaches frame the way we see and interact with the world. In the area of human sexuality, theory influences how we perceive the topic and informs how we investigate it. Even the absence of theory is a theory. In other words, whether we realize it or not, the way we view and experience the world around us has a theoretical or philosophical underpinning. In this chapter, we will explore how modern theories inform our views on human sexuality. Theories that take sex into account examine topics such as evolutionary adaptations, human behaviors, social norms, sexual disorders and treatments, attraction and more. 

Scientific theory generally allows us to approach or examine a topic by ordering our thinking. Theories are often generated through the scientific method. This method is iterative and allows us to make hypotheses (educated guesses) based on our observations of the world around us. Once we have formed a hypothesis, we test and retest it to establish validity (strength of the hypothesis). Out of this repeated testing, scientific theories may be developed. During the process, however, the hypothesis may be modified based on experimental findings. As we work through the theories most commonly associated with human sexuality, it is important to note that theories are not absolute. The conclusion drawn from research can change and alter based on new information and new perspectives. There are also variations in the scientific method itself, but six key elements remain consistent: question, hypothesis, experiment, observation, analysis, and conclusions. The following chart illustrates the basic tenets of the scientific method.

Figure 2.2. This diagram depicts the ongoing process of the scientific method.​

The steps outlined in Figure 2.2 illustrate one example of the scientific method. There are some variations based on the discipline and the topic under investigation. The following video illustrates different approaches to the scientific method. 


Question 2.01

In the Scientific Method video, the narrator states that they "checked the desktop's connection." What phase of the scientific method did this represent?

A

Hypothesis

B

Experiment

C

Observation

D

Conclusion

The study of human sexuality is a broad and diverse field. As such, the methods people use to study human sexuality can vary significantly. We will discuss this in more detail in the chapter on research, but it is important to mention it here since theory often guides inquiry. The following will discuss some of the most prominent theories in the study of sexuality. 

2.3 Psychoanalytic Perspective

Figure 2.3. The Id, Ego, and Superego according to Freud.​

The beginnings of modern theories of human sexuality are usually associated with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his development of psychoanalytic theory. While many of Freud's theories have fallen under intense scrutiny and, in some cases been refuted completely, he is credited with drawing attention to psychology as a science and, in particular, the importance of sexuality in development (Sheehy, 2004). For the first time in modern history, Freud suggested that children were innately sexual and that the early formative years had implications throughout the life course (Sheehy, 2004). He proposed the idea that mental energy came from libido, which is the energy we gather from survival and sexual instincts. According to Freud, libidinal energy gives rise to attachments, compulsions, neuroses, and more. It is the libido that drives one of the three structures of the psyche, the id. The id is the uncompromising pleasure component of the personality. The id is insatiable in its desire for pleasure and is where the basic instinctual drives reside. The superego is the highly controlling, always-regulating portion of the personality. In this segment of the psyche, perfection is always striven for, and the superego can be thought of as the monitoring influence of parents, educators, religious clergy or other controlling models from childhood. Finally, the ego is the negotiator between the id and the superego. The ego is the balance between these two forces and is what we present to the world. The ego is based in the reality principle, the mechanism that delays gratification to manage everyday life.

​The stages of development are important for Freud. During each of these stages, characteristics of our personality are developed. This is all natural unless we fail to have successful resolution, a term Freud coined as the relatively peaceful passing through the stages. If we fail to have resolution, we are plagued by the faulty characteristics of the stage. The stages are described in the table below.

Table 2.1. Freudian Psychosexual Development.

The comparison often used to describe Freud's psyche and the three components of the personality is the iceberg. The idea here is that most of our personality lies in the unconscious or below the surface. Our preconscious is where things get negotiated without us deliberately doing so. The conscious is what we present to the world and what comes to the forefront of our thinking.



Question 2.02

From the video, which of the following signifies resolution to the Oedipus conflict?

A

The child has successful resolution from proper breastfeeding.

B

The child learns proper potty training.

C

The child differentiates themselves from other opposite-sex children.

D

The child identifies with the parent of the same sex.

As you can see from the diagrams and videos, Freud's theories were largely rooted in sex. His later treatments for various types of psychological distress were often among women suffering from "hysteria.” The term hysteria refers to often outlandish symptoms and unexplainable behavior such as fainting, nausea and emotional swings. Freud also postulated that women who achieved orgasm from clitoral stimulation were immature (Dobbelier, Landuyt, Monstrey, 2011). The only proper orgasm came from the vagina. We now know that this claim is not only false but that nearly two-thirds of women cannot orgasm from vaginal stimulation alone (Dobbelier et al., 2011). This false assertion led to decades of misinformation about women's sexuality. Freud's theories had a strong male bias and are the source of many feminist critiques. Other critiques maintained that Freud's theories largely lacked any empirical evidence. In many ways, Freud's theories were more fiction than fact. That said, his contribution to sex theories is that he opened the dialogue about sex as a central feature of our personalities and everyday lives. 

Question 2.03

Match the terms associated with the psychoanalytic approach.

Premise
Response
1

Libido

A

The negotiator.

2

Id

B

Uncompromising pleasure component of the personality.

3

Superego

C

Highly controlling - always regulating portion of the personality.

4

Ego

D

The energy we gather from survival and sexual instincts.


2.4 Behaviorist Perspectives

Conditioning theories are often used in the study of human sexuality because they offer insight into specific human behaviors. Sexual behaviors that we exhibit as adults may be linked to specific situations from our childhood. For instance, behaviorists might conclude that someone has a foot fetish because feet were paired with something pleasurable during childhood. Parents often tickle or caress children's feet at an early age. This behavior during childhood is not sexual, but the association between feet and pleasure may be developed during this time. This is called a conditioned response, a term rooted in conditioning.

Classical conditioning is one of the most famous psychological theories. Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) made this behavioral theory famous through his work with dogs. The primary tenets of this learning theory are that when a biological stimulus (food, sex) is paired with a neutral stimulus (bell) a learning process takes places in which the two become associated. The pairing of the primary or biological stimulus with the neutral stimulus ultimately elicits a response (salivation). The illustration below shows the progression through unconditioned to conditioned responses.

Figure 2.4. Classical Conditioning and Pavlov's Dogs​.​



Question 2.04

According to the video, the term _________\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_ describes an operant conditioning procedure in which reinforcers guide behavior toward closer and closer approximations of the desired behavior.

​The original footage of Pavlov's work can be viewed here:

As you can see, through pairing the neutral stimulus, we can create a conditioned response. This is important for sex theories because we often pair things with sex that are not sexual in and of themselves. Classical conditioning would suggest that many fetishes with inanimate objects are actually conditioned responses (Walen, 1980). For instance, if someone has a shoe fetish, the shoe itself is not sexual. When paired with something that is sexual, the shoe becomes sexual to the individual in a conditioned sexual response. Classical conditioning has been used to explain sex addiction, which will be explored in greater depth later in the text. 

Operant conditioning is another well-known behavioral theory. Developed by B.F. Skinner (1904-1990), this theory focuses on the behavioral consequences of rewards and punishments (Skinner, 1948). Rewarding or reinforcing a behavior will increase the behavior. Remove the reward and the behavior will cease over time. Similarly, punishing a behavior will lead to a decrease in that behavior. This diagram illustrates the main tenets of operant conditioning.

Figure 2.5. This diagram depicts the process of operant conditioning.

This video illustrates the terminology associated with operant conditioning.

Here is original footage of B.F. Skinner and the experiments on which operant conditioning is based.

Operant conditioning is important for the study of sex because our behaviors related to sex can be interpreted as the rewards and punishments that have taught us what is sexually appropriate and produces the desired result. There are similarities between classical and operant conditioning. For the purposes of sex research, Hoffman suggests that 

"​Classical conditioning can impact our physiological and/or emotional responsiveness to (sexual) stimuli, our (erotic) preferences, and basic approach/avoidance tendencies. Operant conditioning, on the other hand, can more directly influence what we do sexually, whether that consists of altering physiological responses, changing overt behavior or altering mental processes (e.g., thoughts or fantasies)." (p. 2213-2214, 2017).

Here is a video that further explains the differentiation between operant and classical conditioning.

Question 2.05

In the video, what does a mother's hug after clearing the table represent in terms of operant conditioning?

A

Negative stimulus

B

Negative reinforcement

C

Positive reinforcement

D

Positive assertion

In a review of studies related to sexual conditioning, Hoffman notes that whiles some studies occurred as early as the 1960s, methodologically sound research did not appear until the 1990s (Hoffman, 2017). Early studies employed almost exclusively males to measure sexual arousal through tumescence (erection). Most of this research focused on classical conditioning to examine how various unconditioned stimuli such as erotic films, pictures, and genital stimulation produced arousal. Later, when women were added to this type of research, differences in stimulation based on sex were produced. In other words, sex differences in arousal are often produced through classical conditioning research. Hoffman notes that there are some challenges with human sexual conditioning research. Primarily, most of the research is done in a laboratory setting thus potentially influencing the outcomes. Nonetheless, Hoffman states that there is a role for conditioning in research that examines compulsive sexual behavior, dyspareunia (pain during intercourse) and treatment of disorders. 

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2.5 Evolutionary Perspective

Evolutionary psychology as a theoretical approach attempts to bridge the natural and social sciences by examining the modern psyche from an evolutionary perspective. This theory is rooted in Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. In the Origin of Species (1859), Darwin proposed that psychology would be based on evolution. His prediction came true through the development of evolutionary psychology. Specific to our topic, Donald Symons' (1979) published the book The Evolution of Human Sexuality. In this text, Symons argues that patterns of mating, orgasm, anatomy, homosexuality, and rape can all be explained through evolutionary concepts. Though there are criticisms of this work, Symons ushered in a new approach to explaining human sexual behavior. 

Through evolutionary psychology, scientists see modern adaptations, behaviors and even preferences as a product of natural or sexual selection. This perspective suggests that through mating, we have come to evolve as a species not only in the physiological sense but also in the psychological sense. Our choices in mate selection have, in theory, advanced the species because we choose optimal mates. Typically, our choices in mate selection either revolve around youth, beauty, and fertility or strength, stability and ability to provide for offspring. Evolutionary psychologists propose that whether we realize it or not, we make choices based on our evolutionary wiring. This wiring is deeply embedded in our brains.

Many evolutionary psychologists view sex and sexual preferences as an adaptive mechanism. Things such as beauty, pleasant smells, pheromones and more are related to our evolution as a species. This evolution has been imprinted in our brains in ways that often go unrealized. Evolutionary psychology is often used to explain attraction and mating preferences.


Question 2.07

According to the video, what phrase is used to describe our preference for mates with a different kind of immune system?

A

Major histocompatability complex

B

Immune compatibility phenomenon

C

Mate selection immunology

D

Histoimmunology complex

A full (optional) documentary on the science of sex appeal can be found on the Discovery Channel here.

​This clip explains mating patterns: 

A 2005 study by Rhodes, Simmons, and Peters examined factors in evolutionary psychology that are considered to be attractive in relation to success in mating (Rhodes et al., 2005). These factors include facial symmetry and body shape. The article does acknowledge that there are other factors in attraction, but for physical attractiveness, there are cross-cultural patterns that consistently suggest that symmetry, in particular, is an important component of attraction because it signifies fertility potential. Further, the article measured "correlations between sexual behaviors and three components of attractiveness: averageness, symmetry, and sexual dimorphism (masculinity in males, femininity in females)" (p. 188). They found that men and women who were more attractive than their peers were more successful at employing their "preferred" mating strategies. Specifically, the study found that in the short-term, men with more appealing faces and bodies were successful in finding partners with no harm to their long-term mating success. There is also evidence from this study that attractive men and women became sexually active before their less attractive peers. Their results suggest that attractiveness plays an important role in sexual selection.  

This study is a standard type of evolutionary psychology research in studies of human sexuality. Explaining standards of beauty through fertility, reproduction potential, and security for offspring are hallmarks of this approach. Different factors may be measured to determine different aspects of attraction and mate selection. 

Other research in the field of evolutionary psychology has pointed out that there is limited information on how non-heterosexual mating practices are influenced by adaptive mechanisms. In a study, the researchers examined partner preference for homosexual men to see if it differed from heterosexual men (Gobrogge et al., 2007). The purpose of this study was to determine whether non-procreative sex presented different mating patterns. They conducted this study by looking at internet personal advertisements. The authors found that significantly more homosexual men than heterosexual sought sexual encounters. There was, however, similarity in men, regardless of sexual orientation, who sought short-term encounters. All men preferred a much wider range of partners in the short term than those seeking long-term relationships. Their findings suggest that partner preference is not related to evolutionary adaptations for procreation. This study compared heterosexual and homosexual men but offered little insight into the reasons for mating preferences for the latter group. 

​One of the criticisms of evolutionary psychology is that it has a difficult time explaining sexual practices and attractions that are not associated with mating. In fact, many human sexual behaviors, including same-sex relationships, are in no way related to reproduction. As we will discuss in the chapter on kinks and fetishes, many of the practices in which many people engage are outside of purposes for reproduction. Further, it is difficult to test evolutionary psychology because there are assumptions that behavior is caused by evolutionary adaptation. 

Question 2.08

Question 2.08

Do you think evolutionary psychology has impacted your views on what is attractive? What are the pros and cons of this approach?

2.6 Cognitive Perspective

The cognitive psychology approach helps us understand how we think and interpret the world. Cognition is focused on the mental processes that go into producing behaviors. The use of language, memory, perception, creativity, and problem solving are all studied under cognitive theory. Cognitive theory is important for sexuality because it can explain attractions, fetishes, things that initiate arousal, and more. Cognitive approaches are often used when working with people who experience challenges in erection, orgasm delay, dyspareunia (pain during sex), and unwanted sexual thoughts or behaviors. These issues can all be addressed by teaching people to reorganize their thought processes. After all, the brain is the biggest sex organ you have!

It is important to have some stress in our lives to motivate us to do things. If, however, that stress becomes overwhelming, then we are often inhibited and unable to address the sources of stress. Reframing cognition to find that balance is important for sexual function and life in general. In the diagram below we can see where optimal arousal and performance take place: 

Figure 2.6.​ Optimal performance and optimal arousal.

Cognitive psychology theories are largely concerned with how we learn. Development and learning theories of cognition were developed by Piaget and Vygotsky (Piaget, 1976Vygotsky, 1978). The following video illustrates the key tenets to cognition and learning. 

As you can imagine, what we learn about sex and how we mentally process it can have important implications for individual behaviors, sexual arousal and response, sexual function, and sexual interactions with others. 

In a study by Tony Ward, sex offenders were examined to determine whether cognitive distortions influence how they view the nature of their victims (Tony Ward, 2000). In some cases, sexual offenders report things like children being provocative or benefiting from the sexual abuse. In adult cases, women may be described as flirting, wanting a sexual assault to occur or as sexual aggressors themselves. These conditions all represent cognitive distortions in which the sexual offender interprets behaviors in a diluted sexual way. Ward argues that the distortions in the way sex offenders perceive their victims come from underlying experiences from their past that have developed into theories about people. These theories are not related specifically to their victims; rather, they are related to the way they perceive the category of people that their victims belong to. In other words, sex offenders might develop problematic views about women based on their experiences growing up. These cognitive distortions drive the sexual offense. 

This argument suggests that early developmental adversities impact the cognitive development of sex offenders. This creates a cognitive distortion in which the sex offender distorts the nature of their victims. Cognitive psychology can work to help offenders reinterpret information and reframe how they understand others. 

A more recent study by Harris and Socia examined public opinion and beliefs about the label "sex offender" (Harris and Socia, 2016). This study illustrates how cognitive beliefs about identity labels influence certain policies and public beliefs and opinions about people who commit sexual offenses. Their argument is that labeling is important in this instance because it is taken as a factual description with connotations such as compulsion, high risk of re-offending and poor rehabilitation. Their findings suggest that using the term sex offender strengthens policies aimed at people who have perpetrated such crimes. Further, the label is particularly strong if associated with a juvenile sex offender. This study illustrates the power of cognitive beliefs to influence public policy and attitudes and opinions. 

These are but two examples of cognitive approaches to studying human sexuality. There are many areas in which people study and interpret human sexuality through the lens of cognition. Often the structure of cognitive formations is framed within the society in which people live. This brings us to the social side of sexology. 

2.7 Sociological Perspectives

Figure 2.7. Albert Bandura [2]​​

Social learning theory expands on cognition alone to explain how our environments influence the ways in which we think. Albert Bandura is the most well-known social cognitive theorist. In 1977, Bandura developed social learning theory, which has three processes: imitation, identification, and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977). By observing others, we imitate behaviors. Repetition of imitated behaviors leads to ownership of those actions or identification. Finally, once we are confident in our ability and identity, we gain a sense of self-efficacy which can be understood as believing in ourselves to take action. As discussed in Chapter One, social learning theory is often associated with media. Seeing behaviors acted out on screen teaches us how to behave in social situations. We also develop these understandings through observing parents, teachers, peers, and others we interact with in our everyday lives. Social learning theory falls under the category of social theories. Broadly speaking, social theories give us a model or framework for social behaviors through observation. Based on whether we are rewarded or punished for various behaviors, individuals may replicate or reduce the behavior. As you can see, many of the theories in this chapter build upon each other.

Social theories are important for sexuality because through observation of others we learn how to behave in sexual relationships. Early on, we see how our parents interact if we are raised in a two-parent home. We also gain an understanding of relationships through media.

Social exchange theory is a social theory that focuses on human relationships. The idea here is that all relationships are essentially a cost/benefit analysis. We measure what we are getting out of relationships compared to what we put in. This theory is rooted in economic and structuralist perspectives, which suggest that we are rational actors in the free market and will make the choices that benefit us the most. The opportunity cost is what we have to give up in order to be in a relationship. Remember, there are no absolutes in terms of what the costs or benefits of relationships are. This is the subjective component of the theory. Each of us decides for ourselves if we are getting out what we put into a relationship. As you will see in the video below, rational choice and exchange theory are closely related to social exchange theory. 


Question 2.09

According to the video, the theories rely on people to make choices that way pros and cons and are ___________.

A

Smart

B

Empathic

C

Interdependent

D

Rational

Social script theory provides us with a set of scripts or practices that dictate our behaviors. That is, we gain an understanding of how to do things based on what is socially and culturally acceptable. For instance, in most cases we would not say "I love you" on a first date. If you did, the other person would likely think poorly of you and leave as soon as possible. Because of the timing, it is not an acceptable thing to say in our culture. If, however, you were dating for a year, it would be acceptable to say those words. The context and timing are laid out in social scripts. In terms of sexuality, most of us rely on social sexual scripts to tell us whether other people are interested in us and what types of sexual behaviors in which we might engage. Social scripts typically order our behaviors based on cultural norms. For instance, people usually kiss before they move on to other sexual acts. 

One of the challenges in our culture is that we often do not talk explicitly about the sexual behaviors in which we engage. This often leaves the issue of consent somewhat vague. People rely on things like non-verbal cues to indicate consent. In this video, however, Karen Chan, a sex educator, talks about how changing sexual scripts can lead to improved consent practices. This notion is described as consent-positive culture.

Sexual scripts can also have important implications for feminist researchers and advocates because many of the taken-for-granted beliefs we have about gender roles may be enculturated into our sexual scripts. 

​This spotlight story illustrates how social scripts influenced one person’s views on dating and other sexual interactions. Social scrips can have a profound impact on the way we engage with other people in any context. In various types of sexual relationships, social media and new technologies are changing the way we interact with others.  

Question 2.10

Question 2.10

If you are sexually attracted to other people, how have social scripts influenced your interactions with the people you are attracted to? If you are not attracted to other people, please explain how sexual social scripts may impact you.

Question 2.11

Question 2.11

How does gender impact your view of sexual social scripts?

Question 2.12

Question 2.12

How does social media impact sexual scripts for you?


Question 2.13

Match the social theories

Premise
Response
1

Social Script

A

Explains how our environments influence the ways in which we think.

2

Social Exchange

B

Provides us with a set of scripts or practices that dictate our behaviors.

3

Social learning theory

C

Focuses on human relationships; posits that all relationships are essentially a cost/benefit analysis.


2.8 Feminist Perspective

Feminist theories found their origins in the women's movement that resists patriarchal Western societies (Gilligan, 1977). Modern feminism looks at the ways in which power operates (often unseen by most) in society to subjugate women. The wage gap, the imbalance of unpaid work (childrearing, household chores) and violence against women are all examples of feminist concerns (Acker, 2012). This approach would also look at the gendered nature of sexual interactions. Who plays what role in sex and why? Feminists also give us the lens through which we can understand how our society creates "rape culture” (Rentschler, 2014). In other words, a feminist lens would argue that gendered norms create a culture that allows some men to engage in non-consensual sexual behaviors. Gender is a powerful force and feminists help us understand the negative impacts certain norms can have. This video explains what feminism is.

In an article by Frith and Kitzinger (2001), the authors examine how traditional sexual scripts are gendered in ways that it make it difficult for women to refuse unwanted sex (Frith and Kitzinger, 2001). This study interviewed young women in focus groups about unwanted sexual encounters. The authors describe the five mechanisms of formation that create scripted sexual encounters as 1) predictable stages, 2) common knowledge, 3) consensus production through collaborative talk, 4) using generalities, and 5) active voicing. Through these five steps, scripts are formed in which young women have problems saying no to unwanted sex. This situation becomes normalized through script formation. In other words, it is ordinary that their voices are silenced. The study further emphasizes interrupting sexual scripts that produce ordinary behaviors that silence young women. 

This study illustrates how understanding the formation of sexual scripts can be used to address social problems such as sexual coercion. In this instance, social script and feminist (among others) theories are used together in sex research. Often theoretical perspectives are used together or build upon each other to further explicate research questions. 

2.9 Queer Theory

Queer theory emerged in the 1990s from gender and women's studies as well as LGBT activism (Numer and Gahagan, 2009). Queer theory challenges normative assumptions about the essence of gender (Jagose, 1996). In other words, queer theory suggests that we do not have an innate gender; rather, gender is learned, performed, and largely shapes and is shaped by societies. Authors such as Adrienne Rich, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick and others have been instrumental in shaping how we know and understand gender from a queer perspective. This approach challenges the binary notion of man/woman. In many areas of research, men and women are considered a stationary category through which we can divide the population into two groups. Queer theory suggests that these groups are neither stationary nor knowable outside of social and cultural situations. In other words, our gender is only knowable to us by the time, place and culture in which we are located (Butler, 1990). Such understandings break down the binary categories and man and woman and open up the possibility for gender ambiguity, fluidity in sexual orientation, and the malleability of most if not all identity categories. Queer theory will help explain in the chapter on gender why the notion of the boy/girl dichotomy is fictitious and how gender can be expressed outside of dominant notion of femininity and masculinity (Butler, 199). In essence, queer theory is as an approach that deconstructs categories of identity that are often taken-for-granted. Identity categories associated with gender, sexuality, sex, eroticism, and gender identity are most often the subject of queer critiques (Jagose, 1996). Judith Butler is best known for her idea that gender is performative rather than something we have. She explains in this video. 

2.10 Conclusion

This chapter has highlighted some of the theoretical approaches to sexuality. While we cannot possibly cover all of the theories related to sex, this chapter gives an overview of the most prominent. It is important to remember as we continue to move through this material that everything has a theoretical approach whether we acknowledge it or not. Given your background, what theory most closely aligns with your background and understanding of the world? Consider how different theoretical approaches might change your views on various topics related to human sexuality.

Question 2.14

Which of the theories presented in this chapter most closely resonates with you in relation to the study of human sexuality and why?


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2.11 References

​​Barkow, J. H., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1995). The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. Oxford University Press, USA.

​Blake, B., Pope, T., (2008). "Developmental psychology: Incorporating Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories in classrooms". 62.

​Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliff. NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy, and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41(3), 586-598.

​Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Darwin, C. (1859). On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or, the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. London: J. Murray.​

Dobbeleir, J. M., Van Landuyt, K., & Monstrey, S. J. (2011). Aesthetic surgery of the female genitalia. In Seminars in plastic surgery (Vol. 25, pp. 130–141). \copyright Thieme Medical Publishers. 

​Frith, H., & Kitzinger, C. (2001). Reformulating sexual script theory: Developing a discursive psychology of sexual negotiation. Theory & Psychology, 11(2), 209–232.

Gilligan, C. (1982). In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Harvard University Press.​

Gobrogge, Kyle L., Patrick S. Perkins, Jessica H. Baker, et al. (2007). Homosexual Mating Preferences from an Evolutionary Perspective: Sexual Selection Theory Revisited. Archives of Sexual Behavior 36(5): 717–723.        

​Harris, Andrew J., and Kelly M. Social (2016). What’s in a Name? Evaluating the Effects of the “Sex Offender” Label on Public Opinions and Beliefs. Sexual Abuse 28(7): 660–678.

​Hoffmann, H. (2017). Situating Human Sexual Conditioning. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(8), 2213–2229.

​Jagose, A. (1996). Queer theory: An introduction. New York: NYU Press.

​Numer, M., & Gahagan, J. (2009). Feminist, Post-structural and Queer Theories: Exploring Masculinities Research, Theory and Practice in the Sexual Health of Gay Men in the Post-AIDS era. International Journal of Men’s Health, 8(2), 155–168.

​Piaget, J. (1976). Piaget’s theory. In Piaget and his school (pp. 11–23). Springer.

​Rentschler, C. A. (2014). Rape culture and the feminist politics of social media. Girlhood Studies, 7(1), 65–82.

​Rhodes, G., Simmons, L. W., & Peters, M. (2005). Attractiveness and sexual behavior: Does attractiveness enhance mating success? Evolution and Human Behavior, 26(2), 186–201.

Sheehy, N. (2004). Fifty key thinkers in psychology. Psychology Press, London. 

​Skinner, B. F. (1948). ’Superstition’ in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38(2), 168.

Symons, D. (1979). The evolution of human sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.​

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interaction between learning and development. Readings on the Development of Children, 23(3), 34–41.

Walen, S. R. (1980). Cognitive factors in sexual behavior. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 6(2), 87–101.

​Ward, T. (2000). Sexual offenders’ cognitive distortions as implicit theories. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 5(5), 491–507.


2.12 Answers to Discussion Questions

Answer to Question 2.08

Answers should relate to student views on evolutionary psychology and attraction. Answers will vary depending on student opinions, with pros and cons determined by students' first answer.


Answer to Question 2.10

Responses should analyze how social norms related to sexual scripts influence their interactions with sexual partners. If students have not had sexual partners or are not attracted to others, the second half of the question prompts them to analyze how social scripts have influenced their experiences to date. 



Answer to Question 2.11

Responses may include gender stereotyping or sexual double standards that may exist for women. Also, gender may influence the order of sexual behaviors etc.


Answer to Question 2.12

Responses should include how social media influences how people interact. Modern SM may include Facebook, texting, Instagram, etc. as new forms of communication that change the way people interact for dates, hooking up, starting relationships etc. 




2.13 Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of Nick Youngson under CC BY-SA 3.0.

[2] Image courtesy of Albert Bandura under CC BY-SA 4.0.