CHAPTER 9: SEXUALITY
1. Sexual Attitudes
Attitudes about casual sex.
Approval of premarital sex has increased, with fewer than 25 percent now believing that it is “always or almost always wrong.” Most people now feel that sex outside of marriage is
permissible, but the circumstances matter. Sexual activity in a “serious” relationship is more approved of than sexual activity in a “casual” relationship. This approach relies on a “permissiveness-with-affection” standard.
In general, men hold more permissive sexual values and attitudes than women, but the size of this difference is decreasing..
--The gender difference is greatest in terms of casual premarital sex (i.e., sex without intimacy)
--Men also approve more of extramarital sex than do women, although in the US, most people strongly disapprove of extramarital sex
Is there a sexual double standard? Are sexually permissive women judged more harshly than sexually permissive men? This sexual double standard used to be quite strong, but it‟s now less
so. (1) For example, men like sexually permissive dates, but want chaste potential spouses. (2) Also, both promiscuous men and women are negatively evaluated, though (3) a woman with a sexually transmitted infection is evaluated more negatively than a man.
Box (p. 276) Love and Lust
Attitudes about same-sex sexuality
Compared with attitudes toward heterosexual sex, attitudes about same-sex sexuality are much more negative. Among a sample of adult Americans, about half indicated that same-sex sexuality is “morally wrong.” However, a 2007 Gallop poll indicated that
--46% of Americans approved of legally valid same-sex marriages (Table 9.1, p. 277).
--those who believe that homosexuality is “inborn” are more likely to believe that
homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative life style (Figure 9.1, p. 277). Increasing evidence indicates that: same-sex relationships operate similarly to heterosexual relationships; sexual orientation does not predict parenting effectiveness; and marriage is good for people.
Cultural differences in sexual attitudes.
See p. 278, Table 9.2, which summarizes attitudes toward unmarried sex in various countries. The numbers represent the percentage indicating that this type of sex is always wrong. The US is
more sexually conservative than all of the other countries surveyed.
2. Sexual Behavior
Sex for the First Time..
In the US, the average age of first heterosexual intercourse is 17 for men and women. By the age of 20, only 15% have not yet had sex. The good news is that young Americans are more responsible (e.g., using some form of birth control) than before and the teen birth rate is lower. However, 25% of female teenagers in the US have a sexually transmitted infection.
Box, p. 280, “Ignorance Isn‟t Bliss.”
Most teens have sex for the first time with a partner in a steady, emotionally important relationship. Young women have mixed feelings about first sexual intercourse: most are ambivalent, some opposed, a third really want it to happen. Only 1/3 of young men are ambivalent and most of the rest are eager for it to occur.
Both sexes tend to have more regrets about having sex when their first intercourse is with someone several years older: sex occurs sooner and condoms less used in these couples compared to other partners of similar ages. Men are more likely than women to regret not
having sex with someone.
Sex in committed relationships.
Sexual motives cover a wide range: attraction, love, excitement etc. are commonplace. Less typical reasons are to do harm (have sex with someone else to make your partner angry), gain an advantage (get a raise), enhance social status (impress your friends).
Four basic motives: emotional, physical, pragmatic (making a baby or making someone jealous), and insecure (wanting to increase self-esteem or keeping a partner attached). Both men and women equally endorsed emotional reasons. Men reported more varied and more practical reasons for having sex.
How frequently do people have sex? There are many factors involved:
1. Status of the relationship. Cohabitating couples have more sex than married couples, who have more sex than singles.
2. Age: Older people have less frequent sex than younger people. Both physical changes (decreased hormonal levels; decline in physical health) and psychological changes (familiarity, routine, the thrill is gone) reduce sexual activity. (Look back to Figure 8.3, p. 271).
3. Sexual orientation: Early in the relationship, gay males and cohabitators have more sex with their partners than lesbians and heterosexuals do (see Fig. 9.2, p. 282). Later in the relationship (2 – 10 years), lesbians have less frequent sexual activity than married, cohabitors and gay males. After a decade, married couples have the most frequent sex, gay men less frequent sex, and lesbians have the least frequent sex. (Data for 10+ years among cohabitators were not provided).
Although people in most countries have negative attitudes about extradyadic sex, many engage in it. A survey of mostly US married subjects found that 21% of the women and 32% of the men reported being sexually unfaithful at least once.
What factors predict extradyadic sex?
1. Gender: Men are more likely to engage in extramarital sex than women, and gay males are much more likely than lesbians to engage in extradyadic sex. See p. 283, Fig. 9.3 for comparative figures. Also, see Box (p. 284) “Men report more sexual partners than women do. How?” for some of the complexities of measuring gender differences in this area. This is very
2. Personality: Sociosexual orientation refers to the degree to which a person is comfortable with the idea of having sex without relational commitment.(See Box on pg. 286, “Measuring Sociosexuality”). A restricted sociosexual orientation includes discomfort with having sex without commitment and affection; an unrestricted orientation includes comfort with having sex without much closeness or commitment. Those with an unrestricted orientation are dynamic, flirtatious, sociable, extraversion, and drink a lot of alcohol. Men are more unrestricted than women around the world.
Sociosexuality is also associated with extradyadic sex. Unrestricted people have a greater number of sexual partners and are more likely to cheat on their primary lovers.
An unrestricted sociosexual orientation fits with the evolutionary paradigm for men: i.e., seeking multiple partners. But what about women? The good genes hypothesis provides a
possible answer: the dual mating strategy. In this strategy, women would pursue long-term male partners who help the female protect and feed their children, while also seeking good genes from other men. Thus, the woman gets the best of both: (1) security and commitment + (2) tall, strong, healthy children.
How can the woman know whom to pick? (1) As described in Chapter 3, women prefer sexy, symmetrical men, especially when they are fertile. (2) Children have more robust immune systems when their parents give them different sets of genes so it‟s functional for women to have
extradyadic sex. Thus, women are more attracted to extradyadic mates when they‟re fertile than when they‟re not; this tendency is more pronounced when their primary partners are relatively unattractive.
When two (or more) can play, we need to consider “sperm competition:” the sperm of two or more men is in a woman‟s vagina at the same time. Physiologically speaking, there‟s a competition. The first penis seems to have the advantage, but the second penis dislodges the initial sperm.
Unhappy lovers who have attractive alternatives are likely to engage in extradyadic sex. Women are more likely than men to switch mates as a result of an affair. When both men and women are reasonably content in their relationships, they are more likely to pursue extradyadic sex when their current sex is boring, monotonous, and infrequent.
Box (p.288): The Ins and Outs of Cybersex
On average, men have higher sex drives than women do. See list on pp. 289 – 290 of various
examples of males‟ higher sex drives. These typical differences can produce difficulties in the relationship. Women‟s lower sex drive provides women the opportunity to have more control over sexual interactions. She doesn‟t want it as much as he does. This difference in sex drive can
form the basis for female control of a highly desired resource and for male abuse in obtaining this resource.
Safe, sensible sex
Most college students – about 75%-- have engaged in hookups (sexual interactions, nonromantic partners, usually just one night, without the expectation of a lasting relationship). Much of the time, the partner is a friend, involving kissing and heavy petting. However, about a third of hookups involve people not well known or strangers. About half of hookups involve oral sex or intercourse. Alcohol and not using condoms are frequent.
Sex is no safer in dating relationships: 50% of college students using condoms consistently with a new romantic partner. Among a sample of women in their 30s and 40s, 30% had sex and 77% did NOT use a condom when they first had sex.
So why do people put themselves at risk?
--Underestimates of risk. The illusion of unique invulnerability. You believe that
it won‟t happen to you.
--Faulty decision making. People get “carried away.” People also get drunk.
Intoxication is a great driver of bad decisions. Alcohol myopia refers to the
process in which drinking alcohol narrows your focus so you focus only on
immediate and salient cues. You focus on the sex rather than the condom.
--Pluralistic ignorance. You disagree with the beliefs of others, but you go along
with them. In reality, the others actually agree with you, but no one speaks
up. So everyone may want to practice safe sex, but since they believe
they‟re the only one, no one practices safe sex.
--Inequalities in power. Who ever has the most power can determine whether or
not to use condoms.
--Abstinence education. Some abstinence education programs teach their students
that condoms don‟t work, which increases the risk of an unwanted
--Decreased intimacy and pleasure Sex without condoms is more enjoyable, but
just how enjoyable is an unwanted pregnancy?
To make sex more safe, make condoms more sexy.
3. Sexual Satisfaction
According to a national survey, individuals who had only one lover in the past year reported very high levels („extremely” or “very” pleased) of physical and emotional satisfaction, respectively 87% and 85%. Those who had more than one sex partner reported lower levels of satisfaction. (45% indicated being “very happy”)
People who engage in sex frequently are more sexually satisfied than those who engage in sex less frequently. Of course, the causation could go other ways. People who find sex satisfying choose to have sex more often. Or perhaps a great relationship results in frequent and satisfying sex.
Box (p. 295) How to improve your sex life: Don‟t believe everything you read (or hear)
Good sex fits the pattern of Self-Determination Theory. We are at our best when we have autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Traditional gender roles (he makes the moves; she does what he wants) contradict SDT and, thereby, sexual satisfaction is reduced. Couples who allow each other more autonomy and choice enjoy more gratifying sex.
Sexual interactions result from both approach and avoidance motives. Sex focused on promoting a deeper and more satisfying relationship is an example of an approach motive. Sex focused on trying to avoid unpleasant consequences (e.g., fear of the partner‟s losing interest) is an example of an avoidance motive. In general, sex was more satisfying, intimate and fun when people engaged in positive/approach motives; when people had sex to avoid unwanted outcomes, they experienced more negative emotions and were more likely to break up.
Clear communication about sex is associated with greater satisfaction with sex.
In a classic study by Masters and Johnson, homosexuals reported a higher quality of the sexual experience than heterosexuals. In trying to account for this difference, Masters and Johnson noted that being of the same sex makes it easier to know what the partner will like. But they believed that the major factor was the high quality of communication between the homosexual couples. In contrast, Masters and Johnson described the heterosexual couples as exhibiting a “persistent neglect” of open communication and a “potentially self-destructive lack of
intellectual curiosity about the partner.”
Men think about sex more often than women do. So they can exaggerate a woman‟s interest in sex, even seeing it when none was there. This isn‟t a rare event. Most men (54%) have misperceived a woman‟s intentions at least once. However, men who reject traditional gender
roles and value equality between the sexes are unlikely to make these mistakes.
However, misjudgments of a woman‟s interest are common (especially under the influence of alcohol) among macho men. These men are the most likely to engage in sexual coercion, which can be the first step toward unwelcome advances. The best refusals to such advances are assertive, consistent, and persistent.
See Box (p. 298): Attachment and Sexuality
Sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction
--Similarity is a plus, dissimilarity is a minus: For example, a large difference in the number of past sexual partners, the less happy the marriage.
--Hassles and stress at work negatively affect both sexual and relationship satisfaction --Pleasing sex with a partner reduces stress and improve mood.
Overall, sexual satisfaction increases relationship satisfaction AND relationship satisfaction increases sexual satisfaction.
The best sex list:
--Each person having his or her needs met by a partner who understands and respects one‟s specific sexual desires
--Valuing one‟s partner and being devoted to the relationship
--Enjoying being with each other, in bed and out of it.
Four broad types of sexual violation: (Fig. 9.4, p. 300)
First Axis: Type of Pressure: verbal coercion vs. physical force
Ranges from (a) mildly coercive verbal persuasion, (b) plying someone with
alcohol or drugs, (c)the threat of – or actual use of – physical force.
Second Axis: Unwanted Sexual Behavior
Ranges from touching and fondling to penetration and intercoruse
Quadrant one: Lack of respect, hostile attitudes toward women, corrosive effect on
relationship, lower sexual and relationship satisfaction
Quadrant two: Verbal manipulation and/or intentional intoxication lead to sexual
behavior. These cases are rarely prosecuted
Quadrants three and four: Various degree of physical force.
Quadrant four: Could be prosecuted as “forcible rape”
1 out of 6 college women encounter coercion in some form every two months Most women (56%) suffer such interactions in college
Overall, men use more physical force than women do
But women are just as likely as men to verbally coerce reluctant partners to have
Women who have been forced or frightened into unwanted sex have poorer mental and
How can these incidents be reduced?
--Beware of potential partners who view sex as a contest
--Beware of intoxication in yourself or in the partner
--Assertively resist unwanted advances
--Set sexual boundaries with frank, direct discussion before you start an intimate
--Consider the value of thinking of your lover as an equal partner whose preferences and pleasure are as important as your own. Respect and thoughtfulness are incompatible with sexual coercion.