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ISBN: 978-1-42983-471-1

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Indexing Subjects

1. Sex 2. Sociology

First Edition

Introduction 1
The Kinsey Report 4
The Sexual Revolution & Counter Revolution  15
Sexual Development Across the Lifespan 26
Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Sexual Orientation 39
Contemporary Theories of Sexual Orientation 49
The Gay Rights Movement  61
Sexual Orientation & Youth 71
Sexual Orientation in the United States 80
Gender & Sexual Orientation in the Workplace 88
Homophobia 101
Sexuality & the Media  109
Religion & Sexuality 126
Terms & Concepts 137
Contributors 145
Index 147

Exploring Human Sexuality iii


The study of human sexuality must often confronts the complex interplay
of scientific research and cultural belief. Though sexual behavior is unde-
niably influenced by society, it often differs greatly from one society and
decade to another. Within the past century, human sexuality and its various
fields of inquiry have prompted modern sociologists to think about sexual
identity and orientation in an analytical, sociological and psychological

The Sociology Reference Guide series is designed to provide a solid foun-

dation for the research of various sociological topics. This volume provides
an introduction to the general concepts of and research surrounding
human sexuality and sexual orientation. The essays follow the effects and
transformations of the “Kinsey Report” in 1948, which changed the main-
stream notions of sexuality and paved the way for the exploration of sexual
orientation and related issues, particularly throughout the last fifty years.

While there have been many sociological studies on the scientific and
popular understanding of sexuality over the last century, none has seen as
dramatic developments and consequences as the 1948 study by Alfred C.
Kinsey. Karin Carter-Smith explains that the “Kinsey Report” confronted
“many medical and social beliefs about homosexuality and female sexuali-
ty.” While Kinsey’s research is viewed as a transitional moment in research
on human sexuality, Carolyn Sprague, in her essay on the sexual revolution

Exploring Human Sexuality 1

in the twentieth-century, says that current research reveals how American
society’s attitudes about sex had already been changing for many decades.
Sharon Link and Noelle Vance initiate a series of essays on how contem-
porary science monitors the development of sexual orientation. “Medical
science, theologians, legal doctrine and cultural norms,” Vance comments,
“have all played a role in influencing how sexual orientation and/or same
sex relations are perceived.”

The next group of essays deepens the understanding of sexual orientation

and, more specifically, homosexuality. Karen M. Harbeck reviews one of
the more popular debates surrounding the development of sexuality by
considering the question of “nature and nurture” as a relevant field of
inquiry. The dramatic changes in mainstream thought regarding sexual-
ity serves as the backdrop to the following essays on homosexuality and
society. Carolyn Sprague offers a effective introduction to the emergence
of the gay rights movement and its contribution to the transformation of
societal perspectives on sexuality. In her two following essays, Harbeck
examines the personal and social experience of individuals who identify
as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT). “As GLBT individuals
gain self-knowledge,” she explains, “they are challenged by the choices
of invisibility versus self-disclosure and safety versus self-respect.” Geral-
dine Wagner turns to the challenges that confront the GLBT community in
the workplace, where homophobia and heterosexism continue to exist. She
then delves into the causes and effects of homophobia, “a fear felt by some
heterosexuals toward those with alternative sexual orientation.”

The final two essays review more broadly several issues surrounding sexu-
ality, from the influence of media upon popular thought to the connec-
tion between sexuality and religion and the ensuing attitudes adopted by
different beliefs. In perhaps the most revealing of these essays, Maureen
McMahon offers an important account of contemporary perspectives on
sexuality generated by popular media sources, particularly the develop-
ment of web media and social network sites. These web sources serve as
one of the major areas of new research that studies the effects of excess
media resources on younger generations.

Together these essays provide a range of research on the transformations

of human sexuality in the last several decades and the contemporary chal-

2 Sociology Reference Guide

lenges many individuals confront in their claim to sexual orientation.
Complete bibliographic entries follow each essay and a list of suggested
readings will locate sources for advanced research in the area of study. A
selection of relevant terms and concepts and an index of common socio-
logical themes and ideas conclude the volume.

Exploring Human Sexuality 3

The Kinsey Report
Karin Carter-Smith


Alfred C. Kinsey (1894-1956) was an American, Harvard-educated biolo-

gist and professor of entomology and zoology. In 1947, Kinsey founded
for the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana
University. It was posthumously renamed The Kinsey Institute for
Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. Kinsey is best know as the
lead researcher and author of the 1948 Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,
which became an international bestseller and drastically changed the per-
ceptions of human sexuality among both the public and the academic body
researching the field. Along with the 1953 volume, Sexual Behaviors in
the Human Female, the two reports created a great deal of discussion and
controversy and became an enduring part of American culture (Steinberg,
2005; Herzog, 2006).

References to “The Kinsey Report” abound in both the academic literature

and in popular culture. In 1964, U.S. poet Ogden Nash titled a piece “The
Kinsey Report Didn’t Upset Me, Either” in which he wrote, “I won’t allow
my life to be regulated by reports, whether rosily optimistic or gloomily
cadaveric” (Nash, 1964, p.1). In 2004, the critically acclaimed movie Kinsey
starring actor Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey, portrayed the researcher
who revolutionized the study of human sexuality. In addition, there have
been academic and trade books published about the studies, their impact
on science and culture, and lately, about Kinsey himself.

4 Sociology Reference Guide

In the decades following the publication of Kinsey’s seminal studies,
debates about the methods he used, the conclusions he drew and recently,
about his own sexual practices, have fueled a controversy that began soon
after the reports were first disseminated. Kinsey received a great deal of
praise for breaking the silence that had surrounded sexual matters and for
making public norms and behaviors that had been considered much more
rare and deviant than the research revealed (Herzog, 2006).

Historical Background

The study of human sexuality was considered a moral issue prior to 1890,
when the medical community began to address issues of sexual function
and sexually transmitted diseases, albeit with a nod to the moral standards
of the times. Doctors, with backgrounds in biology, anatomy and medicine,
were seen as the most logical experts in the field (Bullough, 1998). Havelock
Ellis and Magnus Hirschfeld were physicians whose research focused on
sex through the use of sexual histories, much like Kinsey. The significant
difference in their methods, though, is considered to be critical to the diver-
gence in their findings. Ellis compiled histories through correspondence
with volunteers, while Hirschfeld relied upon historical data and personal
knowledge until late in his career when he began to conduct personal in-
terviews (Bullough, 1998). “Unfortunately, Hirschfeld used only a small
portion of his data in his published books, and before he could complete a
comprehensive study of sexuality, his files were destroyed by the Nazis”
(Bullough, 1994 as cited in Bullough, 1998, p. 127). While some of the data
reported in those early studies came from the physicians’ own practices
and research, it was supplemented by anthropological studies, and much
of it was informed by the political and moral standards of the early twen-
tieth century (Bullough, 1998).

Other early research by physicians was published by psychiatrists, es-

pecially those trained as psychoanalysts, such as George Henry. These
studies lacked validity in that their basic assumptions were flawed (for
example, that homosexuals were ill). Furthermore, their questions were
designed to determine differences among heterosexuals, but they lacked
comparative studies with which to validate them (Henry, 1941, as cited
in Bullough, 1998). Despite the difficulties in producing valid research,
assumptions about the medical community’s authority to explore human

Exploring Human Sexuality 5

sexuality endured. When the Committee for Research in the Problems in
Sex (CRPS), a grant-funding organization endowed through the Rockefell-
er’s National Research Council, began awarding funds to researchers to
conduct sex surveys, physicians were among the first to receive the monies
(Bullough, 1998).

Kinsey was a classically trained scientist who taught courses in general

biology, an author who had published several textbooks and a researcher
and world-renowned expert on gall wasps. He began his study of human
sexuality in 1938 when he was invited to become a member of an inter-
disciplinary team delivering a course on marriage and family at Indiana
University (Bullough, 1998). In 1941, he received an initial exploratory
grant from the CRPS, which was followed by full funding the following
year. Kinsey’s approach to the study was clinical; he used taxonomy to
dispassionately classify and describe behaviors and had no moral, ethical
or political agenda to inform his conclusions. The CRPS viewed Kinsey as
a favorable candidate for research into human sexuality; he was a bench
scientist with impeccable research skills, he was a full professor at a major
university, his research into the field had the full support of the university
administration, and he was married with adolescent children (Bullough,
1998). According to Bullough (1998), “the CRPS came to be so committed
to Kinsey that by the 1946-1947 academic year, he was receiving half of the
committee’s total budget” (p. 129).

Kinsey’s Research Methods

Kinsey’s method of data collection involved personal interviews with vol-

unteer subjects. One issue that he faced was in the creation of a repre-
sentative sample population of American adults. Steinberg (2005) states,
“People who agreed to give their sexual histories would necessarily be a
self-selected, and therefore skewed, subset of the total population” (p. 19).
Kinsey sought to mitigate the problem by using a large number of subjects
hoping that the volume would lessen the bias. This also worked with his
methodology as the taxonomic approach required that data from as many
subjects as possible be gathered. Although Kinsey had hoped to inter-
view 100, 000 subjects from a variety of distinct cultural subgroups for the
report, only 18,000 were completed by the time the Rockefeller Foundation
had stopped funding for the research in 1954. Kinsey had personally

6 Sociology Reference Guide

interviewed 8,000 participants. He believed that self-administered ques-
tionnaires encouraged dishonest responses and inaccuracies. He held that
participants would only be truthful about their sexual experiences when
questioned personally because discrepancies, untruths and contradictions
could be explored by the interviewer (Steinberg, 2005; Bullough, 1998).

Kinsey developed a system of variegated questions and checks to detect

lies that respondents might tell, and he believed that his system was ef-
fective. Interviewer bias was also a concern, and to mitigate that, he in-
stituted a process through which two interviewers would meet with the
same subject independently and at different times and responses would
be compared. According to Bullough (1998), there were four interviewers,
including Kinsey, and “if there was a bias, it came to be a shared one. The
questions, however, were so wide-ranging that this too would limit much
of the potential for slanting the data in any one direction” (p. 129).

Kinsey’s challenge was to create an interview instrument and environ-

ment in which subjects would feel free to discuss a subject on which they
had largely remained silent. Kinsey taught his researchers to project a
sincere and objective demeanor that would put subjects at ease to disclose
their sexual identities. Steinberg (2005) asserts, “his basic method—a con-
tribution to sexual science as profound and long-lasting as the data he
produced—was to lead people out of their socially enforced silence around
sex and into a bubble of free speech where they had permission to speak
openly and honestly about sex” (p. 19). In removing the moral overtones
from the research, Kinsey removed the taboo that had kept subjects from
disclosing their sexual truths; by keeping the research clinical and for sci-
entific use, they were able to elicit more information.

In his reports, Kinsey dismissed sexual practices he deemed outliers, or

statistically insignificant. Pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases
were ignored along with sexual behaviors such as swinging, group sex,
sadism, masochism, transvestitism, voyeurism and exhibitionism. Homo-
sexuality, pedophilia and bestiality, however, were studied in some depth.
He treated sex as a part of human behavior, demystifying its discussion
and bringing into focus the aspects of sexuality that defined individuals by
making the study scientific rather than voyeuristic (Bullough, 1998).

Exploring Human Sexuality 7

Further Insights
Kinsey’s Findings

The Kinsey studies had a profound impact on both American culture and
the study of human sexuality. Bethell (2005) states, “Remember the Kinsey
sermon: there is no such thing as abnormality, just ceaseless sexual variety”
(p.1), and Steinberg offers, “’Everybody’s sin is nobody’s sin,’ Kinsey pro-
claimed” (p. 20). The studies brought to light the fact that American sexual
activities were radically different from what people believed. “Homosexu-
ality, bisexuality, premarital sex, extramarital sex, oral sex, anal sex, mas-
turbation, sadomasochism, sex with animals, sex with and between pre-
adolescent children, sex between older people, sex with prostitutes—all of
these were found to be common practices” (Steinberg, 2005, p. 19).

Kinsey’s reports challenged many conventional beliefs about human sexual

experiences. Romesburg (1998) states, “he also found that nearly 50% of
the women had engaged in sex before marriage and more than 25% had
experienced extramarital sexual intercourse” (p. 1). In addition, he por-
trayed extramarital sexual intercourse as a neutral activity rather than as a
societal ill. Bullough (1998) suggests, “he questioned the assumption that
extramarital intercourse always undermined the stability of marriage…
he seemed to feel that the most appropriate extramarital affair, from the
standpoint of preserving a marriage, was an alliance in which neither party
became overly involved emotionally” (p. 131).

Another convention challenged by Kinsey’s research was that of the asexu-

ality of women. According to Herzog (2006), “American commentators
on the female volume were especially distressed by high rates of female
marital infidelity and by Kinsey’s assertions that female orgasmic response
was almost identical to men’s “(p. 39). Bullough concurs, stating that
among women“40%…had experienced orgasm within the first months of
marriage, 67% by the first six months, and 75% by the end of the first year”
(p. 131). In addition, “Twenty-five percent had experienced orgasm by age
of 15, more than 50% by the age of 20, and 64% before marriage” (Bullough,
1998, p. 131).

The creation of a taxonomy of human sexual behaviors was one of the many
points of controversy when the reports were made public. This scientific

8 Sociology Reference Guide

approach to the subject allowed for the objective classification of all sexual
activities in which humans engaged and classified none as abnormal. The
classification of human sexuality into a zoological framework failed to in-
corporate aspects of human psychology and emotion, which impact sexual
experiences. Critics argued that defining what is normal for humans in
the same manner as what is normal for animals neglected key aspects of
human sexuality (Bullough, 1998).

Prevalence of Homosexuality

Kinsey developed a seven-point bipolar scale, which was one of the stan-
dards means of organizing social science research data at that time. Ho-
mosexuality and heterosexuality were seen as points on the seven-point
continuum with the only objective indicator being what activity resulted
in orgasm. Most people would respond in such a way that they would
be in the middle of the scale. Bullough explains, “when one rates hetero-
sexual orgasm as 0 and homosexual orgasm 6, a logical decision in terms of
taxonomy, he in effect weights the scale by seeming to imply that exclusive
heterosexuality is one extreme and exclusive homosexuality the other” (p.
130). While Kinsey found that most people could be classified exclusively
heterosexual, his scale suggested that homosexuality was simply another
sexual activity, which was revolutionary at the time. It was his findings that
homosexual activity was much more prevalent than it had been believed
to be, and his implication that it was within the normal range of behavior,
that led to many of the attacks on his research (Bullough, 1998).

According to Romesburg (1998), after Kinsey interviewed nearly 6,000

men, he “concluded that 37% had engaged in at least one homosexual ex-
perience to orgasm between the ages of 16 and 55 [but] only 4% of the men
were what he called ‘exclusively homosexual’” (p. 1). Among women,
Kinsey “reported that while 28% of women had “experienced homosexual
arousal” by age 45, fewer than 3% could be classified as ‘exclusively ho-
mosexual’” (Romesburg, 1998, p. 1). The idea that 10% of adult Ameri-
cans are homosexual arose from these data; 13% of men and 7% of women
had more homosexual than heterosexual experiences or psychological
response for at least three years of adulthood; it is a simple average of
the two numbers. (Romesburg, 1998). The statistics related to the practice
of homosexual behavior had a worldwide impact. Herzog (2006) states,
“the homophile reception—especially in France and West Germany—was

Exploring Human Sexuality 9

thoroughly enthusiastic…in France, where adult homosexuality was legal
but nonetheless subject to social sanction, activists effused about Kinsey’s
contributions” (p. 42).

Also among the sample population, the research revealed that in rural areas
“about 40 to 50% of the males had had at least one sexual encounter with
an animal, and 17% had even experienced an orgasm as a result of sexual
contact with animals during adolescence” (Beetz, 2005, p. 48). The preva-
lence among the entire population of American men in the study was closer
to 8%. (Kinsey, Pomeroy & Martin, 1948 as cited in Beetz, 2005) and the
prevalence of sexual contact with animals among women was much lower
at 3% (Kinsey et al., 1953 as cited in Beetz, 2005). Given the social stigma
of these activities, it is likely that they were under-reported to researchers
rather than over-reported, and many participants indicated that curiosity
was their primary motivation rather than sexual attraction (Beetz, 2005).

Numerous challenges to the statistical methods Kinsey employed have

been raised in the 60 years since the first report’s publication; however, the
report demonstrated that although exact numbers of people engaging in
forms of deviant sexual activity may vary, there were significant numbers
of Americans engaging in those acts without physical and societal reper-
cussions. “They were not all going crazy, committing suicide, getting
pregnant, or dying of grossly disfiguring sexually transmitted diseases, as
the popular sex mythology of the day would have predicted” (Steinberg,
2005, p. 20).

Continuing Criticism

Herzog (2006) states, “American critics variously attacked Kinsey and his
associates for methodological insufficiencies (especially in their statistical
sampling techniques) or for moral turpitude (for implying that the lived
prevalence of non-normative behaviors also suggested that the norms them-
selves should be adapted)” (p. 40). Indeed, the issue of statistical sampling
was a point of contention for the duration of his research. Attempts
were made to encourage him to validate his data with a random sample
of individuals, but Kinsey refused “on the grounds that not all of those
included in the random sample would answer the questions put to them

10 Sociology Reference Guide

and that, therefore, the random sample would be biased” (Bullough, 1998,
p. 132). The sample population on which Kinsey reported is not random,
and among the over-represented groups are Caucasians, students, resi-
dents of Indiana and prisoners incarcerated for sexually deviant behavior
(Bullough, 1998).

Bethell (2005) challenges Kinsey’s statistics, stating that the report main-
tained “85 percent of American men had sex before marriage, 70 percent
had sex with prostitutes, 10 percent were exclusively homosexual. His
figures were undermined when it was revealed that he had dispropor-
tionately interviewed homosexuals and prisoners (many sex offenders)”
Furthermore, when refused to adopt more valid statistical sampling pro-
cedures, the CRPS funding through the Rockefeller foundation was termi-
nated (Bethell, 2005).

A significant incidence of intergenerational sexual behavior (between

minor children and adults) was also reported in the study, and this is an
area that remains controversial 60 years after its publication. According
to Bullough (1998), “one of his more criticized sections in recent years is
the table based on data he gathered from pedophiles. He is accused of
not turning these people over to authorities” (p. 131). Further, Kinsey’s
controversial research demonstrated that many individuals who experi-
enced intergenerational sex as children were not seriously harmed by it
(Bullough, 1998). In 1981 questions were raised of how Kinsey and his
staff collected data relevant to this area of their study. According to Pool,
(1996) “Attention was directed to Tables 30-34 of Sexual Behavior in the
Human Male, which report observations of orgasms in over three-hun-
dred children between the ages of five months and fourteen years” (p. 1).
Leadership at The Kinsey Institute confirmed that some of the data were
collected from a group of pedophiles whom Kinsey opted not to report to
authorities (Pool, 1996).

Kinsey’s implication that homosexual behavior was normal and acceptable

caused a great deal of debate among homosexual rights activists and those
opposed to its decriminalization in both the U.S. and in Europe. Herzog
(2006) explains, “conservative opponents of Kinsey on both sides of the
Atlantic were hostile to the notion that the prevalence of a particular sexual
practice also implied that it was a morally acceptable practice (in other

Exploring Human Sexuality 11

words, that “what is” was also “what ought to be)” (p. 42). Activists, on
the other hand, held that what was natural, normal human sexual behavior
should be both legally and socially sanctioned (Herzog, 2006). In the end,
Kinsey’s report brought to light the high incidence of homosexuality, and
helped to spur the movement toward its legal and social acceptance.

Interest in Alfred Kinsey and his research persists into the present day.
Recent biographies, as well as the popular movie, have helped to keep his
name and ideas at the forefront of American culture. The impact of the
work remains both controversial and profound. In 2005, the conservative
publication Human Events named “The Kinsey Report” #4 on its list of
“Top Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries” behind
such books as The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf and Quotations
from Chairman Mao and among others like Das Kapital and The Feminine
Mystique. While critics have most recently called into question the re-
searcher’s own sexual proclivities and those of his staff, the fact remains
that he removed the taboo from the discussion of sexuality.

Kinsey’s reports continue to be cited and his data continues to be used.

Among his other achievements was the establishment of a library at
Indiana University for the collection of sources related to sexuality that
is now among the most impressive collections in the world. The Kinsey
Institute for the Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana Uni-
versity is among the leaders in research in the field of human sexuality.
Bullough (1998) concludes, “Kinsey was the major factor in changing atti-
tudes about sex in the twentieth century. His limitations and his personal
foibles are appropriately overshadowed by his courage to go where others
had not gone before” (p. 132).

Beetz, A. (2005). Bestiality and zoophilia: Associations with violence and sex offending.
Anthrozoos, (Special Issue), 46-70. Retrieved August 12, 2008, from EBSCO Online
Database Academic Search Complete. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct
Bethell, T. (2005). Kinsey as pervert. American Spectator, 38(3), 42-44. Retrieved August
12, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier. http://search.

12 Sociology Reference Guide

Bullough, V. (1998). Alfred Kinsey and the Kinsey Report: Historical overview and lasting
contributions. Journal of Sex Research, 35(2), 127-131. Retrieved August 12, 2008, from
EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier. http://search.ebscohost.com/
Duberman, M. (1997). Kinsey’s urethra. Nation, 265(14), 40-43. Retrieved August 18, 2008,
from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier. http://search.ebscohost.
Herzog, D. (2006). The reception of the Kinsey reports in Europe. Sexuality and Culture,
10(1), 39-48. Retrieved August 12, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Gender Studies
Database. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fmh&AN=FMH2
Nash, O. (1964). The Kinsey Report didn’t upset me, either. Saturday Evening Post,
237(10), 8. Retrieved August 12, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search
Premier. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=1801985
Pool, G. (1996, Sept-Oct). Sex, science, and Kinsey: a conversation with Dr. John Bancroft -
head of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Humanist.
Retrieved August 12, 2008 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1374/is_n5_
Romesburg, D. (1998, June 23). Kinsey reports sex stats. Advocate, (762), 12. Retrieved
August 12, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier: http://
Steinberg, D. (2005). Origins of the Kinsey Revolution. Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide,
12(2), 19-21. Retrieved August 12, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search
Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=1624821
The Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. (2005, May 30). Human
Events, 61 (19), 6-7. Retrieved August 12, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic
Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=1

Suggested Reading
Cloud, J. (2004). Bondage unbound. Time, 163(3), 104-109. Retrieved August 12, 2008, from
EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/
Crespi, L., & Stanley Jr., E. (1948). Youth looks at the Kinsey report. Public Opinion
Quarterly, 12(4), 687-696. Retrieved August 12, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database
SocINDEX with Full Text: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=s

Exploring Human Sexuality 13

Del Tredici, P. (2006). The other Kinsey report. Natural History, 115(6), 22-25. Retrieved
August 12, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier: http://search.
Jones, J. J. (1997). Alfred C. Kinsey: A public/private life. Darby, PA: Diane Publishing
Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. & Martin, C.E. (1998). Sexual behavior in the human male.
Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Kinsey, A. C., et. al. (1998). Sexual behavior in the human female. Bloomington, IN:
Indiana University Press.
Klein, J. (2004). Living libido aoca: a Kinsey report. Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(14),
B14-B15. Retrieved August 12, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search
Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=1525734
Palmore, E. (1952). Published reactions to the Kinsey report (book). Social Forces, 31(2),
165-172. Retrieved August 12, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database Education Research
Complete: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=135458
Pertot, S. (2006). Sex therapy and the cultural construction of sexuality. Contemporary
Sexuality, 40(4), 9-13. Retrieved August 12, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database
Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a
Ramsey, G., & Varley, M. (1951). Censorship and the Kinsey report. Journal of Social
Psychology, 33(2), 279-288. Retrieved August 12, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database
Education Research Complete: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&

14 Sociology Reference Guide

The Sexual Revolution & Counter Revolution
Carolyn Sprague


The sexual revolution in the United States is not easily pinpointed to a

specific set of events or decade. Although the phrase almost invariably
elicits the 1960s era of free love, in actuality more relaxed attitudes toward
sexuality began to emerge long before the 1960s. To fully understand the
liberalization of sexual attitudes in the US, one must begin with examin-
ing a number of events and influences dating back to the latter half of the
nineteenth century.

The Late Nineteenth Century

In the US, the nineteenth century gave rise to what we now know as the
nuclear family. During this time, men worked outside the home and
women largely stayed at home to attend to domestic duties and raise
children. A growing middle class arose as populations migrated to cities
and gained greater affluence. Middle class adherence to the Victorian
ideals of male strength, female purity, and restrained sexual desire was
common (Williams, 2002). While non-marital and non-reproductive sex
were publicly condemned, male patronage of prostitutes was tolerated
(Williams, 2002).

By the 1870s, women’s rights activists, temperance reformers, and members

of the protestant clergy aligned themselves in an effort to promote a “social

Exploring Human Sexuality 15

purity” movement. These constituents advocated for a number of diver-
gent social causes including ending prostitution and encouraging family
planning, or, as they called it, voluntary motherhood (Williams, 2002).
Another movement around the same time was led by utopianists and
proponents of Free Love. These cohorts opposed religious authority and
largely rejected the idea of traditional marriage. Victoria Woodhall was
one outspoken opponent of traditional marriage, which she saw as perpet-
uating the oppression of women. She supported a free love model which
she believed would permit men and women to join as equal sexual and
life partners outside of the confines and regulations she associated with
traditional marriage.

A backlash to the free love movement was lead by Anthony Comstock. He

was responsible for establishing the New York Society for the Suppres-
sion of Vice and the 1873 Comstock Law, which banned the mailing of
“indecent and lascivious” materials. Comstock also opposed the free love
advocates by demanding that authorities arrest them and any others who
supported their liberal views of sexuality.

The Early Twentieth Century

During the twentieth century, urban populations continued to grow as US

middle class values shifted from the Victorian emphasis on thrift, sobriety
and self-denial, to more modern ones personal consumption and self-grat-
ification (Williams, 2002). Women began entering the workforce in greater
numbers at the turn of the new century, and many also entered college.
Recreation and leisure activities became much more important to the
middle class and were less likely to be church supervised. Young people
began to enjoy the liberty to meet without supervision or chaperones.

For most women at the beginning of the twentieth century, sex was largely
procreative because, aside from abstinence in marriage, no effective birth
control was available to women. However, as time passed, women began to
actively look for other ways to prevent pregnancy. From the 1910s onward,
Margaret Sanger was a tireless advocate for providing women with birth
control options and the power to control their reproduction.

Many researchers and historians believe that the greatest shift toward
more liberal views of sexuality began after WWI. Involvement in a foreign

16 Sociology Reference Guide

war had exposed many servicemen to Europe’s more liberal sexual atti-
tudes, and non-marital sex was not uncommon during the war. Condoms
were available to GIs, as was penicillin, which was termed the “VD Magic
Bullet” (McPartland, 1947).

All of these influences lead to what some have called “America’s first sexual
revolution” during the 1920s. Rising economic affluence and increased
leisure time triggered increased consumption and consumerism, and led
people away from rigid Victorian social values. Money was the “ingredi-
ent for sophistication” during the carnival of the 1920s. More and more
Americans owned automobiles which offered unprecedented freedom and
mobility. And when women entered the workforce and started earning
money for themselves, they began to enjoy an unprecedented level of
freedom and equality. As the decade wore on, literature, movies, and ad-
vertising began taking on sexual overtones (Williams, 2002).

However, despite the era’s mood of sexual liberalism, mainstream society

adhered, at least publicly, to conservative views of women’s sexuality, per-
petuating a double standard (Williams, 2002). Sexual attitudes had begun
to shift in the nineteenth century, but, for the most part, American society
retained traditional views of sexuality through the first quarter of the
twentieth century. The Great Depression held sexual standards in check,
though some have argued that after years of war and economic instability,
the country was ready to adopt more liberal attitudes (McPartland, 1947).

The 1940s & 1950s

Alan Petigny has suggested that the sexual revolution did not start in the
1960s, but rather really took shape during the 1940s and 50s. The “silent
generation” of this period didn’t talk much about sex, but that didn’t mean
that they weren’t having any, according to Petigny (2005). His study of US
Census Bureau statistics on premarital pregnancy and single motherhood
between 1940 and1960 pointed to the “unexpected conclusion that there
was much more sexual activity during those decades than Americans were
willing to admit” (Petigny, 2005, p. 7).

After WWII, according to Petigny (2005), more liberal attitudes on topics

from “child rearing to religion” took hold in American society. On the
surface, public attitudes may not have overtly reflected this liberalization,

Exploring Human Sexuality 17

but Petigny found that people’s actions often did not reflect their admitted
moral values. He referenced Albert Kinsey’s findings on American sexu-
ality as proof that people’s actions tended to be inconsistent with societal
rules. For example, the 1940s and 1950s saw a dramatic increase in premar-
ital pregnancies while the public continued to espouse traditional views of
sexuality which disapproved of premarital sex (Petigny, 2005).

Additionally, researchers speculate that premarital sex during this period

would have been much higher if people had not married at such young
ages. On average, during the 1950s women married around the age of 20
and men around the age of 22. Cultural historian Stephanie Coontz offered
that “when it came to sexual intercourse, young people were not taught
how to “say no”, they were simply handed wedding rings” (Coontz, 1992,
p. 12, as quoted in Petigny, 2004).

According to Petigny, the differences between postwar sexuality and

the 1960s free love era boils down to dissimilarities between convention
and conduct. Though Americans’ sexual behavior was more or less the
same during the two periods, during the 1960s Americans were much
more willing to publicly acknowledge their behavior. People talked more
openly about their behaviors and views, and, as a result, public morality
fell into step with personal conduct. In effect, public opinion converged
with private morals (Petigny, 2005).

The Kinsey Report

Alan Petigny’s use of US Census data and demographic statistics to ex-

trapolate sexual trends in the 1940s and 1950s is quite different than the
methodology that Alfred Kinsey used to study American sexuality during
the same two decades. According to Richard Rhodes (1997), Kinsey’s more
than “18,000 sexual histories [are] the most extensive record of human
sexual behavior ever compiled” (¶ 2).

In 1938, Kinsey, a biologist, found himself lecturing on sex education at

Indiana University. When he found that existing research did not provide
him with enough information for his lectures, he took it upon himself
to start collecting the necessary data and began conducting surveys as a
means of assessing the sexual behavior of American men and women.

18 Sociology Reference Guide

Kinsey’s findings were published in two volumes: Sexual Behavior in the
Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). His
report shocked the nation: it revealed that homosexual relationships, oral
sex, masturbation, and premarital sex were all prevalent behaviors among
Kinsey’s subjects (Rhodes, 1997). These reports on the sexual behavior of
men and women provided one way for Americans to make sense of the
broader cultural shifts occurring after WWII (Meyer, 2006)

However, as important as they were at the time, Kinsey’s findings don’t

hold up to scrutiny by today’s scientific standards. Though his sample was
large, Kinsey’s subjects were predominantly white, middle class, college
educated, and under 35. Further, he favored full samples of large groups in
lieu of randomizing (Stossel, 1997). When the report was published though,
it was a significant benchmark in the quantitative study of sexuality in US
society (“Alfred C. Kinsey Contributions to American Sexuality,” 2002). In
the prime years immediately following WWII, Kinsey and his key associates
were interviewing several thousand men and women a day (Rhodes, 1997).

While sociologists and historians admit that Kinsey’s data collection

methods are questionable, the fact remains that his findings helped to open
minds and prompt discussion about American sexual behavior. Prior to
Kinsey’s research, most experts had focused their attentions on what were
understood to be marginal sexualities (Meyer, 2006). Kinsey’s work shed
light on what were, in actuality, normative sexual practices, and helped
experts, as well as the American public, better understand sexuality.

The prevalence of premarital sex is difficult to measure. Up to 90% of the

American public will not answer surveys about their sexual histories,
and people who are willing to answer them are generally less inhibited
about sex than those who refuse to answer such questions, a state of affairs
which can easily lead to skewed results (Petigny, 2004). Further complicat-
ing matters is the fact that, even when willing to answer questions about
their sexual history, respondents may not be entirely truthful (Petigny,
2004). For example, in the mid 1960s, students were asked to fill out a ques-
tionnaire about non-normative behaviors like masturbating, hitting their
partner, using pornography, and engaging in same sex relations. When,
after completing the questionnaire, the students were told that they’d be
compensated for participation only if they consented to take a polygraph,

Exploring Human Sexuality 19

they all changed at least one of their answers on the questionnaire. Such
a finding suggests that surveys and polls about sexual behavior should be
approached with a great deal of skepticism (Petigny, 2004).

Without focusing too much on the weakness of his research methods, Albert
Kinsey is still credited with having a huge impact on the social and cultural
values in American and around the world. Findings by both Kinsey and
more recently Petigny, suggest that the years between 1940 and 1960 set
the stage for the overt sexual revolution that would explode in the 1960s.

The 1960s: Sex, Drugs & Rock & Roll

At the start of the 1960s, condoms were the most reliable and widely avail-
able contraceptive method, though it was generally men’s responsibility
to use them. The Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill (COCP), which quickly
became known as simply “the Pill,” was approved by the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) in June 1960, and gave women nearly complete
control over their reproductive systems (Cunningham, 1990). The Pill was
almost 100% effective in preventing pregnancy, and has been credited with
ending the baby boom (Cunningham, 1990). It wasn’t difficult for women
to enumerate the Pill’s benefits. With it, they could:

• Control if and when they would have children, giving

them the option to seriously pursue careers.
• Focus on their own sexual pleasure without worrying
about the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy.
• Choose to have sex more often. Married women on the pill
reported having sex up to 39% more often than women
who weren’t on the pill (Cunningham, 1990).
• Many women also felt that the Pill, and discussions about
it, paved the way for public dialog about sex. (Cunning-
ham, 1990)

In the years since oral contraceptives gave women control over their repro-
ductive lives, they have also changed the country’s social fabric. “The Pill
has become a right of passage for many of the daughters of the first women
to enjoy the [benefits] of the Pill in the early 1960s” wrote Ann Marie Cun-
ningham (1990). The Pill may have been responsible for ushering in the

20 Sociology Reference Guide

era of the “one night stand,” and, ironically, some suggest that it may have
benefited men as much as women. While the Pill was discussed openly and
publicly, many women believed that men would now assume that women
would “take care” of protection. Some women also worried that the Pill
decreased the incentive for men to commit to monogamous relationships.

The availability of oral contraceptives was just one factor in liberalizing

sexuality in the 1960s. The decade was shaped by profound social changes
as well as young people embraced their sexuality in all aspects of their
lives. Charles Taylor (2007) offered four characteristic views of the period:

• Sensuality as a good in and of itself.

• Men and women as equal sexes whose relationships could
be free from traditional gender roles.
• Sexuality and the sex act as liberating.
• Sexuality as a major part of one’s identity.

The 1960s were about much more than the right to express and act upon
sexual freedoms, but the right to sexually express oneself was important
from a political standpoint. Women, gay men, lesbians and African Ameri-
cans all viewed themselves a residing on the lower levels of the political
and social hierarchies. The 1960s gave life to the counter culture, women’s
rights, gay and lesbian rights and the civil rights movement. For women,
gays, and lesbians the personal was political when it came to express-
ing sexuality in ways that empowered them. Politically, many liberals
welcomed broader rights for gays and women, and access to new contra-
ceptives. In general most liberals also supported sex education initiatives
which would keep people informed about their new choices and liberties
(Stossel, 1997).

The 1960s and 1970s are now viewed as decades of great sexual freedom
and experimentation. During the final two decades of the twentieth
century, many people began to calculate the costs that have been exacted
upon many of the same groups that benefited from the greater political and
social freedoms that were gained in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, the term
“the sexual counter-revolution” is used to describe the “reigning in” of
sexually promiscuous behavior that occurred during the 1980s and 1990s.

Exploring Human Sexuality 21

The Sexual Counter-Revolution

In the age of AIDS, the idea of a sexual revolution can seem archaic and
dangerous (Cunningham, 1990). It stands to reason for many that the liberal
tenor of the 1960s and 1970s would eventually elicit a backlash against
the policies and cultural trends that came about during these tumultu-
ous decades. In general, social conservatives believed that easy access to
contraceptives and a general acceptance of premarital sex caused a moral
weakening across society. The ideological debates between social conser-
vatives and liberals played out along cultural, political, and religious fronts
simultaneously (Stossel, 1997).

Conservatives suggested that promiscuous sexual practices had compro-

mised traditional social and religious bonds and loosened social mores.
They argued, too, that the sexual revolution had resulted in upsurge in
sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pointed to this as well as the
AIDS crisis to bolster their arguments against sex outside of marriage.
When a 1982 Time magazine article linked AIDS to promiscuity, the sexual
revolution effectively ground to a halt as both socials conservatives and
public health officials decried the dangers of promiscuous sex (Stossel,
1997). At the same time, political and religious conservatives also renewed
their efforts to curtail the moral relativism they associated with the liberal
acceptance of legalized abortion and same-sex marriage (Stossel, 1997).

Gay men were particularly affected by the sexual counter-revolution.

Though they had made major political and social gains during the 1960s
and 1970s, the AIDS crisis presented new challenges. Initially, conserva-
tives succeeded in convincing a large portion of the public that AIDS was a
“gay disease,” despite the fact that, outside of the US, 90% of AIDS victims
are heterosexual (Stossel, 1997).

Anxiety & the Modern Sexual Revolution

Margaret Gullette’s (2008) essay “Then and Now: What Have the Sexual
‘Revolutions’ Wrought?” looked both backward at her own early sexual
history and forward to what her daughter’s will be. According to Gullette,
many feminists look at their youth as the “bad old days” and “they [want
to] imagine that the [women’s] movement’s hard work enabled women
who came after us to enjoy sex more” (Gullette, 2008, ¶3). Watching with

22 Sociology Reference Guide

concern, the author and her contemporaries with heterosexual daughters
saw a whole host of threats that have persisted despite the sexual freedoms
and liberties that women have won.

• Body Image: Girls start disliking their bodies at a young

age in patriarchal and consumerist societies as they judge
themselves against a single, ideal body type.
• Sex Education: Many girls and boys learn little about con-
traception since 30% of schools teach only abstinence.
• Fear: Girls may be afraid that they might not be sexually
adept. Girls who are openly homosexual may fear that
they will be stigmatized, and girls who enjoy sex often
worry about being labeled “sluts.”

The Pill, which held so much promise in affording women reproductive

control and sexual freedom, can still protect women from unintended
pregnancies. However, it cannot protect women from STDs or AIDS. It
is ironic that in the more than forty years since the Pill became available,
many people are realizing that condoms are again necessary. Gullette’s
essay closed with questioning just how far women have come in becoming
sexually equal to men. Her findings revealed that, for many women
coming of age, their first sexual experience is marked by coercion or
abuse (Gullette, 2008).


The American sexual revolution did not happen in one decade, but instead
grew steadily throughout the last half of the nineteenth century and gained
momentum between and after the world wars. The gains in sexual rights
and freedoms made during these decades served as a foundation for those
of the following decades. Women’s entry into the workforce precipitated
the women’s rights movement which played a major role in helping women
gain control over their sexuality. At the same time, the world wars exposed
many American men to more liberal European sexual attitudes, and, once
these men returned to the US, these attitudes infiltrated American culture.
Additionally, the growing affluence of the American middle class created a
consumer society which led people to discard Victorian values. The rise of
political and social movements during the 1960s also empowered a number
of minority groups to more freely express their sexuality.

Exploring Human Sexuality 23

However this liberalization has met sustainable political, religious, and
cultural opposition over the past few decades. Grieg (2006) wrote, “The
sexual lives of both women and men are now caught between the forces of
social conservatism and religious fundamentalism on the one hand and, on
the other, the pressures of commodification within sexual cultures under
capitalism. Sexual pleasure, liberty and autonomy are too often crushed
between this rock and a hard place” (p. 87).

AIDS and the sexual counter revolution. (1987, July 3). National Review. Retrieved April
20, 2008, from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_/ai_5024033
Alfred C. Kinsey – Contributions to American sexuality. (2002). Sinclair Intimacy Institute.
Retrieved April 12, 2008, from http://health.discovery.com/centers/sex/sexpedia/
Cunningham, A. (1990). The Pill: How it changed our lives. Ladies Home Journal.
Greenhaven Press: SanDiego, CA.
Gill, R. (2007). Fertility and female sexuality: Revisiting the ‘sexual revolution’. Metascience,
16(1), 101-105. Retrieved April 21, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search
Complete. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=277779
Greig, A. (2006). Sex and the rights of man. IDS Bulletin, 37(5), 84-88. Retrieved April
21, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Complete. http://search.
Gullette, M. (2008). Then and now: What have the sexual revolutions wrought?. Women’s
Review of Books, 25(1), 22-23. Retrieved April 2, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database
Academic Search Premier. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a
Lara, M. (2007, October 17). The emptiness of college dating culture. Harvard Salient, p.
5. Retrieved April 2, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Complete.
McPartland, J. (1947). Sex in our changing world. New York: Rinehart & Co.
Meyer, L. (2006). Sexual revolutions. OAH Magazine of History, 20(2), 5-6. Retrieved April
21, 2008, from EBSCO Online Databse Education Research Complete. http://search.
Petigny, A. (2004). Illegitimacy, postwar psychology, and the reperiodization of the
sexual revolution. Journal of Social History, 38(1), 63-79. Retrieved April 4, 2008, from
SocINDEX with Full Text database.http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=tru

24 Sociology Reference Guide

Petigny,A. (2005). Silent sexual revolution began in 40s and 50s. Retrieved April 4, 2008, from
Rhodes, R. (1997, November, 1997). Father of the sexual revolution. New York Times.
Retrieved April 12, 2008, from http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/11/02/
Scott Stossel. (1997, November 30). “The sexual counterrevolution.” The American Prospect.
Retrieved April 20, 2008, from http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=the_
Taylor, C. (2007). Sex & Christianity. Commonweal, 134(16), 12-18. Retrieved April 21, 2008
from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Complete. http://search.ebscohost.
Williams, M. (ed.). (2002). The sexual revolution. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.

Suggested Reading
Lara, M. (2007, October 17). The emptiness of college dating culture. Harvard Salient, p.
5. Retrieved April 2, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Complete.
The Supreme Court’s sexual counter-revolution. OAH Magazine of History, 20(2), 21-
25. Retrieved April 2, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier.

Exploring Human Sexuality 25

Sexual Development Across the Lifespan
Sharon Link

Human Sexual Development

According to DeLamater and Friedrich (2002) human sexuality might be

described as a developmental process manifesting different characteristics
throughout the human lifespan resulting in stages and milestones com-
prised of biological and behavioral components. Four stages of develop-
ment can be identified and characterized in accordance with resulting bio-
logical and behavioral manifestations:

• Childhood sexual development,

• Adolescent sexual development,
• Adult sexual development, and
• Sex among older adults

In his model of sexual development, Bancroft (1989) distinguished three

different strands of sexual development, which can be identified as “gender
identity, sexual response and the capacity for close, dyadic relationships”
(p. 149). Jannsen (2007) added to the conversation regarding human sexual
development by arguing that cultural aspects affect human sexuality in
multiple ways. All of these factors create the context for better understand-
ing the different stages of human sexuality and provide a framework for

26 Sociology Reference Guide

understanding not only the biological and behavioral attributes of human
sexuality, but may also contribute to the cultural interplay, as well.

Childhood Sexual Development

De Graaf and Rademakers (2006) indicated that developing an improved

insight into the sexual behavior and feelings of children has become in-
creasingly important. Western society parents and educators find it dif-
ficult to decide how to react to children’s sexual behaviors or questions
about sexuality asked by children due to a growing societal fear regarding
the risks of sexual victimization by adult predators. According to research
that is available on child sexual development and a general consensus of
empirical evidence, many opportunities for enhanced understanding re-
garding increased knowledge of childhood sexual developmental stages
now exist which seems to point out “which sexual behaviors and feelings
should be considered “normal” for children of certain ages, genders, or
cultural backgrounds” (p. 2).

According to Masters, Johnson, and Kolodny, (1982) sexual response in

infants was found to be evident from birth. For example, vaginal lubri-
cation has been identified in female infants within 24 hours after birth,
and in male infants, erections have also been triggered and documented.
Moreover, Martinson (1994) indicated that infants have been identified
fondling their genitalia, and digitally manipulating their genitalia from 2
½ to 3 years of age. Moreover, the touching of genital parts has been docu-
mented in early childhood and even before birth (Brenot & Broussin, 1996).
“After birth boys of 6 to 8 months of age and girls of 8 to 11 months of
age reportedly discover their genitals by unintentionally touching them”
(de Graaf & Rademakers, 2006, p. 4). Masturbation can be identified as a
behavior that is solitary in nature and occurs when an individual touches
or stimulates his or her own genitals typically for the purpose of stimu-
lating sexual arousal (Bancroft, Herbenick, & Reynolds, 2003; Goldman &
Goldman, 1988). Friedrich, Fisher, Broughton, Houston and Shafran (1998)
indicated that masturbatory behaviors are normal and can be observed and
indicated by the sexual play of young children, and becomes more clandes-
tine in children aged 6 to 9 after children become more aware of cultural
norms attributed to sexual behavior (Reynolds, Herbenick, & Brancroft,
2003). Other sexual expressions might be rooted in pervasive sucking be-

Exploring Human Sexuality 27

haviors, cuddling, and other kinds of stimulation (de Lamater & Friedrich,
2002, p. 10).

Bowlby (1965) indicated that attachments form between infants and their
parents that impact the quality and capability of relationships and form
the basis for a child’s sexual and emotional attachments and relationships
throughout the lifespan. Goldberg, Muir, and Kerr (1995) argued that ap-
propriate and positive physical contact offers the opportunity to provide
stable and fulfilling emotional attachments in adulthood. Moreover, the
role of gender identity typically forms around the age of 3 and can be de-
scribed as an individual’s sense of “maleness” or “femaleness.” At the same
time biological identity forms, a behavioral manifestation of gender-role
identity is being socialized by others in relationship to the child (Bussey
& Bandura, 1999). Goldman and Goldman (1982) further identified that
children from ages 3 to 7 demonstrate an increased level of sexual interest,
practiced by playing house or assuming other adult roles tending toward
gender specificity. Moreover, children might engage in “playing doctor”
and demonstrate an increased interest in the genitals of other children or
adults (Okami, Olmstead, & Abramson, 1997).

Indicated by multiple researchers, the showing and touching of genitals

can also be part of mutual sexual experiences between children in which
both children play an active role (Goldman & Goldman, 1988; Haugaard,
1996; Lamb & Coakley, 1993; Larsson & Svedin, 2002; Reynolds, Her-
benick, & Bancroft, 2003). As a result of increased sexual interest, parents
may restrict the information they provide their children, and children may
resort to gaining information from their peers (Martinson, 1994) leading
to potential misinformation resulting in misinterpretation and misidenti-
fication. It should be noted that experiences with no direct genital contact,
such as talking about sex, kissing and hugging, and exposure of genitals
are most common in children up to 12 years. Finally, experiences with
oral-genital contact, vaginal or anal insertion with an object or finger, and
vaginal or anal intercourse are highly unusual between children 12-years-
old and younger (de Graaf & Rademakers, 2006, p. 11).

Adolescent Sexual Development

Thome (1993) indicated that during the stage of preadolescent sexual de-
velopment, children organize themselves into homosocial groups, which

28 Sociology Reference Guide

can be described as a social division of males and females. One theory
as to why this occurs is due to the sexual exploration and learning that
occurs in homosocial groups involving individuals of the same gender.
Children at this stage gain experience with masturbation as identified by
a study indicating that 38% of men surveyed and 40% of women surveyed
recalled masturbating before the onset of puberty (Bancroft, Herbenick, &
Reynolds, 2003). Furthermore, preadolescents at the ages of 10 to 12 years
begin to experience sexual attraction followed by sexual fantasies occur-
ring from several months to one year later (Bancroft et al, 2003; Rosario,
Meyer-Bahlburg, Hunter, Exner, Gwadz, & Keller, 1996). Indicatively, ho-
mosocial interactions and subsequent exposures from these relationships
may initiate the capacity for sustained intimate relationships (Thome,
1993). Simultaneously, behavioral changes are accompanied by biological
changes associated with puberty which begins from 10 years of age to 14
years of age. From a physiological perspective, gonads, genitalia, and sec-
ondary sexual characteristics enlarge and mature during this time (Tanner,
1967) all leading to an increased sexual interest and rising levels of sexual
hormones and accompanying sexual fantasies.

During adolescence bodily changes stimulate physical growth, increas-

es in genital size and female breast size combine with the onset of facial
and pubic hair. Reportedly, these changes signal to the adolescent and to
others that sexual maturity is occurring. In addition to increased testos-
terone and estrogen levels and other biological factors, behavioral mani-
festations create opportunities for sexual interactions which facilitate or
inhibit sexual expression (Udry, 1988). Bancroft, et al (2003) reported that
males typically begin masturbating between the ages of 13 to 15, and girls
somewhat later. However, precipitating factors for increased masturbation
and heterosexual intercourse may be attributed to father absence and per-
missive attitudes regarding sexual behavior, contrasted by regular “church
attendance and long-range educational and career plans,” both of which
may delay female sexual activity (de Lamater & Friedrich, 2002, p. 11).

According to researchers, adolescents are having heterosexual and homo-

sexual intercourse at earlier ages than in the past, which can be attributed
to several factors. First, the age at which females have their first period
has been falling since the beginning of the twentieth century. Today, the
average Caucasian female has her first period at 12.7 years of age and the

Exploring Human Sexuality 29

average African American female has her first period at 12.5 years of age
(Hofferth, 1990). Additionally, young men and women are increasingly
delaying marriage. In 1960, women, on average, married for the first time
at 20.8 years of age, while men, on average, married for the first time at
22.8 years of age. In 1998, the age of first marriage was 25 years of age for
women and 26.7 years of age for men (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1999).
Additionally, since increasing numbers of individuals are marrying later
there has been a substantial gap between biological readiness and age of
marriage of typically 12 to 14 years. Finally, that the rate of teen pregnan-
cies increased between the 1970s and 1991 would appear to indicate that
teens used birth control only sporadically during these years; however, the
teen pregnancy rate declined by 18% between 1991 and 1997, potentially
reflecting an increased access to birth control by teens, increased attention
in society to the importance of preventing pregnancy for adolescents, and
increased economic opportunities for teenagers (Ventura, Mosher, Curtin,
Abma, & Henshaw, 1998). Additional research should be conducted in the
areas of sexual education, STDs and teenagers, and birth control and con-
sistent teen use.

Studies on teen homosexual behavior indicate that between 5% and 10%

of adolescent males have had sexual encounters with other males, while
6% of adolescent females have had sexual encounters with other females
(Bancroft et al., 2003; Turner, Rogers, Lindberg, Pleck, Sonenstein, &
Turner, 1998). The adolescents participating in these studies generally
reported that these encounters were with a peer. Some of the participants
also indicated that these encounters were initiated out of curiosity and that
the behavior was not ongoing.

According to findings from the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey,

48% of U.S. high school students had had sexual intercourse at least once
(YRBS, 2007). Adolescence is certainly a pivotal time in human sexual de-
velopment (de Lamater & Friedrich, 2002, p. 11).

Adulthood & Sexual Development

Factors regarding sexual maturity continue into adulthood. Several factors

play a role in adult sexual development and include effective communica-
tion between partners engaged in intimate relationships, making informed
decisions regarding reproduction and the prevention of sexually transmit-

30 Sociology Reference Guide

ted infections (such as HIV) as well as decisions regarding sexual lifestyles,
sexual satisfaction, and relationship factors.

Today, adults may choose among many relationship choices and lifestyles.
Lifestyle choices include living single, remaining celibate, participating in
a single, long-term monogamous relationship, participating in sexual re-
lationships with several individuals, or engaging in serial monogamous
relationships involving fidelity with one partner at a time for the duration
of each relationship. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2000) African
American men and women more often remain single than Caucasians. In
1999, 41% of African American males and 38% of African American females
were never married as contrasted with 20% of Caucasian men and 16% of
Caucasian females. Among reporting singles, 26% of the men and 22% of
the women usually had sex at least twice a week, while 22% of the men
and 30% of the women had not had sex for at least one year (Laumann,
Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994).

Despite relationship alternatives, as of ten years ago, marriage was still

categorized as the most prevalent sexual lifestyle choice in the United
States. In 1999, 80% of women and 73% of men had been married at least
once, and by the age of 45, 95% of all women were reportedly married
once (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1999). According to Laumann, Gagnon,
Michael, and Michaels (1994) average American couples engage in sexual
intercourse 2 to 3 times per week, and marriage presents the most legiti-
mate social context for sexual expression. In the context of marriages in
the United States monogamy has been a widely accepted so practice (Wie-
derman & Allgeier, 1996) and extramarital sex among marital couples are
significantly disapproved within the societal context (Johnson, Stanley,
Glenn, Amato, Nock, & Markman, 2002); however, 34% of men and 19%
of women reported engaging in extramarital sex at some point in their
lives (Wiederman, 1997).

Amos (2006) stated: “Our view of marriage, its goals and its purposes
have undergone a seismic shift during the last 50 years” (p. 270). Amos
(2006) indicated that during the 1960s and 1970s “a time of radical change
began,” theoretically constituted by an increased availability of contracep-
tion which offered different alternatives to women than was available in
previous eras (p. 270). As a result of changing female roles, and other con-
tributing factors, cohabitation or “living together” is an increasing option,

Exploring Human Sexuality 31

which can be characterized as a public statement regarding commitment
and sexual relationship. While cohabitation may be temporary with one-
third lasting less than 1 year, according to the United States Bureau of the
Census, (1999) 7% of all women living in the United States were living with
males in a cohabitative relationship.

Sex & Older Adults

In addition to the changing context of coupling in America, other factors

play a role in adult sexual development, as well. For example, Smith (1994)
reported a decline in the frequency of sexual intercourse with age. Addi-
tionally, biological factors that include physical changes and illness may
be contributors to diminished sexual expression. Gallicchio, Schilling,.
Tomic, Miller, Zacur and Flaws (2007) indicated that menopause lasts ap-
proximately 4 years and begins in the mid-to-late forties with a reported
decline in sexual activity during the menopausal transition (pp. 132 – 133).
This occurrence might indicate that sexual frequency is tied directly to
biological as well as relationship factors. The relationship between the
menopausal transition and decreased sexual function has been observed
in women despite relationship variables. These relationship variables
include “general well-being, physical and mental health, the occurrence of
menopausal symptoms, and life situation (p. 133). Moreover, a “hallmark
of the menopausal transition is a decline in ovarian function, resulting in
dramatic changes in hormone levels” (p. 133). Additional studies should
be considered on the impacts of biological, physical, relationship, emotion-
al and mental health impacts of aging and sexual development.

In contrast with women, men experience andropause (Lamberts, van den

Beld, & van der Lely, 1997) which can be described as a ADAM-androgen
decline that occurs as men age, resulting in a gradual decline in testoster-
one production, which can occur as early as age 40 (Morales, Heaton, &
Carson, 2000). During this time, erections may occur more slowly, and men
may experience increased control over their sexual response. According
to AARP (1999) older, healthy humans 74 years and older may continue
to have regular opportunities for satisfying sexual expression in all forms
including masturbation and homo-sexual behavior (de Lamater & Fried-
rich, 2002, p. 13). It would seem that much more research exists in terms
of female menopause as opposed to male andropause. Additional research
should be considered in this area.

32 Sociology Reference Guide

Sigmund Freud

From a developmental application, the study of childhood sexuality

is rooted in the work of Sigmund Freud. According to Galatzer-Levy &
Cohler, (1993) Freud approached theories related to childhood sexuality
from the viewpoint of a male child. Indicatively, Freud postulated that life
could best be understood from the viewpoint of a child, and he believed
post-adolescent development was non-existent. Moreover, Freud viewed
sexuality as “a generalization of the pleasures associated with mucous
membrane stimulation, and as the central motive for relating to other
people” (p. 5). Anzieu (1975) indicated that much of Freud’s beliefs regard-
ing sexual development were rooted in his own experiences, postulating
that Freud was jealous of his own father and had formed an erotic attach-
ment to his mother.

Moreover, many of Freud’s theories toward childhood sexuality and fas-

cination could be exemplified by the Shakespeare’s character, Hamlet,
who similarly possessed an incestuous desire toward his mother and pos-
sessed ambivalence toward his dead father, later displaced by a burgeon-
ing hatred toward his stepfather (pp. 235 – 236). Anzieu (1975) argued
that Freud’s work was greatly influenced by his treatment of a man who
suffered from an obsessional neurosis and homicidal thoughts, ailments
which Freud identified in himself (Cohler & Galatzer-Levy, 2008). While
seemingly a potentially strange application, Freud’s work is considered to
be a key developmental aspect of human sexuality and deserves additional
research into the foundations of developmental psychology and sexuality.


Significant issues related to human sexual development are those related

to gay and bisexual men, which has received some research in the social
sciences (Berger, 1996; Grossman, D’Augelli, & Hershberger, 2000; Lee,
1989; Vacha, 1985). Significant gaps in the literature have especially related
to HIV risk and prevention. Murry and Adam (2001) researched and iden-
tified several themes regarding homosexuality and human sexual devel-
opment. Some of the themes included public image as represented by the
media, relationships between younger and older men and the orientation

Exploring Human Sexuality 33

of youthfulness in gay culture, a search for intimacy at all ages, and the
impact of an entire generation marked by AIDS/HIV. All of these issues
were indicated to have played a significant role in the human sexual de-
velopment of homosexual males. From a research perspective, it would be
interesting to determine lesbian correlates in order to better understand
how female homosexual orientation might be manifested.

Elderly Sexual Activity

Another important issue regarding human sexuality and development

relates to attitudes, especially those which define specific behaviors as ap-
propriate or inappropriate. According to DeLamater & Friedrich (2002)
sexual attitudes especially relate to age factors and sexual expression and
the elderly. Sexual attitudes and prejudice are perpetuated by the unaccept-
able notion that individuals over 75 should not engage in sexual activity,
especially masturbation. A derivative of these attitudes is directly linked to
negative attitudes in elder care facilities and nursing homes. Often times,
sexual behavior between aged individuals in these kinds of facilities are
prohibited. “These attitudes affect the way the elderly are treated, and the
elderly may hold such attitudes themselves. These attitudes may be a more
important reason why many elderly people are not sexually active than
the biological changes they experience” (p. 13). Additional work should be
considered in creating a “system of diversity” for all individuals regardless
of age or sexual orientation.


Human sexual development across the lifespan is a dynamic phenome-

non with multiple facets. According to researchers, studies of childhood
sexuality are difficult to obtain, because of the potential victimization of
children. However, studies that do exist demonstrate that children of all
ages display behaviors or have feelings that could be identified as sexual
in nature. DeLamater & Friedrich (2002) indicated that human sexual de-
velopment begins in infancy and certainly extends across the lifespan of
humans. Conclusively, human sexuality integrates both behavioral and
biological factors manifested in aging, child development, adolescence and
puberty, adulthood, and old age. Development at all of these stages shapes
sexual attitudes and sexual identity and directly impact sexual behavior.
While humans certainly share similarities in their sexual progression, it

34 Sociology Reference Guide

is further indicated that differences are also present (p. 13). Additional
research should be considered in all areas of human sexual development
in order to shed light on this area of continued interest and importance in
sociological studies and society.

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today. Islam & Christian – Muslim Relations, 17(3), 269 – 279. Retrieved September 13,
2008 from EBSCO online database Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.
Anzieu, D. (1975). Freud’s self-analysis, P. Graham, trans. Madison, CT: International
Universities Press, 1986.
Bancroft, J. (1989). Human sexuality and its problems. Edinburgh, Scotland: Churchill
Bancroft, J., Herbenick, D., & Reynolds, M. (2003). Masturbation as a marker of sexual
development. In J. Bancroft (Ed.), Sexual Development in Childhood. Bloomington, IN:
Indiana University Press.
Berger, R. (1996). Gay and gray. New York: Haworth Press.
Bowlby, J. (1965). Maternal care and mental health. In J. Bowlby (Ed.). Child care and the
growth of love. London: Penguin.
Brenot, P. & Broussin, B. (1996). Orgasme in utero? Sexologies, 5(21), 15–16.
Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and
differentiation. Psychological Review, 106, 676-713.
Cohler, B. J. & Galatzer-Levy, R. M. (2008). Freud, Anna, and the problem of female
sexuality. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 28, 3 – 26. Retrieved September 13, 2008 from EBSCO
online database Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?di
De Graaf, H. & Rademaker, J. (2006). Sexual behavior of prepubertal children. Journal
of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 18(1), 1 – 21. Retrieved September 13, 2008 from
EBSCO online database Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.
DeLamater, J. & Friedrich, W. N. (2002). Human sexual development. Journal of Sex
Research, 39(1), 10 – 14. Retrieved September 13, 2008 from EBSCO online database
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Friedrich, W. N., Fisher, J., Broughton, D., Houston, M., & Shafran, C. R. (1998). Normative
sexual behavior in children: A contemporary sample. Pediatrics, 101(4). 693 - 697.
Retrieved September 13, 2008 from EBSCO online database Academic Search Premier:

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Galatzer-Levy, R. M. & Cohler, B. J. (1993). The essential other. NewYork: Persus Books/
Basic Books.
Gallicchio, L., Schilling, C., Tomic, D., Miller, S. R., Zacur, H., Flaws, J. A. (2007). Correlates
of sexual functioning among mid-life women. Climacteric, 10(2), 132 – 142. Retrieved
September 13, 2008 from EBSCO online database Academic Search Premier: http://
Goldberg, S., Muir, R., & Kerr, J. (1995). Attachment theory: Social, developmental, and
clinical perspectives. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
Goldman, R. J., & Goldman, J. D. G. (1982). Children’s sexual thinking. London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul.
Goldman, R., & Goldman, J. (1988). Show me yours: What children think about sex.
Victoria, Australia: Penguin Books.
Grossman, A., D’Augelli, A., & Hershberger, S. (2000). Social support networks of lesbian,
gay, and bisexual adults 60 years of age and older. Journals of Gerontology: Series B,
55B, 171 – 179.
Haugaard, J.J. (1996). Sexual behaviors between children: Professionals’ opinions and
undergraduates’ recollections. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary
Human Services, 77, 81-89.
Hofferth, S. L. (1990). Trends in adolescent sexual activity, contraception, and pregnancy in
the United States. In J. Bancroft & J. Reinisch (Eds.), Adolescence and puberty (pp. 217-
233). New York: Oxford University Press.
Janssen, D. F. (2007). First stirrings: Cultural notes on orgasm, ejaculation, and wet dreams.
Journal of Sex Research, 44(2), 122 – 134. Retrieved September 13, 2008 from EBSCO
online database SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?dir
Johnson, C.A., Stanley, S.M., Glenn, N.D., Amato, P.A., Nock, S.L., & Markman, H.J.
(2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and divorce
(S02096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Lamb, S., & Coakley, M. (1993). “Normal” childhood sexual play and games: Differentiating
play from abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 17, 515-526.
Lamberts, S. W. J., Van den Beld, A., & Van der Lely, A.J. (1997). The endocrinology of
aging. Science, 278, 419 - 424. Retrieved September 13, 2008 from EBSCO online
database Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=t
Larsson, I., & Svedin, C.G. (2002). Sexual experiences in childhood: Young adults’
recollections. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31, 263-273.
Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization
of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: The University of Chicago

36 Sociology Reference Guide

Lee, J. (1989). Invisible men. Canadian Journal on Aging, 8, 79 – 97.
Martinson, F. M. (1994). The sexual life of children. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.
Masters, W. H., Johnson, V. E., & Kolodny, R. C. (1982). Human sexuality. Boston: Little,
Morales, A., Heaton, J. P. W., & Carson, C. C. (2000). Andropause: A misnomer for a true
clinical entity. Journal of Urology, 163, 705-712.
Murry, J. & Adam, B. D. (2001). Aging, sexuality, and HIV issues among older gay men.
Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 10(3/4), 75 – 91. Retrieved September 13, 2008
from EBSCO online database Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/
Okami, P., Olmstead, R., & Abramson, R. (1997). Sexual experiences in early childhood:
18-year longitudinal data from the UCLA Family Lifestyles Project. The Journal of
Sex Research, 34, 339-347. Retrieved September 13, 2008 from EBSCO online database
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experiences: Two studies 50 years apart. In J. Bancroft (Ed.), Sexual Development in
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Rosario, M., Meyer-Bahlburg, H., Hunter, J., Exner, T., Gwadz, M., & Keller. A. (1996). The
psychosexual development of urban lesbian, gay and bisexual youths. The Journal of
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Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a
Smith, T. W. (1994). The demography of sexual behavior. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family
Tanner, J. M. (1967). Puberty. In A. McLaren (Ed.), Advances in reproductive physiology
(Vol. II). New York: Academic Press.
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University Press.
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Adolescent sexual behavior, drug use, and violence: Increased reporting with computer
survey technology. Science, 280, 867 – 868. Retrieved September 13, 2008 from EBSCO
online database Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?di
Udry, J. R.. (1988). Biological predispositions and social control in adolescent sexual
behavior. American Sociological Review, 53, 709-722. Retrieved September 13, 2008
from EBSCO online database Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1999). Statistical abstract of the United States, 1999. Washington,
DC: Author. http://www.census.gov/prod/99pubs/99statab/sec02.pdf

Exploring Human Sexuality 37

U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2000), Statistical abstract of the United States, 2000. Washington,
DC: Author. http://www.census.gov/main/www/cen2000.html
Vacha, K. (1985). Quite fire. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press.
Ventura, S. J., Mosher, W. D., Curtin, S. A, Abma, J. C, & Henshaw, S. (2001). Trends in
pregnancy rates for the United States, 1976-1997. National Vital Statistics Reports,
Wiederman, M.W., & Allgeier, E.R. (1996). Expectations and attributions regarding
extramarital sex among young married individuals. Journal of Psychology and Human
Sexuality, 8, 21–35.
Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2007). Available at http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/

Suggested Reading
Chodorow, N. (1999). The power of feelings. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Friedman, R. C. (1988). Male homosexuality: A contemporary psychoanalytic perspective.
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Gay, P. (1988). Freud: A life for our time. New York: W. W. Norton.
Martinson, F. M. (1994). The sexual life of the child. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.
Schur, M. (1972). Freud living and dying. New York: International Universities Press.
Thatcher, A. (1999). Marriage after modernity: Christian marriage in postmodern times.
Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

38 Sociology Reference Guide

Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Sexual Orientation
Noelle Vance


Sexual orientation is defined as one’s preferences towards men, women,

or both in sexual relations. Although history is replete with literary and
religious references to same sex relations as well as to relations between
members of the opposite sex, the world’s peoples, cultures, and societies
have not always accepted these different relations, or the sexual orienta-
tions of the people who engage in them, as equal (Asia-Europe Founda-
tion, n.d.; Herek, 1997-2008). Indeed same sex relations have often been
condemned, and those who claim a preference for these relations have
been subjected to harsh punishment and discrimination. While attitudes
around the world have become more accepting in recent years, the treat-
ment of individuals with sexual orientations towards members of their
own sex remains controversial and emotionally charged.

Defining Sexual Orientations

Defining one’s sexual orientation is not as simple as it would seem. While

there are common categories used to describe sexual orientation: hetero-
sexual (prefers opposite sex), homosexual (prefers same-sex), bisexual
(enjoys both), for researchers, it is more difficult to define who fits into
each category. This is because an individual’s desires and attractions may
not always match behavior. Take the following cases as examples:

Exploring Human Sexuality 39

• Interviews have indicated that some men who consider
themselves to be heterosexual have only had sexual re-
lations with men (male prostitutes) (Stokes, Miller &
Mundhenk, 1998).
• Some men and women who are attracted to members of
the same sex marry a member of the opposite sex in order
to fulfill cultural demands or to avoid stigmatization.
Sometimes, they have same sex relations on the side.
• In some cultures, young boys have same sex relations, but
as adults they reject these relations to enter into hetero-
sexual marriages (Cardoso, 2008).

How should individuals in these cases be defined? Should a self-definition

as heterosexual be considered accurate when a man says he prefers women
but only has sex with men? If one has sex with both men and women, but
prefers one over the other, what classification should be given? And what
about socially accepted experimentation in adolescence with members of
the same sex? Does sexual orientation change over time? These are some
of the confusing issues that can arise when defining sexual orientation for
the purposes of research and which may also cause confusion when indi-
viduals are struggling to define their sexual orientation or identity (Stokes,
Miller & Mundhenk, 1998).

Choice vs. Innate Quality

The question of whether people have same sex relations as a result of a bio-
logically determined and innate sexual orientation or as a choice made due
to environmental factors which prohibit heterosexual relations or encour-
age opportunistic behavior is one of the core issues underlying controver-
sies over same sex relations. Because self-definitions do not always match
behavior, and because behavior may be influenced by cultural attitudes
towards same sex relations, answering this question is not easy. Through-
out history, theologians, medical professionals, and legal scholars have
provided guidance on why people engage in same sex relations and/or on
how cultures should respond to individuals who engage in them. Despite
this guidance, and perhaps because of it, today, there is no worldwide con-
sensus on the roots of homosexual and bisexual behavior and even less
agreement on how individuals who engage in such behavior should be

40 Sociology Reference Guide

Cross-Cultural Research

One reason that many people around the world may view same sex relations
as a product of choice is that in many cultures, same sex behavior appears
to be connected to a lack of available women. In cultures where women are
secluded, young men may first experiment with sex through prostitutes
or same sex relations. The reasoning, perhaps, to explain this behavior is
that men need to learn about sex in order to function as husbands; once
married, this would no longer be necessary and the behavior would be
deemed inappropriate. Evidence for this perspective comes from many
studies, and was reported in a round-up by Cardoso (2008) that is partially
summarized here and which illustrates the many reasons that cultures use
to justify same sex behavior.

Melanesia – Serves to develop masculinity

Azande – Compensates for the lack of women

Brazil – Increases sexual options for poor fishermen

India – Allows for the discharge of body tension among truck

and taxi drivers

Morocco – Comprises a stage of sexual development among

boys 9-17

While the relative unavailability of women seems to account for some in-
stances of same sex relations among men, throughout all cultures there
are women and men who choose homosexual relationships even when
heterosexual ones are available. This fact has forced cultures around the
world to grapple with what their attitudes should be towards homosexual-
ity in general. Many religions have condemned same sex relations as being
sinful and against the Will of God (Asia-Europe Foundation, n.d.; Exodus
International, 2005; Myers & Scanzoni, 2005). The natural order of the
world, these religions contend, is for man to mate with – and in many tra-
ditions to be superior to – woman. In the natural order of sexual relations,
the masculine man is active and aggressive while the feminine woman is

Exploring Human Sexuality 41

passive and receptive. Same sex relations put a man in the passive position
and a woman in the active position, which is perceived as unacceptable ac-
cording to these religious norms (Stokes, Miller & Mundhenk, 1998).

In some cultures, the violation of traditional gender roles is enough to

condemn anyone who considers themselves homosexual. Toro-Alfonso
(2007) writes that for Latinos, the “machismo” ideology, which grants
males superiority in the culture is widely accepted. At the same time, the
myth is held that gay men want to be women and lesbians want to be
men. Thus, gay men are viewed as rejecting the natural superiority of their
penis. This makes them “more ‘despicable’ than being a woman because
the homosexual has the elements of supremacy and seems not to care or be
interested” (p. IX).

In other cultures, a distinction is made between the active and passive

actors in same sex relations, and those who are passive may be consid-
ered differently than those who are active (Cardoso, 2008; Stokes, Miller
& Mundhenk, 1998). For instance, in some cultures, only the passive actor
is considered homosexual. Thus, in Brazil, Turkey and Thailand, social
categories exist for poor, working class boys who have sex with homo-
sexuals; they do not fall into the homosexual category. Attitudes toward
the passive actor are generally more negative in cultures that make such a
distinction. This is because the passive actor is more like a woman, which
is a greater violation of traditional gender roles (Cardoso, 2008). While con-
temporary western sociologists have separated sex from gender with sex
being a biologically determined characteristic and gender being socially
constructed — meaning that for a man to display “feminine” characteris-
tics is not necessarily unusual — this separation is not always recognized
outside of academia or in non-Western cultures (Jandt & Hundley, 2007).
Thus, gay men who demonstrate effeminate behaviors may be perceived
as passive and as accepting the lower female status. While they may be
socially tolerated, they are likely to be viewed more negatively than a mas-
culine gay man whose blends into the heterosexual crowd (Cardoso, 2008).

The distinction between active and passive homosexuals is a widespread

phenomenon. Other countries which have created a social role for “het-
erosexual men” who like to have sex with homosexuals include Mexico,
the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Iran, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua,
Syria and Morocco (Cardoso 2008).

42 Sociology Reference Guide

Religious Perspectives

Perhaps the most influential force in the development of cultural attitudes

towards sexual orientation is religion. Religion is the compass by which
many people judge whether actions are right or wrong, and many of the
world’s major religions hold firm positions on whether homosexuality is
moral. Indeed, world opinion is sharply divided along religious lines in
regard to homosexuality. A 2007 Pew Global Attitudes survey found that
majorities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East said that faith in God is a
necessary element of morality and good values. Similar majorities in these
countries rejected homosexuality. In Western Europe, on the other hand,
where large majorities said that morality is possible without faith, similar
majorities said homosexuality should be accepted. In the Americas, indi-
viduals indicated mixed views, marked by a significant age gap. Younger
respondents were more likely than older respondents to say that morality
did not require God and to accept homosexuality (The Pew Research
Center, 2007).

Religious doctrines reflect a diversity of opinion on homosexuality with di-

visions occurring among denominations of one religion as well as between
major religions. The following provides a brief overview of the most perti-
nent positions of some of the world’s religions.


Buddhism does not have a position on homosexuality, but individuals

have interpreted texts relating to sexuality and relationships in order to un-
derstand how a Buddhist might perceive sexual orientation. The Buddhist
precept relating to sexuality is the panca sila or moral code. This code
says, “I will take the rule of training not to go the wrong way for sexual
pleasure.” The code allows the individual to define wrong way. Other
Buddhist principles related to relationships indicate that if two adults are
consenting, adultery is not involved, and the sexual act is made out of love,
respect, loyalty and warmth, then no precepts are broken. While same sex
relationships are not condemned by Buddhism, the Buddha did advise
against acts that would be against societal norms or that would raise legal
sanctions because of the anxiety and embarrassment that such acts create
(Asia-Europe Foundation, n.d.; Gay and Lesbian Counseling Service of
New South Wales, n.d.).

Exploring Human Sexuality 43


Multiple positions on homosexuality exist within the various denomina-

tions of the Christian faith. Evangelical Christians condemn homosexual-
ity for being a sin that goes against the Will of God, and many Evangelicals
believe that homosexuality can be reversed through reorientation or re-
parative therapy. Protestant Christians tend to reject this view, believing
that homosexuality is an innate, physiological characteristic that cannot
be changed (Myers & Scanzoni, 2005). Many Protestant Christians have
argued that since God created many sexual orientations, homosexuals
should be accepted into the church. Some churches, such as the United
Church of Christ and the New York Diocese of the United States Episcopal
Church, ordain active gays and lesbian members (Gay and Lesbian Coun-
seling Service of New South Wales, n.d.).


Hinduism does not provide clear guidance on homosexuality. Some inter-

preters have read the Dharma Shastras, which give three functions of sexu-
ality, as supporting homosexual relations that are based on love. Others
have said the text, which says procreation is one function of marriage, in-
dicates that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry. The Manusmriti
is a text that does not accept homosexuality, indicating the punishment
that might follow from same sex relations. On the other hand, Vatsyana,
a Kama Sutra writer, says that homosexuality is accepted and allowed by
the teachings.


Islam is a religion that condemns homosexuality based on interpretations

of the Quran. Islamic Law (Shari ‘ah) provides guidelines for how same
sex behavior is treated. Under this law, four separate legal schools provide
slightly different guidelines for punishment, reformation, and standards
of proof needed to convict someone of homosexuality. The Hanafite says
that no physical punishment is necessary. The Hanbalite requires severe
punishment while the Sha’fi requires a minimum of four adult males as
witness before a conviction is possible.


Orthodox Jews are strongly against homosexuality, which they say is for-
bidden by the Torah. Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform Jews

44 Sociology Reference Guide

have taken more moderate positions, providing support for various gay
and lesbian rights.


This Chinese religion is based on the beliefs that there is a natural balance
in the universe represented by the opposites of yin-yang. Two positions
are based on a Taoist viewpoint. One is that a yang-yang (male-male) or
yin-yin (female-female) relationship would be out of balance. On the other
hand, because all males have some yin and all females some yang, feminine
behavior in males or vice versa could be considered a natural phenomenon
and thus, homosexuality could be viewed as normal (Asia-Europe Founda-
tion, n.d.; Gay and Lesbian Counseling Service of New South Wales, n.d.)..

Medical Perspectives

In Western cultures, the medical and mental health communities have

become strong proponents of the view that sexual orientation is an innate,
biological characteristic that cannot be changed. This view is a change from
the medical community’s earlier position, held from the late 1800s until the
1970s, that homosexuality was a disorder requiring treatment. Following
years of research and treatments that failed to change desires or behaviors,
the medical community removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973. Since then, the American
Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, National As-
sociation of Social Workers, and the American Psychiatric Association have
said that attempting to change one’s sexual orientation through therapy
can cause harm (Herek, 1997-2008; Myers & Scanzoni, 2005).

Homophobia & Legal Rights

Negative attitudes towards same sex behavior may manifest themselves as

homophobia. Homophobia is, technically, the fear of homosexuality and
often leads individuals to reject or socially exclude those who claim gay,
lesbian or bisexual identity (Toro-Alfonso, 2007). Homophobic behaviors
and attitudes can result in gay-bashing, making jokes that put down homo-
sexuals; discrimination, such as unfair treatment toward homosexuals in
the workplace, school or other societal institutions; and hate crimes, violent

Exploring Human Sexuality 45

and/or other criminal actions committed against homosexuals because of
their sexual orientation. Many homophobic attitudes have been inscribed
into law in the form of laws that make same-sex relations illegal or that
deny rights such as marriage or adoption to same-sex couples.

Homophobia may result in an environment of secrecy and lies. Homosex-

ual and bisexual individuals may hide their identity to avoid negative re-
percussions. Their friends and family members may deny that their loved
ones are different, or may accept it as long as it isn’t mentioned. The fear
of negative reactions to their identity can produce negative mental health
effects (Tereskinas, 2007). It can also make it more difficult for those strug-
gling to understand their sexual orientation to accept a homosexual or
bisexual identity (Stokes, Miller & Mundhenk, 1998).

In the past several decades, encouraged by medical views that sexual ori-
entation is innate and normal, and inspired by other Civil Rights move-
ments, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered (those with the
strong desire to identify as a member of the opposite sex), have become po-
litically organized. In the United States, the gay rights movement has been
successful in achieving the decriminalization of sodomy and recognition
of civil unions and gay marriage in some states (Infoplease, 2000-2008).
Around the world, organizations have formed to advocate for homosexual
rights including the right to be free from discrimination, the right to civil
unions and marriage and the right to adopt (Halsall, 2007; IRIN, 2005).

These movements have brought sexual orientation into public view and are
spurring changes in cultural attitudes and behaviors. For instance, in the
European Union (EU), wide-ranging anti-discrimination laws have been
passed that include sexual orientation as a protected category. Although
sexual orientation is still perceived to be the second most widespread
reason for discrimination in the EU (after ethnicity), a majority of Euro-
peans indicate that they are personally comfortable in the presence of ho-
mosexuals. In a survey conducted in February and March 2008, a majority
of Europeans said they would be comfortable having a homosexual as a
neighbor or in the highest political office of their country. Younger (under
55 years of age), more educated, and urban respondents were more likely
to have homosexual friends, and having homosexual friends correlated
with feeling more comfortable with homosexuals (European Commission,

46 Sociology Reference Guide

2008). This last finding indicates that as more homosexual and bisexual in-
dividuals become comfortable revealing their identities, the world society
is likely to experience a reduction in homophobia.

Asia-Europe Foundation. (n.d.). Coming out in dialogue: Policies and perceptions of sexual
minority groups in Asia and Europe. Retrieved August 31, 2008, from http://www.
Cardoso, F. (2008). Some considerations on the limitations confronting the cross-cultural
field of sex research. Sexuality & Culture, 12(1), 21-37. Retrieved September 1, 2008,
from EBSCO online database, SocINDEX with Full Text http://search.ebscohost.com/
European Commission. (2008). Discrimination in the European Union: Perceptions,
experiences, and attitudes. Special Eurobarometer 296/wave 69.1-TNS Opinion &
Social. Retrieved August 31, 2008, from the European Commission http://ec.europa.
Exodus International. (2005). Policy Statement. Retrieved September 1, 2008, from http://
Gay and Lesbian Counseling Service of New South Wales. (n.d.). Religions and their
attitudes to homosexuality. Information Packet Document #11. Retrieved August 31,
2008, from http://www.glcsnsw.org.au/documents/Infopack/11_religions.pdf
Halsall, P. (2007). People with a history: An online guide to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and tran
history. Retrieved September 1, 2008, from http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/pwh/
Herek, G.M. (1997-2008). Facts about homosexuality and mental health. Retrieved August
31, 2008, from University of California Davis http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/
IRIN. (2005, January 11). Kyrgyzstan: Focus on gay and lesbian rights. Retrieved September
1, 2008, from IRIN/UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs http://
Jandt, F., & Hundley, H. (2007). Intercultural dimensions of communicating masculinities.
The Journal of Men’s Studies, 15(2), 216-231. Retrieved August 31, 2008, from EBSCO
online database, SocINDEX with Full Text http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?dir
Myers, D.G., & Scanzoni, L.D. (2005). Changing sexual orientation? A look at the data.
Perspectives, a Journal of Reformed Thought. Retrieved August 31, 2008, from http://
Stokes, J.P., Miller, R.L., & Mundhenk, R. (1998). Toward an understanding of behaviorally
bisexual men: The influence of context and culture. The Canadian Journal of Human
Sexuality, 7(2), 101-113. Retrieved August 31, 2008, from EBSCO online database,

Exploring Human Sexuality 47

SocINDEX with Full Text http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=si
Tereskinas, A. (2007). Lithuania gays and lesbians’ coming out in the public/private
divide: Sexual citizenship, secrecy and heteronormative public. Sociologica Mintis ir
veikmas, 1(19), 74-87.
The American gay rights movement: A timeline. (2000-2008). Retrieved September 1, 2008,
from Infoplease. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0761909.html
The Pew Research Center. (2007). World public welcomes global trade – but not
immigration: 47-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey. Retrieved August 31, 2008, from
Toro-Alfonso, J. (2007). Latino perspectives on sexual orientation: The desire that we do
not dare name. Communiqué Special Section: Psychological Perspectives on Sexual
Orientation in Communities of Color. Retrieved August 31, 2008, from http://www.

Suggested Reading
Badgett, M.V., & Frank, J. (Eds.). Sexual orientation discrimination: An international
perspective. London; New York: Routledge.
Halsall, P. (2007). People with a history: An online guide to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and tran
history. Retrieved September 1, 2008, from http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/pwh/
Omoto, A.M., & Kurtzman, H.S. (Eds.). (2006). Sexual orientation and mental health:
Examining identity and development in lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Washington
DC: American Psychological Association.

48 Sociology Reference Guide

Contemporary Theories of Sexual Orientation
Karen M. Harbeck


The nature versus nurture debate is a central theme in any review of contem-
porary theories of sexual orientation. It centers on the question of whether
a person is born heterosexual or homosexual, or if people develop their
sexual orientation through childhood interactions with family members
and playmates. In part, the answer to this question depends upon how one
approaches the issue. Experts in genetics, neurology, and related biologi-
cal sciences tend to develop perspectives based upon more innate physical
qualities that impact human behavior, while social scientists and psycholo-
gists tend to focus on human interactions as a basis of social development.
Likewise, some individual scholars view one factor as causal in the devel-
opment of sexual orientation, while others seek a more integrated theoreti-
cal analysis that considers several factors.

Thus, although the balance of this article looks at the various factors in-
dividually, it is important to consider how complex and interconnected
biology and psychology can be. It is also important to consider how most
scholars believe that one’s sexual orientation is not a fixed or absolute
concept. Rather, they believe that one’s sexual orientation can differ over
time and according to one’s life experiences. Many people, for example,
have had both homosexual and heterosexual experiences during their
lifetime. And though a person may identify himself or herself as homo-

Exploring Human Sexuality 49

sexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, even this self-definition may differ from
that of an outside observer. In thinking about sexual orientation, therefore,
it is important to keep one’s mind open to the complexities of the human

One important way to deepen our understanding of sexual orientation is

to first expand our knowledge of gender orientation. Traditionally, people
in Western cultures have believed that there are two genders: male and
female. However, Harbeck (2007) and others have argued that “male” and
“female” represent two extreme points on a continuum of gender identity.
Their work suggests that this continuum can be described in an integrated
theory that takes into account a variety of causal factors like:

• Genetic and other biological predispositions;

• Biological and environmental modifications (hormones,
surgery, pollution);
• Developmental experiences (family, peers, social institu-
• Psychological dispositions/trait factors (temperament,
identity, lifespan);
• Social and cultural structures and process (masculinity,
femininity, gender, and other learned behaviors); and
• Contextual factors (availability, acceptability).

Blackless, Charuvastra, Derryck, Fausto-Sterling, Lauzanne, and Lee

(2002), for example, suggested that in one out of every 1,500 to 2,000 births
in this country, the baby’s gender is not clear because its external genitalia
do not exactly conform to typical male or female genitalia. In these cases,
a specialist in sex differentiation is to be consulted in order to begin the
process of defining the baby’s gender. Similar anomalies can be found in
internal sex organs, genetic markers, and other neurological and biological
materials. Scholars have referred to these conditions as “intersex” or “dis-
orders of sex development,” but those eager to abolish the negative con-
notations of these labels use the phrase “variations of sex development.”

While we know that a significant number of individuals have physiologi-

cal gender variations, little is known about the number of individuals who

50 Sociology Reference Guide

have psychological gender variations or identify with a gender variation.
Additionally, we now know that environmental pollution plays a role in
gonad function as well as in the sex development of various species such
as green mussels, frogs, sea bass, roaches, rodents, and swallows (Nagara-
jappa, 2006; Thomas, 1982; Sitzlar, 2008). Thus, some scholars have begun
arguing that gender may be more diverse than previously thought, and
may even be becoming more diverse.

Thus, bridging the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation

is the topic of intersexuality or transgender identities. Transgender is
an umbrella term that encompasses both transvestites and transsexuals.
Transvestites are individuals who wear the clothing normally ascribed to
the opposite gender in a given society, and adopt the stereotypical manner-
isms associated with that gender. For example, a male transvestite might
wear a dress, high heeled shoes, and makeup to adopt the persona of a
woman. Individuals may engage in this behavior for emotional satisfac-
tion, sexual arousal, or self-identification. Since their pleasure in wearing
clothes of the opposite gender is not necessary linked with sexual orienta-
tion, transvestites may be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

Transsexuals, or intersexuals, are individuals who identify with a physical

sex different from the one with which they were born and raised. These
individuals may have aspects of the male/female duality or they may
have been assigned the wrong gender at birth. Transsexuals may choose to
ignore these feelings, or they may choose to wear the clothing of and pass
as the opposite gender. They may or may not choose to undergo gender
reassignment through hormone therapy or surgery. Transsexuals and their
advocates are somewhat divided over this last point, as some question the
need for hormone therapy and surgery to change the gender of an indi-
vidual, arguing that this process enhances traditional, distorted views of
gender in our society rather than supports gender diversity. In terms of their
sexual orientation, transgendered individuals who are attracted to women
express gynephilia, while individuals attracted to men express androphilia.

Further Insights

Sexual orientation can be defined in many ways, but the most familiar
definitions are also the legal definitions: heterosexuality, homosexuality

Exploring Human Sexuality 51

and bisexuality. Heterosexuality is a sexual attraction to individuals of the
opposite gender, while homosexuality is an attraction to individuals of the
same gender. Bisexuality is an attraction to both men and women, although
some individuals choose to use the words “polysexual” or “pansexual”
to avoid bisexuality’s implicit assumption that only two genders exist.
Asexuality is a lack of sexual interest altogether. Estimates of the number
of individuals who are homosexual in our culture vary from between 3%
and 10% of the adult population, and a larger percentage is believed to be
bisexual (Frankowski, 2004; Reitman, 2006).

Kauth described sexual orientation as “a biologically based processing bias

continuously exploited or challenged by social and cultural conditions,”
taking into account both sides of the nature versus nurture debate on sexual
orientation (2000; LeVay, 2008). Rather than identifying any one factor as a
determinant of sexual orientation, such a definition takes in several factors:
anatomical brain studies, functional brain studies, genetics/chromosomal,
birth order, anatomical, cognitive, developmental, psychoanalytic theories,
behaviorism/socialization, sexual experiences, social constructionism, so-
ciocultural, and personal identity.

Anatomical Brain Studies

A number of studies on the anatomical aspects of sexual orientation have

focused on the brain. One of the more well-known studies was conducted
by LeVay, who argued that the hypothalamus, a part of the underside of
the brain which controls hormone production and release, is different in
gay and straight men (1991). However LeVay’s critics have pointed out
that since all of his research was conducted on the brains of individuals
who died of AIDS, the results of his study may be invalid. More recently,
Savic and Lindstrom suggested that when comparisons are made of left
and right brain hemispheres, differences can be seen between heterosexual
and homosexual individuals (2008). Similarly, Gorski reported that “the
anterior commissure, a bundle of fibers running across the midline of the
brain, is larger in women and gay men than heterosexual men” (1978;
Odent & Odent, 2006, ¶10).

LeVay has suggested that these differences in brain anatomy may be caused
by some prenatal factor (like hormone levels) that affects the fetus’ devel-
opment and, thus, the baby’s sexual orientation (2003, 2008). This theory is

52 Sociology Reference Guide

called the early fixation hypothesis. While studies have failed to find a link
between adult’s hormone levels and sexual orientation, Dorner and others
have argued that prenatal hormone levels may impact the sexual orienta-
tion of an individual in later life (1969). Although little empirical evidence
is offered, it is the case that certain medical conditions (like congenital
adrenal hyperplasia, in which high levels of testosterone-like hormones
masculinize external genitalia in female fetuses) and drugs can impact a
fetus’ physiological gender characteristics. However, so far no research has
proven that these conditions or drugs actually increase the person’s likeli-
hood of being homosexual (LeVay, 2003, 2008). In fact, research suggests
that the majority of women affected by congenital adrenal hyperplasia
identity as heterosexual, which would seem to disprove the theory that
female fetal exposure to male hormones can cause lesbianism (Peplau,
Spaulding, Conley, & Veniegas, 1999).

Functional Brain Studies

Preliminary studies of brain function have found minor differences between

heterosexual and homosexual individuals in terms of startle response,
sounds produced by the inner ear, sexual arousal and brain activity, neu-
rotransmitter function, and odor response (LeVay, 2003, 2008).


In his studies of male homosexuals in Mormon populations that main-

tained excellent geologies, Hamer reported that individuals with a certain
constellation of genetic material at the Xq28 gene loci on the X chromo-
some had a 70% likelihood of being gay (1993). If that composition was
not present, individuals had a 100% likelihood of not being gay. Note that
the gene loci was on the male’s X chromosome, meaning that this genetic
characteristic is carried in the mother’s DNA. However, similar studies
conducted on women failed to find any significance, and efforts to repli-
cate Hamer’s findings have been inconclusive (Hamer & Copeland, 1994;
Hamer & Hu, 1993; LeVay 2008). Another researcher, Mustanski, reported
finding evidence of linkage with sexual orientation at markers 8p12, 7q36,
and 10q26, with the latter two being affected by equal parts of maternal
and paternal genetic influences (LeVay, 2008).

In their review of the literature on genetic studies of twins, Bearman and

Bruckner concluded that, while genetics may play a part in sexual orienta-

Exploring Human Sexuality 53

tion, its role is dwarfed by those of other factors, and sexual orientation is
more likely socially constructed than biologically determined (2002). Other
studies of twins have found that while monozygotic twins are more likely to
have the same sexual orientation, this tendency does not prove that sexual
orientation is primarily biological (Peplau, et. al., 1999; LeVay, 2008). Studies
of siblings have found that lesbians do seem to report a greater number
of siblings who also are gay, but, again, this correlation does not prove
that genetics is the exclusive cause of homosexuality (Peplau, et. al., 1999).

Birth Order

Focusing on birth order as a causal factor, Blanchard and Klassen reported

that gay men are more likely to be among the youngest of their siblings and
to have more older brothers than heterosexual men (1997; LeVay, 2008).
They argued that because mothers develop male-specific antibodies during
each pregnancy with a male child and because the antigens involved in
brain masculinization gradually grow weaker with each pregnancy, subse-
quent male children are more likely homosexually oriented.


Several studies have concluded that lesbian women’s index fingers are
shorter than their ring finger, whereas most women’s ring and index
fingers are about the same length (LeVay, 2008). Another study found a
difference in fingerprint patterns between straight and gay men, but these
findings have not been replicated (LeVay, 2008).


Other researchers have focused on finding differences in how heterosexual

and homosexual individuals acquire knowledge through reasoning, intu-
ition and perception. LeVay provided a detailed review of their findings
in areas such as:

• Visuospatial tasks (straight men were slightly more able

than gay men),
• Object location memory (gay men did better than straight
men, and lesbian and straight women were equal),
• Verbal fluency (mixed results, but slight advantage to gay
men and lesbians),

54 Sociology Reference Guide

• Aggressiveness (gay men were less aggressive than straight
men, and lesbian and straight women were equal), and
• Handedness (homosexuals were more likely to be left-hand-
ed than their heterosexual counterparts) (LeVay, 2008).

However, these findings are not consistent overall.


Daryl Bem, a psychologist from Cornell University, has become known for
his argument that children’s biologically determined temperaments can
cause some to be attracted to activities that are associated with a gender
role other than the one that corresponds to their physical sex. Thus, a
temperamentally nurturing boy may prefer to play with dolls, or a tem-
peramentally aggressive girl may prefer to play football. Bem argued that
because of these temperamental and activity differences, these children
will grow up feeling different from their own gender groups and eventual-
ly eroticize these differences, leading to same-sex attraction. Bem’s theory
is based upon numerous studies which suggest that gay males, in partic-
ular, report not conforming to gender roles during childhood. However,
much of Bem’s theoretical framework is based upon an analysis of male
behavior, so it may not be applicable to female sexual orientation develop-
ment (Swidey, 2005).

One interesting related argument put forth by Bem is that sexual orienta-
tion need not be based upon gender (Bem, 1996). Attachment theories of
sexual orientation development hold that individuals feel sexual arousal
toward others and then develop attachment bonds that define their sexual
orientation (Zeifman & Hazan, 1997). In other words, a male would feel
sexual arousal toward women and then develop attachment bonds that
lead to heterosexuality. However, this theory would seem to be contrary
to the experience of many lesbian women, who report the opposite experi-
ence of forming a strong emotional attachment to another woman that then
develops into a sexual relationship (Peplau, et. al., 1999).

Psychoanalytic Theories

Inversion theory is based upon Freudian psychosexual developmental

analysis. Under this theory, boys are thought to become homosexual if

Exploring Human Sexuality 55

they have a close relationship with a dominant mother while their father
is distant or absent. Girls, on the other hand, become lesbian because they
have a strong, unconscious dislike of their mothers or because of penis
envy (LeVay, 2008). However, analyst Richard Isay has argued that a
same-gender parent’s negative behavior toward their pre-gay child may
be a response to the child’s atypical gender characteristics rather than the
cause of them (1996, 1989).

Though not many scholars uphold inversion theory today, it is still impor-
tant since it has guided biological studies of homosexuality with its assump-
tions that gay men are physically and emotionally effeminate and lesbians
physically and emotionally masculine. Much of the traditional literature
on sexual orientation builds upon this premise, seeking affirmation of the
view that atypical gender characteristics explain sexual orientation. Over
the decades, dozens of studies have compared the masculine and feminine
qualities of lesbians and heterosexual women, and a good number have
concluded that lesbians score higher on masculine traits such as straightfor-
wardness, sense of honor, direct speech, and voice inflexions (Peplua, 1999).
However, others have shown that when study participants are matched
upon socioeconomic factors, educational level, and feminist beliefs, the
differences between lesbians and heterosexual women are nonexistent.


Behaviorist and socialization theories suggest that gender and sexual ori-
entation are learned behaviors which are consciously and unconscious-
ly inculcated by parents, peers, and society at large. However, critics of
these theories argue that while gender identity and roles, sexual orienta-
tion, sexual attitudes and beliefs, and sexual knowledge are influenced by
cultural attitudes and values, alone they cannot account for homosexuality,
since most homosexual individuals are raised by heterosexual role models.
Similarly, studies have shown that homosexual parents are no more likely
to socialize their child to be homosexual than are heterosexual parents.

Sexual Experiences

Some individuals argue that early sexual experiences can influence one’s
sexual orientation. A young woman, who has been raped, for example,
may be averse to sex with men and become lesbian. Similarly, a young boy

56 Sociology Reference Guide

who sexually experiments with other boys may come to define himself as
homosexual. However, critics charge that this explanation fails to describe
most people’s sexual experimentation and development. Most scholars
believe that this theory is not credible.

Social Constructionism

Others follow Foucault in claiming that gender, gender roles, and sexual
orientation are labels, which society imposes upon the individual and
which the individual internalizes (1978). As such, sexual orientation labels
do not arise from within the individual, but are adopted by him or her
(LeVay, 2008).


In her cross-cultural review of women’s sexuality, Blackwood suggest-

ed that cultures vary significantly in the extent to which they regulate
women’s lives, sexuality, and reproduction (1986). For instance, marriage,
whether arranged or freely chosen, is often the expected outcome for
women in most cultures. Some cultures, however, are accepting of sexual
relationships between women who are married to men, as long as they are
inconspicuous and informal (Peplua, 1999). Khan, for example, reported
that in modern Pakistan, if a woman refuses to marry she is a “pariah,”
but if she marries and engages in sexual relationships with women, these
relationships are overlooked as long as she fulfills her marital and familial
obligations (1997).

Personal Identity

Despite whatever role the developmental or physiological processes play

in sexual orientation, more and more scholars are emphasizing that it is
the individual’s self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and identity that ulti-
mately defines his or her sexual orientation. Their research has led them
to observe that some individuals may identify with different sexual ori-
entations at various times in their lives, while others may adhere to a het-
erosexual identity, though they may have had numerous homosexual en-
counters. For instance, in his study of the “tearoom trade” (sex between
men in public restrooms) Humphrey’s found that a majority of his study’s
participants were married and did not define themselves as homosexual
(Humphreys, 1970). Some would argue that such men are closeted gay

Exploring Human Sexuality 57

men, but an increasing number of scholars would accept the study par-
ticipants’ heterosexual self-definition by separating personal identity from
sexual behavior.


Can sexual orientation be changed? Although several “therapeutic” tech-

niques have been applied to alter sexual orientation, there is no evidence
that this reparative or conversion therapy works. In fact, the American Psy-
chiatric Association suggests that reparative therapy has numerous risks,
including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior. Aversion
therapy, for example, may teach one to curb homosexual behaviors, but
behavior is only one aspect of an individual’s sexual orientation. Those
who undergo this sort of therapy may continue to have same-gender
feelings of attraction and arousal. These types of therapies generally stem
from the belief that homosexuality is a disorder. While this belief remains
intact in some socially conservative segments of society, there is a growing
professional and public awareness that sexual orientation and gender ori-
entation are multifaceted and complex expressions of human life.

Bearman, P.S., & Brückner, H. (2002). Opposite-sex twins and adolescent same-sex
attraction. American Journal of Sociology, 107(5), 1179-1205. Retrieved August 30, 2008
from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/
Bem, D. (1996). Exotic becomes erotic: A developmental theory of sexual orientation.
Psychological Review, 103(3), 320-335.
Blackless, M., Charuvastra, A., Derryck, A., Fausto-Sterling, A., Lauzanne, K., & Lee, E.
(2000). How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. American Journal of
Human Biology, 12, 151-166.
Dorner, G., & Staudt, J. (1969). Perinatal structural sex differentiation of the hypothalamus
in rats. Neuroendocrinology, 4, 278-281.
Frankowski, B., Kaplan, D., Diaz, A., Fisher, M., Klein, J. D., Yancy, W. S., et. al. (2004).
Sexual orientation and adolescents. Pediatrics, 113(6), 1827-1832. Retrieved August
30, 2008 from EBSCO online database Academic Search Complete: http://search.
Gorski, R., Gordon, J., Shryne, J., & Santham, A. (1978). Evidence for a morphological
difference within the medial preoptic area of the rat brain. Brain Research, 148, 333-346.
Hamer, D., & Copeland, P. (1994). The science of desire: The search for the gay gene and
the biology of behavior. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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Hamer, D., Hu, S., Magnuson, V., & Pattatucci, A. (1993). A linkage between DNA markers
on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation. Science, 261 (5119): 321-327.
Harbeck, K. M. (2007). Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth in American schools
and colleges. Malden, MA: Amethyst Press.
Humphreys, L. (1970). Tearoom trade: Impersonal sex in public places. Chicago: Aldine-
Isay, R. (1989). Being homosexual: Gay men and their development. New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux.
Isay, R. (1996). Becoming gay: The journey to self-acceptance. New York: Pantheon.
Kauth, M. (2000). True nature: A theory of sexual attraction. The Netherlands: Springer.
Khan, B. (1997). Not-so-gay life in Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s. In S. Murray & W.
Roscoe (Eds.), Islamic homosexualities (275-296). New York: New York University
LeVay, S. (1991). A difference in hypothalamic structure between heterosexual and
homosexual men. Science, 253(5023), 1034-1037.
Nagarajappa, Ganguly, A., & Goswami, U. (2006). DNA damage in male gonads of Green
mussel (Perna vividis) upon exposure to tobacco products. Ecotoxicology, 15(4), 365-
Odent, M., Odent, P. (2006). Genesis of sexual orientation. WombEcology. Retrieved
August 30, 2008 from: http://www.wombecology.com/orientation.html
Peplau, L., Spalding. L., Conley, T., & Veniegas, R. (1999). The development of sexual
orientation in women. Annual Review of Sex Research, 10, 70-100. Retrieved on August
30, 2008 EBSCO online database Academic Search Complete: http://search.ebscohost.
Reitman, D. (2006). Sexuality: Sexual orientation. Retrieved August 30, 2008 from: http://
Savic, I., & Lindström, P. (2008). PET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry
and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects. Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences, 105(27), 9403-9408.
Sitzlar, M., Mora, M., Fleming, J., Bazer, F., Bickham, J., & Matson, C. (2008, August).
Potential effects of environmental contaminants on P450 aromatase activity and DNA
damage in swallows from the Rio Grande and Somerville, Texas. Ecotoxicology.
Swidey, N. (2005, August 14). What makes people gay? The Boston Globe. Retrieved August
30, 2008 from: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/magazine/articles/2005/08/14/
Thomas, J., Curto, K., & Thomas, M. (1982). MEHP/DEHP: Gonadal toxicity and effects on
rodent accessory sex organs. Environmental Health Perspectives, 45, 85 – 88.
Zeifman, D., & Hazan, C. (1997). Attachment: The bond in pair-bonds. In J. A. Simpson &
D. T. Kenricks (Eds.), Evolutionary social psychology (237-263). Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum.

Exploring Human Sexuality 59

Suggested Reading
Balen, A., Creighton, S., Davies, M., MacDougall, J., & Stanhope, R. (Eds.). (2004).
Paediatric and adolescent gynaecology: A multidisciplinary approach. Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press.
Diamant, L. & McAnulty, R.D. (Eds.). (1995). The psychology of sexual orientation,
behavior, and identity: A handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Dreger, A. D. (1998). Ambiguous sex – or ambivalent medicine? Ethical issues in the
treatment of intersexuality. Hastings Center Report, 28(3), 24-35. Retrieved August 30,
2008 from EBSCO online database Gender Studies Database: http://search.ebscohost.
Dreger, A. D. (1998). Hermaphrodites and the medical invention of sex. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Harbeck, K. M. (Ed.). (1991). Coming out of the classroom closet: Gay and lesbian
students, teachers, and curricula. New York: Haworth.
Harbeck, K. M. (1997). Gay and lesbian educators: Personal freedoms/Public constraints.
Malden, MA: Amethyst Press.
Intersex Society of North America. (2006). Clinical guidelines for the management of
disorders of sex development in childhood. Rohnert Park, CA: Intersex Society of
North America.
LeVay, S. (1993). The sexual brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
LeVay, S. (1996). Queer science: The use and abuse of research into homosexuality.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Money, J. (1988). Gay, straight, and in-between: The sexology of sexual orientation. New
York: Oxford UP.

60 Sociology Reference Guide

The Gay Rights Movement
Carolyn Sprague


“Today, American society is witnessing a social movement for another

cause: gay rights. Those in favor of this movement refer to it as a revo-
lution, as the next great step to genuine equality. Those opposed to the
movement refer to it as the homosexual agenda or the decline of American
morality” (Hudson, 2005).

The social movement led by and on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and
transgender (GLBT) people is both dynamic and active. This essay will
discuss several current issues that are currently debated within and
between the gay rights movement and its opponents, including the impact
of AIDS on the gay community, same-sex marriage, and equal access to
protection as employees in the workforce. The growth of the gay rights
movement will be discussed, hereafter, along with some of the significant
milestones that precipitated the rise of the movement.

The Rise of Gay Culture

Late in the nineteenth century, urban centers in the US began to grow

as rural populations migrated to cities for work opportunities. Gays and
lesbians were among the many who left their family networks and farm
lives for the rapidly expanding cities. Within these cities, gay men and
women found that, for the first time, they could remain anonymous while

Exploring Human Sexuality 61

forming social networks with other gays. As early as the 1920s and 1930s,
an urban gay subculture began to emerge, though it remained largely
hidden because of social hostility and shame.

World War II initiated a cultural shift for many gays and lesbians. A large
number left their families to serve in the sex-segregated military, or to join
the ranks of workers flooding the cities in search of wartime employment.
Though homosexuality was not condoned in the military and some ho-
mosexuals were dishonorably discharged, many gays and lesbians who
served in the military went undetected or were simply ignored. As a result,
they were able to make life-long friendships (Bullough, 2002).

After the war, many of these gay former servicemen and women – who had,
for the first time, met other gays through the service – decided to remain
in metro areas like San Francisco and New York. Cities were welcoming to
the rising gay culture and lifestyle, and social networks expanded along
with a widening gay subculture that was quite active throughout the 1940s
(“Milestones in the Gay Rights Movement,” 1991).

Though gay subculture thrived in many large cities, gays and lesbians still
faced discrimination and prejudice. As Bullogh (2002) explained, “they were
victims of what others said about them,” and what was said only served
to perpetuate stereotypes and fear. Homosexuality was denounced by:

• The medical profession as pathological,

• Religious groups as immoral and sinful,
• The courts and law as criminal, and
• Mainstream society as perverse (Bullough, 2002).

During the 1950s, gays were routinely fired from government jobs, and
many were forced to leave the military. In 1953, President Dwight D Eisen-
hower issued an executive order banning gay men and lesbians from all
federal jobs. State and local governments and some private corporations
followed suit, and the FBI began surveillance of known and suspected ho-
mosexuals. Federal policy in turn influenced local law enforcement and
police began regularly raiding gay bars and arresting their patrons. Entrap-
ment was common. Those arrested simply hoped that they would be fined
and that their arrests would escape public notice (Bullough, 2002). Eventu-

62 Sociology Reference Guide

ally, fed up with the harassment and growing intolerance, some gays and
lesbians began to organize politically. At first the groups were small in
size and political influence, but growing numbers of gays began to take
a stand for their rights (“Milestones in the Gay Rights Movement,” 1991).

One of the first gay organizations was the Mettachine Society, which was
founded in Los Angeles in 1948 by Henry Hay and Chuck Rowland. Ini-
tially secret, the group eventually went public, marking the start of “gay
activism” (Bullough, 2002). A parallel lesbian organization, the Daughters
of Billitis, was founded in San Francisco around the same time, and it later
merged with the Mettachine Society.

The formation of small, but public, gay political groups represented the
first steps of gays and lesbians to create a grass roots civil rights movement
of their own. By the 1960s, many gay men and lesbians were becoming
more willing to act out against the discrimination that they were experi-
encing. The social changes happening in 1960s, in particular the civil rights
movement, inspired them to begin demanding change through what was
initially called the homophile movement (“Milestones in the Gay Rights
Movement,” 1991). This movement gave gays and lesbians much more vis-
ibility as a social group.

The numbers of gay who were willing to openly protest discrimination

remained quite small through the 1960s: the numbers were probably
only in the thousands (“Milestones in the Gay Rights Movement,” 1991).
Though the civil rights and women’s movements had made major gains
with the Civil Rights Act and other anti-discrimination legislation, the gay
rights movement didn’t have the history of activism or the documented
discrimination that these other movements had (Bullough, 2002).

It wasn’t until 1969 that a watershed event in New York City sparked an
enormous grassroots movement.. During the 1960s, police raids on New
York City gay bars were the norm; in general they resulted in general ha-
rassment and the patrons’ arrests. However, when police staged a raid on
the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on the night of June 27, 1969, the
patrons fought back, sparking a riot that lasted for three nights. The Stone-
wall Riots came to represent the first real public backlash against police
harassment, and a movement was born as gays and lesbians began to chal-

Exploring Human Sexuality 63

lenge all forms of hostility toward them (“Milestones in the Gay Rights
Movement,” 1991). The movement coined the phrase “coming out of the
closet” to describe a person’s decision to be openly gay. Major legislation
was passed throughout the 1970s to decriminalize homosexual behavior,
curtail police harassment, and include sexual orientation as a protected
status within existing civil rights laws. Nearly two decades after the Stone-
wall Riots, a 1987 march in Washington drew 600,000 people (“Milestones
in the Gay Rights Movement,” 1991).

However, gays and lesbians found that, despite their new visibility and
legislative gains, they were not widely accepted within mainstream
society. Within a decade of Stonewall, an unlikely and seemingly benign
opponent would emerge. In 1977 Anita Bryant – a singer from Dade
County, Florida – initiated a successful effort to repeal a gay rights ordi-
nance in her county. Her activism, which was supported by conservative
Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell, inspired other religious and social con-
servatives to organize against the gay rights movement (“Milestones in the
Gay Rights Movement,” 1991). In the 1980s, a more organized coalition
of conservatives took up the issue of what they termed “the gay agenda.”
Today, many conservatives view LGBT activism as a threat to the moral
and cultural fabric of American society.

AIDS & Its Impact on Gay Men & the Gay Community

During the 1970s, many gay men strongly identified themselves with the
right to freely express their sexuality. Though a number admitted that their
sexual behavior might be risky, they also believed that sexual freedom was
their well-earned right. When the AIDS crisis developed during the 1980s, it
was frequently perceived as a major threat to this freedom (DeNoon, 2007).

The Emergence of AIDS

In 1981, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that five young gay
men in Los Angeles had a rare form of pneumonia. Soon after, 26 men in
New York City and San Francisco were diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma
(KS), a rare form of cancer. These diagnoses marked the beginning of the
AIDS epidemic. Early on, there was a striking correlation between the
disease and the victims’ sexual orientation. At first the disease was called

64 Sociology Reference Guide

gay-related immune deficiency (GRID), but it was quickly realized that
gays were not the only ones affected (Bateman, 2004).

At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, little reliable information was

available about how the virus (HIV) was actually transmitted. The dearth
of accurate information about HIV and AIDS contributed to a general
culture of fear within the gay community and the general public. The gay
press took up the cause of calling for research, education, and moderation.
At the same time, the disease’s association with the gay community fueled
anti-gay sentiment. To much of the public, the majority of the victims, like
gay men and drug users, were dangers to society who could spread the
disease to other, “guiltless” people like hemophiliacs or children born to
infected mothers. Some public health officials even began to call for man-
datory testing and quarantines (Bateman, 2004). In the minds of some,
however, the American government’s and public’s indifference or outright
hostility toward the disease and its victims perpetuated or even increased
the rate of infection.

Gay Activism & the AIDS Epidemic

The AIDS epidemic increased anti-gay rhetoric, but it also spurred the gay
community to take action on its own behalf. Faced with such a life-or-death
crisis, political mobilization took on new importance to the gay commu-
nity (“Milestones in the Gay Rights Movement”, 1991). Because AIDS had
had such a devastating impact on the community in the US and because
AIDS research was so underfunded, gay men took it upon themselves to
call for a political solution. The “social tragedy” caused by AIDS paradoxi-
cally strengthened the political arm of the gay movement (“Milestones in
the Gay Rights Movement,” 1991).

The Gay Press

Because of the strong association between AIDS and the gay community,
the gay press spoke out passionately on the crisis. The press, which helped
to raise awareness of the disease, also created a divide within the gay com-
munity. Some journalists were vehemently protective of the accomplish-
ments of gay liberation and resented the demonization of the “gay male
sex culture,” which was widely associated with recreational drug use,
multiple partners, and STDs (Bateman, 2004). More conservative voices in
the gay press cautioned against the sexual and social excesses of the 1970s.

Exploring Human Sexuality 65

They “declared war on promiscuity and cautioned gay men to take respon-
sibility for their sexual lives” (Bateman, 2004).

In the end, the lack of information also prompted gay men to demand more
research and take responsibility for educating themselves. “Self-reliance”
became the watchword as gay men realized that they had to become their
own experts.

AIDS Service Organizations (ASO)

The legacy of the gay liberation movement served gay men well during
the early years of the AIDS crisis. A number of grass roots networks estab-
lished during the 1970s helped activists quickly mobilize in the face of the
new threat. In 1982 the first AIDS service organizations (ASOs) were estab-
lished to serve as support networks for gay men (Bateman, 2004). Two of
the earliest ASOs were The Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GHMC) in New York
and the Karposi’s Sarcoma Research and Education Foundation in San
Francisco. These two ASOs offered medical and social support, educated
gay men who were at risk of contracting HIV, and also advocated for AIDS
patients’ rights.

Not all gay men supported the ASO mission. Some believed the ASOs
were pandering to the mainstream establishment and moving away from
the principals of gay liberation. In 1987 the AIDS Coalition to Unleash
Power (ACT UP) was formed to counter the “political complacency” of
the GMHC (Bateman, 2004). Besides calling for more accessible and ef-
fective treatment options, ACT UP’s high pressure tactics were meant to
challenge bigotry and promote safe sex as a prevention method. Early on,
many gay men were unconvinced that people’s sexual practices contrib-
uted to their chances of infection. Many gay men simply refused to “give
in” to the safe sex rhetoric, and it took years to persuade some gay men that
safe sex could save their lives. In 1983 two prominent gay authors, Michael
Berkowitz and Michael Callen, published a book called How to Have Sex
in an Epidemic which helped encourage and standardize safe sex practices
within the gay community (Bateman, 2004).

Lesbian AIDS Activism

Lesbians, too, played an active role in the fight against AIDS by support-
ing their gay male friends who were suffering from the disease. And since

66 Sociology Reference Guide

a large number of lesbians were also active feminists, they did much to
mainstream the conversation about AIDS treatment. By tying the epidemic
and its defeat to national health care and universal sex education, they
were responsible for pushing the discussion on AIDS toward a broader
social change agenda. And while lesbians were generally not considered to
be at high risk for contracting AIDS, activists still argued that lesbians also
participated in high risk behaviors and needed to actively educate them-
selves (Bateman, 2004).

The Waning of AIDS Activism

By the 1990s, the development of effective AIDS treatments brought hope

to those afflicted with the disease. And as celebrities like Magic Johnson
revealed that they had the disease, the stigma associated with it lessened..
AIDS is now a mainstream disease, and there is “less urgency” about its
effects. It has moved being from an acute illness to a being chronic one.

Same Sex Marriage & Civil Unions

Same-sex marriage is one of the topics on the minds of many gays and
lesbians today. “It was not until the 1990s, when the American courts came
to recognize that denying lesbians and gay citizens the right to marry
violated the principle of legal equality, that the issue become a central
focus for the lesbian /gay rights movement” (Snyder, 2006).

There are four distinct aspects of marriage, according to author Claire


• A personal bond between the partners,

• A community-recognized relationship,
• A religious rite, and
• A civil contract (2006).

Different cultures assign different meanings to marriage. In some cultures,

all four of these components may be part of a marriage contract. In other
countries and cultures, marriage may only involve only a few of the
four aspects. For example, in countries that practice arranged marriage
a personal bond between the partners may not exist. Likewise, in some

Exploring Human Sexuality 67

countries many couples chose to forego a religious ceremony, though this
absence doesn’t negate the legality of their marriage.

For many gays and lesbians who wish to marry, the civil contract aspect is at
issue (Snyder, 2006). It is through a government recognized civil marriage
that the social benefits of marriage are shared between partners. Benefits
afforded to married individuals can include: access to partner’s health in-
surance; tax benefits; retirement benefits; the right to make medical de-
cisions for the partner; bereavement leave; custody and child visitation
rights; and social security survivorship (Hudson, 2005).

As Snyder (2006) explained, “Many gay and lesbian people have commit-
ted personal relationships and within their communities may be widely
recognized as couples; some religious denominations recognize and
sanction same sex relationships. Where same sex couples lose out is with
the benefits afforded to married individuals.”

Conservative Views of Gay Marriage

The argument against gay marriage is made most vocally by social and re-
ligious conservatives. These conservatives argue that legalizing same-sex
marriage would alter the definition of marriage and undermine the family.
Most major religions prohibit homosexuality, and religious conservatives
additionally argue that marriage, defined “as a sacred union ordained by
god,” necessarily precludes same-sex unions (Snyder, 2006). Both of these
groups wish to define marriage as a union that can exist only between a
man and a woman (Public Agenda, n.d.).

Opposing Views of Same-Sex Marriage within the Gay Community

However, it is not just social and religious conservatives who oppose

same-sex marriage. Gay activist Michael Warner has been vocal in his op-
position to gay marriage, which he sees as potentially “marginalizing” for
gays who embrace a non-traditional lifestyle. He opposes the “correlative
tendency” to valorize gay men and women who want to live more or less
like straight people (Snyder, 2006). In his opinion, same-sex marriage will
further marginalize non-conforming gays and lesbians who have non-mo-
nogamous relationships and do not wish to marry. Warner worries that
“mainstreaming” gays and lesbians into American society might destroy
the distinctive gay culture.

68 Sociology Reference Guide

As long as Americans want the government to provide married couples
with benefits, the choice to marry is not completely unconstrained. At least
in part, people marry to protect themselves, their children, and their assets.
Many committed gay couples want to have access to the same civil benefits
afforded to heterosexuals who choose to marry. In several states, the legal
recognition of civil unions has afforded gay couples the civil rights of

The issue of gay marriage is a divisive one, even within the gay commu-
nity. The gay community still grapples with its social identity. Some gays
welcome the opportunity to become integrated into “mainstream” cultural
ideals. Others are fearful that “gay identity” and “gay culture” will be as-
similated into the larger “homogeneous” culture.

The gay rights movement is very active today in its struggle for equality
and the civil rights afforded to other minority groups. The movement is
taking place within the gay community and across society as a whole as
GLBT people work to secure equal and fair protection under the law while
also negotiating with their unique identities.

Bateman, J. (2004). “AIDS activism.” Retrieved April 27, 2008, from http://www.glbtq.
Bullough, V (2002) Before Stonewall: Activists for gay and lesbian rights in historical
contexts. Harrington Park Press: New York.
DeNoon, D. (2007) Men’s HIV/AIDs epidemic: It’s back. Retrieved April 28, 2008, from
Eleveld, K. (2007, November 20). Republican matters. Advocate. Retrieved April 24, 2008
from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Complete. http://search.ebscohost.
Hudson, D. (2005) Gay rights (point/counterpoint). Chelsea House Publishers:
“Milestones in the Gay Rights Movement.” (1991). In J. A. Garraty and E. Foner (Eds.),
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Retrieved April 23, 2008, from http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0194028.html
Public Agenda. (n.d.). “Gay rights: Overview.” Retrieved May 9, 2008, from http://www.

Exploring Human Sexuality 69

Rauch, J. (2008). The right kind of gun rights. National Journal, 40(11), 10-10. Retrieved
April 24, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Complete. http://
Snyder, R. (2006). Gay marriage and democracy. New York: Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers, Inc.

Suggested Reading
Denike, M. (2007). Religion, rights, and relationships: The dream of relational equality.
Hypatia, 22(1), 71-91. Retrieved April 24, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database Gender
Studies Database. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fmh&AN
Lieber, L. (2007). Gender identity and expression in the workplace. Employment Relations
Today (Wiley), 33(4), 91-96. Retrieved April 24, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database
Gender Studies Database. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f

70 Sociology Reference Guide

Sexual Orientation & Youth
Karen M. Harbeck


On February 12, 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence King was shot twice in the
head as he sat in his Oxnard, California junior high school computer lab
working on a paper. King had been teased by his peers since he had started
elementary school because of his effeminate mannerisms. By the age of 10,
he had confirmed their accusations, stating that he was gay and sometimes
dressing in women’s clothing. With Valentine’s Day approaching, female
friends of King started asking male classmates to be their Valentines. King
asked a 14-year-old male student to be his Valentine, and the next day that
student brought a handgun to school and killed him (Setoodeh, 2008). Ac-
cording to Katherine Newman’s study on school shootings, youth affected
by another junior high school shooting in Westside, Arkansas, reported that
being called “gay” was a “catastrophic” epithet that would destroy their
standing with their peers (Newman, 2004, p. 38). Throughout Newman’s
analyses of school shootings nationwide, anxiety about sexual orienta-
tion played a major role in these murderous confrontations. Thus, despite
the profound advancements made in social equality in terms of sexual
orientation nationwide, at this time there are also real risks and threats
that confront gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) individuals
everyday in our society.

Sexual orientation can be defined in many ways, but the most familiar defi-
nitions are the legal ones: heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality.

Exploring Human Sexuality 71

Heterosexuality is a sexual attraction to individuals of the opposite gender,
and homosexuality is an attraction to individuals of the same gender. Bi-
sexuality is an attraction to both men and women, although some indi-
viduals choose to use the word “polysexual” to avoid the assumption that
only two genders exist. Asexuality is a lack of sexual interest altogether.
Individuals also might define themselves as pansexual, which means that
they express their sexuality in many forms.

Transgender is an umbrella term that includes transvestites and transsexu-

als. Transvestites are individuals who wear the clothing normally worn
by members of the opposite gender in a given society and adopt the ste-
reotypical attributes or mannerisms associated with that gender. Trans-
vestites can be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual, since their pleasure
in wearing the clothing of the opposite gender does not necessarily have
anything to do with their sexual orientation. Transsexuals or intersexu-
als are individuals who feel that their sexual identity is different from the
one that they present within their family, friends, and community. These
individuals may have aspects of the male/female duality, or they may
have been assigned the wrong gender at birth. They may choose to ignore
these feelings or, alternately, choose to pass as the opposite gender. Some
may choose to undergo gender reassignment through hormone therapy or
surgery. Some advocates for intersexual individuals are today question-
ing the need for hormone therapy and surgery to change the gender of an
individual, arguing that this process enhances traditional, distorted views
of gender in our society rather than supports diversity in gender existence.
In terms of their sexual orientation, transgendered individuals who are at-
tracted to women express gynephilia, while individuals attracted to men
express androphilia. Estimates on the number of individuals who are gay
or lesbian in our culture vary from between 3% and 10% of the adult popu-
lation; it is likely that a larger percentage is bisexual (Frankowski, 2004;
Reitman, 2006).

Determining Sexual Orientation

Scholars continue to debate how to determine an individual’s sexual orien-

tation, with some relying solely on self-identification and others also taking
into account the individual’s sexual behavior. Complicating the matter is
the fact some individuals identify with a different sexual orientations at
various times in their lives, depending upon their relationships and their

72 Sociology Reference Guide

state of mind. Conversely, other individuals adhere to one sexual orienta-
tion even in the face of numerous sexual encounters that would seem to
indicate a different orientation (e.g. a man who identifies himself as het-
erosexual yet also engages in homosexual encounters). Further, genital sex
is not considered a prerequisite for a homosexual or heterosexual identity,
meaning that an individual may consider him or herself homosexual
without having ever engaged in homosexual intercourse.

For instance, in his study of the “tearoom trade” (sex between men in
public rest rooms) at a rest area on a highway outside a major urban center,
Humphreys estimated that over 5% of the male population in his metro-
politan research area participated in the public rest room sexual activity,
sometimes on a daily basis. The majority of these men resided in the
suburbs with wives and children and did not define themselves as homo-
sexual (Humphreys, 1970). Some would argue that these men are closeted
gay males who cannot deal with their sexuality, while others would accept
the study participants’ heterosexual self-definition by separating personal
identity from sexual behavior. Another complicating factor is that, because
being GLBT is stigmatized in our society, many individuals choose not to
disclose their sexual orientation to others or even to themselves. Instead,
they may engage in the type of risky, anonymous sex, which Humphreys

Youth, Social & Sexual Identity

At this time in our society, given the increased visibility of variations on

sexual orientation, young people are announcing their sexual identity at a
younger age. In the 1970s, it was typical for gay and lesbian individuals
to solidify their sexual orientation identity in their mid-to-late twenties.
Now, young people are beginning to express their identities in middle
and high school, in part because of the greater visibility of GLBT issues in
our society as well as the increased support for these young people in our
schools, religious institutions, and families.

Like other forms of oppression and discrimination, hostility toward GLBT

individuals (also called “homophobia”) takes a great toll on the individu-
al’s sense of being a whole, good, and acceptable person. These negative
feelings toward self are called internalized homophobia. Thus, this discus-
sion will start with the individual and early childhood experiences.

Exploring Human Sexuality 73

Most children are born into family settings that mirror their social identities.
In these families, race, gender, ethnicity, linguistic expression, religious
orientation, and most of the social categories that define one in relation
to family, community, church, and country are cohesive. Exceptions that
come to mind are children born with mental or physical challenges and
interracial adoptions. In general, however, the child reflects the parental
social identity, and, ideally, he or she is treasured within the family even
if social oppression, such as racism, devalues the child in the wider world.
Further, family and supportive community members can prepare the child
to face social oppression and can convey to the child their own experiences
and a sense of pride in his or her cultural identity. But, even with the best
intentioned of parents, GLBT children usually grow up in a very different
context (Harbeck, 2007).

Often very early in their development, GLBT individuals realize that they
are different. Until relatively recently, though, there was little accurate
information available in our culture on GLBT issues to help these individu-
als form a positive identity. Negative stereotypes and abusive comments
abound, even within the close confines of home, church, and community.
In fact, GLBT youth face high rates of child abuse and neglect as parents,
sensing that a GLBT child is different, may react hostilely in order to change
the child or punish him or her. GLBT youth also lack positive role models
and mentors, especially when they are young and beginning to realize that
they are different. Many of the development processes and rites of passage
of our society, which is predominately heterosexual and androcentric, only
add to the torment.

As GLBT children gain in self-knowledge, they quickly realize that ex-

pressing their questions and feelings could be profoundly harmful. Parents
and friends may understand, but GLBT youth also face a high risk of being
shamed, teased, bullied, abused, or even thrown out of their homes by
disapproving parents. Their cognitive confusion can increase, though, if
they try to hide their identity by lying or isolating themselves from similar
individuals or engage in risky behaviors. Some GLBT individuals manage
their identity by trying to be perfect within all the other realms of their
lives. Others drop out of school or are frequently truant in order to avoid
gym class, public restrooms, lockers, and other situations that might lead
to greater exposure to or harm from others.

74 Sociology Reference Guide

With GLBT individuals becoming more visible and with politicians and
church leaders becoming more vocal on GLBT issues, children now learn of
their sexual or gender orientation at a much earlier age. Instead of spending
25 or more years processing this identity and the developing the skills they
needed to manage it in our society, young people are now declaring their
sexual orientation to their peers around the age of 13. Parents are generally
not informed until about one year later (Setoodeh, 2008). One can see why
GLBT issues have taken on a whole new dimension in our nation’s schools,
which often lack the ability to provide positive, safe, interpersonal discus-
sions about these socially and politically fraught issues.

Further Insights
“Coming Out”

By telling a few close peers that one may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans-
gendered, children often unknowingly “come out” to most of the other
children in their schools and communities. In this age of instant messages,
text messages and email, stories abound of young people broadcasting a
child’s orientation throughout the school community within minutes of its
disclosure. Such an act can heighten an already physically and emotionally
risky situation by confirming rumors that may have circulated about the
child. Harbeck has argued that this is a critical point for the welfare of all
the children involved, and that adult’s actions and role modeling can play
a key role in determining outcomes (2007).

Parents, teachers, and administrators can use such a situation to reinforce

the priority of making sure that all children are physically and emotion-
ally safe in the school by helping children learn about GLBT issues in a
positive manner as well as how to deal with their differences peaceably.
But if parents and school personnel ignore the issues or make derogato-
ry jokes or comments, they can signal to other students at the school that
bullying or violence against GLBT youth is acceptable. Thus, GLBT and
questioning youth can be subjected to unchecked emotional and physical
abuse at their schools, traveling to and from school, and whenever they are
out within the community (Harbeck, 2007).

Some GLBT youth, like Lawrence King, flaunt their sexual and gender ori-
entation in order to cope with crisis of identity and conflicts it can impose.

Exploring Human Sexuality 75

Other GLBT youth and adults internalize homophobia and develop a
sense of self-hatred. This can lead to self-destructive behaviors, such as
drinking, drugs, and engaging in unprotected sex. GLBT youth rejected
by their parents can face homelessness and may engage in sex with older
adults for money or housing. More often than not, these sexual acts occur
with substance abuse and unprotected sex, exposing the youth to HIV and
other sexually transmitted diseases.

Childhood Suicide

Probably the most often cited concern for GLBT youth is the high rate of
suicide and suicide attempts. It is possible that no social statistic is more
widely quoted and believed, or so poorly contextualized and understood
than the risk of suicide for GLBT youth. Parents fear it when they find
out their child is GLBT; social conservatives employ it to demonstrate that
being GLBT is deviant and wrong; and well-meaning but poorly informed
individuals quote it as if there were an inexorable link between being GLBT
and committing suicide.

When one reviews the literature on childhood suicide, though, one dis-
covers that the indicating conditions for an at-risk child are isolation, low
self-esteem, alcohol abuse, and depression. A catalyst for a suicide attempt
under these conditions, then, is often rejection by a peer or parent. Placed
within this larger empirical analysis of youth suicide, then, it is clear that
GLBT youth, under the circumstances set forth above, are more likely to
experience the indicators for suicide risk.

As in all youth suicide prevention efforts, we need to identify and reduce

the risks faced by all children, but not label their identity as the causal
factor of those risks. Studies do suggest that the earlier children become
aware of their sexual orientations, and the earlier they disclose their sexual
orientation to peers, the higher their risk of attempting suicide. Many of
these same youth reported greater loss of friends because of their sexual
orientation as well as a higher frequency of going to bars and drinking,
despite being underage.


Many GLBT youth and adults face rejection from their parents, siblings,
teachers, employers, church leaders, peers, and others. They can experi-

76 Sociology Reference Guide

ence physical and emotion abuse, neglect, and homelessness. Some studies
suggest that 50% of all homeless youth on the streets are GLBT. Interper-
sonal development is hindered because GLBT individuals may not fit in
with their heterosexual counterparts and lack the support of other GLBT
individuals. Not surprisingly, many GLBT adults conceal their sexual
orientation or are afraid that if they work with GLBT youth, they will
be accused of pedophilia. Thus, GLBT youth are one of the few minority
groups that face a lack of leadership and mentoring by like-identified in-
dividuals. Similarly, because their social bonds with parents, peers, and
others may be disrupted, GLBT youth and adults may develop difficulties
forming close personal or intimate relationships that are in concert with
their GLBT identities. Like the individuals described above in the public
restroom studies, some GLBT individuals may remain in the closet and
pass as heterosexual or turn to anonymous homosexual sex.

Other Risks

Studies of GLBT youth sexuality suggest that factors like low self-esteem,
self-hatred, denial, substance abuse, and a lack of financial resources and
access to condoms can increase a sexually active GLBT youth’s likelihood
of being raped or contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Knowing the
risks of their behavior, these young people can experience a cycle of despair
in which they can feel that they have little hope for the future. Through-
out their lives, GLBT individuals must balance invisibility and disclosure,
safety and self-respect. Like all individuals, but with added challenges,
GLBT individuals must work to develop close interpersonal relationships
and loving same-sex intimate bonds.


Besides schools, families, religious organizations and communities, all too

often the professionals who provide physical and mental health services
do not recognize GLBT issues or know how to address them. Heterosexual
professionals may fear that if they demonstrate concern for these issues,
their colleagues may label them GLBT too. And while this prejudice can
hurt emotionally, it can also be paired with acts of discrimination, such as
a loss of credibility, being overlooked for promotions, or job loss.

Studies on attitudinal change as it relates to interpersonal prejudice

suggest that positive, repeated, and sustained interactions with individu-

Exploring Human Sexuality 77

als who are different from oneself enhances feelings of acceptance, while
short, stereotypical interactions exacerbate prejudices. Taking Lawrence
King’s story as an example, the extreme, sexualized advances by an out,
gay, cross-dressing student may cause some to dismiss the murder, just
as they may have exacerbated the cause of the murder. What is missed in
many discussions of GLBT issues, though, is the realization that hundreds
of thousands of young people deal with issues of sexual orientation in their
everyday lives and that many face rejection and physical and emotional
abuse if they don’t adhere to our society’s heterosexual and gender norms.

Frankowski, B., Kaplan, D., Diaz, A., Feinstein, R., Fisher, M., Klein, J., Yancy, S., et al.
(2004). Sexual orientation and adolescents. Pediatrics, 113(6), 1827-1832. Retrieved
August 30, 2008 from EBSCO online database, Academic Search Complete: http://
Harbeck, K. (2007). Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth in American schools and
colleges. Malden, MA: Amethyst Press.
Harbeck, K. (2007). The legal rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth and
adults in educational settings. Malden, MA: Amethyst Press.
Harbeck, K. (2001). Invisible no more: Addressing the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender youth in schools and their advocates. Malden, MA: Amethyst Press.
Harbeck, K. (1997). Gay and lesbian educators: Personal freedoms/Public constraints.
Malden, MA: Amethyst Press.
Harbeck, K. (Ed.), (1991). Coming out of the classroom closet: Gay and lesbian students,
teachers, and curricula. New York: Haworth.
Humphreys, L. (1970). Tearoom trade: Impersonal sex in public places. Chicago: Aldine-
Newman, K. (2004). Rampage: The social roots of school shootings. New York: Basic.
Reitman, D. (2006). Sexuality: Sexual orientation. Retrieved August 30, 2008, from
eMedicine, http://www.emedicine.com/ped/TOPIC2773.htm.
Setoodeh, R. (2008, July 28). Young, gay and murdered. Newsweek, 152 (4) 40-46. Retrieved
August 30, 2008 from EBSCO online database, Academic Search Complete: http://

Suggested Reading
Blackless, M., Charwastra, A., & Derrych, A., Fausto-Sterling, A., Lavzabbem K., & Lee, E.
(2000). How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. American Journal of
Human Biology, 12, 151-166.

78 Sociology Reference Guide

Blumenfeld, W. (Ed.), (1992). Homophobia: How we all pay the price. Boston, MA:
Blumenfeld, W., & Raymond, D. (1993). Looking at gay and lesbian life. Boston, MA:
Diamant, L. & McAnulty, R. (Eds.), (1995). The psychology of sexual orientation, behavior,
and identity: A handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Dreger, A. (1998). Ambiguous sex – or ambivalent medicine? Ethical issues in the
treatment of intersexuality. Hastings Center Report, 28(3), 24-35. Retrieved August 30,
2008 from: http://www.isna.org/articles/ambivalent_medicine
Hurst, C. (1992). Social inequality: Forms, causes, and consequences. Needham, MA:
Allyn and Bacon.
Remafedi, G. (1999). Sexual orientation and youth suicide. Journal of the American
Medical Association, 282, 1291-1292.
Remafedi, G., Resnick, M., Blum, R., & Harris, L. (1992, April). Demography of sexual
orientation in adolescents. Pediatrics, 89, 714-721.

Exploring Human Sexuality 79

Sexual Orientation in the United States
Karen M. Harbeck


Margaret was married to a man for seventeen years and has three grown
children. She is employed as a radiologist, makes a reasonable salary, and
worries about her retirement funds. Mark is a former Navy officer who
now writes articles for national newspapers. He is happily married and
is thinking of buying a summer home with his spouse. Jodie adopted a
daughter late in life and faces the joys and challenges of raising a child as
an older parent. If these individuals sound fairly normal, it is because most
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals do not define
themselves solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. However, to a
large degree, society does define them as such. Each of these individuals
has faced job losses, threats to child custody, the inability to marry their
partners, acts of hostility from family and strangers, and the loss of finan-
cial entitlements, which their heterosexual counterparts take for granted.
Sometimes the prejudice and discrimination is deadly.

On February 12, 2008, fifteen-year-old Lawrence King was shot twice in the
head as he sat in his Oxnard, California junior high school computer lab
working on a paper. King had been teased by his peers since he had started
elementary school because of his effeminate mannerisms. By the age of 10,
he had confirmed their accusations, stating that he was gay and sometimes
dressing in women’s clothing. In 2008, with Valentine’s Day approach-

80 Sociology Reference Guide

ing and his female friends asking male classmates to be their valentines,
King approached a 14-year-old male student to be his Valentine. The next
day that student brought a handgun to school and killed him (Setoodeh,
2008). According to Katherine Newman’s study on school shootings, youth
affected by another junior high school shooting in Westside, Arkansas,
reported that being called “gay” was a “catastrophic” epithet that would
destroy their standing with their peers (Newman, 2004, p.38). Throughout
Newman’s analyses of school shootings nationwide, anxiety about sexual
orientation played a major role in these murderous confrontations. Thus,
despite the profound nationwide advancements made in social equality
in terms of sexual orientation, real risks and threats still confront GLBT
individuals every day.

Sexual orientation can be defined in many ways but the most familiar
definitions are also the legal definitions: heterosexuality, homosexuality
and bisexuality. Heterosexuality is a sexual attraction to individuals of the
opposite gender, while homosexuality is an attraction to individuals of the
same gender. Bisexuality is an attraction to both men and women, although
some individuals choose to use the word “polysexual” to avoid the as-
sumption that only two genders exist. Transgender is an umbrella term in-
cluding transvestites and transsexuals. Transvestites are individuals who
wear the clothing normally worn by members of the opposite gender in a
given society, and they adopt the stereotypical persona and mannerisms
of that opposite gender. Transvestites can be heterosexual, homosexual,
or bisexual, since their pleasure in wearing clothes of the opposite gender
does not necessarily correlate with their sexual orientation. Transsexuals,
or intersexuals, are individuals who feel that their sexual identity is dif-
ferent from the one that they present to their family, friends, and commu-
nity. These individuals may have aspects of the male/female duality, or
they may have been assigned the wrong gender at birth. These individu-
als may ignore these feelings, may wear the clothing of and pass as the
opposite gender, or may choose to undergo gender reassignment through
hormone therapy and surgery. Advocates for intersexual individuals are
today questioning the need for hormone therapy and surgery to change
the gender of the intersexual individual, arguing that this process reinforc-
es traditional, distorted views of gender in our society rather than supports
diversity in gender existence. In terms of their sexual orientation, transgen-
dered individuals who are attracted to women express gynephilia, while

Exploring Human Sexuality 81

those attracted to men express androphilia. Estimates of the percentage
of individuals who are gay or lesbian in our culture vary between 3% and
10% of the adult population. A larger percentage is believed to be bisexual
(Frankowski, 2004; Reitman, 2006).

Whatever the developmental or physiological processes that play a role in

sexual orientation, it is individuals’ self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and
identity that ultimately defines their sexual orientation. If fact, a person
need not have engaged in genital sex, either heterosexual or homosexual,
in order to define his or her sexual orientation. Similarly, some individuals
identify with a specific sexual orientation at various times in their lives, de-
pending upon their relationships and their state of mind. Conversely, some
individuals adhere to a heterosexual identity even in the face of numerous
homosexual encounters. In terms of a legal definition, however, one same-
gender sexual experience defines one as homosexual if employers or legal
authorities discover this detail. “Homophobia,” or hostility towards GLBT
individuals, has been codified in English, French, and Spanish law for centu-
ries, so it is not surprising that since the founding of the American colonies,
our laws have contained sanctions against same-sex relationships. Changes
in contemporary attitudes towards privacy, self-expression, and individu-
al and minority rights have lead to many changes in the laws governing
the lives of GLBT individuals. The balance of this article will look at those
institutional changes and the continuing discrimination faced by GLBT in-
dividuals in our society.


One of the most contentious issues surrounding sexual orientation in the

U.S. has been sodomy laws. Sodomy is legally defined as any anal or oral
contact during a sexual act with another person or any sexual act that does
not lead to procreation. Although it is likely that many heterosexual indi-
viduals have violated sodomy laws, in reality the majority of individuals
prosecuted under sodomy laws have been GLBT. The laws were still in
place in 13 states until 2003 when the Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas,
(02-102) 539 U.S. 558 (2003), 41 S.W. 3d 349 (reversed and remanded), struck
down the selective application of sodomy laws to GLBT individuals, ruling
that due process protects adults’ freedom to engage in private, consensual
sexual acts, including sodomy. Thus, GLBT individuals, like heterosexual

82 Sociology Reference Guide

individuals, are now free to engage in sexual activity without fear of being
arrested or labeled sex offenders as long as they do not engage in noncon-
sensual sex or sex in public places.

The inclusion of GLBT individuals in the military has also been a signifi-
cant issue throughout recent decades. Hundreds of thousands of GLBT
individuals have served in our country’s military over the centuries, but
their service became a major issue during the 1940s and 1950s as Senator
Joesph McCarthy led a campaign to blacklist and dishonorably discharge
known homosexuals from the military (Harbeck, 1997). Since the Clinton
administration, the official governmental policy toward GLBT individu-
als serving in the military has been “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). A
significant number of current and former servicemen and women support
the policy, but advocates for the policy’s repeal claim that it leaves GLBT
military personnel exposed to blackmail, and has resulted in the dismissal
of thousands of otherwise qualified servicemen and servicewomen.

Similarly, in the past, many GLBT civilians have faced job loss when their
sexual orientation was discovered. This began to change in 1982 when Wis-
consin became the first state to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination
in employment, including hiring, promotions, job assignments, termina-
tion, compensation, and harassment. Now, the District of Columbia, and
the following states have employment protections on the basis of sexual
orientation: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa,
Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire,
New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and
Washington. In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13087
to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in the competitive service
of the federal civilian workforce. Similarly, in November of 2007, Michi-
gan’s Governor Jennifer Granholm prohibited discrimination against state
workers on the basis of gender identity or expression. However, there are
no federal protections from employment discrimination on the basis of
sexual orientation or gender identity, despite the annual introduction of
the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) in Congress for the past

Federal and state legislators have worked to expand hate crime laws to
include sexual orientation and gender identity, though the outcomes of

Exploring Human Sexuality 83

their efforts have been somewhat uneven. The Hate Crimes Statistics
Act does require the Justice Department to collect data on “crimes that
manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual
orientation, or ethnicity,” but sexual orientation is not listed as a protected
class in the 1969 federal hate crime law (Federal Bureau of Investigation,
2004, ¶ 2). However, Public Law 103-322A, which was enacted in 1994 to
provide stiffer penalties for hate crimes, does list sexual orientation as a
class against which a hate crime can be committed. At the state level, in
2008, 31 states and District of Columbia had chosen to include sexual ori-
entation as a protected class within their hate crime laws, and 11 of those
states also included gender identity as a protected class (National Gay &
Lesbian Task Force, 2008b).

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEEA), also
known as the Matthew Shepard Act, is introduced in Congress annually in
honor of a gay college-student, Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in
Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. If passed, the Shepard Act would amend the
1969 United States federal hate crimes law to include gender, sexual orien-
tation, gender identity, and disability, as well as remove the requirement
that the victim must be targeted because of his or her engagement in a
“federally protected activity such as voting, serving on a jury, or attending
school” in order for the crime to qualify as a hate crime (Matthew Shepard
Foundation, 2007, ¶ 6)

One of the major GLBT issues facing our country today is the question
of same-sex marriages. Opponents to same-sex marriage believe that, if
legalized, it would undermine the stability of the family and society by
radically redefining marriage and give legal precedent for the legalization
of other currently prohibited marital practices like polygamy. Advocates,
on the other hand, argue that state and federal constitutions should be
amended to ban discrimination on the basis of gender as well as that alter-
native families should be formally recognized by the government, employ-
ers, and society at large.

One major factor behind this demand for recognition is that over two
hundred entitlements granted to married, heterosexual couples are denied
to unmarried individuals at federal and state levels. Many of those entitle-
ments pertain to employment issues, including but not limited to “medical,

84 Sociology Reference Guide

dental, and vision insurance, disability and life insurance, pension benefits,
family and bereavement leave, adoption assistance, education and tuition
assistance, credit union membership, relocation and travel expenses and
inclusion of parties at company events” (Human Rights Campaign, 2008, ¶
5). Reductions in taxes, increases in deductions and entitlements, probate
protections, child custody, health care assurances, and medical authority
over one’s partner are just a few of the additional entitlements granted to
heterosexual couples in our society that GLBT couples are not guaranteed
to receive. Some employers have elected to offer same-sex couples em-
ployment benefits like health insurance, and 13 states now recognize some
form of same-sex union, whether it be marriage, civil union, or domestic
partnership; however, the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed in
1996, prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex mar-
riages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships and allows states to refuse
to recognize them as well, even if the marriages, unions, and partnerships
are recognized in other states (National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, 2008c).
By May of 2007, 26 states had enacted DOMA statues of their own.

While the debate over same-sex marriage has been a “hot button” topic in
the United States, it would appear to be less controversial in some other
areas of the world. The countries of Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands,
Spain, South Africa, and Norway all have recognized same-sex marriages
under their laws. Civil unions are recognized in 17 countries, including the
United Kingdom, France, Germany and New Zealand.

Another major GLBT issue facing societies today concerns the adoption of
children by GLBT couples. The following countries permit two same-sex
individuals to adopt: Canada, the United Kingdom, Guam, Belgium,
Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Spain, and some
parts of Australia and the United States (LGBT Adoption, 2008). In the
United States, the following states explicitly allow second-parent adop-
tions by same-sex couples, either by legislative action or court rulings:
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New
York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Florida, Arkansas, Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, and Utah all
prohibit the joint adoption of children by same-sex couples (National Gay
& Lesbian Task Force, 2008c).

Exploring Human Sexuality 85

Thus, while GLBT individuals may feel that they are not so different than
their heterosexual counterparts, the legal and social reality is that many do
not enjoy the same opportunities, protections, and benefits as heterosexual
individuals. While many advances have been made, it also is the case that
GLBT individuals are still subject to violence, discrimination, prejudice,
prohibitions because of their sexual orientation. In the United States, at
least, one can expect these struggles to continue.

Frankowski, B. (2004). Sexual orientation and adolescents. Pediatrics, 113(6), 1827-1832.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2004). Appendix A. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from
Harbeck, K. (1997). Gay and lesbian educators: Personal freedoms/Public constraints.
Malden, MA: Amethyst Press.
Human Rights Campaign. (2008). Domestic partner benefits. Retrieved September 28,
2008 from:www.hrc.org/issues/workplace/benefits/4814.htm
Matthew Shepard Foundation. (2007). Hate crimes legislation. Retrieved November 18,
2008 from: http://www.matthewshepard.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Erase_
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. (2008a). Adoption laws in the United States.
Retrieved November 18, 2008 from: http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. (2008b). Hate crime laws in the U.S. Retrieved
November 18, 2008 from: http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/reports/issue_
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. (2008c). Relationship recognition for same-sex
couples in the U.S. Retrieved November 18, 2008 from: http://www.thetaskforce.org/
Newman, K. (2004). Rampage: The social roots of school shootings. New York: Basic.
Reitman, D. (2006). Sexuality: Sexual orientation. Retrieved August 30, 2008 from: http://
Setoodeh, R. (2008, July 28). Young, gay and murdered. Newsweek, 152(4), 40-46.
Retrieved November 18, 2008 from EBSCO online database Academic Search Complete:

86 Sociology Reference Guide

Suggested Reading
Axel-Lute, P. (n.d.). Same-sex marriage: A selective bibliography of the legal literature.
Retrieved November 18, 2008 from: http://law-library.rutgers.edu/SSM.html.
Blumenfeld, W. (Ed.). (1992). Homophobia: How we all pay the price. Boston, MA:
Blumenfeld, W., & Raymond, D. (1993). Looking at gay and lesbian life. Boston, MA:
Diamant, L. & McAnulty, R. (Eds.), (1995). The psychology of sexual orientation, behavior,
and identity: A handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Eskridge, Jr., W. (2008). Dishonorable passions: Sodomy laws in America, 1861-2003.
New York: Viking.
Eskridge, Jr., W. (2006). Gay marriage: For better or for worse? What we’ve learned from
the evidence. New York: Oxford University Press.
Harbeck, K. (Ed.), (1991). Coming out of the classroom closet: Gay and lesbian students,
teachers, and curricula. New York: Haworth.
Harbeck, K. (2007). The legal rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth and
adults in educational settings. Malden, MA: Amethyst Press.
Hunter, N., Joslin, C., & McGowan, S. (2004) The rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals,
and transgender people: The authoritative ACLU Guide. (4th ed.) New York: New
York University Press.
Hurst, C. (1992). Social inequality: Forms, causes, and consequences. Needham, MA:
Allyn and Bacon.
Pierceson, J. (2005). Courts, liberalism and rights: Gay law and politics in the United States
and Canada. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Pinello, D. (2006). America’s struggle for same-sex marriage. New York: Cambridge
University Press.
McWhorter, B. (2006). Gay and lesbian rights. (2nd ed.). Naperville, IL: Sphinx.

Exploring Human Sexuality 87

Gender & Sexual Orientation in the Workplace
Lynette DiPalma


Gender and sexual orientation in the workplace is an increasingly impor-

tant topic especially as government policies change and cultural acceptanc-
es shift. It is a multidimensional topic that covers early childhood cultural
pressures as well as day to day interactions in the office, as the workplace
offers a microcosmic snapshot of the current cultural atmosphere. Women
in particular have long suffered such injustices as wage gaps, sexual ha-
rassment and glass ceilings, while members of the GLBT community have
only recently been given a voice with which to address the prejudices and
disparities experienced within the corporate culture of businesses.

Many sociologists feel that these problems of gender and sexual orienta-
tion in the workplace have strong and firmly placed roots in the cultural
norms to which we are introduced as children. As adults we bemoan the
sexual inequality that we experience every day in the workplace, but we
still reinforce and encourage gender traits traditionally exhibited by each
sex in our children. Wage gaps and discrimination along with occupational
sexism and segregation are still prominent in the workplaces of the 21st
century. Women regularly bump their heads on glass ceilings because of
a perceived lack of masculine traits that are more suited to management
positions, yet parents, society, and educational institutions still encourage
traditionally gender-assigned traits to growing boys and girls. Girls are

88 Sociology Reference Guide

expected to be kind, caring, nurturing and passive while boys are expected
to be aggressive, ruthless, ambitious and pragmatic. These traits are then
attached to later success or failure as adults in the business world since ste-
reotypically male traits are generally seen as a pathway to success, while
stereotypically female traits are seen as necessary for supporting roles
in business. Lipsey, et al. (1991) refer to this situation as a “culture trap”
since children are nurtured into these socially acceptable roles as children,
causing them to adopt certain attitudes and beliefs that may later create
professional difficulties.

Interestingly, there have been situations where the concept of hegemonic

masculinity has been turned on its head. Corporations who primarily target
both women as workers and women as consumers have found tremendous
success by favoring feminine traits above masculine ones. Putting family
first may seem like a risk in the traditionally masculine world, but these
Pink corporations have found that gentle compassion has actually made
for a strong inner community as well as well-rounded and enthusiastic

Regardless of the success of Pink corporations, heterosexual men still

appear to have the upper hand in business. Though the tides appear to
be turning in favor of those traditionally marginalized populations like
women and gays, the business world still has a long way to go before it
reaches an atmosphere of true equality.

Women in the Workplace

Though women have been a part of the workforce for well over a century,
their presence in the workplace has had many ramifications, and gener-
ated many challenges for both men and women in the professional envi-
ronment. Gender bias has been repeatedly demonstrated through many
studies conducted in multiple work environments over the last several

Occupational Sexism

Occupational sexism is essentially any kind of discrimination based on a

worker’s gender. Most often the term is applied to situations where women
are being oppressed by their male co-workers or supervisors, but certain
situations allow for men to be discriminated against as well.

Exploring Human Sexuality 89

One particularly scrutinized issue is that of wage discrimination. Though
many had hoped that the days of women earning less money than their
male counterparts were long gone, a recent study discovered that wage
discrimination is still a major issue with women making an average of $0.78
for every dollar earned by men in the same position (Endicott, 2002). Wage
discrimination is demonstrated in a wide spectrum of occupations. For
example, female financial advisors earned only 53.7% of the average male
employee’s wages while women in sales earned only 64.8% (Endicott, 2002).

Though wage discrimination is still a viable concern, recent research has

indicated that the glass ceiling for women workers finally appears to be
cracking since there are significantly more women in managerial posi-
tions. This increase in the higher positions in the workplace also filters
down to benefit the women in non-managerial positions as well. When
more women are found in high status positions, the wages of the female
employees are effectively raised throughout the managerial hierarchy of a
company. However, the absence of females in high-status positions in par-
ticular companies or industries leaves the wage gap firmly in place (Cohen
& Huffman, 2007).

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment has become a highly sensitive area for many corpora-
tions because of various lawsuits and protective policies that have devel-
oped. In the scope of sociology, sexual harassment becomes an especially
charged topic when it takes the rather non-traditional form of women
sexually harassing men. Though there has been plenty of documentation
to indicate that both dynamics of harassment do occur in the workplace,
men are far more likely to be the target of disciplinary action because of
the application of sexual stereotypes. Men are less likely to report sexual
harassment by a female co-worker or boss because of the personal and
professional ramifications of their perceived masculinity. The hegemonic
male is aggressive and sexually robust, and so any man who reports being
sexually harassed by a woman is effectively psychologically castrated by
his peers because he is seen as weak and submissive. Some studies have
even indicated that the psychological effects of sexual harassment on men
are actually more severe than those experienced by women who have been
sexually harassed (Street, Gradus, Stafford & Kelly, 2007).

90 Sociology Reference Guide

Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals & Transgendered in the Workplace

Just as women have struggled in the workplace, the GLBT community

has also been met with considerable challenges. The decision to come out
to family members and friends is often a troublesome issue for many in
the GLBT community, but the decision to come out at work is laced with
serious ramifications that affect the individual’s day to day life.

Homophobia, Heterosexism & Sexual Prejudice

A large percentage of the gay population has stated that they have expe-
rienced harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Gay workers
are often denied promotions, pressured to quit, or are held at a lower pay
rate that their coworkers. It is also important to point out that this kind of
sexual prejudice, or heterosexism, is still a legitimate concern since to fire
an employee on the grounds of homosexuality is still legal in 35 states. Even
those corporations that embrace their gay workers by providing them with
domestic partner benefits, support groups, and special training programs
are often reluctant to have these workers publically associated with their
company for fear of being considered a gay corporation (Hereck, 2000).

Another interesting phenomenon occurs within the GLBT community

itself. Many younger GBLT workers, who were raised in a culture far more
accepting of homosexuality, are more vocal and tend to fight more aggres-
sively to obtain equality in the work place. Those workers who are older
and were raised with a cultural stigma of homosexuality are more likely to
stay in the closet, or at least be more subtle about their sexual identity. This
is true not only among co-workers, but also among customers and business
contacts as well (Hereck, 2000).

Gender Identity Disorder in the Workplace

Transgendered individuals have an even more complex sociological sit-

uation in the workplace since they may have already clearly established
themselves as one gender among their co-workers before making the tran-
sition. Co-workers and supervisors may actually be witness to the entire
sex reassignment process, and as the transition becomes more complete the
inter-office relationships that the transgendered individual has honed as a
member of one sex will inevitably change as they become the opposite sex
(Prentiss & McAnulty, 2002).

Exploring Human Sexuality 91

Many heterosexuals who have never been exposed to this kind of situation
may find it difficult to understand the significant difference between being
gay and being transgendered. This level of misunderstanding can lead to
extreme situations of alienation, harassment and prejudice. Some trans-
gender employees find it easier to orchestrate a resignation prior to the
reassignment process through upper management, and then a re-hiring
as a member of the opposite sex once the sex reassignment is complete
(Prentiss & McAnulty, 2002).

Occupational Segregation

Another important dimension of gender and sexual orientation in the

work place is gender stereotyping of professional roles, which is referred
to as occupational segregation. While some jobs are considered tradition-
ally female (seamstress, waitress, nurse, teacher, secretary etc.), others are
considered traditionally male (doctor, lawyer, pilots, mechanics, architects,
etc.). Though there has been significant movement to close the wage gap,
there has been little movement towards removing the occupational stereo-
types that beget occupational segregation.

Men & Women in Cross-Gender Occupations

Though it has been shown time and time again that women are equally as
capable in most occupational roles as men, occupational segregation still
persists. For women, obtaining positions that are traditionally male is dif-
ficult, and they often find many corporate hurdles that their male coun-
terparts do not experience. In America, this is primarily due to the mas-
culine management style that has been socially accepted as equating to
success. Kanter (1997) states that women’s lack of authoritarian attitudes,
lack of aggression, and readiness to accept responsibility are key factors in
women being unable to overcome professional hurdles as easily as their
male counterparts. All of these factors are polar opposite to the masculine
traits considered necessary for success. Lipsey et al (1991) feels that the sex
role socialization discussed earlier is the primary reason women are un-
derrepresented in male-dominated occupations, whereas Gilligan (1982)
sees it as a more Freudian problem based in the psychological pressures of
women to continue the dependent roles of their mothers while men must
make a forceful and clean break from the nurturing to become strong, in-
dependent men.

92 Sociology Reference Guide

On the other hand, men wishing to find work in traditionally female occu-
pations often experience ridicule and harassment both professionally and
personally. Often this harassment and ridicule are attacks on their mas-
culinity, and they are sometimes shamed even within their closest circles
of relationships regardless of their dedication and skill in the occupation
(Furr, 2002). A typical example of this would be the male nurse. Nursing is
a traditionally female occupation, and men who choose to go into this field
are looked down upon as if they were not successful enough to become
doctors, and thus were forced into “settling” for a position as a nurse. This
prejudice is so ingrained in society that it has become part of pop culture
as a subplot in the film Meet the Parents starring Ben Stiller.

Both men and women are often passed over for promotion when they
occupy cross-gender occupational roles because of a perceived issue of
abandonment. Women are considered at high-risk for leaving traditionally
male positions of extreme responsibility in order to pursue a family, while
men are considered at high-risk to leave traditionally female positions to
pursue a more fitting position. For example, a male nurse may be passed
over for promotion because it may be assumed that they will be pursuing
an education to become a doctor, and that the nursing position is simply a
stepping stone to bigger and better things (Furr, 2002).

Occupational Segregation as Explanation for Wage Gap

Many theories have been developed as to why the wage gap exists. Erosa,
Fuster, and Restuccia (2005) have proposed a strong argument that the wage
gap continues to exist because of the perceived value of female workers
based on their fertility. In other words, corporations may be less willing
to invest in female workers because it is a gamble whether a woman of

child-bearing age will continue their work once they have children and if
they do continue whether that work will be of the same quality or quantity.
In this respect wages are a function of fertility and age. Still others feel that
the wage gap is due to educational disparities like men choosing business
or other practical classes as minors and electives while women choose
liberal or fine art courses that have no perceived practical application (Blau
& Kahn, 1997; Wood et al., 1993)

But many feel that occupational segregation may be the culprit. Tradition-
ally female jobs are also some of the lowest paying jobs, so studies that

Exploring Human Sexuality 93

consider income across occupations will not be accounting for the fact that
the majority of women in the workforce are simply occupying positions
that earn less money than the majority of those that are occupied by men
(Cohen & Huffman 2006). While some are relatively satisfied with this ex-
planation, it begs the question of why women have continued to occupy
these low-paying positions. One popular explanation to answer this
question is that women are often found to exhibit a lower sense of self-con-
fidence when it comes to male-dominated occupations than towards those
occupations that are traditionally considered female (Neville & Schlecker,
1988; Stringer & Duncan, 1985; Whiston, 1993)

Gender Conditioning & Reinforcement

Gender traits and what is considered “traditional” is ingrained in our

culture and reinforced throughout our childhood. Little girls are encour-
aged to develop nurturing and household skills by playing with dolls and
pretend cookware. Little boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to be
assertive and powerful through rough-and-tumble games, and by playing
with toys like cars and construction machinery. Children are inevitably
asked what they would like to be when they grow up, and little girls who
want to be plumbers and little boys who want to be ballerinas are chided
and strongly encouraged to reconsider their decisions (Connell, 1987). Two
prominent theorists on this phenomenon of gender socialization are Albert
Bandura and Lawrence Kohlberg.

Bandura stressed that the process of gender socialization is achieved

through a process called modeling where children imitate the actions of
adults and other children around them. Boys learn masculine behaviors
from their fathers and other male role models who exhibit these traits. Girls
learn to be girls by mimicking the feminine behaviors of their mothers and
other female role models. Though parents do not necessarily reinforce
these gender roles, children tend to learn that behavior exhibiting same-sex
traits often reaps rewards, opposite-gender behavior may incur punish-
ment (Bandura, 1977).

Kohlberg, on the other hand, felt that these gender roles developed out of a
three-step cognitive process that every child must work through from about
the age of two to the age of six. The first step is for the child to recognize their
particular gender. At this point they understand that there is a fundamen-

94 Sociology Reference Guide

tal biological and social difference between a male and a female. Second,
a child understands that this gender will not change. If they are female
then she is a girl who will eventually grow up to be a woman. Finally, a
child understands that no matter which gender traits they choose to exhibit
their gender will still remain constant and unchanged (Kohlberg, 1966).

These experiences—whether socially, psychologically, or biologically

driven—reinforce what a culture believes to be “normal” for each gender,
and since they are carried into adulthood they are often the foundation of
our occupational choices. With this in mind, sociologists begin their search
for the underlying factors of workplace issues, like wage discrimination,
occupational discrimination, glass ceiling effect, and hegemonic masculin-
ity, far before we begin to make any serious career choices. These cultural
pressures of gender stereotypes not only shape our career choices, but they
also shape our chances of success as well.

Masculine Management Style

Typically, leaders within a corporation are expected to take on the role of

the hegemonic male in order to achieve real success. These male traits—
like being independent, objective, and competitive—are associated with
success to the point that even female managers are expected to either have
or learn to assume them. One particularly strong example of a successful,
masculine management style can be seen in Donald J. Trump. The official
biography found on his website refers to him as the “archetypal business-
man,” and reads like a checklist of the most stereotypically male traits
ascribed to success in business (Trump, 2008).

Trump had his beginnings working under his father in a small real estate
office in Brooklyn, New York, and though his career has been rocky, he has
managed to pull his business holdings out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy and
into an empire valued at more than $3 billion at the end of 2007 (Forbes,
2007). Many, including Trump himself, have declared that the vast majority
of this success is a direct result of Trump’s aggressive business nature. In
fact, in 2006 BusinessWeek magazine named Trump as the world’s most
competitive businessperson.

Exploring Human Sexuality 95

In his most recent book, Trump outlines the top ten lessons in success, and
not surprisingly, each of these lessons embodies a particularly masculine
trait. The first lesson is simply that in order to be successful you must be
a workaholic. He insists that an 80-hour work week is the key to reaching
business goals, which leaves little time for family. Other hegemonic male
attributes that are included in his top ten traits of success are persistence,
aggression, and a keen ability to negotiate. He also suggests that any suc-
cessful business person wishing to marry should only marry someone who
understands they will be taking a back seat to business, and who is willing
to sign a prenuptial agreement (Trump, 2007).

Competition seems to fuel Trump’s aggressive management style. So

much so that he created the well-known television show The Apprentice
where he watches young business hopefuls compete for a position in his
expanding company. Weakness is not tolerated, and results are rewarded
regardless of any morals, principles, or emotional investments that may
have been compromised. Though not necessarily well liked, Trump is most
certainly respected as an extremely successful businessman. His embodi-
ment of the hegemonic male leaves few to question how he has been able
to amass such wealth and celebrity since it is precisely these traits that have
been expected from successful men and women in the business world.

Feminine Management Style

The pressures of corporate culture have seen women attempt to adopt the
traits of hegemonic masculinity, often at the expense of their perceived
status as a woman. While many of these assertive women have achieved
quite a bit of success, they are seen as successful in spite of their gender,
not because of it. With this in mind, some companies who cater specifically
to women as their primary market have begun to rebel against the idea
that a successful woman must abandon all her feminine traits. Mary Kay
Cosmetics is an excellent example of this movement.

Founded by Mary Kay Ash, the company rose from a one-woman enter-
prise of less than $200,000 a year to over $2.5 billion in 2005 (Mary Kay
2008). What is most unique about Ash’s company is that she made a con-
scious drive to elevate the feminine traits generally viewed as weaknesses
in the dog-eat-dog world of business into the cornerstones of a successful
corporate culture. The Mary Kay motto states that family is more impor-

96 Sociology Reference Guide

tant than business, and that the Golden Rule of treating others as you wish
to be treated plays a major role in the decision making process.

Compassion, understanding, caring, and nurturing are all prominent

elements of the Mary Kay empire, but the element of recognition is an in-
teresting addition on top of all of these traditionally feminine traits. The
women (and few men) who are a part of this pink corporate culture have
enjoyed a wide variety of accolades specifically designed to reward the
top performers (Mary Kay 2008). Competitiveness is surprisingly not one
of the most lucrative traits to possess in this company since cooperation is
highly prized and recognized over competition.

What this pink corporate culture demonstrates is that the hegemonic mas-
culinity that we associate with success is not, in fact, a necessity to achieve
that success. Though culture may influence women to display traits that
many consider to be detrimental in the business world, companies like
Mary Kay Cosmetics clearly show that these traits can be just as successful
(perhaps even more successful in some cases) as those that embrace tradi-
tionally male attitudes.


Issues of gender and sexual orientation in the workplace are not simply
confined to the office. The challenges and multidimensional experiences
that occur within the walls of the work building are rooted in our experi-
ences that occur before we even enter the working world. Regardless of
whether the development of gender roles and stereotypes is truly based
in biology or traits nurtured in us through our dominant culture, evidence
tends to point to the fact that there are strengths and weaknesses in both
the hegemonic masculinity and the exaggerated femininity that develop
within the corporate culture. Both feminine and masculine traits have had
their successes, but it is yet to be seen whether they can exist harmoniously
within the same corporate environment, or if they must remain separate
and pitted against one another in the world of business.

Though business has seen a dramatic shift over the last few decades to re-
incorporate those populations that are traditionally marginalized in corpo-
rate cultures, the road to equality is a long one.

Exploring Human Sexuality 97

Members of the GLBT community have a particularly long road ahead
of them in respects to seeking out equal treatment, as has been demon-
strated by the uphill battle of women in the workplace. Of course these
issues will likely never be completely resolved as long as the dominate
culture continues to condition children to exhibit traditional gender traits
from such early ages. Regardless of the willingness of the population and
the growing acceptance of women and gays in powerful roles, the shift in
gender dynamics in the culture will most certainly not happen overnight.
The continued sociological study of the topic of gender and sexual orienta-
tion in the workplace will be important in developing corporate techniques
and political policies that will help usher in an era of equality that many
workers are seeking.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Blau, F., & Lawrence K. (1997). Swimming upstream: Trends in the gender wage differential
in the 1980s. Journal of Labor Economics, 15 (1), 1-42. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from
EBSCO online database, Business Source Premier http://search.ebscohost.com/login.
Cohen, P. & Huffman, M. L. (2007). Working for the woman? Female managers and the
gender wage gap. American Sociological Review, 72 (5), 681-704. Retrieved May 12,
2008 from EBSCO Online Database SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.
Cohen, P. & Huffman, M. L. (2006). Working for the man: Management characteristics and
the gender wage gap. Conference Papers -- American Sociological Association 2006
Annual Meeting, Montreal, p 1. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database
SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=si
Connell, R.W. (1987). Gender and power: Society, the person, and sexual politics.
Cambridge: Polity Press.
Endicott, R. C. (2002). Salary survey. Advertising Age. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from
website, http://adage.com/
Erosa, A., Fuster, L., Restuccia, D. (2005). A quantitative theory of the gender wage gap.
Federal Reserve Bank, University of Ontario.
Furr, S.R. (2002). Men and women in cross-gender careers. In Diament, L. & Lee, J.A. (Eds.)
The psychology of sex, gender, and jobs: Issues and solutions. (pp. 47-68) Westport, CT:
Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Herek, G. M. (2000). The psychology of sexual prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological
Science, 9 (1), 19-22. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database, Academic
Search Complete, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=
http://www.marykay.com/ (2008). Accessed May 12, 2008
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Kanter, R.M. (1997), On the frontiers of management. Boston: Harvard Business School
Kohlberg, L. (1966). A cognitive-developmental analysis of children’s sex role concepts and
attitudes. In Eleanor E. Maccoby ed., The development of sex differences. Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press.
Lipsey, R.G., Steiner, P.O., Purvis, D.D., Courant, P.N. (1990). Economics. New York:
Harper & Row.
Miller, M. (2007, September 20). The Forbes 400, (32).
Nevill, D. & Schlecker, D. (1988). The relation of self-efficacy and assertiveness to
willingness to engage in traditional/nontraditional career activities. Psychology of
Women Quarterly, 12,(1) 91-98. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from EBSCO Online Database
SocINDEX with Full Text. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=si
Prentiss, C. & McAnulty, R. (2002). Gender identity disorder in the workplace. In Diament,
L. & Lee, J.A. (Eds.) The Psychology of Sex, Gender, and Jobs: Issues and Solutions (pp.
171-184). Westport, CT: Praeger.
Street, A.E., Gradus, J.L., Stafford, J., & Kelly, K. (2007). Gender differences in experiences
of sexual harassment: Data from a male-dominated environment. Journal of Consulting
& Clinical Psychology, 75 (3), 464-474. Retrieved May 11, 2008 from EBSCO online
database, Academic Search Premier. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=
Stringer, D. & Duncan, E. (1985). Nontraditional occupations: A study of women who have
made the choice. Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 35, 241-248.
Trump, D.J., & Zanker, B. (2007). Think big and kick ass in business and in life. New York:
Harper Collins.
Whiston, S. (1993). Self-efficacy of women in traditional and nontraditional occupations:
Differences in working with people and things. Journal of Career Development, 19,
Wood, R., Corcoran, M., & Courant, P. (1993). “Pay differences among the highly paid:
the male-female earnings gap in lawyers’ salaries.” Journal of Labor Economics, 11 (3),
417-441. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from EBSCO online database, Business Source Premier

Exploring Human Sexuality 99

Suggested Reading
Lester, J. (2008). Performing gender in the workplace. Community College Review, 35(4),
277- 305. Retrieved May 13, 2008 from EBSCO Academic Search Premiere. http://
Bohnet, I. & Greig, F. (2007, April). Gender matters in workplace decisions. Negotiations,
4-6. Retrieved May 14, 2008 from EBSCO Business Source Premier. http://search.
Meyers, J.S.M. (2006). Diversity and democracy: A model for change in the workplace.
Conference Papers -- American Sociological Association, 2006 Annual Meeting,
Montreal, 1, 24p. Retrieved on May 14, 2008 from EBSCO SocINDEX with Full Text.

100 Sociology Reference Guide

Geraldine Wagner

Sexual Orientation

A person’s sexual orientation, whether he or she prefers sexual relation-

ships with members of the same sex, or the opposite sex, is considered by
some to be determined at birth or learned, and by others as both biological
and social. A person can be heterosexual, preferring to have sexual rela-
tionships with members of the opposite sex, or homosexual, preferring to
have sexual relationships with members of the same sex. Gays are typically
males who prefer to have relationships with other males, while lesbians
are women who prefer to have relationships with other women. Straights
are heterosexuals, while bisexuals will have sexual relationships with both
the same and the opposite sex. Transgenderism refers to cross-dressers and
those who do not conform to culturally prescribed norms about what it
means to be male or female.

However, having a homosexual or bisexual experience does not neces-

sarily mean that a person is homosexual. For some, particularly young
people, homosexual or bisexual experiences are experimental and do not
continue. For others, however, homosexuality is a way of life. Researchers
have found that gay and bisexual men in particular often believed that they
were different from other boys from an early age (Savin-Williams, 2004).

Exploring Human Sexuality 101

What is Homophobia?

Homophobia, essentially, is the fear of homosexuality. Gays and lesbians

frequently experience incidents of homophobia with 83% reporting verbal
assaults, threats, physical and sexual assault.

Homophobia includes negative beliefs, attitudes, stereotypes, and be-

haviors toward gays and lesbians (Espelage, Aragon, Birkett & Koenig,
2008). While homophobia can be defined as heterosexuals’ dread of being
in close quarters with homosexuals as well as homosexuals’ self loathing,
homophobia is driven by a rigid gender code (Herek, 2008). Women who
break from traditional, culturally defined female roles are often thought of
as lesbians, and men who transcend the culturally defined notions of what
it means to be male, are punished socially and in the work place (Mottet &
Tanis, 2008). Persons of a sexual orientation besides heterosexuality have
probably experienced some form of prejudice, or homophobia from het-

Gender Roles

While sex is biological, referring to genitalia and to secondary sex charac-

teristics such as breasts, or body hair, gender is a cultural phenomenon.
In other words, the notion of male or female is defined by the culture and
both sexes are expected to adhere to the rules and norms of society regard-
ing their sex and their gender role – the behavior and attitudes that are
considered appropriate for each sex - which are taught from birth through
the process of gender socialization.

Being gendered, or identified as being one gender or another can affect a

person’s life every day from how he or she receives tasks and rewards, the
types of education and work available to him or her, and how much wealth
and power he or she will receive in the course of a lifetime. The belief
systems surrounding gender are embedded within a culture’s language
and ideas, and are reinforced strongly by religion, science, government
and law.

There are popular stereotypes about the genders, such as males being
strong, independent and not likely to cry, while women are characterized
being weak and emotional. These stereotypes also reinforce the cultural

102 Sociology Reference Guide

ideas and socialization institutions such as the family and religion. For
example, gay family recognition is restricted in 39 states in the U.S., and
gay parenting is restricted in at least seven states.

In another example, in 2000, Pope John Paul II criticized gay pride activi-
ties in Rome as offensive to Christian values and condemned homosexual-
ity publicly, six years after a closed-door meeting of Christians met to plan
attacks on the gay rights movement (“They’ll Know,” 1994). Even more
recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury influenced members in the British
House of Lords to veto an equal age of consent bill, which criminalized gay
16- and 17-year olds. Current religious homophobes point to the Bible and
Leviticus 20:13, which demands that homosexuals be killed (Tatchell, 2000).

Coming Out

Coming out, or claiming publicly to be homosexual, is an intimate detail

about a person that can have some positive effects and reduce the stigma
related to homosexuality. Social scientists have found that lesbians and gay
men who “come out of the closet” to their heterosexual friends and family
members help to create these more positive attitudes. People who have
a gay friend or relative will think better of homosexuality. But personal
contact isn’t enough. And one homosexual relative or friend doesn’t change
much, either. Stereotypes tend to be more easily dispelled among hetero-
sexuals who know, or have contact with more than one gay person and if
there is openness about the sexual orientation of the others (Herek, 2008).

Hate Crimes

Coming out also carries danger and risks. Many heterosexual Americans
hold strongly negative feelings toward homosexuality, and some commit
hate crimes against homosexuals. Hate crimes, or bias crimes, are intended
to harm or intimidate people because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orien-
tation, religion, or other minority group status.

FBI statistics show that about 30% of hate crimes are crimes against
property such as robbery, vandalism, theft, or arson. The remaining 70%
involve an attack against a person such as assault, rape, and murder. These
hate crimes are committed 95% of the time by young people who have no
criminal record, or do not belong to any type of hate group. Their actions
are fueled primarily by prejudice and dislike of people who seem different,

Exploring Human Sexuality 103

with 60% of people surveyed in one study, believing that homosexuality
was disgusting. The offenders tend to believe, too, that their behavior is
sanctioned by others, and indeed, with job discrimination on the basis
of sexual orientation legal in most U.S. states, that notion could be easily
believed (Herek, 2008; American Psychological Association, 2004).


Heterosexism, or sexual prejudice, is similar to sexism or racism in that it

is an ideology that punishes or denies and stigmatizes non-heterosexual
behavior or relationships. As long as a person’s homosexuality remains
hidden, there is no stigma. Once homosexuality is out in the open, gay
people are subject to punishment by society.

In the United States, heterosexism and its accompanying discrimination


• The ban against lesbian and gay military personnel;

• Lack of legal protection in employment, housing, and
• Open hostility to lesbian and gay committed relationships,
recent passage of federal and state laws against same-gen-
der marriage; and
• The existence of sodomy laws in more than one-third of
the states (Herek, 2008).

Despite these forms of discrimination, and while most adults in the U.S.
view homosexual behavior as immoral, the trend toward less condem-
nation may be coming. Within a twenty year span of time from 1973 to
1993, for example, attitudes about homosexuality began to change and
most people no longer believe that it is always wrong. However, the trend
began to reverse itself in the early twenty-first century with 49% of respon-
dents to a Gallup poll believing that homosexuality is unacceptable.

Further Insights
Who is Homophobic?

Those with negative attitudes toward gay people are more likely to be
older, male, less well-educated and living in rural areas or in the Midwest-

104 Sociology Reference Guide

ern or Southern U.S. They also attend church frequently and have orthodox
beliefs about religion and the literal truth of the Bible (Miller, 2007). They
are also likely to be more conservative, politically. Furthermore, those with
negative attitudes toward homosexuality tend to display authoritarian
personalities, believe in traditional gender roles and divisions of labor, and
are less sexually permissive. They often do not believe that homosexuality
occurs from birth and they do not have any close ties to any homosexual
people (Herek, 2008).

What Motivates Sexual Prejudice?

Structural-Functionalist Perspective

The structural-functionalist approach in sociology argues that attitudes

about homosexuality serve to help heterosexuals make sense of their in-
teractions with gays and to fit those interactions into a larger world view
(Savage & Julien, 1994). Heterosexuals who have not had interactions
with homosexuals in a social setting often perceive homosexuality as their
opposite, which serves to distance homosexuals as representative of a group
to which they do not wish to belong. This gives the heterosexual group a
sense of well-being and an identity. In other words, expressing a preju-
dicial attitude serves as a defense mechanism for heterosexuals who can
then separate themselves from any emotional expenditure when homosex-
uals are discriminated against, or even attacked physically (Herek, 2008).

In the U.S. for example, males may be more likely to reject homosexual-
ity and to align themselves to more socially-acceptable groups that do the
same. Research in sports indicates that female team members are more
accepting of lesbian teammates than males, and male coaches are able to
accept gay team members. While males experience acceptable forms of
homoeroticism in the locker room such as slapping one another on the
buttocks, or hugging one another, any display of such behavior in another
setting could bring accusations of homosexuality and ostracism, or even
violence (Demers, 2006).

Conflict Perspective

Conflict theorists argue that sexism allows a system of patriarchy to

continue. Strict gender roles reinforce patriarchy and those who fall outside
of the rigid sex roles, such as homosexuals, bi-sexuals and transgenders,
are punished by being denied equal rights, or by experiencing prejudice,

Exploring Human Sexuality 105

discrimination and even physical harm. Patriarchy then uses homophobia
to oppress people who are perceived as a threat to that system (Schryer &
Napier, 1997).
Sodomy Laws

Some thirty years ago in 1977, a Gallup poll asked about the legality of
homosexual relations between consenting adults. Responses were evenly
split, with 43% favoring legalization and 43% opposing it. In the mid-
1980s, with the new epidemic of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency
Syndrome) affecting American gay and bisexual males, the trend reversed,
with only 32% supporting the legality of homosexual relationships and
57% opposing them, even though the statistics showed that on a global
scale, AIDS was more often traced to heterosexuals. In 1986, the Supreme
Court of the U.S. upheld the right of states to enact Sodomy laws. Sodomy
includes sex acts such as anal intercourse, oral sex and masturbation that
are practiced among people, including homosexuals. But then the trend
began shifting again and in 2003, the Supreme Court overturned the 1986
decision and ruled sodomy laws in Texas to be unconstitutional. Similarly,
public opinion was changing, with 60% of Americans favoring the legal-
ization of homosexual relations, and 35% opposing it. The trend has con-
tinued to be favorable toward the legalization of homosexual relationships
(Herek, 2008).

More than 45% of African-American gay and bisexual urban males are
infected with HIV. African Americans are 10 times more likely than white
people to contract AIDS. Despite the seriousness of the disease in the gay
community, particularly among young Blacks, funding for cures and
medical attention on the federal level is scarce (Foreman, 2008). AIDS-relat-
ed stigma, or AIDS stigma refers to prejudice and discrimination directed
at people perceived to have AIDS or HIV. This stigmatization and subse-
quent discrimination can result in ostracism, violence, and quarantine of
persons with HIV. Some would argue that AIDS stigma prevents society
from stemming the AIDS epidemic (Herek, 2008).

Gay Marriage

Many have argued that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families
deserve the same recognition and legal protection as all other families.

106 Sociology Reference Guide

Despite strong opposition, on May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court
made the historic decision to support the freedom of homosexuals to marry
(nclrights.org, 2008).

Sexual Diversity in the Workplace

Gay and bisexual people continue to experience discrimination in employ-

ment, housing, public accommodation, education, and health care because
of a lack of legal protection and a lack of public support for equality in
these areas, but the trend is beginning to shift toward more tolerance.

One of the most remarkable changes has been in the workplace, where a
larger proportion of Americans feel homosexuals should be hired as ele-
mentary school teachers; the percentages have increased from 27% in 1977,
to 41% in 1992, to 54% in 2005. Other increases in support for employ-
ment rights range from 13 percentage points (for clergy) to 34 points (for
doctors) (thetaskforce.org, 2008).

Homophobia is a hatred or fear of the two to five percent of the U.S. popu-
lation that identifies itself as either gay, or lesbian (Schaefer, 2008). While
research indicates that homophobia has decreased in recent years, there
are still segments of society who are homophobic and therefore, many ho-
mosexual men and women continue to experience both personal and legal
negative effects of being stigmatized because of their sexual preference.

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Espelage, D., Aragon, S., Birkett, M. & Koenig, B. (2008). Homophobic teasing,
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2008 from: http://www.schryer.com/homophobia/
Tatchell, P. (2000). Apostles of Unreason settle into their third millennium [Electronic
version]. Gay and Lesbian Humanist, Autumn. Retrieved September 17, 2008 from:
They’ll know we are Christians by our sexual orientation [Editorial]. (1994). National
Catholic Reporter, 30 (38). Retrieved September 19, 2008 from EBSCO online database
Academic Search Premier: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a

Suggested Reading
Fone, B. (2000). Homophobia: A history. New York: Picador.
Kantor, M. (1998). Homophobia: Description, development, and dynamics of gay bashing.
Westport, Conn.: Praeger
Van Dijk, L. & Van Driel, B. (2007). Challenging homophobia: Teaching about sexual
diversity. London: Trenton Books.

108 Sociology Reference Guide

Sexuality & the Media
Maureen McMahon


“In the early 1960s the word pregnant was not allowed on television, and
movies and television did not show married couples in the same bed”
(Kammayer, Ritzer & Yetman, 1994, p. 209). In 2008, a person is lucky to
experience a two-hour time span that avoids either concept. The media did
not change overnight; nor did it change in a vacuum. As such, it cannot
take full responsibility for the misunderstanding or misrepresentation of
sexuality. Indeed, magazine covers, various advertisements, and televi-
sion programs are viewed by the millions, resulting in representations that
are expected by consumers. Yet, they don’t necessarily depict reality; only
soap opera stars have sex with their husband’s sons, becoming pregnant
with twins by both men in some bizarre yet plausible way. In addition,
the average woman is not a size four like every model in the pages of a
magazine. Nor does everyone discuss sex as liberally or as frequently as
radio “shock jocks.” Nevertheless, the television and radio remain turned
on, and the magazines sell.

It is possible that audiences live vicariously through these sexual mediums,

knowing their lives will never be like those in soap operas; but in living
that way, they are promoting those mediums as acceptable, and in many
instances, as normal. Normalcy, however, does have standards. In a
perfect world, a person would not become involved in sexual activity until

Exploring Human Sexuality 109

he or she was mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared to do so.
However, life as a teenager is rarely perfect, and peer pressure, outside
influences like the media, and curiosity about changing bodies create an
inherent mystique about sex. When the media continuously references sex
as fun, popular, and normal, anyone who is not sexually active feels left
out and, oftentimes, abnormal.

Sexuality-Based Media

Some media outlets use a variety of tactics to teach responsibility and con-
fidence, but most do not. Indeed, the media that most children are exposed
to encourage behaviors that degrade women, suggest provocative displays
of physical interaction, and belittle the confidence required to “just say
no.” Kammayer, et al. (1994) identify three ways that sexual activities are
characterized by American culture:


• Sexual acts and sexual partners are treated as though they

are unimportant (Schur, 1988, as cited in Kammayer, et al.,
1994, p. 200)

• Sex is bought and sold, just like any other commodity in

the marketplace
• Americans are accustomed to purchasing their recreation
and sex is seen by many as a form of recreation
• Includes the sale of sexually oriented clothing and other
sexual paraphernalia that are widely advertised and dis-
• In dating situations, when males pay for meals and enter-
tainment, there is often the implicit assumption that the
females owe something in return (p. 200-201)
Coercive and Aggressive

• Surveys have shown that one-fourth to one-half of all

women will experience rape or attempted rape in their
lifetimes (Schur, 1988, p. 140, as cited in Kammayer, et al.,
p. 202).

110 Sociology Reference Guide

It is unclear what came first in the formation of sexuality-based media. Did
society become used to sexual references (perhaps because of bra burning
and “swingers” in the 70s), and the media opted to make it a marketing
tool? Or, did the media slowly introduce images of sexuality and audi-
ences became conditioned to it? It may be that the conditioning toward
and the promotion of sexuality as mainstream happened concurrently. Re-
gardless, the consequence of the conditioning remains that same. If sex is
seen as purely physical – promoted by sexy pictures in magazines, steamy
plots on television shows, and scantily clad women in music videos – rather
than emotional – in real-life relationships – young men and women mature
accustomed to sex being a minor detail in their lives.

Teens & the Media

Some adolescents will talk to their parents. However, many will turn to
their peers; some may even depend on books, but most will gather infor-
mation from various media sources. According to a 1996 survey conduct-
ed by the Kaiser Family Foundation, adolescents utilize media sources (on
average) for about eight hours per day. The following chart details those
sources and their average use by hour.

Figure 1. Average Daily Media Use.

1.5 1.3
0.8 0.9 0.9
1 0.7 0.4 0.6 0.5 0.7 0.7
0.3 0.3 0.4 0.5
0.2 0.2

Print Media
Taped Television

Video Games






Exploring Human Sexuality 111

The 1996 Kaiser Family Foundation survey on teens and sex: What they say teens
today need to know and who they listen to.Source: Girls Incorporated National
Resource Center (1999) Average Daily Media Use Among Youth (ages 8-18) in
Total Hours

Considering the breakdown of a twenty-four hour day for an average

teenager (eight hours for sleep; seven hours in school; eight hours of media
influence), there is not much time for conversations with parents, should
a teen want such a thing. What is more important than the lack of time to
talk with parents should be the enormous power media sources have on
the average teen.

According to the same survey, teens may rely on the media for information
because what insights they do get from adults are not necessarily helpful.

Two-thirds (64 percent) believe that adults tell teenagers things “when it’s
too late.” More than half (57 percent) indicate that adults discuss things
that fail to address the situations teenagers actually face. More than one in
four girls (27 percent) says she wants more information on how girls get
pregnant. About one in three wants more information about where to get
(35 percent) and how to use (40 percent) different kinds of birth control
methods. Half (50 percent) want more information on how to prevent
AIDS or other STDs (Girls Incorporated, http://www.girlsinc.org/)

It is not clear here what is told to teens “too late,” but it’s possible those
criteria may be directed toward physical development, which, especially
for young girls, happens earlier than most people want to think. T h e s e
changes by nature instill curiosity about sexuality. Without honest input
from parents, though, adolescents will find information in other ways
which may be inaccurate or biased.

Further Insights
The Media
Magazines & Teens

One way to settle that curiosity is to read magazines that specialize in the
sexual matters of teenagers such as Seventeen. “Adolescent girls cite mag-
azines as significant sources of sexual information that are as meaning-

112 Sociology Reference Guide

ful a source as their parents” (Treise & Gotthoffer 2002; Walsh-Childers
et al. 2002, as cited in Medley-Rath, 2007, p. 25). Medley-Rath examined
the advice column of Seventeen for almost ten years trying to determine
if teens reading the magazine would gain clear-cut information about sex-
uality based on the contents of the column. As the column’s format is
anonymous, based on letters sent by readers, it may be easier for teens to
ask Seventeen rather than their parents when questions about sex arise,
especially those of an explicit nature.

For example, the following question and response were printed in Seven-
teen in December of 1995 (p. 46).

Reader: Questions losing her virginity as her boyfriend’s penis

was “partially inside her vagina.”

Seventeen: “There’s no textbook definition of sex … You are

right that, technically speaking, penetration pretty much equals
sex. For your boyfriend, though, it may not qualify unless he has
an orgasm” (Medley-Rath, 2007, p 39).

Medley-Rath notes that in this exchange, “sex is defined [for girls] based
on penetration but for boys it might only count if he orgasms” (p. 30). An
anxious teen trying to determine one of the most important questions of
her life, might find this response confusing. If initial ejaculation represents
the epic moment for boys, do they lose their virginity through masturba-
tion (self or mutual) or though oral sex? This is not addressed during the
nine-year research study conducted by Medley-Rath; the researcher notes
that the lack of such information suggests that boys get to decide when they
lose their virginity while girls have that decision made for them (p. 39).

Likewise, if an adolescent inquires about gay, lesbian, or alternative sexual

acts, he or she is provided the same information that is provided to het-
erosexual inquiries: Virginity (for girls) is lost when a penis penetrates a
vagina. This communicates to readers that the important event of losing
one’s virginity can only happen to girls who have intercourse with boys.
It also communicates that intercourse (vaginal penetration with a penis) is
normal. According to Medley-Rath,

Exploring Human Sexuality 113

Teen magazines present heterosexual sexual behaviors as nor-
mative (Carpenter 1998; Currie 1999; Jackson 1999, as cited in
Medley-Rath, p. 25) … Heteronormative virginity loss is placed
on a pedestal compared to non-heteronormative virginity loss,
even though individuals may have other sexual experiences they
consider as important as intercourse (Medley-Rath, p. 27).

Adolescence is difficult enough. To have feelings that are not discussed

by a magazine that is supposed to support teen girls, must have a dev-
astating effect; yet, in the culture of Seventeen, that does not seem to be
a concern. On the other hand, Medley-Rath did note that Seventeen was
clear to stress that abstinence is the only way to avoid sexually transmitted
infections (August 1989, p. 172). Conversely, Seventeen never supplies an
official definition of abstinence for its readers (p. 34). Nor did the magazine
discuss the medical determination of a broken hymen with regard to vir-
ginity loss in girls within the nine years Medley-Rath studied its column.

Magazines & Adults

Seventeen was created to reach females ages 13-18; Cosmopolitan and its
Australian contemporary, Cleo, were created for female readers ages 18-34;
Cosmo is the most widely read women’s lifestyle magazine globally (McCle-
neghan, 2003, as cited in Farvid & Braun, 2006, p. 298), and therefore the in-
formation within the magazine reaches (and influences) millions of people.
Farvid & Braun (2006) conducted an examination much like Medley-Rath’s
to determine how sexuality was approached in these two adult magazines.
Farvid & Braun looked at the portrayal of male sexuality and how it condi-
tions female sexuality (both overtly and covertly) from issue to issue (p. 296).
They conclude:

The focus on men is particularly relevant because, in a hetero-

normative world, male and female sexualities are constructed
simultaneously. Therefore, although previous examinations of
constructions of femininity/female sexuality in magazines have
been useful, they are only partially complete, as female (hetero)
sexuality is also constructed through the magazines’ accounts of
male (hetero) sexuality (Farvid & Braun, 2006, p. 298).

The research was based on six issues of both magazines from January to
June 2002 (p. 298), and the data is consistent with that of the Seventeen

114 Sociology Reference Guide

study. Sexuality (for both men and women) is portrayed exclusively as
heterosexual (Jackson, 1996; McLoughlin, 2000, as cited in Farvid & Braun,
p. 299). Furthermore, while there were a number of incidences in which
women were portrayed as being confident and independent,

. . .women were overwhelmingly represented as wanting/

needing men in their lives and ultimately seeking (monogamous)
long-term relationships with men; this was often situated as the
desired outcome from a new date/sexual encounter…[Further-
more, w]omen were constantly depicted as ultimately looking
for their ‘Mr Right’ (who was presumed to exist for all women)…
[and] men were implicitly located as the underlying source of
women’s fulfilment, security, and happiness. The magazines
rarely considered a woman’s life without a man … Men were
rarely represented as ‘needing’ women in the same manner, and
their presumed full autonomy and independence was something
women implicitly still do not possess, nor should they desire it
(p. 299-300).

As a publication created for women, what men want in and outside of

the bedroom was the focus from month to month. In addition, women
“giving” men what they want was also the focus in that advice (sometimes
from men) was provided for readers to best meet the (primarily sexual)
needs of the men in their lives. This information was provided based on
the assumption that women didn’t already have it – or couldn’t figure it
out on their own. Furthermore, it was clear within the magazines that
what men want was their primary concern and should also be the primary
concern for women (Farvid & Braun, 2006, p. 300).

Of concern is the fact that interviews from men were expanded upon by
the magazine editors as though what the men said was gospel. One man
described being controlled by his “groin” as though the biology of his body
was responsible for his actions; he couldn’t help being a creature of sexual
desire (p. 301). Farvid & Braun note how dangerous this concept can be as
it “can function to represent male sexuality as not only needy/driven, but
also as uncontrollable, which potentially shifts the responsibility of certain
sexual actions (such as infidelity/cheating [or sexual assaults]) away from
the man” (p. 301).

Exploring Human Sexuality 115

When articles entitled, “Guy talk: Is there any man totally cheat-proof?,”
which include quotes from men, are juxtaposed to one advertisement after
another selling products to hamper the aging process, it should not be a
mystery what message women are supposed to take from these publica-
tions (Cosmopolitan, January 2002, as cited in Farvid & Braun, 2007, p.
302): Give your man what he wants and be as attractive as possible when
you are doing it.

Hip-hop Music Videos

Peterson, Wingood, DiClemente, Harrington & Davies (2007) conducted

one of the first studies to examine the relationship between images of
sexual stereotypes in rap music videos to negative health consequences
for African American female adolescents (p. 1158). To gather the appro-
priate data, Peterson, et al. created a survey and interview questions about
participants’ “rap music video viewing habits” (p. 1157). Over five-hun-
dred African American female teens aged 14-18 (p. 1158) participated in
the study by completing the written surveys, taking part in oral interviews,
and providing urine for a marijuana screening (p. 1157).

In a summary of their findings, Peterson and colleagues note that teenagers

who regularly viewed the stereotypical sexual behaviors often portrayed
by rap music were more likely (by their own admission) to,

• Engage in binge drinking,

• Test positive for marijuana,
• Have multiple sexual partners, and
• Have a negative body image (p. 1161).

Furthermore, Peterson et al. note that within the history of rap music
videos, “African American women are often portrayed as hypersexual, ma-
terialistic, and amoral … their depiction often overemphasizes their sexu-
alized, physical appearance and places them as decorative objects rather
than active agents, in the videos” (Emerson, 2002; Stephens & Phillips,
2003; Ward, Hansbrough & Walker, 2005, as cited in Peterson, et al., 2007,
p. 1158). It could be argued, however, that women in general (regard-
less of race) are portrayed the same way in videos representing a variety
of musical genres. Consider Madonna, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Shania
Twain, or Carrie Underwood, who touts a Louisville Slugger proudly as
she bashes the headlights out of her cheating boyfriend’s truck.

116 Sociology Reference Guide

Regardless of how these women behave when the camera is not rolling on
them, their videos show them as being amoral, materialistic, and hypersex-
ual. The problem with those depictions is that because they are displayed
so frequently, young women think they represent normal behavior. When
those teen bodies, faces, and “attitudes” don’t simulate the ones seen on
television, youthful audiences are left to feel abnormal and inadequate,
and in many instances, eager to please, possibly before they truly under-
stand the consequences of pleasing behaviors. After all, any woman, in
reality, would likely be arrested if she beats on her ex’s vehicle because she
caught him cheating.

The Internet

In ten minutes, a person can access MySpace and read random pieces of
information based on a variety of topics. Currently, the site, which allows
people to upload pictures of themselves and discuss their lives in great
detail, has open discussion forums ranging in subject from sexual prefer-
ences to God to teen pregnancy and abortion. Anyone can view forums
from the past few weeks focusing on topics just as exciting. What is
alarming about these forums is that whoever creates a topic or responds
to posts already created is identified by his username. By clicking on the
username listed within the post, the “clicker” is directly sent to the author’s
MySpace page, which can list generic or specific information about the

In addition, creating a topic or post also sets an author up for scads of

criticism. In one instance, a teenager wrote in about being pregnant. She
was asking anyone who wanted to respond about their opinions regard-
ing her not having an abortion. The girl was ridiculed, heckled, and sup-
ported by people she did not even know. Furthermore, her post created a
series of discussions on the general topics of teen pregnancy and abortion.
After several posts listing various opinions, the author posted a short note
(again, to anyone who wanted to read it) stating that she’d had a miscar-
riage. This, in turn, set off further discussions.

Moreover, one member (you do not have to be a member to access the

discussion posts) created a forum to tell his friend to stop logging into the
MySpace site using his username. Apparently, Friend #1 used Friend #2s
computer often enough that he (Friend #1) clicked on the automatic login

Exploring Human Sexuality 117

option so as to not type in his username every time he used Friend #2s
computer. Friend #2 – either overtly or covertly – used the saved username
when he accessed MySpace. Whether or not this was a deliberate action,
it could be a dangerous one depending on what Friend #2 does (writes)
when he’s logged in as Friend #1.

Positive Influences
Sexuality Education & the Media

Girls Incorporated is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “inspiring all

girls to be strong, smart, and bold” (http://www.girlsinc.org/). The orga-
nization focuses educational programming toward high-risk female youth
in America; the various programs include

. . . math and science education, pregnancy and drug abuse pre-

vention, media literacy, economic literacy, adolescent health,
violence prevention, and sports participation … [Participants
learn to] confront subtle societal messages about their value and
potential, and prepare them to lead successful, independent, and
fulfilling lives (http://www.girlsinc.org/)

What is especially appealing about this resource is that if someone’s com-

munity does not have a Girls Incorporated organization, most of the
programming can be acquired online, through the website. Information
about Internet safety, friendships, sexuality, violence, and education can
be found within seconds when touring this site. In addition, women who
lead successful lives – running companies, demonstrating effective par-
enting skills, participating in political activisim – are celebrated every day
within the site so that young girls can see the possibilities of thinking posi-
tively about themselves.

An article entitled, “All he talks about is sex,” is sure to raise eyebrows.

However, it describes Jairo Bouer, an adolescent psychiatrist in Brazil who
talks openly about sex – pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted infec-
tions, and HIV – over the Brazilian airwaves to help youth learn the truth
about sexuality (Tabakman, 2005).

Today he has two radio programs, appears on television (“I reach the rich
by cable and the poor by parabolic antenna”), writes books, participates in

118 Sociology Reference Guide

conferences (including some organized by the Pan American Health Or-
ganization), serves as a government consultant on HIV/AIDS and drug
and alcohol prevention, and has his own website—you guessed it—on sex
(Tabakman, 2005, p. 17-18).

Much like Dr. Ruth Westheimer in the United States, Bouer uses humor to
reach his audience, many times by seeking out adolescents on their turf; he
appeared on MTV Brazil for a four-hour program on sex in 1998. When he
can’t go to them, Bouer encourages youth to use the radio or Internet when
they need information. He notes that the call-in format of his talk shows
and Q&A section on his website create anonymity for people who simply
want accurate information, like one caller who asked, “Can any fluid from
the penis make you pregnant?” (Tabakman, 2005, p. 18).

Encouraging the development of positive sexual behaviors is not a concept

restricted to the Internet or radio talk shows. The more consistently the
message is promoted, the more seriously it will be taken by its audience.

When messages appear in different media simultaneously, their effect is

intensified. Various partners in the field of reproductive health, such as
governmental and non-governmental agencies, industry and trade, and
women’s and youth groups, can take a lead in mass media work. Schools
can facilitate or develop partnerships with mass media representatives to
co-ordinate and collaborate on efforts that address family life, reproductive
health, and population issues and to ensure consistent messages (“Family
Life,” 2003, p. 47).

According to Dr. Gunta Lazdane, Regional Advisor, Reproductive Health

and Research at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, the goal of any sexu-
ality education collaboration should be all-encompassing.

Sexuality education is not just about providing information. It helps young

people develop values, attitudes and skills so that they can make appropri-
ate choices about their sexual behaviour. Having respect for oneself and
others, making considered choices about sexual activity and acquiring
emotional intelligence are key learning outcomes (cited in “New Study,”
2006, par. 7).

Girls Incorporated, Jairo Bouer, and the World Health Organization are
encouraging a holistic approach to sexuality education delivered via the

Exploring Human Sexuality 119

media. Any young woman who understands that the different pieces
of her body are connected to real emotions, a developing intellect, and a
future without limits will also understand that she has a responsibility to
make the best possible choices.

Sexuality beyond Adolescence

Clearly, the concept of sexuality is one that focuses on young men and
women in the midst of pubescence. Yet, it affects everyone, and often-
times, the media loses sight of that fact, avoiding older populations in ad-
vertisements, in television programming, in films. The idea of valuing, or
classifying one cohort of people over the other based on their age is called
age-grading. According to González (2007), age grading is a practice
demonstrated regularly by the media (p. 35). Indeed, without advertise-
ments for Viagra, the concept of older people having sex would not be
considered. The problem with this is that power relationships are formed
through the differences in people who are considered sexually attractive
and those who are not, namely the elderly (p. 31).

For example, Simon (1996) notes that when either a child or an elderly
woman are raped, communities become enraged, while when a forty-year
old woman is raped, communities tend to be less outraged (p. 52-54, as
cited in González, 2007, p. 34). This is age-grading: children and the elderly
are not sexual creatures and, therefore, when sex is forced upon them, it is
despicable; however, when a woman who is expected to be sexually active
is raped, it is not such a big deal. The very young and the very old are
seen as more vulnerable; their ages are classified as more important in this
situation than is the forty-year old. Additionally, an elderly person who is
mugged ranks much higher with regard to media coverage than a middle-
aged person.

This is a common phenomenon within the media. Middle-aged women are

constantly seen in advertisements for products to help them look younger,
as younger is classified as a societal value. It is common also to note a dis-
tinguished older man, as if the effects of the aging process have not taken
their toll on men as it has on older women. This is stereotypical and creates
a societal norm that women have to fight the process, while men simply
let it happen.

120 Sociology Reference Guide

Consequently, age-graded sexualities are those arenas where our bodies
are in constant struggle against their own ageing bodily boundaries while
sexually expressing themselves … Because age-grading configures complex
and contested forms of interaction and ways of experiencing sexuality,
understanding these aspects requires establishing connections with socio-
logical issues that affect and mediate our society and sexualities. In conse-
quence, age-graded sexualities are certainly not just about sex, but diverse
meanings which change through time and space (González, 2007, p. 43)
Indeed, the implication from the media that women need to hide the effects
of aging implies that there is something wrong with the aging process; that
it needs to be concealed from society. It also creates inconsistency with
regard to sexuality in that if those effects are not hidden, mature women
are less attractive sexually, while the same standard is not given to men.


In America, sexuality is commonly seen through media images, but it is not

so commonly discussed. The lack of discussion can lead teens to utilize the
media for information about sex, even when that information may be inac-
curate or misleading. When parents don’t discuss sex with their children,
the implication is that it is a topic that is better left to other sources, when,
in fact, it may be left out of conversation because parents don’t realize their
children are curious about it. In addition, American culture promotes sex
through the media by not enforcing diligent standards against images that
commonly degrade women. Finally, Music videos, the Internet, televi-
sion programming, and magazines are easily accessible to youth and lead
young girls to believe that sex is something they should use to gain the
attention of the opposite sex, even if a homosexual relationship is a girl’s
primary concern.

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Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 9, 449–461.
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Exploring Human Sexuality 125

Religion & Sexuality
Carolyn Sprague


Sexual relations were never free of religious or economic regulations,

but as the complexity of our culture increased, social conventions began
to place restrictions on sexuality (Weber, 1922). Human sexuality can be
defined as the way that a person views himself or herself as a sexual being
through sexual preferences and actions. Scholarly research about male and
female sexuality has focused on two different aspects of influence: Biologi-
cal and socio/cultural/political (Tolman & Diamond, 2001). According to
sociologists Deb Tolman and Lisa Diamond, “neither a purely biological
or purely sociocultural approach can encompass the complexity of sexual
desire (2001).”

The essentialist theory focuses on biology as the major factor in determin-

ing male and female sexuality differences. While biology is the overriding
influence in determining sexuality, the essentialist theory acknowledges
that social and historical influences also play a role, but a secondary one.

The social constructionist theory attributes gender differences in sexual-

ity to the cultural and psychosocial processes that act upon individuals
and prescribe appropriate male and female sexual feelings and behaviors.
Tolman and Diamond state, “our entire experience of sexuality can be
viewed as a context and culture-specific story that we come to live… [but]

126 Sociology Reference Guide

the sociocultural forces that shape our subjective experience of sexuality
are largely invisible to us” (2001). This essay investigates the role that dif-
ferent religions have played in shaping human sexuality within social and
historical contexts.

Christianity & Sexual Practice

Sexual Abstinence & Self Control

Sociologist Gail Hawkes describes herself as a sociologist of sexuality

who looks at history as a way of translating current complexities into our
modern lives. In her essay “The Problem of Pleasure and the Making of
Sexual Sin in Early Christianity,” Hawkes reviews some of the influences
that early Christianity has contributed to our socially constructed ideas
about the sexual body. According to Hawkes, early Christianity focused
on human sexual pleasure as “warranting special attention, but the values
attached to human’s sexual pleasure [were] negative” (Hawkes, 2007).

Max Weber, a noted 19th century sociologist wrote widely about the social
influences of religion on different aspects of society. Weber’s “Sociology
of Religion” included chapters related to human sexuality and the role
of religion in its influence. Weber suggests that Christianity exhibits an
“anti-erotic religiosity.” Hostility to sexuality was manifest in the pursuit
of chastity. Abstinence was a highly regarded and extraordinary type of
behavior which could be used for the “magical coercion of God” (Weber,
1922). Priestly celibacy was encouraged so that those holding church offices
(clergy) would not lag behind the “supremely chaste” monks (Weber, 1922).

Sexual abstinence was seen as a central and indispensable means of salva-

tion and was achieved through contemplative withdrawal from the world.
Sexuality constituted the most powerful temptation (which linked humans
with animal nature). The temptation of the body required constant vigi-
lance, an emphasis on alertness, and self control.

Whether the inhabitant or the observer, unmediated proximity to the sexual

body (as constructed by early Christianity); assured a fall from grace – a
surrender to the irresistible temptations of the flesh (Hawkes, 2007, p. 2).

Appealing to the Laity

Sexual abstinence and self control were the two principals that were
espoused by the Christian Church as the most certain path to righteous

Exploring Human Sexuality 127

salvation. While these principals were practiced by clergy and monks,
influencing the general population about sexuality was a more daunting
task. Hawkes investigated the pre-Christian and early Christian attitudes
toward human sexuality with a focus on how to “manage the problem of
the body” (Hawkes, 2007). In every sense, the body represented a danger
to chastity; people need to “explicitly recognize the perils” associated with
loss of control over the body. Women’s body’s were of particular concern,
as women were seen as lacking in self control and therefore posed a signifi-
cant threat if they were to experience sexual pleasure (Hawkes, 2007). The
theme concerning women and their lack of self control over their sexuality
is a common one in many religions, and will be discussed in more detail
later in this essay.

Selling the idea of complete chastity to the general populate was challeng-
ing for a couple of fairly obvious reasons.

• First, sexual intercourse was necessary for procreation and

continuance of the human race.
• Second, people who had sex (and particularly men) knew
that sex with women was “overwhelmingly enjoyable”
(Hawkes, 2007).

The Christian faith was effective in further raising anxiety levels by preach-
ing the sex associated with pleasure was “bad” (immoral) sex.


The institution of marriage was one way that religions could place param-
eters around sexuality by defining marriage as a religious sacrament. The
role of marriage, according to Weber, was to eliminate all free sexual rela-
tionships; legitimization of marriage was a way to encourage monogamy
which was the “hallmark of the Christian community” (Weber, 1922).
Legally regulated marriage itself was regarded, not for its erotic value,
but as an economic institution for the production and rearing of children.
While many espoused a “direct religious obligation to beget children, the
Judaic and Islamic faiths were also able to acknowledge that (procreation
aside): “Sexual drivers were absolutely irresistible for the average person,
marriage offered a legally regulated channel of sexuality” (Weber, 1922).

128 Sociology Reference Guide

Public Shame: Sex as Sin

A growing Christian population posed challenges about how best to

manage sexuality on a large scale; the answer proved to be more of the
same control. Penance for sins, especially those of a sexual nature became
part of the religious doctrine and provided a healthy dose of public shame.
Later, private confessions took the place of public penance and served as a
means to both absolve one of past sins and monitor future ones. Peniten-
tial’s were handbooks that included exhaustive and detailed list of sins and
their appropriate penance. The Penitential’s covered all the original sins
with over half the questions concerned with sexual behavior. “The detailed
questions relating to how, with whom and how often one had sex were
in effect training the sexual body” (Hawkes, 2007, p. 11). Throughout, the
text’s focused on distinguishing between moral and immoral sex; they con-
tained as much detail as was acceptable to effectively control and prescribe
what was acceptable. Ironically, the Penitential’s were so detailed, that
church officials realized that they were essentially giving people an erotic
education (Hawkes, 2007). Centuries of examining and distinguishing
between sexual practices helped to establish “internal boundaries of shame”
while firmly establishing the association of sex with sin (Weber, 2007).

Sexuality across the Religious Spectrum

“Despite the widespread belief that hostility toward sexuality is a special

view of Christianity, it must be emphasized that no distinctive religion of
salvation has in principal any other view” (Weber, 1922). We will now look
at how other religions view the theme of human sexuality. Sexual expres-
sion seems at odds with religious practice, because many people think of
sex as pleasurable and this is often counter to religious teaching. Much
religion is “pleasure phobic” according to Daniel Maguire (Maguire, 2004).

Sexuality & Judaism

Judaism takes a (moderately) conservative stance regarding sexuality: Sex

is seen as a divine gift from God not only from a procreation standpoint
but for the purpose of companionship and pleasure. Sexuality is not con-
sidered to be evil, but represents a strong and chronic urge that can be
equated to hunger or thirst. Like other religions, Jews believe that sexu-
ality is a strong drive that must be controlled lest it lead people astray.
Marriage is the only allowable outlet for men and women to express their

Exploring Human Sexuality 129

sexuality and avoid the sin of temptation. Judaism sees the consumma-
tion of the marriage as more than physical; it is also a thinking act that
requires responsibility and commitment. A union for life provides: Shared
strength, pleasure and partnership in raising children. Marriage represents
a mitzvah (a good deed) where the woman’s sexual needs have the most
importance. Sexuality outside marriage is considered wrong or deviant; as
are any variation on: Premarital sex, adultery, self-gratification, homosexu-
ality or bestiality (Nelson, 1999).

Sexuality & Islam

Islam is a ubiquitous force in the Middle East and North Africa and is a
crucial factor in understanding sexual behavior. In the Islamic world, sex
and honor are linked making issues surrounding sexuality “potentially
explosive” (Uhlmann, 2005). In the Islamic world, sexual practices have
emerged as a critical arena in which social and ideological conflicts are
played out. Across the Middle East, female virginity and honor are closely
linked, but are not the exclusive concern of one religious group. Female
sexuality poses a threat to collective honor in Muslim, Christian, Jewish
and Druze communities (Uhlmann, 2005). The threat is seen in the poten-
tially uncontrollable sex drives that are shared by both men and women.
While men have little more luck than women of controlling their sex drives
as a result of experiencing sexual pleasure, the consequences are far less
serious for men. If a woman on the other hand were to experience sexual
pleasure, it is believed that she could potentially lose control - with disas-
trous consequences. As a result, women’s actions and bodies are closely
policed by others and by the woman herself. It may be helpful to examine
the traditional views of Western vs Eastern societies on women’s sexuality.

Europe and North America Middle East & North Africa

(West) (East)
Women are considered Women’s sexuality is active and
passive(sexually) assertive
Reliance on internalized Reliance on external sanctions to
sanctions to control behavior; control behavior; veiling, surveil-
premarital sex and adultery lance and punishment
Condemnation of sexuality Condemnation of women
Broad view of sexuality and Narrow view of sexuality-mostly
gender, essence. about sexual function.

130 Sociology Reference Guide

Current Attitudes about Sexuality & Religion
Teen Sexuality & Religious Belief

Mark Regerus, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin

has studied the association between teen sexuality (sexual activity) and re-
ligious beliefs. Regerus conducted comprehensive and in-depth interviews
when completing his surveys, but because surveys are “notoriously unre-
liable” (Rosin, 2007) Regerus compared survey responses with the actual
practices of teens. Regerus found that while evangelical teens espouse
the message of the religious institution (that sex is acceptable in marriage
only), their actions may be quite different.

Statistics show that teens who call themselves evangelical actually have
sex a bit younger than other teens and tend to have more partners as well
(Rosin, 2007). The secular pressure exerted on teens today is far greater
than what their parents experienced a generation ago. Teens experience a
“temptation rich” life; they don’t lead insular lives and are exposed to the
same TV and music as others.

Regerus’ research found that it is not what religion teens identify with that
affects their likelihood to have sex, but rather how strongly they identify
themselves with their religious ideals (religiosity). The same research
suggests that an “elite minority” (about 16%) of teens stated that religion is
extremely important in their lives. This elite minority has tremendous dis-
cipline over their hormones; not only do they not have sex, but masturba-
tion is also very highly discouraged as “selfish and lustful” (Rosin, 2007).

Sexual Guilt

Other researchers have studied the influence of religion on attitudes

about human sexuality from a different perspective. A study conducted a
decade before Regerus’ revealed that it is “not religion, per se, that influ-
ences sexual attitudes and behavior but sex guilt that resulted from early
religious training or experience (Gunderson & McCary, 1997). This study
reports that the intensity of religious belief has little bearing on sexual at-
titudes or behaviors if the individual experiences low or no sexual guilt.
Sexual guilt has been a part of the Christian faith from its earliest days, but
became institutionalized with the publication of the Penetentials (Hawkes,
2007). The modern evangelical movement doesn’t allow for much gray

Exploring Human Sexuality 131

area between what is right or wrong when it comes to sex. “Evangelicals
see sex as a symbolic boundary separating good Christians from bad”
(Rosin, 2007), only sex with the right person of the right gender and under
the right circumstances is acceptable. Sexual guilt is still a very effective
means of regulating sexuality and suppressing information as well. High
sexual guilt has been traditionally associated with low levels of sex infor-
mation, conservative sexual attitudes, and restricted sexual behavior. Low
sexual guilt, on the other hand, has been traditionally associated with high
levels of sex information, liberal sexual attitudes, and a high level of sexual

Individuals who attend church more frequently are more likely to experi-
ence elevated levels of sexual guilt, which will interfere with their sexu-
ality (Gunderson & McCary, 1997). Christianity has long equated sexual
pleasure with sinfulness, the more pleasure that was experienced, the
greater the sin. In Maguire’s opinion the “religious grounding” of such
beliefs is largely to blame for people in Western culture’s inability to face
their sexuality (Maguire, 2004).

Religious Doctrine & the Rise of the Laity

Catholicism, like many other religions, has established prescriptive re-

quirements that define appropriate human conduct in relation to sexuality.
“Sexuality [is a] contested arena” (Herrara, 2001) for many Catholics. The
reaction of practicing Catholics to the 1968 Humanae Vitae (the Catholic
Church’s official pronouncement that it would not reverse its stance on the
use of birth control within the confines of marriage) is outlined in the fol-
lowing quote from Catholic sociologist Andrew Geeley:

“Certainly never in the history of Catholicism have so many Catholics in

such apparent good faith decided that they can reject the official teaching
of the church as to what is sexually sinful and what is not, and to do so
while continuing the regular practice of Catholicism and even continuing
the description of themselves as good, strong, solid Catholics” (Greely,
1985, qtd in Catholics for Choice, 2008, p. 8).

Greeley suggests that it was not rank and file Catholics that the Church
hierarchy was seeking to control with the release of the “Humanae Vitae”
in 1968, but rather the Catholic clergy. The Catholic hierarchy was trying

132 Sociology Reference Guide

to “plug a hole in the dike.” At high levels of the ecclesiastic leadership
there was a fear that Catholic clergy were becoming too liberal (Greeley,
1973). Greeley suggest that there has been a definite change in the sexual
values of the Catholic clergy; with clergy and laity growing closer in their
views about human sexuality. Greeley cites a number of factors that have
contributed to the liberalization of the Catholic clergy, including a rise in
the number of younger clergy holding modern values. The values and per-
sonality of Catholic clergy are changing, but the ecclesiastic leadership of
the Church is unmoved in its stance on sexuality (Greeley, 1973).

Today, 40 years after the “Humanae Vitae” was made public; the Catholic
Church continues to hold onto an ideology that becomes more outdated
with each passing year. Meanwhile, a 2005 Gallop poll showed that 75% of
all U.S. Catholics believe the Church should allow the use of contraception
(“Many Catholics…,” 2005).

The reaction of practicing Catholics to the “Humanae Vitae” illustrates the

willingness of some believers to dismiss religious doctrine in favor of their
personal beliefs. This trend toward exhibiting individual moral judgments
may be a result of secular influence.

Secularization & Modernization

The term secularization has come to be closely associated with religion.

Within this context, the definition is taken to be the opposite of religious
and often equated with the declining social power of religion (Bruce, 2002).
The secular is related to the worldly or temporal rather than the spiritual;
it emphasizes living in the present world, in the here and now (Vaughn-
Foerster, 1999).

Modernization creates problems for religion; it is responsible for the

changing social structures which are initiated through the industrialization
of work, urbanization, the rise of individualism and economic prosperity
(Bruce, 2002). Education, health care, welfare and social control were all
once the domain of religious institutions. In modern society, religion’s in-
fluence is diminished in its impact over non-religious institutions. Special-
ists who are trained in new bodies of knowledge have replaced religious
professionals for guidance on social and familial issues. The church held
unquestioned authority in a single moral universe dependent on a rela-

Exploring Human Sexuality 133

tively stable social structure (Bruce, 2002). New social roles and increased
social mobility have increased the fluidity of social structures and increas-
ing moves to separate Church and State contribute to differing community
and religious world views. The modern believer is committed to his beliefs
but can’t avoid the knowledge that many other people believe differently
(Bruce, 2002).

Secularization impacts beliefs about human sexuality in numerous ways.

Increased diversity within society means that individuals view what
is sexually acceptable in a variety of ways. Catholic clergy are adopting
liberal views towards human sexuality and are becoming much more
closely aligned with that of the laity. The rising influence of the “laity” in
religious affairs encourages a “separation from religious origins [and the]
reconstruction [of a] secular moral system” (Herrara, 2001). The adoption
of beliefs based on an individualized, secular moral system enables a cus-
tomization of one’s moral, spiritual and ethical beliefs. What’s called for
is “a re-evaluation of the theology of sexuality that allows for diversity
of sexual expression within the church community” (Dillashaw, 2000).
Simply proscribing a definition of correct sexual expression does not en-
compass the experience of the majority of members” (Dillashaw, 2000).

The Future: Increased Sexual Tolerance?

In the modern world, people are not only more aware of issues related to
sexuality; they are more tolerant of divergent attitudes regarding sexual-
ity. Many do not believe that religious institutions have done enough to
address issues of sexuality in the modern society. In the opinion of one
theologian, “conservative denominations deliver obtuse messages about
sexuality that are rooted in scripture and are often seen as turning a blind
eye toward contemporary issues of sexuality (Dillashaw, 2000).

More liberal religions are striving to create faith communities that welcome
sexual diversity into their congregations by crafting messages that promote
the ideas of sexual justice and healing. “Sexuality is God’s life-giving and
life-fulfilling gift. We come from diverse religious communities to recog-
nize sexuality as central to our humanity and as integral to our spirituality.
We are speaking out against the pain, brokenness, oppression, and loss of
meaning that many experience about their sexuality” (Haffner, 2002, p. 2).

134 Sociology Reference Guide

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contraception. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from CatholicsforChoice.org. http://www.
Dillashaw, H. (2000) The transformation of the Church: Speaking a theology of sexuality.
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136 Sociology Reference Guide

Terms & Concepts

Age Grading: Classifying/ranking people based on their ages.

Androphilia: Having a sexual attraction to males.
Bestiality: Bestiality is a term used to describe a sexual act (kissing, petting,
intercourse) between a human and an animal.
Bias: A research bias occurs when some members of the overall popula-
tion are more likely to be included in the research than others. The best
way to avoid bias is to use a random sample of the population.
Bipolar Scale: A bipolar rating scale is structured in such a way as to have
a transitional midpoint between two extremes. In the case where a prefer-
ence is indicated, each extreme would indicate a distinct preference, while
the midpoint can signify either indifference to both or preference to each.
In a bipolar scale, the definition of the midpoint has the potential to impact
the meaning of other points as well.
Bisexual: People who embrace the notion of being able to love one another
irrespective of gender.
Childhood Sexual Development: Childhood sexual developmental can
be described as stages that take place throughout childhood which seems
to point out which sexual behaviors and feelings should be considered
“normal” for children of certain ages, genders, or cultural backgrounds.
Civil Marriage: A type of marriage that is officiated by a civil authority,
such as a judge, rather than by a religious authority or body. Though some-

Exploring Human Sexuality 137

times spoken of as a contract, marriage in the eyes of the municipal law
affords specific benefits to the married parties.
Civil Union: A form of legal union which allows same sex couples to
receive the state rights and benefits conferred upon heterosexual couples.
Same-sex couples in civil unions are not eligible for the federal benefits
conferred upon heterosexual couples, and states are not required to recog-
nize civil unions that are recognized in other states.
Codified: To arrange things, especially laws and principles, into an orga-
nized system.
Cohabitation: Cohabitation can be described “living together,” which can
be characterized as a public statement regarding commitment and sexual
relationship as an alternative to marriage.
Committee for Research in Problems of Sex (CRPS): The Committee
was established in 1922 within the National Research Council’s Division
of Medical Sciences with the cooperation of the Bureau of Social Hygiene
and support from the Rockefeller Foundation. Its central purpose was the
investigation of human sexuality in the context of morphology, physiol-
ogy, and psychology. Due to the support of the committee, a great deal of
new data on various aspects of human sexuality was accumulated. The
Committee was discharged in 1963.
Comstock Law: Named for Anthony Comstock, who in 1873 passed leg-
islation prohibiting the mailing of obscene, lewd, lascivious, or indecent
writing or advertisements.
Corporate Culture: The attitudes, values, and principles that govern the
decisions and overall atmosphere of a business or organization.
Counter Culture: Generally refers to the 1960s movement against conser-
vative social and moral values.
Daughters of Billitis: A lesbian organization founded in San Francisco,
California in 1955. As the gay community “came out,” the group grew con-
siderably and provided a place for lesbians to meet outside the bars and
speak freely about their lives. Its members also promoted civil rights for
GLBT people.
Domestic Partner: A person of the same or opposite sex who lives in a
domestic relationship with another person without marriage.

138 Sociology Reference Guide

Domestic Partnership: A form of legal union similar to civil unions in that
it grants same-sex couples the state rights and benefits conferred upon het-
erosexual couples. However, same-sex couples in domestic partnerships
generally receive fewer rights and benefits than same-sex couples in civil
unions. Same-sex couples in domestic partnerships are not eligible for federal
benefits conferred upon heterosexual couples, and states are not required
to recognize domestic partnerships that are recognized in other states.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: The current federal policy toward the question
of GLBT individuals serving in the military: the government does not
ask recruits about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and GLBT
military personnel are obliged to keep their orientations and identities
private if they wish to serve.
Ecclesiastical Authority: The Christian belief in God as the supreme au-
Evangelical: Refers to a religious movement aligned with Protestant Chris-
tianity which identifies closely with the gospel, evangelism and a high
regard for Biblical authority.
Free Love Movement: Sought to separate the state from sexual matters
such as marriage. It reached its height during the late nineteenth century,
and one of its major proponents was Victoria Woodhall.
Gay Rights Movement: The Gay Rights Movement in the United States
has been successful in achieving many rights for homosexuals, bisexuals
and transgendered individuals. This movement has extended around the
world where many organizations are making the case for equal treatment
for those of non-traditional sexual orientations.
Gay: Males who prefer sexual relationships with males.
Gender Bias: Prejudice or discrimination against a person based on that
person’s sex, or gender.
Gender Identity Disorder: A psychiatric condition where an individual
who has been born or assigned one gender, but identifies themselves as being
another gender. It is a strong disparity between one’s body and one’s mind.
Gender Identity: Gender identity can be described as a process that begins
to develop typically around the age of 3 and can be described as an indi-
vidual’s sense of “maleness” or “femaleness.”

Exploring Human Sexuality 139

Gender Socialization: The process by which cultural gender roles are
Gender: Culturally defined differences between females and males.
Glass Ceiling: Occupational barriers that prevent women who are fully
qualified and capable from advancing into another position within a
GLBT or LGBT: Gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Can be used to
collectively refer to people who identify themselves with these terms, or to
gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender cultures in general.
Gonad: An organ that produces reproductive cells, or gametes. In males,
these organs are the testes; in females, they are the ovaries.
Gynephilia: Having a sexual attraction to females.
Hate Crimes: Criminal actions intended to harm or intimidate people
because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or other
minority group status; also referred to as bias crimes.
Hegemonic Masculinity: The respected traits that the dominant American
culture defines as masculine. The hegemonic male is assertive, strong, ag-
gressive, a leader, and heterosexual.
Heteronormative: Basing what is normal on the behaviors of heterosexuals.
Heterosexism: A culturally embedded ideology which privileges het-
erosexual behavior, relationships, and communities over homosexual
behavior, relationships, and communities. A heterosexist society may
openly denigrate or stigmatize homosexuality, or seek to simply make it
Heterosexual: Describes someone who prefers sexual relations with
someone of the opposite sex.
Homophobia: A term falling out of favor, but originally used to describe
the heterosexual’s discomfort with being near or having any dealings with
a gay person. This term may also apply to the homosexual’s feelings of
self-loathing that are generated by a largely heterosexual culture.
Homosexual: Describes someone who prefers sexual relations with
someone of the same sex.

140 Sociology Reference Guide

Homosocial Groups: Homosocial groups can be described as a social
division of males and females in group settings.

Human Sexuality: Human sexuality refers to the various physical, psy-

chological, intellectual and emotional ways in which people experience
and express themselves as sexual beings, the awareness and expression of
themselves as male or female, and the capacity they have for erotic experi-
ences and responses.

Humanae Vitae: Of human life 1968 pronouncement by the Vatican that

the Catholic Church would not support the use of contraception by practic-
ing Catholics.

Laity: Members of a religious organization that are not clergy.

Lesbian: A female who prefers sexual relationships with other females.

Mattachine Society: A gay men’s organization founded in Los Angles in

1948. By 1951 it had adopted two major goals: 1) the establishment of a
grassroots effort to challenge anti-gay discrimination; and 2) the develop-
ment of a positive homosexual community and culture. Besides raising
consciousness through discussions and publications, Mattachine legally
challenged the entrapment of gay men by law enforcement officials, and
polled political candidates on gay rights issues.

Monozygotic Twins: Twins who developed from a single egg (also called
identical twins).

Neurology: The study of the nervous system.

Non-Normative Sexual Practices: Sexual behavior that falls outside the

realm of traditional intercourse (e.g. same gender sex).

Occupational Segregation: The phenomenon where men and women

appear to favor different occupations.

Occupational Sexism: Discrimination in the workplace, which is based

solely on an individual’s gender.

Oral Contraceptives: Often called simply ‘the Pill’ and widely regarded as
one of the most effective forms of birth control, these pills deliver hormones
that prohibit ovulation. They were first approved by the Food and Drug
Administration in 1964. They do not protect users against STDs.

Exploring Human Sexuality 141

Pansexual: A term adopted by individuals who believe that human sexual-
ity is a continuum of genders and are attracted to all of these genders.

Patriarchal Society: A society in which men are, by and large, the most
powerful members. Within such a society, households are usually headed
by men, and fathers are primarily responsible for the economic welfare of
the family unit.

Patriarchy: A society where men dominate women.

Pedophile: The term pedophile refers to a person who either has acted
on intense sexual urges towards children, or experiences recurrent sexual
urges towards and fantasies about children that cause distress or interper-
sonal difficulty.

Polysexual: A term used by individuals who are attracted to both men and
women, but who chose not to use the term bisexual because they do not
believe that there are only two genders, biologically speaking.

Protected Class: Groups of people defined within anti-discrimination law

as being protected from discrimination and harassment. At the federal
level, race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex, disability status, and
veteran status are all protected classes. Some states have also chosen to
include sexual orientation as a protected class within their anti-discrimi-
nation laws.

Reparative Therapy: A type of counseling that attempts to change one’s

homosexual preferences and to replace them with heterosexual desires.

Sacrament: Something regarded as possessing a sacred character or myste-

rious significance including: baptism, confirmation, marriage and penance
(Sacrament, 2009).

Same-Sex Marriage: Marriage between people of the same sex. When rec-
ognized by the government, it affords gays and lesbians with the same
economic and social benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples
such as access to partner benefits, survivorship benefits, and protection of

Sample/Sampling: For research purposes, a sample is a subset of the pop-

ulation to be studied. Because overall populations are generally too large
to study, a sample of the population is used. A random sample, consid-

142 Sociology Reference Guide

ered the best way to avoid bias, is one in which any individual member of
the total population has the same probability of being selected as any other
member of the population.
Secularization: The belief that matters of church and state should remain
separate; neutral to or moving away from the religious.
Sex: The biological differences between males and females.
Sex-Reassignment: An extensive process wherein an individual suffer-
ing from Transgender Disorder is given hormones and undergoes surgical
procedures to make them biologically the appropriate sex.
Sexual Harassment: Verbal or physical behavior that is of an explicit-
ly sexual nature towards someone who neither invites or welcomes the
behavior from the perpetrator.
Sexual Intercourse: Phrase used to define the act of sexual penetration.
Sexual Liberalization: This terms refers to the general and incremental
shift away from traditional ideas about sex, to ones in which an individual
has rights over his or her sexuality.
Sexual Orientation: One’s preference for sexual relationships with
members of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both.
Sexual Prejudice: Negative attitudes and assumptions towards an indi-
vidual or group that is based solely on preconceived notions of their par-
ticular gender or orientation.
Stigma: An attribute that is deeply discrediting.
Straight: A person who is heterosexual.
Taxonomy: Taxonomy is the practice and science of classification. Taxono-
mies involved the divisions of kinds of things into units, referred to as taxa
that are arranged into a hierarchical structure so that they may be studied.
Theocracy: Government ruled by or subject to religious authority.
Transgender: An individual who has undergone sex-reassignment therapy
and surgery.
Transgenderism: Refers to those who do not conform to culturally pre-
scribed norms about what it means to be male or female.

Exploring Human Sexuality 143

Wage Discrimination: A situation where an individual of one sex is paid
more or less than an individual of the opposite sex.

Wage Gap: The difference between the average yearly wages of a man and
the average yearly wages of a woman.

144 Sociology Reference Guide


Karin Carter-Smith is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr,

Pennsylvania, where she majored in English Literature and minored in
History of Religion. She earned a Master of Education degree in Psy-
chology of Reading from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylva-
nia. Most recently, Ms. Carter-Smith served as Director of the Office of
Learning Resources at Swarthmore College, an independent four-year
college in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In her role as Director
of the Office of Learning Resources, Ms. Carter-Smith was responsible for
academic support, advising, disability accommodations and the supervi-
sion of the award-winning Student Academic Mentors program.

Lynette DiPalma holds her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociol-

ogy, as well as Master’s degrees in both English and Psychology/Counsel-
ing from Eastern New Mexico University. She currently works as a free-
lance writer in the New Orleans area.

Karen M. Harbeck, Ph.D., J.D., holds an interdisciplinary Doctorate from

Stanford University in Education and the social sciences. She is a nation-
ally recognized expert in gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues in
education. She also is the proud mother of a Zen warrior child of age 12,
adopted from China.

Sharon Link is an educator, presenter, and mother of a child with autism.

She has worked extensively in public education and has researched educa-

Exploring Human Sexuality 145

tion and its relationship to autism disorders and other disabilities for the
last ten years. Dr. Link currently is the Executive Director for Autism Dis-
orders Leadership Center, a non-profit research center and is co-founder of
Asperger Interventions & Support, Inc. a professional development center.
Both organizations are education and research centers seeking to improve
education by creating a system of diversity and inclusion in America’s

Maureen McMahon received her Bachelor’s degree from the State Univer-
sity of New York at Plattsburgh where she studied English. Her Master’s
degree in Curriculum Development and Instructional Technology was
earned from the University of Albany. Ms. McMahon has worked in
higher education administration for eight years and taught composition
and developmental writing for the past six. She resides in Plattsburgh,
New York with her husband and two children.

Carolyn Sprague holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of New

Hampshire and a master’s degree in library science from Simmons College.
Carolyn gained valuable business experience as the owner of her own
restaurant which she operated for ten years. Since earning her graduate
degree, Carolyn has worked in numerous library/information settings
within the academic, corporate, and consulting worlds. Her operational
experience as a manager at a global high tech firm and more recent work as
a web content researcher have afforded Carolyn insights into many aspects
of today’s challenging and fast-changing business climate.

Noelle Vance is a freelance writer based in Golden, Colorado. She has

degrees in English and Education and has taught in K-12 public schools as
well as several institutes of higher education.

Geraldine Wagner holds a graduate degree from Syracuse University’s

Maxwell School of Citizenship. She teaches Sociology at Mohawk Valley
Community College in upstate New York and Professional Writing at
State University of NY, College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
She has authored numerous writings including journalism articles, OP-ED
columns, manuals, and two works of non-fiction: No Problem: The Story
of Fr. Ray McVey and Unity Acres, A Catholic Worker House, published
in 1998 and Thirteen Months To Go: The Creation of the Empire State
Building, published in 2003. She divides her time between upstate New
York, Bar Harbor, Maine and coastal North Carolina.

146 Sociology Reference Guide


A Childhood Suicide, 76
Christianity, 44, 127, 129, 132
Adolescence, 10, 29, 34, 40, 120 Chromosomal, 53
Adolescent Sexual Development, 28 Civil Marriage, 68
Adulthood & Sexual Development, 30 Civil Union, 85
Age Grading, 120 Codified, 82
AIDS, 22, 23, 34, 52, 61, 64-67, 106, 112, Cognitive, 54
119 Cohabitation, 31, 32
AIDS Service Organizations (ASO), 66 Coming Out, 64, 75, 103
Androphilia, 51, 72, 82 Committee for Research in Problems of
Azande, 41 Sex (CRPS), 6, 11
Comstock Law, 16
Conflict Perspective, 105
Bestiality, 7, 130 Corporate Culture, 88, 96, 97
Bias, 6, 7, 52, 89, 103 Cross-Gender Occupations, 92
Bipolar Scale, 9
Bisexual, 33, 39, 40, 45-47, 50-52, 61, 71,
72, 75, 80-82, 101, 106 Daughters of Billitis, 63
Brain Studies, 52 Domestic Partner, 91
Brazil, 41 Domestic Partnership, 85
Buddhism, 43 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, 83

Center for Disease Control (CDC), 64 Elderly Sexual Activity, 34
Childhood Sexual Development, 27 Evangelical, 131

Exploring Human Sexuality 147

Feminine Management Style, 96 Judaism, 44
Free Love Movement, 16
Freud, Sigmund, 33
Kinsey, Alfred C., 4, 12, 18
Kinsey Report, The, 4, 12, 18
Gay, 22, 35, 43, 45, 60-66, 68, 84, 85, 91, 106
Gay Culture, 61
Gay Rights Movement, 61-65 Laity, 133, 134
Gender Identity, 26, 28, 50, 51, 56, 83, 84 Lesbian, 21, 34, 44, 45, 54-56, 61, 63, 67,
Gender Identity Disorder, 91 68, 71-75, 80, 82, 104, 105, 106, 113
Gender Socialization, 94, 102 LGBT, 64, 85
Genetics, 53 Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes
Glass Ceiling, 90, 95 Prevention Act (LLEEA), 84
GLBT, 61, 69, 71-78, 80-88, 91, 98
Gonad, 51
Gynephilia, 51, 72, 81 Magazines & Adults, 114
Magazines & Teens, 112
Masculine Management Style, 95
Hate Crimes, 45, 84, 103 Media, Sexuality-Based, 110
Hate Crimes Statistics Act, 84 Medical Perspectives, 45
Hegemonic Masculinity, 89, 95, 96, 97 Melanesia, 41
Heteronormative, 48, 114 Modernization, 133
Heterosexism, 91, 104 Monozygotic Twins, 54
Heterosexual, 9, 22, 23, 29, 39-42, 49-57, Morocco, 41
72-74, 77, 78, 80-86, 89, 101, 103, 104,
105, 113, 114, 115
Hinduism, 44 Neurology, 49
Homophobia, 45, 47, 73, 76, 102, 106, 107
Homosexual, 9, 11, 19, 23, 29, 30, 34, 39,
40-44, 46, 49, 51-57, 61, 64, 72, 73, 77, Occupational Segregation, 92, 93
81, 82, 101, 103-107, 121 Occupational Sexism, 88
Homosocial Groups, 28, 29 Oral Contraceptives, 20, 21
Humanae Vitae, 132, 133
Human Sexuality, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 26, P
27, 33, 34, 127, 128, 129, 131, 133, 134 Pansexual, 52, 72
Patriarchal, 23
Patriarchy, 105
India, 41 Polysexual, 52, 72, 81
Internet, The, 117, 118, 119, 121 Protected Class, 84
Islam, 44 Psychoanalytic Theories, 55

148 Sociology Reference Guide

R Sexual Prejudice, 91, 104
Sexual Relations, 39, 40, 41, 126
Rejection, 76 Sexual Revolution, The, 15, 22
Reparative Therapy, 44, 58 Social Constructionism, 57
S Sociocultural, 57
Sodomy Laws, 106
Sacrament, 128 Stigma, 10, 67, 91, 103, 104, 106
Same-Sex Marriage, 22, 61, 68, 84, 85 Straight, 52, 54, 55, 68
Secularization, 133 Structural-Functionalist Perspective, 105
Self Control, 127, 128
Sexual Counter-Revolution, The, 22
Sexual Diversity, 107 Taoism, 45
Sexual Experiences, 56 Taxonomy, 6, 8, 9
Sexual Guilt, 131, 132 Transgender, 51, 61, 80, 92, 106
Sexual Harassment, 88, 90 Transgenderism, 101
Sexual Intercourse, 8, 18, 30, 31, 32, 128
Sexual Orientation, 34, 39, 40, 43, 45,
46, 49-58, 64, 71-84, 86, 88, 92, 97, 98, Wage Discrimination, 90, 95
101-104 Wage Gap, 90, 92, 93

Exploring Human Sexuality 149