Chapter 1 Summary

  1. Learning about human sexuality may enrich your own sex life and help you enter into mutually beneficial relationships. In addition, an understanding of sexual issues and sexual diversity will likely be of value in your professional life.
  2. Historically, many different lines of thought have converged to inform our current understanding of human sexuality. Beginning in ancient Greece, anatomists and physiologists laid out the biological foundations of sex. Theologians and philosophers struggled to define a moral basis for sexual relations. Professional sex researchers appeared in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Anthropologists provided information about sexuality in non-Western societies. Feminists emphasized women’s rights in sexual and nonsexual areas. Biomedical scientists made discoveries that impacted people’s sex lives in practical ways.
  3. Sexuality can be studied with a wide variety of approaches. The biomedical approach has been based primarily on studies in nonhuman animals, but recent advances, such as brain-scanning technology and the decoding of the human genome, allow for more direct study of sexual processes in humans.
  4. The psychological approach falls into several subdisciplines. Social psychologists concern themselves with the diverse ways in which sex influences interpersonal relations. Cognitive psychologists study the mental processes, such as sexual arousal, that underlie sexual expression. Evolutionary psychologists attempt to understand how evolutionary forces have molded our sex lives. Cultural psychologists and psychological anthropologists investigate the influence of ethnic and cultural diversity on sexual expression. Clinical psychologists, sex therapists, and marriage and family counselors study and treat problems affecting sexual desire, performance, and relationships.
  5. Sociologists are concerned with the interactions between the sexuality of individuals and larger demographic groupings. Sex surveys are an important tool in this approach. An example of a theoretical social-science approach is sexual script theory: the notion that, as a result of constant interaction with others, people learn to play certain sexual roles. Sociologists also do ethnographic fieldwork in the environments where sexual transactions take place.
  6. The economic approach to sexuality asks how the perceived costs and benefits of interactions within a sexual marketplace influence people’s sexual decision-making.
  7. Sexology or sex research is gradually asserting itself as an independent and multidisciplinary field of study. National and international organizations, conferences, and journals are devoted to a rational, evidence-based approach to human sexuality. The World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) has issued a Universal Declaration of Sexual Rights.
  8. Although people do not always abide by them, religious teachings influence sexual attitudes and behaviors. Some Christian denominations, such as Catholicism, Evangelical churches, and the Mormon Church, strictly limit sexual expression. Others, such as the mainline Protestant churches, are more permissive, relying on general principles rather than specific rules. Jewish denominations also range from restrictive (Orthodox Judaism) to permissive (Reform Judaism). Among world religions, Islam is the most conservative in sexual terms, but it does permit men to have multiple wives. Attitudes vary from one Islamic country to another. Hinduism and Buddhism are not closely involved in the regulation of sexual behavior, but like other religions they identify marriage as the proper environment for sexual relations.
  9. Educators have faced a difficult struggle to communicate basic information about sex. Even today, there is widespread fear that instruction in sexual matters, including techniques to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy, may be seen as permitting or even encouraging teenagers’ sexual behavior. The amount and nature of sex education provided by public schools varies greatly by location, and political considerations influence how federal sex education funds are used. Research suggests that comprehensive sex education programs lead to greater use of contraception by teens who are sexually active. Studies of abstinence-only programs have yielded mixed results: Some do lead to a postponement of sexual initiation, but when students in these programs become sexually active they are less likely to use contraception.