Socialization and Human Sexuality

Socialization and Human Sexuality

Expression of sexual desire involves behaviors learned through socialization (i.e., from society), especially from religion, law, and the media.

Learning Objectives

Examine the various ways in which a person is sexually socialized, specifically through religion, law, and the media

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • With regard to sexuality, socialization in the U.S. and Western countries most notably adheres to heteronormativity, or the marking of heterosexual unions as normal and homosexual unions as socially abnormal and deviant.
  • Religion, the law, and the media are three primary agents of socialization that teach people how to behave sexually.
  • There is extreme variation in sexual expression across historical periods and cultures. This indicates that there are no universal sexual norms.
  • In the current Western moment, heteronormative norms are privileged, meaning that heterosexual expressions of sexuality are more accepted than homosexual expressions. However, sexuality is not thought of in the same way across space and time; rather different cultures and different historical moments think of sexuality in entirely different ways.

Key Terms

  • pornography: The explicit depiction of sexual subject matter; a display of material of an erotic nature.
  • heteronormativity: The view that all human beings are either male or female, both in sex and in gender, and that sexual and romantic thoughts and relations are normal only when between people of different sexes.
  • sodomy laws: Sodomy laws in the United States, which outlawed a variety of sexual acts, were historically universal. While they often targeted sexual acts between persons of the same sex, many statutes employed definitions broad enough to outlaw certain sexual acts between persons of different sexes as well, sometimes even acts between married persons.

One learns from society how to express one’s sexuality. As such, sexual expression is part of socialization, the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs, and ideologies and providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within one’s own society. Socialization necessarily implies the inculcation of norms, or behaviors that society marks as valued as opposed to those marked as deviant.

In regards to sexuality, socialization in the U.S. and Western countries most notably adheres to heteronormativity, or the marking of heterosexual unions as normal and homosexual unions as socially abnormal and deviant. While homosexual unions are the types of unions most commonly marked in opposition to normative heterosexual unions, heteronormativity marks any type of non-heterosexual sexual activity as deviant, as heterosexual sexual acts are considered the norm.

There is extreme variation in sexual expression across historical periods and cultures. This indicates that there are no universal sexual norms. Rather, an individual is taught sexual norms of their particular cultural and historical moment through socialization. At the current moment in Western societies, sexuality is evaluated along a continuum of heterosexuality and homosexuality, with heterosexuality as the privileged mode of sexual expression. Obviously, this is a basic schematic; it does not capture all of the existing ways in which people behave sexually, but it is the basic rubric by which sexual behaviors are evaluated.

In contrast, the Ancient Greeks categorized sexuality not in terms of homosexuality and heterosexuality, but in terms of active and passive sexual subjects. What was salient for the Ancient Greeks was whether one took an active or passive sexual position, whether one was the penetrator or was penetrated. In this sense, biological gender was obviously relevant, but not in the same way as evaluating homo- or heterosexual orientation. Men could be either active or passive, but women could only be passive. It is misleading to say that homosexuality was tolerated in Ancient Greece; rather, the Ancient Greeks conceived of sexuality in completely different ways than the current Western norm.

So how is it that one becomes socialized into certain sexual behaviors and proclivities? The rest of this section seeks to explore how socializing agents impress sexual norms into their members by looking at three primary agents of socialization: religion, the law, and the media.

image

Heterosexual couple: Heterosexuality is a social norm.

Given that most religions seek to instruct their followers on the proper and holy ways in which to live life, it follows that most religions seek to offer guidance on the proper ways to sexually comport oneself. For example, many evangelical Christians value abstinence and believe that men and women should wait until marriage to engage in sexual activity. The Catholic Church asserts that homosexuality is unholy. Leaders of the Jewish faith promote sexual activity between married couples to reinforce the marital bond and produce children. Like most of the other denominations of monotheistic religions, Islam encourages sexual activity so long as it is practiced by married partners. This is not to say, of course, that all adherents to a particular faith stringently follow the faith’s guidelines, but rather that individuals growing up within a particular religion are instructed on how to behave sexually.

The legal system is another mechanism through which individuals are instructed on proper sexual conduct. The laws within a particular jurisdiction simultaneously reflect and create social norms regarding sexuality. For example, based on American law, Americans are socialized to believe that prostitution and rape are improper forms of sexual behavior. The interactions of homosexual sexual acts and their (il)legality provides an opportunity to see how the law both mirrors and molds American understandings of sexual norms. Sodomy laws, or laws prohibiting particular sexual acts between two consenting partners such as anal sex between two men, were on the books in most American states for decades.

The media is one final example of a cultural program through which individuals encounter normative discourses of sexuality. Individuals are socialized to replicate the sexual behaviors that they see on television, in movies, and in books. These representations are typically heteronormative. Pornography presents another way in which individuals are socialized towards particular sexual practices through the media. Over 70% of men ages 18–34 who use the Internet view at least one pornographic website a month. Follow-up studies show that many of these individuals—in addition to female pornography viewers—attempt to incorporate the actions they witness in pornography into their own sex lives.

Sexual Behavior: Kinsey’s Study

Alfred Kinsey produced the Kinsey Report, the largest documentation of sexuality in the United States at the time of its publication.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the impact of Kinsey’s study of sexuality related to how it changed the public’s perception of sexuality and how people are sexually socialized

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Kinsey developed the Kinsey Scale, which was a numerical ranking of sexual behavior on a scale of complete heterosexuality to complete homosexuality.
  • Kinsey’s open discussion of sexuality in the 1950s contributed to the sexual revolution of the following decade, in which social standards that limited sex to heterosexual marriage were loosened.
  • The Kinsey Report is frequently invoked to support the common estimate of one in ten Americans being a homosexual.

Key Terms

  • sexology: The study of sex and sexuality.
  • sexual revolution: A period in which attitudes towards sexual behavior undergo a substantial change, usually in the direction of increased liberality.

Background

Dr. Alfred Kinsey was an American biologist who is considered to be the founder of sexology, or the scientific study of human sexuality, including human sexual interests, behavior, and function. Kinsey trained as a biologist and entomologist at Harvard and obtained a teaching post at Indiana University. There, he became interested in human sexuality. In 1935, Kinsey delivered a lecture to a faculty discussion group where he attacked the “widespread ignorance of sexual structure and physiology” and advanced the notion that delayed sexual experience, or waiting to engage in sexual activity until marriage, was psychologically harmful. This lecture sparked intensive research that resulted in the Kinsey Report. The report refers to two different book publications based on his research of human sexuality: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). The books were widely read and Kinsey became a media star.

The Kinsey Report was the most extensive analysis of human sexuality conducted to its day. Data was gathered primarily by means of subjective interviews, conducted according to a structured questionnaire memorized by the experimenters. Significantly, the Kinsey research team went out and conducted the interviews themselves, rather than relying upon pre-collected data. What resulted was the largest collection of statistical information about adult sexuality in the United States.

The Kinsey Scale

A large section of the Kinsey Report was devoted to the idea of sexual orientation. The Kinsey Report is frequently invoked to support the common estimate of one in ten Americans being a homosexual. However, Kinsey disapproved of using terms like homosexual or heterosexual, as he firmly believed that sexuality is prone to change over time and that sexual behavior must be understood both as physical contact as well as purely psychological phenomena, such as desire, attraction, and fantasy. Instead of using the homosexual/heterosexual categorization, Kinsey developed the Kinsey Scale system. This system attempts to describe a person’s sexual history or episodes of sexual activity at a given point in time, rather than assigning an individual an overarching and permanent sexual orientation.

The scale ranked sexual behavior from zero to six, with zero being completely heterosexual and six being completely homosexual. As one can see, Kinsey rejected the idea of a permanent status of sexual orientation and instead chose to rely on a rating relating to a particular moment in one’s life, indicating that sexuality changes over time. Nevertheless, Kinsey’s Scale is effectively a segmented version of the hetero/homosexual binary, not allowing for other interpretations of sexuality. Kinsey’s associates actually added an additional category, X, to represent asexuals, or people who experience no sexual desire. In this way, Kinsey’s report is of its particular cultural and historical moment, in that it conceives of American sexuality as only occurring along this binary. According to Kinsey, 11.6% of white males aged 20 to 35 were given a rating of three for this period in their lives, meaning that they were equally heterosexual and homosexual. Kinsey further found that 7% of single females aged 20 to 35 and 4% of previously married females were given a rating of three for this period of their lives. The report also states that nearly 46% of the male interview subjects had “reacted” sexually to persons of both sexes in the course of their adult lives, and 37% had at least one homosexual experience.

Sexuality Within Marriage

The Kinsey study also gave statistics on sexuality within marriage that had never before been reported. According to Kinsey, the average frequency of marital sex reported by women in their late teens was 2.8 times per week, 2.2 times per week for women by the age of 30, and once per week by women by the age of 50. Kinsey estimated that approximately half of all married males had some extramarital experience at some point in their married lives. Among Kinsey’s sample, 26% of females had extramarital sex by their forties. Kinsey found that between 10 and 16% of married females aged 26 to 50 were engaged in extramarital sex.

Critical Response

Kinsey’s report was wildly successful. The two books together sold over 750,000 copies and were translated into thirteen languages. They may be considered some of the most successful and influential scientific literature of the twentieth century. The reports are associated with a significant change in public perceptions of sexuality. A mere decade after the reports were published, the first oral contraceptive was introduced and the sexual revolution began. The sexual revolution was a social movement from the 1960s to the 1980s that increased acceptance of sex outside of marriage.

image

The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction: The photo shows Morrison Hall at Indiana University, home of the Kinsey Institute.

Sexual Behavior Since Kinsey

The Kinsey Report helped spark the sexual revolution, in which social regulations regarding sexual activity were loosened.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the impact of the Kinsey Report and the sexual revolution of the 1960s on American sexuality

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Kinsey Report was the largest study of norms in American sexuality to its time, conducted by Kr. Alfred Kinsey.
  • The development of oral contraception also contributed to the loosening of social regulations on sexuality.
  • The sexual revolution was a social movement in which social rules of sexuality became more lax.
  • The Kinsey scale is a numeric scaling of individuals along a continuum of complete heterosexuality to complete homosexuality.

Key Terms

  • sexual revolution: A period in which attitudes towards sexual behavior undergo a substantial change, usually in the direction of increased liberality.
  • oral contraception: Medications taken by mouth for the purpose of birth control.
  • Kinsey Report: The Kinsey reports are two books on human sexual behavior, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), by Dr. Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy and others, and published by Saunders. Kinsey was a zoologist at Indiana University and the founder of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction (more widely known as the Kinsey Institute).

The publication of the Kinsey Report, the findings of norms in American sexuality by Dr. Alfred Kinsey, in the early 1950s contributed to the sparking of the sexual revolution, or the loosening of sexual mores demanding sex between heterosexual married partners that occurred in the 1960s. While other sexualities were still stigmatized in most post-Kinsey environments, the sexual revolution was marked by popular acceptance of premarital sex. Studies have shown that between 1965 and 1975, the number of women who had had sexual intercourse prior to marriage showed a marked increase. The social and political climate of the 1960s was a unique one in which traditional values were often challenged loudly by a very vocal minority.

Kinsey’s 1950s study of sexuality contributed to the sexual revolution of the 1960s in two ways. First, prior to the Kinsey Report, no one had interviewed and published such an exhaustive and comprehensive analysis of Americans’ sexual desires and practices. Kinsey’s report reachd the conclusion that few Americans are completely heterosexual in desire or practice as indicated by the Kinsey Scale, or a numeric scaling of individuals along a continuum from complete heterosexuality to complete homosexuality. Though the Kinsey Report was published in the popular press, it was a scientific study conducted by a biologist at an academic institution. Popular readers of the Kinsey Report imbued the findings with a sense of scientific authority and professed faith in their accuracy. While other sexual orientations and acts were still marked as non-normative, society began to accept that other sexualities existed. The Kinsey Report was one step towards non-heterosexual orientations and behaviors becoming accepted by society as normal. Second, one cannot underestimate the significance of the mere publication of the Kinsey Report, independent of its findings. Prior to its publication, sexuality was considered uncouth to include in conversation. Kinsey’s publication initiated a national environment more tolerant to conversations about sexuality, which in and of itself loosened the grip of normalized, marital heterosexual relations.

image

The Pill: The landmark Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut affirmed women’s right to use birth control.

Another scientific product had a profound impact on the development of the sexual revolution: the development of oral contraception. “The pill” provided many women a more affordable way to avoid pregnancy. Before the pill, there was a lack of affordable and safe options for contraception, rendering unwanted pregnancy a serious risk of premarital sexual activity. In 1960, the Food and Drug Administration licensed the drug, enabling its legal sale. However, many states still outlawed the use of contraceptives in order to reflect and enforce an ethic in which sexual activity was only acceptable for reproduction. The pill became an even more favored and socially acceptable means of birth control in 1965 when the Supreme Court decided the case of Griswold v. Connecticut. In its opinion, the Supreme Court held that the government could not dictate the use of contraception by married couples because such action would be a violation of the right to marital privacy implied in the Bill of Rights. The ruling furthered access to birth control and contributed to a post-Kinsey sexual environment in which society increasingly accepted premarital sex.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation refers to enduring emotional, romantic and sexual attraction to the opposite sex, the same sex, both, or neither.

Learning Objectives

Explain the development of sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or asexual) in terms of both static and fluid sexuality

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The varying forms of these attractions are generally divided into the following categories: heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality.
  • In place of these categories, some prefer to think of “queer” sexual orientations; a broader term that refers to any non-heterosexual form of sexuality. The heterosexual/homosexual binary is a continuum of complete heterosexuality to complete homosexuality, with bisexuality in the middle.
  • Heteronormativity is the assumption that heterosexual orientations are normal to the exclusion of other sexual orientations.
  • Sexual identity is an individual’s conception of their own sexuality.
  • The primary debate in conversations about sexual orientation is whether sexual orientation is static or fluid, whether one is born with an immutable sexual orientation, or whether one develops sexual orientation.
  • Sexual reorientation therapies seek to “convert” homosexuals into heterosexuals.
  • Sexual reorientation therapies seek to convert “homosexuals” into “heterosexuals. “

Key Terms

  • heterosexual/homosexual binary: Classification of sexuality on a continuum from heterosexuality to homosexuality with bisexuality falling in the middle
  • asexuality: Asexuality, in its broadest sense, is the lack of sexual attraction to others or the lack of interest in sex. It may also be considered a lack of a sexual orientation.
  • heteronormativity: The view that all human beings are either male or female, both in sex and in gender, and that sexual and romantic thoughts and relations are normal only when between people of different sexes.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation describes an enduring pattern of attraction—emotional, romantic, sexual, or some combination of these—to the opposite sex, the same sex, both, or neither. The varying forms of these attractions are generally divided into the following categories:

  • heterosexuality, or attraction to members of the opposite biological sex
  • homosexuality, or attraction to members of the same biological sex
  • bisexuality, or attraction to members of both biological sexes
  • asexuality, or attraction to neither biological sex.

Some individuals have tried to trouble these categories of sexual orientation by not describing themselves as hetero-, homo-, bi-, or asexual and preferring the umbrella term “queer. ” Part of the opposition to the gender binary is that it creates heteronormative assumptions that mark heterosexuality as normal and homosexuality deviant merely because it is the opposite of heterosexuality.

Significantly, sexual orientation does not only refer to one’s sexual practices, but also includes a psychological component, like the direction of an individual’s erotic desire. Sexual identity and sexual behavior are closely related to sexual orientation, but they are distinguishable. Sexual identity refers to an individual’s conception of their own sexuality, while sexual behavior limits one’s understanding of sexuality to behaviors performed. People may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors.

Development of Sexual Orientation

The primary tension in conversations about sexual orientation addresses whether sexual orientation is static or fluid, whether one is born with an immutable sexual orientation, or whether one develops sexual orientation. Each interpretation of sexuality manages our understanding of what sexual orientation means in different ways, particularly when combined with political debates about homosexuality. Organizations that subscribe to the static interpretation of sexual orientation fall on both sides of the political divide. Some organizations are socially and politically conservative, advancing the view that sexuality, left untreated, is static. These organizations tend to pathologize non-heterosexual orientations, or conceive of them as an illness that must be corrected through medical or therapeutic means. Some of these institutions offer sexual reorientation therapies in which individuals who are attracted to members of the opposite sex but do not want to have those attractions can try to become solely attracted to members of the opposite biological sex. Many of these programs are religiously motivated; 79% of men who said that they had changed their sexual orientation said that they had done so for religious reasons, while 93% indicated that religion was “extremely” or “very” important to them.

Sexual Reorientation

A significant amount of professional and academic doubt exists about the efficacy of these reorientation programs. No major mental health professional organization has sanctioned efforts to change sexual orientation and virtually all of them have adopted policy statements cautioning the profession. These include the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers in the USA, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. According to the American Psychological Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Gay and Lesbian Mental Health Special Interest Group, there is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.

Though they obviously disagree with the conceit that homosexuality needs to be treated, many major gay rights advocacy groups mirror the underlying assumption that homosexuality is a static sexual orientation. The idea that sexual orientation is not a choice, but that rather one is born with an assigned orientation, is pervasive in popular conceptions of sexual orientation. This idea runs up against studies that demonstrate how widely sexual orientation varies in light of cultural and historical circumstances, indicating that one’s environment and cultural context play significant roles in determining one’s sexual orientation.

image

Sex and Sexuality: Venn diagram depicting the relationships between assigned sex and sexual orientation. Androphilia and gynephilia are preferred terms for some populations, because homosexual and heterosexual assign a sex to the person being described.

Homophobia

Homophobia is the range of negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality or people who are perceived to be homosexual.

Learning Objectives

Describe the phenomenon of homophobia (both institutional and informal) and the implications it has for LGBTQ individuals in modern-day America

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Homophobia is expressed through prejudice and discrimination, which can either be institutional or informal.
  • The phrase LGBTQ refers to the community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals.
  • Institutional discrimination involves the state and the law, while informal discrimination refers to social controls and prejudices.
  • In the United States, social disapproval of homosexuality is not evenly distributed throughout society. That being said, it is more or less pronounced according to age, ethnicity, geographic location, race, sex, social class, education, political identification, and religious status.
  • Civil unions are ceremonies that grant same-sex couples in some states legal equality, even if not by the name of ” marriage. “

Key Terms

  • informal discrimination: discrimination that involves social pressures against LBGTQ behaviors and identities
  • institutional discrimination: discrimination that involves the state by becoming embedded in state institutions and practices
  • Holocaust: the mass murder of Jews and other persecuted groups by the Nazi regime during World War II

Homophobia is a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality or people perceived as homosexual. Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior like discrimination and violence. Much like racism or sexism, homophobia involves the targeting of a specific population of individuals with certain traits. Homophobia, or the fear of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals, is often the impetus for discrimination, which can be expressed through either institutional or informal means. Institutional discrimination involves the state apparatus. If homophobic discrimination is institutional, it means either that non-heterosexual sex acts are criminalized or that LGBTQ individuals are denied the same legal rights as heterosexuals. Informal discrimination is not necessarily sanctioned by the state, but involves social pressures against LGBTQ individuals, behaviors, and identities.

image

Homophobic Protests in the United States: Frequently, homophobia is prompted by religious beliefs.

In the United States, the social disapproval of homosexuality is not evenly distributed throughout society. That being said, it is more or less pronounced according to age, ethnicity, geographic location, race, sex, social class, education, political identification, and religious status. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to have negative attitudes about people who are LGBTQ. Likewise, people who consider themselves to be religious are more likely than secular individuals to hold negative views about LGBTQ people.

Historical Institutional Homophobia: Holocaust

On many occasions in Western nations in the twentieth century, LGBTQ individuals have been stigmatized because of homophobia. One notorious example of homophobia and extreme discrimination was the persecution of LGBTQ individuals by the Nazis during the Holocaust. After the rise of Adolf Hitler, homosexuals were one of the many groups targeted by the Nazi Party and became victims of the Holocaust. Beginning in 1933, gay organizations were banned, scholarly books about homosexuality were burned, and homosexuals within the Nazi Party itself were murdered. Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, of whom some 50,000 were officially sentenced to imprisonment. Most of these German men served time in regular prisons, but an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 were forced to serve their time in concentration camps. Like Jews and the disabled, Hitler labeled homosexuals as defective and systematically persecuted them.

Current Institutional Persecution of Homosexuals

Today, homosexuality is still punishable by death in some countries around the world. Uganda, for example, criminalizes non-heterosexual sex acts and most Ugandans consider non-heterosexuality to be taboo. In October, 2009, a member of the Ugandan Parliament introduced the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill to broaden the criminalization of same-sex relationships and apply the death penalty to repeat offenders. Under the statues of the bill, individuals convicted of a single act of non-heterosexual sex would receive life imprisonment. Additionally, individuals or companies promoting LGBTQ rights would be nationally penalized. The bill also created a public policing policy under which Ugandan citizens would be required to report any homosexual activity within 24 hours or face a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Additionally, if Ugandan citizens were found to be engaging in same-sex sexual or romantic activities outside the country, Uganda would request extradition.

Homophobia and the United States

Although non-heterosexual sex acts are legal in the United States, LGTBQ people still face institutional discrimination because they are not afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples. Most evidently, same-sex couples are not allowed to wed in most states. Gay marriage has become a sensitive political issue over the past decade, partially due to the fact that the federal government and state governments have different laws about gay marriage. The federal government does not recognize gay marriage, but individual states can choose to recognize it. In 1996, the federal government passed the Defense of Marriage Act. According to this act, the federal government cannot recognize gay marriages, and a state that does not recognize gay marriage does not have to accept the marriage license given to a same-sex couple in a different state that does recognize same-sex marriages. As part of this debate about the legality and morality of gay marriage, 41 states have explicitly banned same-sex marriages, 12 by statute and 29 through amendments to the state constitutions.

Informal Homophobia

Prejudices do not have to be institutionalized to be harmful. Many instances of homophobia and discrimination occur by informal means. Homophobia can occurs when heterosexual individuals feel anxiety about being perceived as gay by others. This phenomenon is most commonly experienced by adolescent boys. The taunting of boys seen as eccentric, many of whom are usually not gay, is said to be endemic in rural and suburban American schools. At times, this abuse can lead taunted individuals to take dangerous risks in efforts to prove a normative masculinity. Adolescents in the United States often use phrases like “that’s so gay” in a pejorative sense.

image

Same-Sex Marriage in the United States (2008): Laws regarding same-sex marriage vary by state in the U.S. The federal government cannot recognize gay marriage, and individual states can choose whether or not they will recognize the practice.

The Movement for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights

The LGBT rights movement refers to the efforts of LGBT advocates to improve their legal and social status.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the efforts of the LGBT rights movement to achieve equal rights and opportunities for homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered individuals

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Though some states have equal rights laws, many gay and lesbian couples are still denied the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples and cannot file joint taxes, cannot share custody of children, cannot have hospital visitation rights, and inheritance.
  • The first organizations in the U.S. that worked to improve LGBT issues were known as homophile organizations, such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis.
  • Sodomy laws are laws against any sexual contact other than heterosexual intercourse.
  • The Stonewall Riots were riots in New York City in 1969 that is frequently thought of as the start of the movement by LGBT people to decriminalize homosexuality.
  • In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court found that states could criminalize homosexuality in Bowers v. Hardwick.
  • In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that anti-sodomy laws violated an individual’s right to privacy. Currently, many LGBT organizations are working to achieve the right for same- sex couples to marry.
  • In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that anti-sodomy laws violated an individual’s right to privacy. Currently, many LGBT organizations are working to achieve the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Key Terms

  • same-sex civil unions: also referred to as a civil partnership; a legally recognized form of partnership similar to marriage. Beginning with Denmark in 1989, civil unions under one name or another have been established by law in several, mostly developed, countries in order to provide same-sex couples rights, benefits, and responsibilities similar (in some countries, identical) to opposite-sex civil marriage.
  • Defense of Marriage Act: (DOMA); a United States federal law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.

The LGBT Rights Movement refers to the attempts of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocates to improve the legal and social status of LGBT people. Historically, LGBT people have faced prejudice and discrimination. Since the mid-1900s, individuals and organizations have worked to overcome prejudice against LGBT people.

The first organizations in the U.S. that worked to improve the standing of LGBT people were known as homophile organizations. Homophile organizations were clubs of gay men and lesbian women who sought equality for gays and lesbians. These clubs served as social spaces in which gay men and lesbian women could meet other homosexuals with whom they could form romantic and sexual relationships. Moreover, they were early sites of political action on behalf of gays and lesbians. Homophile organizations such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis lobbied politicians and business owners to create gay friendly establishments. The efforts of these types of clubs led to a growth in the number of gay-friendly bars and social clubs, making it easier for homosexual individuals to find other homosexuals to associate with. Homophile organizations, however, did not lead to any large-scale demonstrations or protests, and did not result in widespread legal or social changes for LGBT people.

Prior to the 1970s, most states in the United States had laws against sodomy, generally defined as any sexual contact other than heterosexual intercourse. Thus, homosexuality was essentially illegal. The surge in the number of gay-friendly bars in the 1950s led to police crackdowns against establishments that were frequented by gays and lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s. One such crackdown was the raid on the Stonewall Inn, a bar in Greenwich Village, New York City that was frequented by gay men, drag queens, and male transvestites. When police raided the bar in June 1969, the customers resisted arrest. Neighborhood residents joined in the resistance, resulting in several nights of rioting. The Stonewall Riots are often cited as the first major protest by LGBT people against the criminalization of homosexuality. The riots gained much media attention and served as visible evidence that there was a large population of homosexual people that could be organized into a politically active group.

After Stonewall, large organizations of LGBT advocates arose to challenge discrimination against LGBT people. For example, leaders organized the first Gay Pride march to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and to loudly declare their desire for equality. First and foremost on the gay rights platform was the need to overturn laws that made homosexuality illegal. Throughout the 1970s, activists in many states succeeded in having state legislatures overturn laws banning homosexuality. This coincided with a period in which sexual mores were generally liberalized in the U.S. Nonetheless, by the mid-1980s many states still outlawed homosexuality. It was not until 2003 that the Supreme Court decided that states could not criminalize homosexuality.

image

Anti-sodomy laws in the United States: This map depicts when anti-sodomy laws that criminalized non-heterosexual sex were overturned by state in the United States.

An issue that has been central to the LGBT rights movement since the late 1980s is same-sex marriage. At the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, recognition of lesbian and gay relationships was a primary demand made by demonstrators. Indeed, many protestors participated in a mass wedding in front of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to highlight the ways in which U.S. tax code benefits married heterosexual couples. Because they were denied the right to marry, gay and lesbian couples could not file taxes jointly, often could not share custody of children, and lacked hospital visitation rights and rights of inheritance, among other benefits of marriage.

In response to same sex couples’ attempts to gain state marriage licenses, the U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. DOMA defined marriage as between one man and one woman in federal law, meaning that the federal government would not confer benefits to same-sex couples granted marriage licenses by states. It additionally stated that states did not need to recognize same-sex marriages granted by other states. Nonetheless, by the early 2000s, many states began to consider legalizing same-sex marriage. The first to do so was Massachusetts in 2004. Since then, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont have followed suit. Other states have passed laws allowing for same-sex civil unions. Civil unions provide the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, but not the title of marriage. At present, thirty-one states have passed constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, defining marriage within their state as between a man and a woman. Court cases challenging the legality of these bans are currently underway, as are legal challenges to the constitutionality of DOMA. Challenges to bans on same-sex marriage contend that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are discriminatory.

Social Context and Sexual Behavior

Social context influences sexual behavior; sexuality is expressed and understood through socialized processes.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the various ways people can express sexual desire, in both emotional and physical terms

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Sexual behavior refers to the manner in which humans experience and express their sexuality.
  • Individuals are taught to use social cues to interpret sexual intent. This is most obviously demonstrated in behaviors associated with flirtation.
  • Human sexual activity has sociological elements. Social context is therefore essential when one considers potentially sexual behavior.

Key Terms

  • socialization: Socialization is the process of transferring norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors to future group members.
  • context: The surroundings, circumstances, environment, background, or settings that determine, specify, or clarify the meaning of an event or other occurrence.
  • flirtation: Playing at courtship; coquetry.

Sexual behavior refers to the manner in which humans experience and express their sexuality. People engage in a variety of sexual acts from time to time, and for a wide variety of reasons. Sexual activity normally results in sexual arousal and physiological changes in the aroused person, some of which are pronounced while others are more subtle. Sexual activity also includes conduct and activities which are intended to arouse the sexual interest of another, such as strategies to find or attract partners (mating and display behavior), and personal interactions between individuals, such as flirting and foreplay.

Human sexual activity has sociological, cognitive, emotional, behavioral and biological elements, including physiological processes such as the reproductive mechanism, the sex drive and pathology; sexual intercourse and sexual behavior in all its forms; and personal bonding and shared emotions during sexual activity.

Socialization and Sexual Behavior

Since sexuality is expressed through means learned by socialization, social context is bound to influence sexual behavior. Socialization is the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs, and ideologies and providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within one’s own society. Socialization necessarily implies the inculcation of norms, or behaviors that society marks as valued. Because socialization teaches members of a society how to behave, behaviors that are not specifically taught as normalized and socially acceptable are marked as deviant.

Understanding Sexual Behavior

Individuals are taught to use social cues to interpret sexual intent. This is most obviously demonstrated in behaviors associated with flirtation. Flirting is a playful activity involving verbal communication and body language by one person toward another, used to sometimes indicate an interest in a deeper relationship with the other. In some social contexts, a hug could demonstrate platonic friendship, as in the case of two coworkers hugging upon hearing the news that their project was successfully received. In other contexts, the hug could be interpreted as sexual interest. Thus, social context is essential when one considers potentially sexual behavior.

image

An Embrace: Context Matters: Russian President Boris Yeltsin (right) and President Mintimer Shaimiyev (left) of Tatarstan congratulate each other on a treaty signed between Russia and Tatarstan on the delimitation of powers between them. In a different context, the same gesture could have very different connotations.

Socialization and Normalized Sexual Behavior

Because sexual behavior is influenced by socialization, what is deemed “normal” can vary widely across cultures. In some cultures, sexual activity is considered acceptable only within marriage, although premarital and extramarital sex are also common. Some sexual activities are illegal either universally or in some countries, and some are considered against the norms of a society. For example, sexual activity with a person below some age of consent and sexual assault in general are criminal offenses in most jurisdictions.