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Chapter Two
Studying Human Sexuality
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Sex, Advice Columnists,
and Pop Psychology
• The sex information/advice genre seeks
to:
– Inform
– Entertain
• Often includes moral judgments
• Use social science and psychiatry to
give authority
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Use and Abuse of Statistics
• Popular media may oversimplify or
distort research
– Sensationalize findings
– Over generalize results of research
– Report statistics that agree with widelyheld preconceptions
• Popular media may not emphasize the
importance of replication
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Thinking Critically about Sex
• Commitment to principle of Objectivity
– observation of reality while excluding
researchers’ feelings or beliefs
• Subjectivity is to be avoided
– Sexuality can bring out powerful emotions
and moral ambivalence
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Value Judgments: Limitations
• Do not tell us what motivates people
• Do not tell us how frequently people
behave in a given way
• Do not tell us how people feel
• Only tell us how we ourselves feel
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Value Judgments vs.
Objectivity
• Value judgments only reveal the
thoughts or feelings of one person
• Objectivity describes reality
• Objective positions can be tested
• Cultural relativity requires that we
examine appropriateness within the
cultural norms where it exists
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Value Judgments vs. Objectivity
• Value judgments imply how a person
ought to behave
• Objective statements describe how
people actually behave
• Value judgments cannot be empirically
evaluated
• Objective statements can be empirically
evaluated
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Opinions, Biases, and
Stereotypes
• Opinions are unsubstantiated beliefs or
conclusions based on an individual’s
thoughts
• Biases are personal leanings or
inclinations
• Stereotypes are sets of overgeneralized
beliefs about an individual, a group, or an
idea, etc.
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Stereotypes
• Sexual stereotyping is often used to
justify discrimination or social groups
• Women
• Poor people
• African Americans, Latino/as, Asian
Americans
• Gay men, lesbians, bisexuals,
transgender people
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Stereotypes
• Stereotypes structure our knowledge by
shaping:
– What we see
– What we notice
– What we remember
– How we explain things
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Attitudes and Behavior
• Attitude: a predisposition a person has
to act, think, or feel in certain ways
• Behavior: the way a person acts
• Behavior does not always predict
attitude and vice versa
• Frequent discrepancies exist
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Common Fallacies: Egocentrism
and Ethnocentrism
• Fallacy: an error in reasoning that
affects our understanding of a subject
– Egocentric fallacy: the belief that our own
personal experience and values are
generally held by others
– Ethnocentric fallacy: the belief that one’s
own ethnic group, nation, or culture’s
values and customs are innately superior
to others’
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Sex Research Methods
• Scientific Method: the method by
which a hypothesis is formed from
impartially gathered data and tested
empirically.
– Induction: drawing a general conclusion
from specific facts
– Seeks to describe the world rather than to
evaluate or judge it
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Research Concerns
• Ethical
– Concerns use of human beings as subjects
of research
• Methodological
– Concerns center on information-gathering
techniques and accuracy
– A representative sample of people is
necessary to draw accurate conclusions
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Ethical Issues
• Informed consent
– Full disclosure of purpose, risk, benefits
– Agreement to participate may be
withdrawn
• Protection from harm
– Emotional distress must be avoided
– Identity of subjects must be confidential
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Sampling
• Sample: a portion of a larger group of
people are observed or studied
• Inferences are made to the larger group
• Good samples are:
• Random
• Representative
• Unbiased
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Limitations of Samples Restrict
Generalizations
• Depend on volunteers or clients
• Takes place at universities or colleges
with student volunteers
• Some ethnic groups are
underrepresented
• Gay men, lesbian women, bisexual and
transgendered people may not be
publicly identified
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Clinical Research
• An in-depth examination of an individual
or group that comes to a specialist for
assistance with disorders and problems
• Limited by an emphasis on pathological
behavior
• Shaped by cultural definitions of what is
pathological
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Survey Research
• Questionnaires
– Administered quickly
– Forced choice allows many formats
• Interviews
– Allow more information to be gathered
– Allow subjects to guide topics
• Sexual diaries
– Collect richer information
– May work well with some subjects but not all
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Survey Research Limitations
• Subjects may report self behavior with bias
• Interviewers may collect information with a
bias
• Subjects may be embarrassed in an interview
• Accuracy of subjects’ memory fades as time
passes
• Difficult for subjects to accurately estimate
factors such as how long sexual encounters
last
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Observational Research
• The researcher unobtrusively observes
and makes notes about people’s
behavior
• Serious ethical issues in observing
sexual behavior without subjects’
knowledge or consent
• Known observation generally affects
behavior
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Participant Observation
• The researcher participates in the
behaviors which she or he is studying
• Used frequently by anthropologists
• Is sex research controversial because it
compromises objectivity?
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Experimental Research
• The systematic manipulation of
variables to examine the effect on
behavior
• Independent variables: factors that can
be manipulated and changed by the
experimenter
• Dependent variables: factors that are
likely to be affected by changes in the
independent variable
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The Sex Researchers
• In 19th century, Western sexuality began
to be studied from a scientific
framework
– “pathologies” of sex: fetishism, sadism,
masturbation, homosexuality
• 20th century researchers viewed
sexuality more positively
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The Sex Researchers
• Belief that sexual expression is
essential to an individual’s well being
• Desire to broaden the range of
legitimate sexual activity, including
homosexuality
• Belief that female sexuality is equal
to male sexuality
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Richard von Krafft-Ebing
(1840-1902)
• Psychopathia Sexualis (1886):
– A collection of the case histories of
fetishists, sadists, masochists, and
homosexuals
– Attributed variations in Victorian sexuality
to “hereditary taint,” “moral degeneracy,”
and masturbation
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
• Dramatically impacted Western ideas
• Sexuality begins at birth with five-stage
development:
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Oral stage (birth to 1 year)
Anal stage (age 1-3)
Phallic stage (age 3-5)
Latency stage (age 6-puberty)
Genital stage (puberty onward)
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Sigmund Freud: Phallic stage
• Oedipal Complex: Boy develops sexual
desires for mother and fears father
• Castration anxiety: Fears his father will cut
off his penis
• Electra complex: Girl develops sexual
desire for father and fears mother
• Penis envy: Girls never acquire the “lost
penis” and therefore fail to develop an
independent character like that of boys
• By age 6, boys and girls resolve their
complexes and identify with their same-sex
parent
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Sigmund Freud: Impact
– Freud was pioneering in commitment to
science and explorations of the
unconscious
– Over the past generation, his influence
among American sex researchers has
dwindled
– In the field of sex research, his work is now
primarily of historical interest
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)
• Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1897-1910)
• Pointed out the relativity of sexual values
• Appealed to case studies as well as studies in
animal behavior, anthropology, and history
• Challenged view that masturbation was
abnormal
• Documented existence of women’s sexual
desires
• Reevaluated homosexuality as a congenital
condition
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956)
• The Kinsey Reports
– Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948)
– Sexual Behavior in the Human Female
(1953)
– Showed a significant discrepancy between
public standards and actual standards of
sexual behavior
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Alfred Kinsey: Impact
• Sexual Diversity and Variation
• Extraordinary diversity in behaviors of
subjects
• Many subjects (e.g. 50% of men) had
sexual experiences with members of the
same-sex
• Reevaluation of Masturbation
• Important for women
• Harmless
• Pleasurable
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Alfred Kinsey: Controversy
• Same sex behavior
– Labels of “heterosexual” and
“homosexual” were inadequate
– Devised the “Kinsey Scale”
• Rejection of normal/abnormal dichotomy
– Sexual differences are a matter of degree,
not kind
– Became an advocate of the tolerance
• Decline of society
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Kinsey’s Scale from 0 to 6
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Alfred Kinsey: Criticisms
• Statistical methodology:
unrepresentative sampling
• Emphasis on quantification of sexual
behavior
• Rejection of the psychological
dimension (reducing behavior to genital
activity)
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
William Masters (1915-2001) and
Virginia Johnson (1925-)
• Human Sexual Response (1966)
• Detailed the sexual response cycles of
hundreds of male and female research
subjects
• Combined clinical observation with
direct measurement of genital arousal
using electronic devices
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Masters and Johnson:
Outcomes
• Similarity of male and female sexual
responses
• Women achieve orgasms via clitoral
stimulation
• Legitimized female masturbation
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Masters and Johnson:
Outcomes
• Human Sexual Inadequacy (1970)
– Argued that sexual problems were not the
result of neuroses or personality disorders
– Rather, lack of information, poor
communication, or relationship conflict
contributed
– Used behavioral therapy to treat sexual
problems with great success
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Contemporary Research
Studies
– Several large, national, or multi-site
sexuality related studies have recently
been conducted
• The National Health and Social Life Survey (1994)
• The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (biannual)
• The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
(annual)
• The National Survey of Family Growth (periodic)
• College Alcohol Study (every few years)
• Community Intervention Trial for Youth Project
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The National Health and
Social Life Survey 1994
• Americans are largely monogamous
• On average, Americans have sex about
once a week
• Adultery is the exception, not the rule
• Most Americans rank vaginal
intercourse as most preferred activity
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The National Health and Social
Life Survey (cont.)
• Homosexuality less prevalent than
originally believed
• Orgasms appear to be the rule for men
and the exception for women
• Forced sex and the misperception of it
remain critical problems
• 3% of Americans claim never to have
had sex
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The National Survey of Family
Growth 2002
• A majority of Americans report experiencing a
great deal of diverse sexual activity
• A small percentage of Americans report
experiencing homosexual activity
• American men report more partners then
women
• A large group of Americans do not report
using condoms in the last year
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The Youth Risk Behavior
Survey 2003
• Almost half report having had sexual
intercourse
• Few report having had sexual intercourse
with four or more partners
• Over half report using a condom during their
last sexual intercourse
• One fourth report of sexually active students
report using alcohol or drugs during most
recent sexual experience
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
National College Health
Assessment 2005
• Majority report a new sex partner in the last
year
• Half report experiencing oral sex within the
last month
• Half report experiencing vaginal sex within
the last month
• Students do not routinely use condoms
• Birth control pills and condoms are the most
commonly used contraceptive
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Feminist Scholarship
Principles
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Gender is significant
Female experience devalued
Power is critical in relationships
Different methodologies must be
incorporated
• Ethnic diversity must be addressed
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Directions for Future Research
• Global perspective
• Inclusion of other fields of scientific
study
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Ethnicity and Sexuality
• Researchers have begun to recognize
differences among ethnic groups
• Related factors: socioeconomic status,
environment, methodology, researcher’s
stereotypes
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
African Americans and
Research
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Sexual stereotypes
Socioeconomic status
Racism
Black subcultures
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Latinos and Research
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Sexual stereotypes
Traditional cultures
Catholicism
Acculturation
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Asian Americans and Pacific
Islanders
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Increase in population
Collectivist culture
Immigration
Sexual stereotypes
Copyright ©2008 by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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