Human Sexual Behavior


Today, the term "human sexual behavior" sounds so familiar and is so widely used that it may be hard to imagine a time when it was unknown. After all, the human race has always consisted of two sexes and these have always felt drawn to each other. Indeed, men and women have always engaged in intimate physical intercourse and thereby produced new life. Moreover, we can assume that most of them knew what they were doing, and thus, when we talk about human sexual behavior, we seem to be talking about a simple and universal concept as old as mankind itself.

However, the realization that people have always done certain things does not necessarily allow us to conclude that they have always thought of them the same way. Actually, as any historian and anthropologist knows, human perceptions of even the most elementary "facts of life" vary greatly from one time and place to another. Linguists also know that seemingly simple words often have no exact equivalents in other languages and that, as the years go by, they may very well change their meaning.

This is particularly true of the word "sex" and all its derivations. We know, of course, that in ancient and medieval times people had dozens or even hundreds of words for the male and female organs and for the act of copulation. We also know that they talked about being fruitful and reproducing their "own flesh and blood." They knew what was meant by kissing, embracing, or fondling another person. They were familiar with sensual pleasure, physical stimulation, and excitement. They spoke proudly of love, desire, affection, tenderness, passion, minne, amour, Eros, Cupid, and Venus. Some men and women enjoyed displaying their nude bodies or observing nudity in others. Some tried to suppress their "concupiscence" and spoke with disgust of wantonness, lechery, lewdness, lust, or temptation by the devil. They warned against being "unclean", having "pollutions", or "wasting one's seed". Some also praised chastity, modesty, continence, innocence, and virginity while condemning carnal impurities, abominations, sins against God, and crimes against nature. Still, as a closer look reveals, our distant forebears had not yet summarized all of this in the single, unifying concept of "sexual behavior". They did not see these varied human experiences, actions, and attitudes as having the same source or even as being related to each other.

At the same time, people were not yet used to isolating a specific "sexual drive" in the wide spectrum of human motivations. In the prescientific mind, human life was not yet neatly compartmentalized. The bodily functions were not divided into separate categories, nor were there sharp distinctions between different kinds of physical needs. Erotic impulses were like other passing moods which arose suddenly and then died down by themselves. The occasional urge to touch, caress, or make love to someone was not seen as an autonomous instinct in its own right, but rather as a minor aspect of the general human condition. Men and women shared a common basic experience. Together they belonged to the world; they were all links in the "great chain of being", humble elements in some eternal plan. The same divine law governed the stars, the seasons, dead matter, and living organisms. Everything was connected with everything else. All normal inclinations were part of the same continuum, and thus there was little reason to grant them a character and a significance of their own.

This may explain why the expression "sexual behavior" does not appear in any European language until modern times. It is not used anywhere in the Bible and was unknown to the classical Western writers from Homer to Dante, Shakespeare, Racine, and Goethe. As a matter of fact, even the word "sexual" alone, which by now dates back several hundred years, only gradually acquired its great variety of present meanings. At first, it was nothing but a narrow, purely technical term and simply referred to the attribute of being either male or female.

Of course, before the adjective "sexual" could even come into existence, the noun "sex" had to be introduced. For the English language, this was accomplished by a translation from the Latin Bible in 1382. In this famous translation, which was inspired by the religious reformer John Wycliffe, God commands Noah to select two specimens of every animal for his ark: "the maal sex and femaal" (Genesis 6:19). Here the word "sex" simply meant something like gender, sort, set, class, type, race, or breed. In fact, until well into the 18th century the word was often used in the same sense as the word "sect," i.e., as referring to a group of followers, a denomination, faction, caste, or school. Thus, one could speak of various "large and small sexes", a "new sex", or a "sex of hermits". Until the 19th century, "sex" was also used as a synonym for "women" (the [female] sex), and there was even a verb "to sex", which meant to characterize somebody or something as being of male or female sex. (For the origin of the Latin word sexus, see "The Process of Sexual Differentiation.")

By the same token, the adjective "sexual" originally had only a very limited use and never implied anything more than a category of some kind. It was not until the 18th century that the word broadened its meaning and began to refer also to the process of reproduction. This was, in part, a consequence of scientific progress. For example, in 1735, the Swedish botanist Linné devised what he called a methodus sexualis, i.e., a sexual classification method or system in which plants were listed according to the character and number of their reproductive structures. This method (which is now obsolete) greatly impressed most scholars and even many laymen at the time. However, there was also some rather peculiar opposition. Linné's system was violently attacked by certain religious leaders who noted that it allowed for the cohabitation of a male stamen with several female pistils in one and the same flower. This was clearly indecent and a defamation of God who could not possibly have created such depravity. Biology teachers were therefore implored not to mention it to their young students.

From our present point of view, it is, of course, easy to ridicule these concerned moralists, but, to a certain degree, their objections were understandable. It seemed to them that Linne and other scientists were trying to "sexualize" nature or, in other words, that they were imputing a lascivious purpose to the growth of every last leaf of grass. This charge was unfair, but it articulated a valid general impression. With the rapid advance of biological and medical research, more and more areas of life were fearlessly investigated, anatomies and behaviors were compared, and connections were demonstrated where none had ever been noticed before. Once people started to think of roses and daffodils as sexual beings, the concept of sex gained entirely new dimensions. Sex suddenly became all-pervasive, and this realization, in turn, was bound to have a bad influence on the excitable minds of the young. (Ironically, however, after a while the moralists themselves took advantage of the enlarged new perspective and explained human reproduction to their children by talking about "the flowers, the birds, and the bees.")

At any rate, the controversy surrounding Linné's "sexual system" indicates that the formerly neutral and very narrow concept of sex had begun to expand. It now embraced not only gender, but also the process of generation and the various physical and psychological responses connected with it. Thus, within the next 150 years a number of new and evermore specific expressions were coined which quickly entered most European languages. The English language reflects the general trend as well as any of these. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary lists the following terms together with the dates of their first use in print: "sexual intercourse" (1799), "sexual function" (1803), "sexual organs" (1828), "sexual desire" (1836), "sexual instinct" (1861), "sexual impulse" (1863), "sexual act" (1888), and "sexual immorality" (1911).

It is also interesting to note that, in turn, many of these new expressions themselves began to expand their meaning soon after they had been introduced. For example, the term "sexual organs" at first merely meant male and female organs (i.e., organs that have to do with sex as an anatomical distinction). Then, after some time, it was also understood to mean organs of erotic gratification (i.e., organs that have to do with sex as a pleasurable activity). As a result, very soon any behavior involving the stimulation of these organs could be described as "sexual". Therefore it even became possible to speak of "sexual" contact between members of the same sex who shared the same basic anatomy.

Furthermore, at the beginning of the 19th century the new noun "sexuality" appeared in the scientific discussion. Again, at first this word referred only to the quality of being male or female. Within a few decades, however, it was also used to denote a preoccupation with sexual matters, and finally it came to mean the possession of sexual powers or the capability of erotic feelings. In short, it gradually turned from a relative into an absolute term. Thus, by the 1880s, one could discuss a person's sexuality as a special phenomenon all by itself. This phenomenon represented more than mere maleness or femaleness, and it was not necessarily always related to male-female encounters. Neither gender attraction nor any reproductive process had to be implied. Even solitary masturbation could now be perceived as "sexual" behavior, i.e., as an expression of someone's "sexuality".

With the beginning of our own century, and under the growing influence of psychoanalytic thinking, the concept of sexuality became even more inclusive. It now referred not only to procreation and the pursuit of erotic pleasure, but also to the need for love and personal fulfillment, i.e., to the "lust for life" itself. The sexuality of men and women was now regarded as an important aspect of their personality, a fundamental and all-pervasive characteristic, the sum total of their feelings and actions as human beings capable of sexual responses. Indeed, Freud and his followers learned to see a sexual element in nearly all human activity and then described it as the expression of a primary instinct, the manifestation of a basic and powerful inner "drive".

There is no question that these semantic shifts and the discovery of human "sexuality" as a natural force in its own right reflected a very significant change in the image people had of themselves. After all, since the end of the Middle Ages the style of living in Europe had undergone a thorough and ever-accelerating transformation. The transition from a feudalistic to a capitalistic economy, the growth of trade, and the advance of technology gave rise to new attitudes, habits, and moral values. The emerging urban middle class or bourgeoisie trained itself for a greater degree of discipline, self-control, and self-denial than had ever been known before. Efficiency, punctuality, productivity, and profit were proclaimed as the new ideals. The human body came to be seen as a machine which had to perform in the most regular and rational manner possible. Spontaneous physical responses and desires which interfered with such smooth functioning were rigorously suppressed. Waste and idleness could not be tolerated. Even love had to be justified as a means to an end—the procreation of children, i.e., new workers, soldiers, and other "useful" members of society. In the 18th century, masturbation was declared to be a serious threat to health. A growing prudery alienated men and women from themselves and each other, and by the middle of the 19th century virtually all natural bodily functions had become taboo.

Curiously enough, it was this very suppression, subjugation, exploitation, and fear of the body which increasingly focused attention on its "sexual" qualities. No matter how much people tried to steel themselves, their bodies remained capable of experiencing sensual pleasure and "useless" ecstasy. In fact, the more such pleasure was condemned, the greater grew the temptation to indulge in it. The danger was ever-present, and everyone had to be on his guard. Finally, when the general prudery reached its height, the forbidden flesh became a powerful, secret obsession. The Victorians saw "sex" everywhere.

At the same time, however, they also found themselves with a greatly reduced vocabulary for the sensual or erotic. The fantastic variety of medieval English, French, and German words for sex organs, bodily functions, and lovemaking had gradually been replaced by some embarrassed euphemisms and a small number of incomprehensible Greek and Latin terms. The rich vernacular was suppressed as "vulgar" and "dirty". As a result, a few "acceptable" terms now had to be stretched considerably in order to cover the same semantic field. Thus, the word "sexual", for example, continued to acquire certain new meanings simply by filling the newly created terminological vacuum. Modern Europeans and Americans often had no choice but to use the single word "sexual" when talking about many formerly distinct and unrelated phenomena. Such usage, in turn, could not remain without influence on the general public consciousness. People became accustomed to finding sexual implications in all sorts of behavior which before had been seen as "pure"' or sexually indifferent. In other words, men and women began to develop a highly sensitive, hypersexual attitude toward each other. Perhaps one can best illustrate this change in perception by citing a simple example: It is a common experience of modern psychotherapists that in sexually mixed encounter groups many interpersonal problems are defined as being sexual in nature. However, these same problems are often defined quite differently in all-male or all-female groups. Here the sexual aspect does not seem very important, and thus the participants are prepared to look for another explanation.

It is also well known that many so-called primitive peoples fail to see the "sexual" element in certain situations which seem to suggest nothing but sex to the modern Western observer. This is true even for peoples who put great emphasis on sexual satisfaction. They are simply much less concerned with the ramifications, connotations, or symbolic meanings of their behavior. Thus, while sex is important to them, it remains a rather limited issue.

The same can be said of young children in our own culture who engage in "sexual" activity. Much of this activity is not regarded by them as being sexua! at all. Indeed, the seemingly obvious adult interpretation is adopted only gradually and often reluctantly.

These and similar observations indicate that it takes a special frame of mind to detect "sexual" signals everywhere and to conceive of "sex" as a fundamental and all-pervasive force. Moreover, this frame of mind does not necessarily reflect a greater capacity for sensual pleasure or a more vigorous love life. In fact, it may very well be the sign of a crippled or impoverished sensuality. A preoccupation with sex is not the same thing as erotic fulfillment. In any case, it seems only prudent to approach the entire subject with caution. We must always remember that when we talk about human "sexual" behavior, we are not simply describing some objective factual occurrences. We are also choosing a very special point of view from which to focus on these occurrences. In short, we are expressing a certain subjective (and perhaps shortsighted) philosophy.

When we examine the professional language of our own time, we discover that the term "sexual behavior" can have three different basic meanings, depending on the background and scientific interest of the writer:

1. The term "sexual behavior" can refer to all actions and responses that make fertilization possible.

This is the oldest, simplest, and narrowest definition. It reflects the observation that each species of the higher animals is divided into two groups or sexes, male and female, and that they reproduce sexually. That is to say, males and females produce different but complementary sex cells (gametes). New life may begin to develop when a male sex cell (spermatozoon) unites with and thus fertilizes a female sex cell (ovum). In order to effect this fertilization, a male and a female individual have to go through a certain characteristic and very specific sequence of physical motions and responses. This sequence (or any part of it) is properly called sexual behavior.

In the lower mammals, sexual behavior is firmly regulated by certain specific physiologic controls. At certain times when fertilization is possible, males and females respond to certain behavioral "cues" in each other and thus begin to interact in such a way that the male and female sex cells are brought together. For example, the male may mount the female, their sex organs may be joined together, and he may ejaculate into her body where fertilization can then take place. However, the entire sequence of actions and responses can be completed only if all necessary cues are received by both partners. Male and female sexual behaviors have to reinforce each other at every step and in very specific ways. The animals are "programmed" to effect fertilization, but the program breaks down or even fails to develop without such mutual reinforcement. This means, among other things, that the sexual behavior of these animals is not "instinctive", i.e., entirely directed from within. Instead, it is "built up" or "put together" in response to certain stimuli at the time of its occurrence.

In the higher mammals, the inborn physiologic controls of sexual behavior are not sufficient to guarantee "successful" mating, but have to be augmented by learning. For example, monkeys and apes raised in isolation who had no opportunity to observe or practice copulation still possess the capacity to respond to the cues of suddenly appearing partners, but may not know how to interact with them. Their bodily movements remain clumsy and inappropriate. As a result, fertilization cannot take place. Thus, it is obvious that the "normal" sexual behavior of these animals depends, to a great extent on training and experience. Furthermore, it is clear that the sexual behavior of many higher animals is quite varied and elaborate and serves more than a mere reproductive function. It also helps to maintain social coherence and coordination.

The behavioral pattern becomes even more flexible and complex in the highest mammal - man. Human beings are born with the capacity for certain basic sexual responses, but are not in any specific way programmed for mating. Thus, they depend almost entirely on observation and experience. Their sexual behavior is exceedingly variable, and fertilization may no longer be its primary function. Instead, individual satisfaction and various social goals may turn out to be much more important. In short, when we talk about humans we cannot simply equate sex with reproduction. Human sexual behavior is more than reproductive behavior, and it therefore requires another, much broader definition than the one provided above.

2. The term "sexual behavior" can refer to any behavior that involves a "sexual response" of the body.

This is a more recent and rather pragmatic definition. It reflects the observation that, when they mate, most higher animals experience certain bodily changes which show a characteristic pattern and which may be summarized in the term "sexual response". It has further been noticed that this response can occur even in situations where fertilization is impossible. Thus, some animals have been seen stimulating their own sex organs when alone, or mounting partners of their own sex, or trying to copulate with members of other species (including man). In all of these cases, an obvious sexual response is involved.

It follows that sexual behavior in the above sense cannot be explained only in terms of reproduction and male-female relations. Indeed, in some instances this so-called sexual behavior could very well be described quite differently and much better as "warning behavior", "greeting behavior", "appeasing behavior", "rank-demonstrating behavior", or the like. For example, certain monkeys display an erect penis as a warning to intruders into their territory; they greet or appease higher ranking animals in their group by presenting themselves for copulation; or they demonstrate their own rank by mounting their inferiors. Therefore, when we call such behavior sexual we are purely (and selectively) descriptive and do not imply anything about its significance. We are saying only that the behavior involves some sexual response (however rudimentary). We are not saying what this response means. As a matter of fact, in some animals it may take very extensive observations to determine the meaning.

In human beings, the meaning of sexual behavior in this sense is sometimes even less clear. The sexual response as such may be obvious enough, but its motivation and purpose may remain entirely obscure. Using a popular expression, we may then say that someone uses "sex for nonsexual ends". However, the debate over what these ends are often remains unresolved. (Actually, the curious notion of "sex used for nonsexual ends" neatly pinpoints the whole problem of defining sexual behavior. After all, on the face of it the phrase is meaningless. It is very much like speaking of "politics for nonpolitical ends". Obviously, it all depends on what you mean by "political".)

Needless to say, there is an advantage in speaking about sexual behavior without reference to its possible meaning. A neutral usage can protect us from prejudging the issue. Therefore, this usage is now very popular with sex researchers who try to get an objective and detailed description of what someone does before they declare why he does it. Clearly, the definition covers all types of human sexual activity (sexual self-stimulation, heterosexual and homosexual intercourse, and sexual contact with animals), but it does not imply any hierarchical order among them. Moreover, it leaves each of these activities open to interpretation. In short, the above definition does not equate sex with reproduction or any other particular purpose. It merely calls attention to a certain physical response common to a variety of activities. Still, we know that, at least in human beings, this response is often accompanied by strong sensual pleasure.

3. The term "sexual behavior" can refer to all actions and responses related to pleasure seeking.

This is a modern, very wide definition which can be traced to Sigmund Frond and his psychoanalytic theory. It was Freud who advanced the concept of "libido" (Latin: lust) which for him at first summarized the physiological energy associated with sexual urges, and later all constructive human endeavor. Eventually, he saw human life as a whole dominated by two opposing basic instincts: Eros (the life instinct) and Thanatos (the death instinct). This view was not shared by all of his followers, but the notion of a powerful innate erotic instinct or drive was widely adopted and even became part of modern popular wisdom. Thus, in many minds "the sex drive" came to stand for man's pursuit of pleasure in all its forms. "Sex" was the underlying motive of every life-enhancing activity.

As we can see, when used in this fashion, the term "sexual behavior" becomes quite inclusive. It then may refer not only to all forms of lovemaking between men and women, but also to all sorts of other human activities. Indeed, it may be applied to infantile breast- and thumbsucking as well as to adult eating, drinking, and smoking, to dancing, singing, bicycle riding, collecting art, or applauding an artist. It may even refer to hunting, wrestling, fencing, or firing a gun. The only question in all of these cases is one of motivation. If the behavior is somehow motivated by the wish for pleasure, if it is prompted by an individual's inner need for self-fulfillment, if it satisfies him or gives him comfort, if it heightens his sense of being alive—then it is clearly sexual.

As a matter of fact, one could go further and speak of sexual behavior in individuals who daydream about love or who act out their erotic fantasies in an unrecognizable, symbolic fashion. One could also say that the "sex drive" is blocked, warped, or disturbed in some men and women, and that they therefore offend, attack, hurt, maim, or even kill other people in a "perverted" attempt to obtain sexual satisfaction. In some of these cases, obvious sexual clues might even be entirely absent. Nevertheless, a psychoanalyst could perhaps track them down and thus reveal the "true" motivation. (On the other hand, in the end the "true" motivation may also turn out to be entirely negative, i.e., a manifestation of the death instinct. Then the suspected sexual behavior would stand revealed as not having been sexual at all.)

These few examples may suffice to show that the above definition ol sexual behavior is problematical. Certainly, it is not descriptive and neutral as were the two earlier definitions. Instead, it is evaluative and contains a strong element of speculation. One may also question whether it would make any sense when applied to animals. In any case, it has not proved to be very useful to scientists. By the same token, however, it has often had great appeal for moralists and philosophers.

By now it should have become sufficiently clear that, even on a theoretical level "sex isn't that simple". Furthermore, it is obvious that the way in which people commonly talk about "sex", "sexual behavior," or the "sex drive" is quite imprecise. It certainly is not adequate for an objective analysis. For example, if there is such a thing as a sex drive, what exactly is it? Is it a drive to reproduce? Or is it a drive to release a specific tension in a specific way? Or is it a drive to experience pleasure? Indeed, what exactly is a drive to begin with?

The English term "sex drive" or "sexual drive" was coined early in our century in analogy to the German Sexualtrieb which was sometimes also translated as "sexual instinct". Instincts or drives were said to be innate forces or energies which "drove" animals to behave in certain predictable ways. Specifically, drives prompted an animal to avoid discomfort, like hunger or thirst, and to release physical tension through sexual activity. Thus, for example, the animal's hunt for food indicated the workings of a hunger drive, the search for liquid those of a thirst drive, and the attempt at sexual activity those of a sex drive.

Originally, therefore, the word "drive" was simply a narrow biological term. However, as we have seen earlier, for Sigmund Freud the concept of a sex instinct or sex drive soon acquired much larger dimensions. Under the name of libido, and later that of Eros, it became part of his increasingly ambitious psychoanalytical theory which tried to explain the (largely unconscious) motivations of all human behavior. Indeed, to this day Freudians continue to use the term "sex drive" in a special way of their own which is not very widely shared, but which is justified in the context of other psychoanalytic assumptions. Still, also to this day, psychoanalysis has remained more a matter of faith than of scientific proof.

In contemporary scientific discussions, the word "drive" is no longer used as often as before. Many scientists have, in fact, rejected the concept altogether. They do not see any real advantage in describing hunger as a hunger drive, and instead of talking about an animal's thirst drive, they prefer to say simply that the animal is thirsty. Furthermore, the idea that animals are basically inert and have to be "driven" into activity is increasingly being questioned. Nevertheless, the concept of "drive" has retained some appeal for psychologists who want to describe motivations that have some physiological basis. Thus, in textbooks on psychology one can still find the term "drive" defined as "an urgent basic need which is rooted in some physiological tension, deficiency, or imbalance, and which impells an organism to action". Sometimes "drive" is also defined as an "aroused condition in which an organism's behavior is directed toward avoiding discomfort or a state of physiological imbalance". Drives in this sense are, for example, hunger, thirst, the need for sleep, and the need for moderate temperatures. A lack of food, liquid, and sleep, or a temperature that is either too hot or too cold activates the drive. The greater the imbalance, the stronger the drive. By the same token, when sufficient food, liquid, and sleep, and a moderate temperature have been obtained, the drive is satisfied until a new imbalance activates it again. Finally, it is clear that these drives perform a vital function for the organism. Without food, liquid, or sleep, and in boiling or freezing temperatures, the organism would eventually die.

As we have already mentioned, scientists argue whether, even in these "simple" cases, the concept of drive really explains very much. However, be that as it may, we can easily see that, at least in the case of sex, this concept makes little sense. First of all, sexual activity is not necessary for the survival of any organism. A lack of food or liquid will lead to death, but a lack of sex has never killed anyone. Secondly, the strength of sexual desire does not depend on the degree of sexual deprivation. Sexual abstinence does not always increase sexual desire, and frequent sexual activity does not always diminish it. On the contrary, some people who have been abstinent for a long time eventually lose all interest in sex, while others who are extremely active continue to be easily aroused. Furthermore, people usually do not make themselves deliberately hungry or thirsty, but they often actively seek sexual arousal. Also, unlike hunger or thirst, this arousal may be caused and increased by psychological factors alone. Finally, hunger and thirst are experienced as unpleasant, while sexual arousal feels good and is thus rewarding in itself even if it remains "unsatisfied."

In view of these facts, modern sex researchers have practically abandoned the general concept of a sex drive. Instead, there has been a tendency toward breaking it into components. As early as 1940, R. L. Dickinson differentiated between "sex endowment, capacity, and drive." In 1948, Alfred C. Kinsey spoke of sexual "capacity" as opposed to "actual performance"; and in 1958, Lester A. Kirkendall proposed a distinction between "sexual capacity, sexual performance, and sexual drive." ("Toward a Clarification of the Concept of Male Sex Drive," Marriage and Family Living, 20. November 1958). So far this latter approach seems to be the most promising, and therefore we should perhaps adopt Kirkendall's argument here (while slightly modifying his language). When talking about human sexual behavior, it seems useful to distinguish between three basic factors:

1. Sexual capacity, i.e., what the individual can do.

2. Sexual motivation, i.e., what the individual wants to do.

3. Sexual performance, i.e., what the individual does do.

Sexual capacity (i.e., the ability to become sexually aroused and reach orgasm) depends on a person's general physical condition and especially on the functioning of the nervous and muscular systems. This capacity varies from one individual to another and even from time to time in the same individual. (For example, the same person usually has quite different sexual capacities in infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age.)

Sexual motivation (i.e., the desire to engage in sexual activity) may be influenced by the level of certain hormones in the body, but seems mostly dependent on psychological factors. Very important are social conditioning and the special circumstances in any particular situation. Thus, sexual motivation also varies greatly from one individual to the next and from one time to another in the same individual.

Sexual performance (i.e., the objective amount of sexual activity) depends not only on physiological and psychological factors, but also on opportunity. Needless to say, at its upper extreme performance is limited by capacity.

Simple common sense tells us that sexual capacity, motivation, and performance do not always coincide. After all, when it comes to sex, very few people have the opportunity to do everything they can do and want to do. At any rate, sex researchers have demonstrated that in males, for instance, the greatest sexual capacity is usually reached many years before the peak of actual sexual performance. Or, to take another example, it has been shown that in females the sexual capacity is often much greater than the sexual motivation. In some people, one may also find a high level of sexual performance combined with a low level of sexual motivation. Instead, the motivation may be mostly financial (as in the case of a prostitute) or social (as in the case of a tired wife who wants to hold on to a husband).

Under these circumstances, it no longer appears justified to speak simply of a human "sex drive". Such a summary approach is not likely to lead very far. It seems much more promising to investigate clearly defined special aspects of human sexual activity. Actually, in the meantime many such investigations have been carried out which have produced useful, and sometimes surprising, results. After Kinsey's statistical count of "total outlets" (i.e., units that measure sexual performance), William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson measured human sexual capacities in the laboratory. These and many other new studies have done a great deal to clarify the issue. At the present time, scientists are also conducting more detailed research in the area of sexual motivation. For example, a promising start was made several years ago by R. E. Whalen, who divided sexual motivation into two components: arousal and arousability. According to this distinction, people's arousal depends on specific stimuli in specific situations, while their arousability depends on their physiological condition (i.e., in part on the presence of certain hormones as well as on their particular learning experiences. The latter are very important, because sexual arousability can vary a great deal even in individuals with the same hormone level. (Whalen, "Sexual Motivation" Psychological Review, 73, pp. 151-63, 1966.) Of course, in a sense Whalen's two-component model can also be understood as a simplified alternative to Kirkendall's. After all, while "arousal" is obviously an aspect of motivation, "arousability" also implies some capacity. In any case, these and similar distinctions offer new insights into a formerly obscure subject, and thus we can hope that the future will bring us much closer to understanding the puzzling complexity of human sexual behavior.

In the present book, the term "human sexual behavior" is used both in a wider and a narrower sense. In the wider sense, it simply means everything people do as sexual beings. Among other things, this covers the way in which they perform their masculine and feminine gender roles and how they choose and approach their sexual partners. This usage may be vague, but it is widely accepted and generally understood. Therefore it does not present any serious problem.

However, as we have seen, in the narrower sense the term is more difficult to define. Undoubtedly, sexual behavior is somehow related to reproduction, or at least originally it evolved in connection with reproductive behavior. Still, we also know that in the higher animals and especially humans this is not the whole story. Finally, we know that Freud and his followers assume the existence of a powerful basic sexual instinct or drive in every human being.

Fortunately, for our limited purposes it is not necessary to decide whether this assumption is justified or not. Instead, we can restrict ourselves here to a more practical view. In the following pages, therefore, sexual behavior in the narrow sense simply refers to behavior which involves the stimulation and excitation of the sex organs. We make no prior judgment as to the causes, motives, or purposes of such behavior.


[Title Page] [Contents] [Preface] [Introduction] [The Human Body] [Sexual Behavior] [Development of Behavior] [Types of Activity] [Sexual Maladjustment] [Sex and Society] [Epilogue] [Sexual Slang Glossary] [Sex Education Test] [Picture Credits]