2. Religious, Ethnic, and Gender Factors Affecting Sexuality

Social scientists have demonstrated an association between human behavior and such social factors as religion, race, gender, social class, and education. This is as true of sexuality as of other forms of behavior. Although sexuality researchers have not always incorporated a recognition of this principle in their designs and analyses, there is still abundant evidence that sexual practices in the U.S.A. are strongly related to social factors. In this section, we examine several examples. First, we review the general influence of the Judeo-Christian heritage in the U.S.A. and describe the sexual culture of a particular religious group within this tradition, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). Then we review the sexual customs of two of the largest minority groups in the U.S.A., African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. Finally, we review the emergence of feminist ideology in the U.S.A., a view constructed around the concept of gender. These reviews are by no means exhaustive or complete, but should serve to illustrate both the diversity of social groups within the U.S.A. and the influence that membership in such groups exerts on sexual customs and practices.

A. Sources and Character of Religious Values

General Character and Ramifications of American Religious Perspectives on Sexuality

Sexual science in America is a mid- to late-twentieth-century discipline. By contrast, Western religious thought about love, sexuality, marriage, the social and familial roles of men and women, and the emotions and behavioral patterns associated with courtship, pair bonding, conception, and birth have textual bases in the Jewish Pentatuch and other biblical writings. In pre-Christian Hellenic thought, the First great document of sexology is Plato's Symposium (ca. 400 B.C.E.). Because Judaic and Hellenic thought have strongly influenced the sexual views of Christianity and all of Western culture, one must acknowledge that the theological, religious, and secular writings that permeate American conceptions of sexuality are embedded in this 3,500-year-old matrix that gives sexuality its place in life (and unique meanings). This section will explore the sources and character of religious values in the U.S.A. and their impact on sexual attitudes, behaviors, and policies.

Religious Groups in the U.S.A. Statistically, Americans are 61 percent Protestant - 21 percent Baptist, 12 percent Methodist, 8 percent Lutheran, 4 percent Presbyterian, 3 percent Episcopalian, and 13 percent other Protestant groups, including the Church of Latter-Day Saints (see Section 2 below for a more in-depth discussion of the sexual doctrines and practices of this religious group), Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and others. Roman and Eastern-rite Catholics account for 25 percent of Americans, Jews 2 percent, 5 percent other religious groups, and 7 percent are not affiliated with any church. Therefore, the two largest denominations in the U.S.A. are the Roman Catholic Church with a membership of over 50 million and Southern Baptist Conventions with between 10 and 15 million members (Greeley 1992). There are also 2.5 million Muslims in the U.S.A.

Because Americans tend to cluster geographically according to both their religious and ethnic heritages, local communities can be much more strongly affected by a small but highly concentrated religious or ethnic tradition than the above percentages might suggest at first sight. With recent public debate focusing on sexual morality (e.g., contraception, abortion, and homosexuality), a paradoxical realignment has occurred, with liberal Roman Catholics, mainstream Protestant churches, and liberal and reformed Jews lining up on one side of these issues, and conservative (Vatican) Roman Catholics, fundamentalist Protestants, including the televangelists and Southern Baptists, Orthodox Jews, and fundamentalist Muslims on the other side.

A Basic Conflict Between Two Worldviews. American religious institutions on the national level, their local religious communities, and individual members are caught in a pervasive tension between the security of traditional unchanging values and the imperative need to adapt perennial religious and moral values to a radically new and rapidly changing environment. This tension permeates every religious group in the United States today, threatening schism and religious “civil war” (Francoeur 1994).

At one end of the spectrum are fundamentalist, evangelical, charismatic factions that accept as word-for-word truth the writings of the Bible as the word of God and advocate the establishment of the United States as a Christian nation. For them, living under God's rule would be evidenced by the man firmly established as the head of each family in the U.S.A. and the woman in her God-given role as submissive wife and bearer of children for the Kingdom of Heaven. Similar fundamentalist strains in the United States are apparent among ultra-orthodox Jews and radical Muslims (LeHaye and LeHaye 1976; Marty and Appleby 1992, 1993, 1994; Penner and Penner 1981; Wheat and Wheat 1981). These embody an absolutist/natural law/fixed worldview.

On the conservative side, books about sexuality written by married couples dominate the market and sell millions of copies without ever being noticed by the mainstream publishing industry. Intended for Pleasure (Wheat and Wheat 1981) and The Gift of Sex (Penner and Penner 1981) - the latter couple having been trained by Masters and Johnson - provide detailed information on birth control and express deep appreciation of sex as a gift to be enjoyed in marriage. Tim and Beverly LeHaye's The Act of Marriage celebrates marital sexual pleasure, but disapproves of homosexuality and some sexual fantasy. All books in this category stress mutual pleasuring and the importance of female enjoyment of marital sex.

At the other end of the spectrum are various mainstream Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims who accept a processual/evolutionary world-view (Fox 1983, 1988; Curran and McCormick 1993; Heyward 1989; Kosnick et al. 1977; Nelson 1978, 1983, 1992; Nelson and Longfellow 1994; Ranke-Heinemann 1990; Spong 1988; Thayer 1987; Timmerman 1986) rather than the fixed fundamentalist worldview. In this processual worldview, the sacred divinely revealed texts are respected as

the record of the response to the word of God addressed to the Church throughout centuries of changing social, historical, and cultural traditions. The Faithful responded with the realities of their particular situation, guided by the direction of previous revelation, but not captive to it. (Thayer et al. 1987)
The most creative and substantive analysis of the evolution and variations in biblical sexual ethics over time is William Countryman's Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today. (For a full annotated list of sexuality texts, see Cornog and Perper 1995.)

The tension between the values and morals derived from fixed world-views and those derived from processual worldviews is evident in official church debates about sexual morality and is also experienced by church members as they struggle to find their way through the confusion resulting from these two views. But it also affects the lives of secular Americans with no connection with a church, mosque, or synagogue, because the religious debate over sexual values permeates all levels of American society, and no one can escape the impact of this debate and conflict on politics, legislation, and social policies. Table 1 is an attempt to describe in a nondefinitive way the two divergent sets of values derived from the processual and fixed worldviews. Table 2 lists some religious traditions in both the fixed and processual worldviews in the major religions around the world.

Table 1: A Cognitive and Normative Continuum of Sexual Values Derived from Two Distinct Worldviews, Fixed and Process, Within the Christian Tradition

Christian Religions Type A

Christian Religions Type B

Basic vision

Cosmos - a finished universe

Cosmogenesis - an evolving universe


The universe, humankind is created perfect and complete in the beginning.

The universe, humankind is incomplete and not yet fully formed.

Theological understanding of humans emphasizes Adam.

Theological emphasis has shifted to Christ (The Adam) at the end of time.

Origin of evil

Evil results from primeval 'fall' of a perfect couple who introduce moral and physical evil into a paradisical world.

Evil is a natural part of a finite creation, growth, and the birth pains involved in our groping as imperfect humans struggling for the fullness of creation.

Solution to the problem of evil

Redemption by identification with the crucified Savior. Asceticism, mortification.

Identification with the Adam, the resurrected but still fully human transfigured Christ. Re-creation, growth.

Authority system

Patriarchal and sexist. Male-dominated and ruled. Autocratic hierarchy controls power and all decisions; clergy vs. laity.

Egalitarian - 'In his kingdom there is neither male nor female, freeman or slave, Jew or Roman.'

Concept of truth

Emphasis on one true Church as sole possessor of all truth.

Recognition that other churches and religions possess different perspectives of truth, with some elements of revelation clearer in them than in the “one true Church.”

Biblical orientation

Fundamentalist, evangelical, word-for-word, black-and-white clarity. Revelation has ended.

Emphasizes continuing revelation and reincarnation of perennial truths and values as humans participate in the creation process.

Liturgical focus

Redemption and Good Friday, Purgatory, Supernatural.

Easter and the creation challenge of incarnation. Epiphany of numinous cosmos.

Social structure

Gender roles clearly assigned with high definition of proper roles for men and women.

There being neither male nor female in Christ, gender roles are flexible, including women priests and ministers.


Supernatural transcendence of nature.

Unveiling, Revelation of divine in all.

Ecological morality

Humans are stewards of the earth, given dominion by God over all creation.

Emphasis on personal responsibility in a continuing creation/incarnation.


Carefully limited; isolationist, exclusive, Isaias's 'remnant.' Sects.

Inclusive, ecumenical, catalytic leader among equals.

Human morality

Emphasis on laws and conformity of actions to these laws.

Emphasis on persons and their interrelationships. We create the human of the future and the future of humanity.

Sexual morality

The 'monster in the groins' that must be restrained.

A positive, natural, creative energy in our being as sexual (embodied) persons “Knowing” (yadah), Communion.

Justified in marriage for procreation. Genital reductionism.

An essential element in our personality in all relationships. Diffused, degenitalized sensual embodiment.


“Polymorphic perversity,” “paneroticism.”

Noncoital sex is unnatural, disordered.

Noncoital sex can express the incarnation of Christian love.

Contraceptive love is unnatural and disordered.

Contraception can be just as creative and life-serving as reproductive love.

Monolithic - celibate or reproductive marital sexuality.

Pluralistic - sexual persons must learn to incarnate chesed/agape with eros in all their relationships, primary and secondary, genital and non-genital, intimate, and passionate.

Energy conception





Technology-driven and obsessed.

Concerned with appropriate technologies.

Modern America is a ferment of discourse and debate concerning relationships between sexuality and religion. This occurs on the local and personal level among church members, as well as on the administrative level among the church leadership. The vast majority of local church debates are not reported in the popular press. These debates center on the interpretations of revelation, religious truths, and the nature and place of sexuality within a particular absolutist/natural law/fixed worldview or processual/evolutionary worldview. From time to time, denominational leaders and assemblies issue authoritative statements in denominational position or workstudy papers. These formal statements are designed to answer questions of sexual morality and set church policy. However, contradictory majority and minority positions rooted in the opposing fixed and processual worldviews accomplish little beyond stirring heated debate and deferring the problem to further committee study (Francoeur 1987, 1994).

Table 2: A Spectrum of Ethical Systems with Typical Adherents in Different Religious Traditions

This table is an attempt to visualize the range of sexual moralities in different religious traditions and relate them in terms of their basic worldviews. There is often more agreement between different Jews, Protestants, and Catholics at one or the other end of the spectrum, than there is between Protestants, or Catholics, or Jews who disagree in their worldviews. Protestants in the covenant tradition, for instance, have more in common with liberal Catholics who disagree with the Vatican's opposition to such practices as contraception, masturbation, premarital sex, abortion, divorce, and homosexuality, than they do with their fellow Protestants who are members of the fundamentalist Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, or Focus on the Family.

While Eastern religions may, in some cases, fit in with this dualism of worldviews, the ascetic traditions of the East are positive traditions and lack the negativism towards sexuality that permeates the history of Christian asceticism and celibacy. Eastern asceticism is seen as a positive balance to the Eastern's embrace of sexuality as both a natural pleasure to be greatly enjoyed and a path to the divine union. Also, the relationship with the dichotomous weltanschauungs evident in Western traditions needs to be explored and explicated.

Tradition Source

A Spectrum or Continuum

Fixed Philosophy of Nature

Process Philosophy of Nature

Roman Catholic tradition

Act-oriented natural law/divine law order ethics expressed in formal Vatican pronouncements

A person-oriented, evolving ethics expressed by many contemporary theologians and the 1977 Catholic Theological Society of America study of human sexuality.

Protestant nominalism

Fundamentalism based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, as endorsed by the Moral Majority and the religious New Right: Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Church of Latter-Day Saints

An ethic based on the covenant announced between Jesus and humans - examples in the 1970 United Presbyterian workstudy document on Sexuality and the Human Community, Unitarian/Universalists, and the Society of Friends (Quakers)


Stoicism and epicurean asceticism

Situation ethics, e.g., the 1976 American Humanist Association's “A New Bill of Sexual Rights and Responsibilities”


Orthodox and Hasidic concern for strict observation of the Torah and Talmudic prescriptions

Liberal and reformed application of moral principles to today's situations


Orthodox; observance of female seclusion (purdah) and wearing of the veil (chador); ritual purifications associated with sexual activities

Secular; more or less adoption of Western gender equality; flexible/lax observance of sex-associated purification rituals


Ascetic tradition of monks with world-denying sexual abstinence; Yoga; ritual taboos and purification rites associated with sexual activities

Sacramental view of sex with worship of male lingam and female yoni; the Kama Sutra


Ascetic tradition of monks with sexual abstinence

Tantric traditions in which sexual relations are a path to divine union

However, there is often a great difference between official church doctrine and worldview and the views and practices of its members. For example, the most erotophilic religion in America may be grassroots Roman Catholicism as expressed and lived by the laity. Many rank-and-file American Catholics express great and amused doubt and scorn for the sexual pronouncements of the Vatican (Greeley 1995). Peter Gardella (1985) has made a strong case for the thesis that Christianity has, in fact, given America an ethic of sexual pleasure.

The Conservative Christian Coalition. Among the major forces in the American religious scene that affect public sexual mores is the conservative Christian Coalition. Among the fundamentalist Christians, one finds an extraordinary heterogeneity. There exists a large and virtually unstudied mixture of Pentecostal, fundamentalist, and evangelical/charismatic churches whose preachers expound on sexuality, marriage, family, and morality. Their opinions are diverse, and poorly known or understood by those outside their domain, especially sexologists. Two examples illustrate this: A religious pamphlet published by the Rose of Sharon Press in Tennessee, the buckle of the so-called Bible Belt in the U.S.A., extols the clitoris as the “cradle of love,” and the Reverend Timothy LeHaye reminds his followers that God indeed created the delights of oral sex for married couples (only) to enjoy. No statistical data exist concerning these groups, and we know nothing about sexual behavior among individuals within these churches.

The current strength of the power of the American religious right is evident in the wide-reaching branches of Pat Robertson's political machine, the Christian Coalition, and the “electronic churches,” including Robert-son's cable television Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), with annual revenues of $140 million (Roberts and Cohen 1995). A parallel conservative culture is James Dobson's multimedia empire, Focus on the Family, which includes ten radio shows, eleven magazines (including speciality publications for doctors, teachers, and single parents), best-selling books, film strips, and videos of all kinds, curriculum guides, church-bulletin fillers, and sermon outlines faxed to thousands of pastors every week. The popularity of Dobson's first book, Dare to Discipline - more than 2 million copies sold in 1977 - inspired his formation of Focus on the Family, which now has an annual budget of $100 million and a staff of 1,300 workers who answer more than 250,000 telephone calls and letters a month (Roberts and Cohen 1995).

In the late 1980s, Protestant fundamentalist televangelists from the South were reaching millions of listeners. Their influence was weakened by several major sex scandals, but they continue to play a major role in the anti-abortion movement and are part of the Christian Coalition. In the same era, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops tried to establish a cable television network to bring the Catholic faith to the masses. Where they failed, a determined Catholic fundamentalist-charismatic, Mother Angelica, from Mobile, Alabama, succeeded with the Eternal Word Network, which brings ultraconservative interpretations of Catholic sexual and social morality to devoted listeners twenty-four hours a day.

In the southern states, on the east and west coasts, and in the populous midwest states are several hundred “mega-churches,” which draw upwards of 5,000 to 20,000 faithful every week to each church. Congregations seated in upholstered theater seats are inspired by the style of a professional theater with a large choir, orchestra, large screens displaying hymn verses for congregational singing, interpretive dance, bible lessons with soft-rock concerts, and morality plays that rival anything on music television (MTV). These mega-churches are usually huge glass and steel shopping-mall-like complexes with large theater-stage sanctuaries, scores of meeting and classrooms for a variety of activities, including aerobics, multimedia Bible classes, counseling centers, and even bowling alleys, accompanied by acres of parking space. Sermons delivered by skilled “teaching pastors” include such topics as: how to find joy in a violent world, create a “happy day” each week, find rhythm between work and rest, handle teenage children, and discipline one's mind to a biblical perspective. Youth, in particular, are attracted to the instant intimacy of this large-group, Disney-World environment. Weekly contributions from 15,000 members at one mega-church averaged $228,000, giving the church an annual budget of almost $12 million (Roberts and Cohen 1995). With the mainstream small local churches suffering a steady decline in attendance and contributions, many of the more-traditional pastors are turning to the mega-churches for pastoral retraining. Thus, the mega-churches are establishing smaller, local congregations. It appears that the way these churches deal with sexual issues may have a major impact on American sexuality because of the large memberships they are attracting.

Emergence of a Sex-Positive Individual-Based Value System. Diotima of Mantinea, Socrates' instructress in the art of love in the Symposium, explained that the god Eros provides an avenue or way by which human beings reach upward to the Divine - a view modern classical scholars chauvinistically attribute to Socrates and call the “Erotic Ascent.” Historically, Diotima's argument became the basis of the later Christian idea that God is Love. In Eurocentric Christianity, the first great flowering of Eros came between 1050 C.E. and 1200 C.E., when Ovid's The Art of Love reached Europe from Arab-Spanish sources. The synthesis of sexuality and spirituality quickly assumed major status as a popular doctrine expressed in the music of the troubadours of “courtly love.”

Its most ardent opponents were the faculty of the medieval universities led by Thomas Aquinas, who developed a full and coherent alternative to the theology of the Platonic Erotic Ascent in the thirteenth century. The Thomistic synthesis, with its denunciation of the Erotic Ascent and analysis of the essence and goals of human sexuality in terms of a “natural law,” became the official Catholic view. This synthesis is the basis on which the modern magisterium and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church grounds its absolute condemnation of contraception, abortion, and the practice of homosexuality. By contrast, Protestantism has been much more accepting of sexuality and sexual pleasure, and more flexible with and accommodating to such issues as divorce, contraception, abortion, masturbation, premarital sex, and even homosexuality.

However, it was not the theory of Thomistic Aristotleanism that ultimately superseded late medieval and Renaissance beliefs in Eros. These dwindled as Europe, staggered under waves of the Black Death, which ultimately killed one quarter of Europe's population; the Crusades, during which 22,000 people were killed in the Provençal city of Bezier alone; endless local wars among nobles, kings, and petty brigands where the peasants were invariably victimized; Turkish invasions; the epidemic of syphilis in 1493; peasant uprisings in Germany and England in the 1300s and 1400s; and the Inquisition, that specifically targeted women as its victims.

Protestant reformers from Luther through Calvin, Knox, and Zwingli, not only rejected the “natural law” approach to sexual morality; but extended, strengthened, and normalized the nuclear family and the blessing of marital sex. This type of marriage was a valuable social institution for assuring the distribution of new wealth from father to son. For example, in northern European merchant families, it replaced the older, southern European models of inheritance by name, and social status by membership in a “house” (e.g., the “house of the Medici”), with this type of lineage system.

An important characteristic of the Renaissance was appreciation and acceptance of individual control of one's own life. Thus, the late 1500s and early 1600s saw a new struggle of the young to wrest control over their love affairs and marriages from their parents and families. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet epitomizes what was to become the central issue of the modern-American religious debate about sexuality and spirituality. Who is to control the sexuality of the young? Older and more powerful individuals, who have vested interests in the outcome of youthful sexuality, ... celibate church leaders still convinced of the unchangeable patriarchal sexual values expressed in the Genesis story of creation, ... or young people, who claim for themselves the right to find the right mates and express their erotic passion in a way that, for them, brings sexuality and transcendence together?

Of growing significance in the 1990s in the U.S.A. is the question of the sacred nature of Eros. Among the liberal religious best-sellers pioneering a new synthesis of sexuality and spirituality are: Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought (Kosnick et al. 1977), which was sponsored by the Catholic Theological Society of America, but was condemned by the Vatican; Original Blessing (1983) and The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (1988) by the Dominican Matthew Fox (censured and expelled from his community by the Vatican); sociologist and erotic-novel author Father Andrew Greeley's Sex, The Catholic Experience (1995); lesbian theologian Carter Heyward's 1989 Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God; Presbyterian seminary professor James Nelson's books Embodiment (1978), Between Two Gardens: Reflections on Sexuality and Religious Experience (1983), and Body Theology (1992); James Nelson and Sandra Longfellow's anthology on Sexuality and the Sacred (1994); William Phipps' Recovering Biblical Sensuousness (1975); Catholic feminist theologian Joan Timmerman's The Mardi Gras Syndrome: Rethinking Christian Sexuality (1986); and Episcopalian Bishop John Shelly Spong's 1988 Living in Sin? A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality. In addition, some Christians have turned to Eastern religions, particularly in the Tantric and Taoist traditions, to seek the nexus between sexuality and spirituality (Francoeur 1992).

Current and Future Religious Debate. During the 1980s, the most virulently debated issue was abortion. In 1994, between U.S. Supreme Court decisions and violence and murder by extreme anti-abortionists, support for anti-abortion stands stalled. For the majority of Americans, abortion appeared to fade as the central moral dilemma and joined the list of unresolved moral issues that includes war, drugs, crime, capital punishment, discrimination, and related social ills. Certain far-right religious leaders, who still have a devoted and vocal following and claim to speak for Christ, even conceded reluctantly that they could not win their war against abortion, and seemed to refocus their crusade on homosexuality and “the danger of homosexual rights” as their mobilizing issue.

However, with the mid-1995 success of the Republicans' conservative hundred-day Contract with America, the Christian Coalition announced its own Contract with the American Family. Two-dozen legislative proposals were introduced into Congress, including an unprecedented attempt to ban and criminalize some now-legal abortions. A bill to reinstate a ban on abortions at American military hospitals overseas was passed. Other proposed bills would ban family planning programs from including abortion counseling for low-income women and adolescents; refuse funding to institutions that favor requiring obstetric/gynecology programs to provide training in abortion procedures; overturn an executive order lifting a ban against using foreign-aid money for abortion counseling or referrals; end or restrict support for agencies, including the United Nations, that offer family planning programs with abortions funded by private money; limit federal Medicaid money for abortions to situations where the woman's life is threatened and ban it in cases of incest or rape; ban fetal-tissue research; ban clinical testing of RU-486; restore a ban on counseling women about abortion at clinics that receive any federal money; and prohibit the federal employee's health benefit plan from covering abortion. The ultimate goal is to make all abortions under all circumstances a crime.

The list of controversial sexual issues that are religiously debated with little hope of being resolved in the near future includes:

1. Individual sexual choice: Who should be in control of one's sexuality? Should it be church leaders or people themselves, who claim the right to express their sexuality with those of their own choosing in ways that would bring them mutual pleasure, eroticism, and spirituality?

2. Contraception: Should minors have access to contraception? Should condoms be distributed in the schools? Does education about contraception and sexual behaviors outside of marriage promote “promiscuity”? Should people be free to choose the best method of contraception for themselves without religious restriction?

3. Abortion: Should women have control of their own reproductive faculty? Is the embryo/fetus a person with inalienable rights at the moment of conception or does fetal personhood develop over the nine months of gestation? When do fetal rights transcend those of pregnant women, if at all?

4. Nonmarital sexuality: Can sex outside marriage be morally acceptable? If so, under what circumstances? How can it be reconciled with traditional Judeo-Christian morality that limits sexual expression to the marital union?

5. Sexual orientation: Are homosexuality and bisexuality natural and normal states of being? Should sexually active gays, lesbians, and bisexuals be welcomed into church membership? Should they be ordained into the ministry? Should variation in orientation be presented in sex-education curricula as normal, moral, and socially acceptable?

6. Masturbation: Is self-loving and autoeroticism a natural, normal, and morally acceptable expression of human sexuality? (See the first item in Section B of American Demographics at the beginning of this chapter for an illustration of the impact this issue has had on American politics.)

The American religious, and consequent social and political, debates over each of these issues are not likely to be resolved in the near future. The dichotomy of the two worldviews is too deeply embedded in the American culture to allow for a quick resolution. The more likely prognosis is for continued, tension-filled confrontations within the churches, denominations, and political/legislative arenas throughout the United States.

The Religious Right's social and political agenda deeply divides American society. Although 40 percent of Americans express concern about the Democrats' ties to radical liberal groups, 39 percent are worried by Republican ties to conservative special-interest groups like the Religious Right, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Eagle Forum, and the Christian Coalition (Roberts and Cohen 1995). These results reflect the continuing diversity of worldviews within the Judeo-Christian tradition. They also indicate that these religious differences not only result in contrasting sexual ideologies, but also have an important impact on political processes in the U.S.A. more broadly. As such, religion continues to be a major American social influence.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints


* Additional comments by Mark O. Bigler, Ph.D., a lifelong member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, a graduate of New York University's doctoral program in sexuality, and director of community education programs at the Utah AIDS Foundation, are enclosed in brackets with his name [... (Bigler)].

Mormon Origins and Polygyny. One example of a particular religious group within the general Judeo-Christian heritage is provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), which is the fastest-growing religion in the world today. The over seven million members are known colloquially as the Mormons. They base their belief system on the Bible and additional scriptures, most significantly the Book of Mormon, which is understood to be a record of God's dealings with an ancient population of the American continent. The Mormons believe this book came from gold plates revealed to the church founder, Joseph Smith, in Ontario County, New York, in 1823. The church was officially organized in 1829.

The early Mormons were persecuted because their founder claimed the Bible had not been translated properly, that all other religions were false, that religious leaders did not have God's authority - the priesthood - to act in God's name, and finally that the practice of polygyny was a part of the divine plan. There was also the political reality that the tight-knit Mormon communities exercised considerable local power. Interestingly, the term “polygamy” as used in LDS church history and old doctrine means the “condition or practice of having more than one spouse.” A more-accurate definition of the Mormon practice of that century lies in the word “polygyny,” meaning having more than one wife at one time. The role of polygyny in the church is a source of some embarrassment to mainstream modern-day Mormons, who may discuss the practice somewhat wryly as a revelation designed to build the church population at a time when they literally had to forge new communities under hardship. After several attempts to settle in an area and build a sectarian community, the Mormon pioneers ultimately settled in the Salt Lake City area of Utah, where the church is now headquartered.

Modern Mormon doctrine does not include the practice of polygyny. Church prophet and leader, Wilfred Woodruff, officially eliminated polygyny from doctrine in the Manifesto of 1890 (Ludlow 1992). This proclamation against plural marriage ended a decade of hardship and persecution against the church members, particularly by the Republican Party that had as part of its platform elimination of the “immoral practice of multiple wives.” While mainstream Mormons are not held accountable for not practicing plural marriage, they still must “suffer the curse of monogamy.” Today, small fundamentalist splinter groups still practice polygyny, despite state laws against it and lack of official church acknowledgment. Even before the church abandoned its practice of plural marriage, only a small fraction of Mormon men, between 3 and 15 percent, had more than one wife (Murstein 1974, 350-364).

Perhaps the persecution faced by the early members of the LDS regarding their marital patterns has contributed to a unique and paradoxical tension around sexuality. On one hand, there is nothing more sacred than sex within the bounds of church-sanctioned marriage. On the other hand, rarely is there found a modern-American subculture more prohibitive and repressive about sexuality.

Salvation and Sex. To further understand this tension, one needs a basic understanding of the Mormon Plan of Salvation. Before birth, the Mormons believe, the soul is alive as an intelligence in a spirit world. During this preexistence, a variety of situations are possible, including acts of valor that would allow the soul to be born into a family of Mormons where opportunities for service abound. At birth, the soul passes through a veil of forgetfulness where all memory of the preexistence is lost (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1989 (Moses 3:5, p. 7; Abraham 3:21-23, pp. 35, 38; Talmage 1977)).

During life on this earth, individuals face choices throughout the course of their lives that determine in which of three kingdoms they will spend eternity. The highest kingdom, the Celestial Kingdom, is reserved for those Latter-Day Saints who meet all the requirements of doctrine, one of the most important of which is marriage to another Saint in special temple rites. The exaltation and eternal life in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom are achieved only by faithful Mormons through the achievement and building of an eternal marriage, discussed later. Other good people can only hope to reach the Terrestrial Kingdom, a kind of heaven on earth, while unrepented adulterers, practicing homosexuals, murderers, and other sinners are limited to the Telestial Kingdom, which some describe as a Mormon version of the Christian hell.

[According to Mormon tradition, “hell” is not a place, but rather a state of mind. Those who do not achieve the highest degree of glory (the Celestial Kingdom) will recognize the reward they might have had and live out their eternities with the knowledge of this lost potential. However, the Telestial Kingdom, though typically described in less-than-positive terms, is not generally thought of as the fire and brimstone of the traditional Christian hell. In fact, one prominent Mormon Church leader described the Telestial Kingdom as follows: “... all who receive any one of these orders of glory are at last saved, and upon them Satan will finally have no claim. Even the telestial glory 'surpasses all understanding; And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it'” (Talmage, 1977, 92-93). (Bigler)]

In Mormon belief, one's marital status is decisive for the life hereafter. Without marriage one can only become a servant angel ministering to those who are far more worthy of glory, the truly married. But most of those who have married on earth are married for time only (until death), and not truly married unless they have their marriage sealed in the temple. In heaven, those who are married only for this life will be single, no better than bachelors and spinsters. (In the Mormon view of heaven, one can enjoy all the pleasures of sex, food, and other sensual delights.) Those who are married by a prophet in the temple are sealed to each other and married for time and eternity. Couples in a sealed marriage will remain married for eternity, and enjoy reigning in separate kingdoms. It is also possible to marry for eternity and not for time. Thus a kindly man may marry a spinster for eternity but not for time, leaving her to her celibate lifestyle here, but destined for all the delights of the Celestial Kingdom as his mate in eternity (Murstein 1974, 350-362).

Gender Roles. As with all societies, gender roles among Mormons are scripted very early in life. The LDS church plays a distinct role in gender definition and scripting. Church activities segregate children at around the age of 12: boys are guided into vigorous endeavors, such as scouting and outdoor gamesmanship, whereas girls learn household activities and crafts.

[To clarify Forrest's comment above, it is important to note that Mormon adolescents frequently participate in mixed-gender activities. Although young men and young women generally meet separately as a part of the official church youth program (known variously as Mutual Improvement Association (M.I.A.), Mutual, and Young Men's/Young Women's Program), males and females come together for Sunday School and the Mormon worship service known as Sacrament Meeting. In addition, LDS seminaries - religious study programs for high-school-age teens (grades 9 through 12) that operate in virtually every location around the world where congregations of Mormons are found - are always conducted with male and female students meeting together. Furthermore, Mormon youth regularly attend church-sponsored dances and participate together in community activities, including school proms, holiday celebrations, and cultural events. Young Mormon women and men are encouraged to interact, though care is usually taken to provide chaperons or to direct young people into activities where the possibility of sexual contact is limited (e.g., Mormon youths are strongly encouraged by their church leaders and parents to date in groups, and establish curfews that will not keep them out past midnight). (Bigler)]

It is not unusual for a preadolescent girl to have an LDS-designed poster on her bedroom wall urging her to remain “temple worthy,” or reminding her of gospel precepts that will keep her safe from worldly situations. For example, one poster is of a young girl looking into a mirror in whose reflection is a vision of herself as a young woman in a bridal scene with a handsome man. The caption says, “looking forward to a temple marriage.” Young men are also urged to bridle their carnal urges. Masturbation is expressly forbidden, and moral cleanliness, a requirement for any temple ceremony, essentially equates to abstaining from sexual activity before marriage.

[In Mormon practice, “moral cleanliness” at its most basic level is understood as abstaining from sexual activity before marriage and remaining faithful to one's spouse. It is not at all equated with celibacy, as the author has implied. A pamphlet for youth, recently published by the church, makes this position clear: “Our Heavenly Father has counseled that sexual intimacy should be reserved for his children within the bonds of marriage.... Because sexual intimacy is so sacred, the Lord requires self-control and purity before marriage as well as full Fidelity after marriage” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1990, 14-15). (Bigler)]

Gender roles become even more firmly established during transitions into adulthood. Church officials clearly define the position, duties, and destiny of women in the divine plan. Women are to be “copartners with God in bringing his spirit children into the world” (Tanner 1973); this is generally understood metaphorically without any sexual connotation. Rather than focus on the erotic element of this distinction (having babies does require first having sexual intercourse), the LDS leaders instead urge women to stay home in order to love and care for children to ensure a generation of Mormons who learn about their “duty as citizens and what they must do to return to their Heavenly Father.” Women are regarded as sacred vessels, with important roles not only in childbearing, but also as positive influences on men's lives. A “general authority” in the church, Hugh B. Brown, suggests that “women are more willing to make sacrifices than are men, more patient in suffering, and more earnest in prayer” (Relief Society 1965). Women in the Mormon community are indeed known for their good works. The Relief Society is the oldest women's group in the United States and is remarkably active with community support of all kinds.

[Most Mormons, female and male alike, continue to hold traditional views concerning gender and gender roles. In general, Mormon women today still view motherhood and caregiving as fundamental traits of a “righteous” woman. However, it is also fair to say that the beliefs of church officials and the broader membership regarding gender roles have liberalized somewhat since President Hugh B. Brown's statement in 1965. For example, in a recent general conference of the church, Chieko N. Okazaki, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, urged LDS women to obtain an education and career training:

[Each year it becomes increasingly important for women to improve their abilities to take care of themselves and their children economically, if circumstances should require.... If anything, [the counsel of Elder Howard W. Hunter] has become even more relevant in the almost twenty years that have passed as the national economy has made it increasingly difficult for one wage to support a family, as more mothers are left alone to raise their children, and as more women spend lengthy portions of their lives single. He is telling all of us to use the oar of study to prepare ourselves professionally for worthy and rewarding activities, including paid employment. (Okazaki, 1994) (Bigler)]
LDS men have a clearly defined role as well. Men bear the responsibility and the privilege of the Priesthood, which is a spiritual calling and connection to God specifically not given to women. An exception to this is found in LDS mission work, where young women on evangelical missions for the church have a type of “priesthood calling” on a temporary basis, lasting only for the duration of the mission.

[Throughout the church's history, Mormon women have served missions for the church. Today, young women (typically in their early 20s) are embarking on proselyting and church service missions in ever-increasing numbers. Although Mormon men are encouraged much more strongly than are women to go on missions, teaching and preaching are not restricted to priesthood holders (males) in the church today. In fact, the priesthood is not a prerequisite for participation in most church positions, all of which are filled by lay members. Nevertheless, church leadership at its highest levels, both locally and generally, remains a function of the priesthood (male members). (Bigler)]

Through the priesthood, God governs all things. Priesthood power is considered a vital source of eternal strength and energy; a responsibility delegated to men for the well-being of mankind. Holding the priesthood means having authority to act as God's authorized agent, which includes some church organizational duties. The right of worthy priesthood holders is to preside over their descendants through all ages, achieving its highest function in the family. As the presiding priesthood holder in the home, decisions relating to discipline often fall to the man, and the role of providing for the household is ultimately his, in spite of the presence of more employed Mormon women. Giving righteous advice, loving family members, and the laying-on-of-hands for healing purposes are all rights of the man of the house.

[In the ideal Mormon household, discipline, family decisions, and the day-to-day management of the home are seen as a shared responsibility between a unified husband and wife. Although Mormon fathers have been designated the presiding authority in the family (once again a function of the priesthood), it is the mother who is typically responsible for managing the home and children. However, male church members are counseled against the misuse of their designation as leader in the home, and men have been encouraged by the prophet and president of the church himself to share in parenting and home management:

[A man who holds the priesthood accepts his wife as a partner in the leadership of the home and family with full knowledge of and full participation in all decisions relating thereto.... You share, as a loving partner, the care of the children. Help her to manage and keep up your home. Help teach, train, and discipline your children. (Hunter, 1994, 5-7) (Bigler)]
Body Theology. The Mormon doctrine about the body is worth noting since it creates another element of sexual tension. In many Christian religions, the body is considered simply a vessel housing the spirit/soul for the duration of life. For the Mormons, the body itself is highly revered and serves an eternal function. At the point of resurrection, the body of an individual is returned to “perfection,” ridding it of all the faults and defects of this life. A Mormon friend of mine often queries, “Just whose version of perfection will I get in Eternity? I have a list of modifications right here.”

One indication of the importance of the body is manifested by the wearing of “garments.” During the Temple marriage, a couple is given special “garments” to wear. This special underwear (manufactured by the Mormon church) is designed to serve as a reminder of the sanctity of the covenants made in the temple and to protect the body from harm. A quiet Mormon joke about the garments refers to them as “Mormon contraceptives,” since they must be worn next to the skin at all times and are notoriously unsexy in appearance. Women wear their foundation garments, such as brassieres and slips, over the Mormon garments. Because of the design of the garments, only modest clothing can be worn. However, the modern garments are much more relaxed and functional than traditional ones. The old versions are still available, with the tops extending just below the elbows and the bottoms below the knee, but most younger Mormon women opt for the cap sleeve and midthigh cotton versions for comfort and more choice in clothing.

[Mormon garments (which are worn by both women and men) serve as a constant reminder of sacred covenants made in temple ceremonies. Mormons also believe that these undergarments help protect the wearer against physical and spiritual harm. In addition, the design of the underclothing encourages the wearing of modest clothing. Although temple garments are to be worn day and night under normal circumstances, church members are not required by either doctrine or dictum to keep their underclothing on during activities such as bathing or while participating in sporting events. Nor are faithful Mormons required to wear their garments during sexual activity. (Bigler)]

Adolescent Dating. Adolescent dating rituals are very similar to those of other conservative American cultural groups. As LDS children grow older, the church plays more of a role in their lives, interweaving doctrinal and social activities. The transitions through church steps for adolescents are made in tandem with all their church peers. For instance, at 8 years old, children reach the “age of understanding” and are baptized into the church. Many of their peers are also taking this step, which takes on social significance in the form of family gatherings and informal parties. Later, dating is encouraged in group settings around church activities, since this context is most likely to encourage an interfaith marriage. Teens are often told, “if you don't date outside, you won't fall in love outside, and you won't marry outside the faith.”

[Dating among Mormon teens is not restricted solely to church activities, although local congregations do often sponsor teen-oriented events, such as dances, firesides (discussions of religious topics especially relevant to teens), and cultural activities (plays, concerts, art exhibits, etc.). While dating outside of the church is not strictly forbidden, it is, as the author states, discouraged by church leaders and parents in an effort to reduce the chances that a member will marry outside of the church. Families of particularly staunch members are likely to view the marriage of a child to someone from outside of the church as a lamentable and perhaps even shameful event. Although Mormons who are married to nonmembers are not excluded from church activity or normal religious practice, one's relationship to the church is undoubtedly affected by the “part-member” status of the family. (Bigler)]

At Brigham Young University, a Mormon-owned and operated institution in Provo, Utah, approximately 45 miles south of Salt Lake City, a subculture of dating reigns. Known to be an ideal place for Mormon youth to find a same-faith marriage partner, it is also a hotbed of sexual exploration. Mormon coeds fine-tune their “NCMOS,” (pronounced “nick-moes”), which is an acronym for “noncommittal make-out sessions.” These sexual forays include “everything but intercourse”: extensive kissing, petting, and “dry humping” (rubbing bodies) is common, but touching of the genitals is typically off-bounds, as is penetration of any kind.

[Brigham Young University, the oldest private university west of the Mississippi River, boasts a student body of more than 30,000, comprised almost entirely of young Mormons who come from every state in the country and many nations outside of the United States. The amount and types of sexual activities that the author reports occur among BYU students are not all that atypical of young college students in general. However, given the strict code of sexual conduct that Mormons have for themselves, even nongenital sex play and sexual activity short of intercourse give BYU the appearance of a “hotbed of sexual exploration.” At the same time, such activity also suggests that young Mormons have healthy sexual appetites, and perhaps are not as peculiar as it may first appear when compared to their peers on other American campuses. (Bigler)]

Marriage, Sex, and the Celestial Kingdom. In order to access the Celestial Kingdom, a couple must marry in the temple. These temple rites seal the two partners together not just for life, but for all eternity. When a couple is in the Celestial Kingdom together, they can enjoy the full experience of their resurrected and eternally perfect bodies. The purpose of the sealed marriage is primarily to ensure the eternal connection between partners, allowing them to procreate and populate their own worlds (eternal procreation). An essential precept, “As man is, so God once was; as God is, so man can become,” guides heterosexual couples through life with the promise that they, as the God they worship has done, will become creators of their own world (Murstein 1974).

Although not formally prohibited, birth control is regarded with clear reservation by church members, since large families are viewed favorably. Women who leave the Mormon church often refer, “with tongue in cheek,” to their loss of opportunity to bear children during the afterlife. One woman commented, “At least I know I won't be barefoot and pregnant through time and eternity.”

[While birth control is regarded with reservation by many church members and authorities, various forms of contraception are commonly practiced, even by active, faithful members. Today, the decision to use birth control is left to the discretion of the couple. (Bigler)]

The gender roles established early in the life of the couple are metaphorically established again during the marriage ceremony. The order of the Plan of Salvation is clearly outlined during the ceremony, as is the order of the household that symbolically supports the Divine Order when it is in accord with the Plan of Salvation. An interesting element of the temple marriage is the giving of a name to the bride, known only to her husband. This name is for the use of the husband in calling his wife to him in the afterlife. She does not have access to his secret name - the calling of partners in eternity is purely a masculine prerogative. The giving of the name to the bride is kept secret from outsiders, as is much of the rest of the ceremony, which is closed to all those without special church endowments. Mormon church weddings are different from typical American weddings in that only worthy LDS family members and friends are allowed into the temple to observe the ceremony itself. If a family member is an inactive church member or a nonmember, they will be excluded from the wedding ceremony, joining the party outside the temple or at the reception.

In the face of the lack of sexuality education, the first act of sexual intercourse for a good Mormon is likely to be ill-informed. One contemporary of mine recalls her first sexual experience, which took place after an LDS temple marriage: “We were both virgins, and it literally took us several weeks to consummate the marriage by having intercourse. We had been raised to believe sex was a sacred thing, so we just sat in bed, prayerfully, kissing gently and waiting for something to happen. Obviously, something finally did, but I was dreadfully disappointed. It not only didn't feel sacred, it didn't even feel good.” This particular couple did not seek therapy for support or education, relying instead on the Holy Spirit, a decision common among LDS couples.

Because the church operates with a lay ministry, the local bishop has an enormous influence on how issues of sexuality are handled. In most instances in which married couples face difficulty with sexual relations or general marital dissatisfaction, the bishop is the first and most likely source of comfort and counsel. Often the bishop is just a kindly intentioned neighbor with limited or no training. Many times, his response is based on his own experience, attitudes, aversions, and parental training. Some extremely compassionate bishops give forgiving responses to an individual who has erred sexually. Some bishops advise specifically against such behaviors as oral or anal sex. Others, repulsed by the vulgarity of even discussing the topic of sexuality, take refuge in esoteric spiritual or academic language or avoid the topic altogether. Still others may be open-minded and suggest that either the lay ministry has an extremely limited role in the bedroom of other folks or advise liberal measures, such as doing whatever works best for the couple involved. If marriage counseling is clearly needed, a referral may be made by the bishop to the LDS Social Services or to an LDS therapist, who can give professional advice with an empathy for the doctrinal requirements. In sharp contrast, other bishops respond with an injunction to leave the fellowship if someone has premarital intercourse, commits adultery, or engages in homosexual relations, all of which are forbidden by church doctrine.

[Problems that result from limited sexuality education coupled with well intentioned but poorly trained lay clergy are compounded for Mormons by a dearth of LDS therapists and other mental-health professionals who have specific training and experience in the area of sexuality. (Bigler)]

Divorce is discouraged, but not uncommon. The divorce rate in the state of Utah, in spite of a predominantly LDS population, matches those of many states. Even marriages sealed in the temple are now relatively easy to unseal. Remarriage from a doctrinal standpoint is difficult to comprehend in light of the eternal marriage concept, but temple divorces will officially separate the couple for the purposes of the Celestial Kingdom.

[If a temple divorce has been granted, a second marriage can be sealed in a Mormon temple. Marriages that take place outside of the temple are officially recognized by the church as legal and valid, with the understanding that these unions will not carry on into the eternities. (Bigler)]

The Mormon Family. An ideal Mormon family works together, putting the sense of “family” first, honoring the doctrine that families will endure throughout eternity. It is a rare LDS home that lacks some visible reminder of this doctrine in an embroidered or otherwise handcrafted item proclaiming, “Families are Forever.” The cultural value placed on family as a priority distinctly impacts those who choose not to have children, making those couples at least the object of social curiosity, if not censure.

Utah, the Mormon Mecca, is culturally oriented toward family because of the LDS church influence. Exemplifying this is Enid Waldholtz, the Republican congresswoman elected to office in 1994 from Utah, who is only the second member of Congress to bear a child while in office. This choice on the part of LDS Congresswoman Waldholtz clearly cemented her popularity among her Mormon constituents. She made a clear statement about her support for family life by meeting one of the most basic expectations of a Mormon couple with this childbirth.

Sex Education. Children are taught about sexuality more by implicit measures than direct and overt messages. Sexual exploration at a very early age is treated with quiet but firm repression. Mormon adults often describe their sense of guilt at their developing sexuality, often beginning at a very early age. These ideas are often disseminated by parents during “morality lessons,” which might include the suggestion of singing hymns if “impure thoughts” enter one's mind, or using affirmative reminders that one's primary objective is to reach the Celestial Kingdom, which demands the purity of the body temple. “Impure thoughts” are usually not specifically defined, but are so pervasively assumed to be sexually related that many Mormon adults still claim to equate words such as “purity” and “morality” with specific sexual connotations.

In spite of the importance placed on having babies in a married state, very little formal education is done regarding sexuality and pregnancy. Countless times after I have made a simple junior- or high-school presentation on HIV prevention, students have lined up to ask me other “related” questions, often regarding basic body functioning, for example, “I haven't started my period.... How do I know if I'm pregnant?... Can I get pregnant from kissing?”

[Mormon families are counseled by their leaders to hold a weekly Family Home Evening each Monday night. This is a specially designated time during the week for the family to join together to study religious topics, enjoy activities outside of the home, or address important family issues. Family Home Evening, as it has been outlined, provides LDS families with a perfect opportunity to provide sexuality education in the home within the framework of the family's own value system. After observing this practice among Mormon families, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and her colleague Louis Lieberman noted:

[In particular, we have been impressed by the manner in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) has approached the difficult task of teaching moral and ethical precepts in the area of sexuality. If Jews, Italians, Chinese, and Japanese, among other groups, may be said to be child-centered societies, the Mormons must be said to be family-centered, par excellence. There appears to be a structured, systematic, integrated and total approach to morality through the family. Thus, sexual morality is taught as part of a system and way of life that focuses on the goal of eternal or celestial marriage. The church readies out to the family through many media: songs, family meetings, family resource books, television, videos, etc., to provide the Mormon perspective on all aspects of sexuality for all family members. (Westheimer & Lieberman 1988, 109)
[Unfortunately, all too often, Mormon families fail to take advantage of this valuable resource, and miss an obvious opportunity to educate their children about matter related to human sexuality. (Bigler)]

Many couples marry with limited information even about the act of intercourse. If they have been properly parented in the faith, they will have been protected from exposure to sexual or “perverted” images. A Mormon church leader, Dallin Oakes, in a speech at Brigham Young University, said “We are surrounded by the promotional literature of illicit sexual relations on the printed page and on the screen. For your own good, avoid it.” He added, “Pornographic or erotic stories and pictures are worse than filthy or polluted food. The body has defenses to rid itself of unwholesome food, but the brain won't vomit back filth.”

Biological information about menstruation is disseminated clinically. Some women recall this clinical information as imbued with a sense of shame, in which menstruation is described as a sickness or something one does not discuss in polite company. For example, I dated a Mormon man who was so unfamiliar with menstrual issues and women's bodies - in spite of having several sisters - that he did not know what the purpose of a tampon was or how it functioned.

Abortion. Abortion is considered a most venal sin. Since Mormon doctrine regards the bearing of children as an opportunity to bring “spirit” children into an earthly form, abortion is not only considered murder, but in addition, a denial of a body for a predestined soul.

Gay Culture. Both the San Francisco and New York gay cultures take special note of the Brigham Young University gay underground, famous for its size and covert scope. Many of the returning missionaries come back to BYU to find a mate and resolve the same-sex desires often stirred on the two-year LDS mission strongly encouraged by the Church with strictly enforced male-only companionship.* Sometimes that resolution does not come easily. Support groups for Mormon homosexuals in the Provo and Salt Lake area around BYU give voice to the pain of these men. Lesbians face the same dilemma, since they are surrounded by the cultural pressure to marry and have families.

[* A note on LDS missionary services. Mormon men are strongly encouraged (not required) to serve a two-year mission at the age of 19. Formal sanctions are not imposed on those males who choose not to go on a mission. However, in a strong Mormon family or LDS community, social sanctions can be quite severe. The status of “Returned Missionary” is a valuable asset to a young man's marriage potential. In contrast, the decision not to serve a mission - or worse yet, leaving on a mission and returning home early - often brings shame to both the young man and his family. Mormon women, on the other hand, can choose to go on an 18-month mission at the age of 21. However, the expectation of service is not nearly as great for females as it is for males, and the decision not to go, particularly if a young woman opts to get married instead, results in few, if any, negative repercussions. (Bigler)]
The divine mandate of heterosexual marriage regards homosexuality as a repudiation of the gift and giver of life. Thus, homosexuality is regarded as a direct violation of God's plan, which is that men should cleave to women. Sexual relations between any nonmarried persons is considered sinful and homosexuality falls into tins category. According to Dallin Oaks, one of the church apostles, “Eternal laws that pertain to chastity before marriage and personal purity within marriage apply to all sexual behavior. However, marriage is not doctrinal therapy for homosexual relationships” (Ludlow 1992). Since so much of the restored gospel hinges upon the legally and temple-wedded heterosexual couple, practicing homosexuals are excommunicated.

Often the feelings of a gay person meet responses of incredulity on the part of parents and church leaders. One parent counseled his son not to act on his “supposed” same-gender feelings, “to date young women seriously, to wait and see” (Schow et al. 1991). Because homosexual couples cannot reproduce, this parent urged his son to “choose otherwise.” The church offers “counseling to those who are troubled by homosexual thoughts and actions” in order that they might become acceptable to God. Repentance is offered in these circumstances. “Homosexuality and like practices are deep sins; they can be cured; they can be forgiven” (Church News 1978). In order to remain a Mormon in good standing, homosexuals must remain celibate and refrain from all same-gender eroticism. Acceptance is not advocated at any level.

[The current Mormon position on homosexuality can be described as one of limited tolerance. Because sexual activity is reserved for marriage, and same-sex relationships are not recognized by most legal bodies or by the church, homosexual activity is therefore forbidden. As the author correctly notes, to continue to be a Mormon in good standing, homosexual men and women must remain celibate and refrain from all same-sex sexual activity. The church's position officially allows for individuals who are sexually attracted to members of the same gender to remain fully involved in church activities, so long as there is no sexual activity. This stance, though still extremely restrictive, is quite a departure from past policy and practice when virtually any indication of same-sex attraction could be used as grounds for excommunication. However, despite the apparent shift in thinking toward greater acceptance, it remains difficult, if not impossible, for members who feel a same-sex attraction to continue to actively practice Mormonism. Unfortunately, homophobia is often a more-powerful emotion for many church members than the New Testament challenge to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Frequently, this homophobia is internalized and, despite Ludlow's declaration that “marriage is not doctrinal therapy for homosexual relationships,” many gay, lesbian, and bisexual Mormons follow the traditional course that has been set for them by getting married and starting a family. Some carry on with a heterosexual life and take the secret of homosexuality to the grave. Others Find their true sexual feelings too powerful to deny and may have clandestine same-sex relationships or seek out friendly advice, often from a bishop or other church authority. For those who acknowledge same-sex attraction, reparative or reorientation therapy is a common recommendation. These programs have demonstrated little lasting success in changing sexual orientation. Participation in reparative or reorientation therapy is often experienced as the ultimate failure, since the promise of change is directly linked to the sincerity and worthiness of one's efforts.

[Change-orientated therapy, therefore, is commonly the final step for many gay, lesbian, and bisexual Mormons before leaving the church or being asked to leave. In the end, homosexual Mormons are often left with a choice between their church and their sexuality. Because the two are diametrically opposed, there is little room for compromise. (Bigler)]

Summary. The Mormon culture is distinct in many ways. Known for hard work, loyal families, and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, the Mormons are steadfast in their maintenance of traditional family values. Sexually conservative and repressive, Mormon doctrines may be the ideal for people disillusioned with or anxious about the liberalization of sexual attitudes and practices occurring in the United States in recent decades. According to the 1995 United States census, Utah - with a 70 percent Mormon population - ranks first in fertility and last in teen pregnancy. The Mormons, long considered remarkable for their nearly anachronistic traditional values, may actually be on the cutting edge of the Christian Right's abstinence- and morality-based vision of American family life.

B. Racial, Ethnic, and Feminist Perspectives

In addition to the religious factor, two other social factors continue to exert considerable influence on American sexual ideologies and practices, race/ethnicity and gender. In this section, we examine the sexual customs of two of the largest racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S.A., African-Americans and Latino-Americans, and the effects of feminism and feminist perspectives on sexuality in America and sexological research.


The term African-American is widely and often carelessly used to suggest or imply that the more than 30 million African-Americans constitute some kind of homogeneous community or culture. This is both contrary to reality and dangerous, as the term properly includes a rich diversity of very different, and often distinct, subcultures, each with its own set of sexual values, attitudes, and behavioral patterns. Included under the rainbow umbrella of African-Americans are urban African-Americans in the northeast, ranging from Boston south to Washington, D.C., African-Americans in Los Angeles on the West Coast, and African-Americans in urban centers in the southern states. Rural African-Americans are often quite different from urban African-Americans, even in nearby metropolitan centers. Socioeconomic and educational differences add to the diversity of African-American subcultures. This perspective is essential to avoid overgeneralizations about the observations provided here.

Historical Perspective. A review of the past record reveals that many white Americans have regarded the majority of African-Americans as representing the sexual instinct in its raw state. This belief that African-American sexual behavior is somehow more sordid and crude than the sexual behavior of white Americans is by no means a new concept. Reports dating from the mid-sixteenth century depict the sexual behavior of Africans as bestial. The same descriptions were later applied to the Africans brought to the New World by the slave trade.

Moreover, the folk view of the sexuality of blacks is often hard to distinguish from what appears in the scientific literature. In the guise of science, some investigators have presented such conclusions as: (1) African-American men and women are guided by “bestial instinct” (DeRachewiltz 1964; Jacobus 1937; Purchas 1905); (2) the black man is more animalistic in bed (DeRachewiltz 1964; Jacobus 1937; Purchas 1905); (3) the black man's penis is larger than the penis of the white man (DeRachewiltz 1964; Edwardes and Masters 1963; Jacobus 1937); (4) the black man is a sexual superman whose potency and virility is greater than the white man's (DeRachewiltz 1964; Jacobus 1937; Jefferson 1954); (5) the black man's reproductive capacity is colossal (Jacobus 1937); (6) black men are obsessed with the idea of having sex with white women (Edwardes and Masters 1963; Fanon 1967); (7) all black women want to sleep with anyone who comes along (DeRachewiltz 1964; Jacobus 1937; Rogers 1967); and (8) black women respond instantly and enthusiastically to all sexual advances (DeRachewiltz 1964; Jacobus 1937). Blacks have also been characterized as holding more-permissive attitudes regarding extramarital affairs (Bell 1968; Christensen and Johnson 1978; Houston 1981; Reiss 1964, 1967; Roebuck and McGee 1977; and Staples 1978). This simplistic notion may well misrepresent the complexity of African-American sexual values. According to Robert Staples (1986, 258),

Blacks have traditionally had a more naturalistic attitude toward human sexuality, seeing it as the normal expression of sexual attraction between men and women. Even in African societies, sexual conduct was not the result of some divine guidance by God or other deities. It was secularly regulated and encompassed the tolerance of a wide range of sexual attitudes and behaviors. Sexual deviance, where so defined, was not an act against God's will but a violation of community standards.
Gender, Gender Role, Sex, Lave, and Marriage. Gender and gender roles are culturally defined constructs that determine the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior for men and women. These notions are often based on stereotypes - a fixed, oversimplified, and extremely distorted idea about a group of people. In the general American culture, the traditional stereotyped female is gentle, kind, dependent, passive, and submissive. The traditional stereotyped male is tough, brutal, independent, aggressive, and intractable. Any deviation from one's expected gender role may be met with skepticism about one's psychological health. For example, the traditional view of the black male - as it relates to gender-role identification - is that he has been emasculated by the experience of slavery and is suffering from gender-identity problems because of absent or inadequate male role models. Moreover, because of these two problems, he has a more-feminine gender identity than white males (Grier and Cobbs 1968; Glazer and Moynihan 1964; Pettigrew 1964; Wilkinson and Taylor 1977). Grier and Cobbs (1968, 59) suggest that:
For the black man in this country, it is not so much a matter of acquiring manhood as it is a struggle to feel it his own. Whereas the white man regards his manhood as an ordained right, the black man is engaged in a never ending battle for its possession. For the black man, attaining any portion of manhood is an active process. He must penetrate barriers and overcome opposition in order to assume a masculine posture. For the innermost psychological obstacles to manhood are never so formidable as the impediments woven into American society.
Pettigrew (1964) supported the notion that black males are more feminine than white males because of certain responses to items in the masculinity-femininity scale on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). Two items that Pettigrew noted were the statements, “I would like to be a singer” and “I think I feel more intensely than most people do.” Black males responded more positively to these statements than did white males. This pattern was interpreted to mean that black males are more feminine than white males. Pettigrew based his conclusion regarding the black male's gender identity on two studies. One study included a sample of Alabama convicts; the other was a group of veterans with tuberculosis! As Pleck (1981) notes, these are hardly representative samples.

In contrast to the emasculated, feminine, black-male hypothesis, Hershey (1978) argues that black males have a stronger masculine identity than white males. In her study of sex-role identities and sex-role stereotyping, the black men's mean masculinity score was significantly higher than the mean masculinity score of the white men in her sample.

To the extent that African-American males have been emasculated by gender-role stereotyping, African-American females have been de-feminized by gender-role stereotyping. The so-called black matriarchy has been historically blamed for the deterioration of the black family, because black women have greater participation in family decision making in a society where male control is the “normal rule.” Because white stereotyped norms are violated, African-American women are seen as being domineering. By virtue of the historical legacy of slavery and discrimination against African-American men, African-American women were in the labor market, received education, and supported their families.

According to Staples,

Sex relations have a different nature and meaning to black people. Their sexual expression derives from the emphasis in the black culture on feeling, of releasing the natural functions of the body without artificiality or mechanical movements. In some circles this is called “soul” and may be found among peoples of African descent through the world. (Cited by Francoeur 1991, 90-92)
In a practical sense, this means that black men do not moderate their enthusiasm for sex relations as white men do. They do not have a history of suppressing the sexual expression of the majority of their women while singling out a segment of the female population for premarital and extramarital adventures (Staples 1977, 141-42).

The major problem with such studies is that few have questioned the stereotyped assumptions regarding gender-role socialization upon which their conclusions are based.

Views and Practices of Sex Education. Black males and females are socialized very early into heterosexual relations by their culture and extended-family system. The less-stringent age and gender-role orientations that are evident in the black community exposes children at an early age to a more permissive sexual ethos. Many African-Americans perceive sex as a natural function; thus, children are not hidden from discussions of a sexual nature.

Academically, many sexuality- or family-life-education programs employ the Health Belief Model, not only as a way to predict sexual behavior, but to facilitate behavior change. This model has certain assumptions that are based on Euro-American social norms. These norms may not be consistent with the beliefs and values of many African-Americans. Mavs and Cochran bated at all in the past year. However, black men were almost twice as likely to report that they had not masturbated at all during the past year, and about 68 percent of black women reported that they did not masturbate the past year. However, those African-Americans who do masturbate demonstrate the same childhood, adolescent, and adult patterns as their white counterparts. Blacks may not acknowledge that they masturbate as readily as whites, because of the belief that admitting that one masturbates means one is unable to find a sex partner.

Children and Sex. African-American children, according to Staples (1972), are socialized very early into heterosexual relations by their culture and extended-family system. This socialization pattern exposes them at an early age to a more permissive sexual ethos. Thus, African-American children may have a knowledge of sexual intercourse, masturbation, condom usage, and other sexual practices at a younger age.

Adolescents and Sex. Compared to white teenagers, African-American teenagers begin coitus about two years earlier, on the average, and are more likely to progress directly from light petting to sexual intercourse (Brooks-Gunn and Furstenburg 1989). Consequently, African-American females may be at greater risk of pregnancy.

Black men start dating earlier, are more likely to have a romantic involvement in high school, have the most liberal sexual attitudes, and are most inclined to have nonmarital sex without commitment (Broderick 1965; Larson et al. 1976; Johnson and Johnson 1978). (See Section 5B for additional data comparing black and white adolescent sexual patterns).

Adults. In the aftermath of the Civil War, blacks married in record numbers because, under the inhumane institution of slavery, legal marriage had been denied to them. Three out of four black adults were living in intact nuclear families by the early part of the twentieth century, and the overwhelming majority of black children were born to parents who were legally married. Today, an African-American child has but a one-in-five chance of being raised by two parents (Chideya et al. 1993). Out-of-wedlock births have risen since the 1960s, particularly among African-Americans. Two out of three first births to African-American women under the age of 35 are now out of wedlock.

Traditionally, women in American society have tended to marry men in their own social class or to “marry up” to a higher socioeconomic group. This pattern has been substantially disrupted among African-Americans, largely because of a distorted gender ratio among blacks. This imbalance in the proportion of males and females of marriageable age has been present for several decades, but has become exacerbated in recent years. By the 1990s, there were roughly fifty adult African-American women for every forty-two African-American men, largely because of abnormally high rates of black-male mortality and incarceration (Staples and Johnson, 1993). Because the proportion of African-American women who attend college and earn degrees is much higher than the rate for men, this problem is even more severe for higher-status women. As a result, increasing numbers of black women are remaining single or marrying partners from lower-status groups (i.e., less education and/or income). There is no evidence that large groups of black women are choosing to marry outside their race (Staples and Johnson, 1993)

Joseph Scott (1976) has argued that these social conditions arc largely responsible for the emergence of a pattern he calls “mansharing.” Man-sharing is a lifestyle where a number of African-American women, each of whom typically maintains her own separate residence, “share” a man for intimate relationships. Typically, he splits time living with each of the women. Scott (1976) argued that mansharing represented the appearance of a new, polygamous family form in the African-American community. However, we want to stress that this does not mean that black women like or prefer this lifestyle. Cazenave (1979) has noted that lifestyles can sometimes be imposed by external social constraints. There is some evidence (Allen and Agbasegbe 1980) that most black women do not approve of mansharing as a lifestyle, but feel they have reduced options in an environment with few eligible male partners. Scott concluded that:

Until there is some way to correct the sex ratio imbalance and until blacks control the economic and welfare institutions in such a way to stop the breaking up of black monogamous relationships we cannot be too harsh on black men and women who find some satisfactory adjustments in sharing themselves and their economic resources in a new, at least for this society, family form which meets their most basic needs. (Scott 1976, 80)
Homosexuality and Bisexuality. Attitudes within the African-American community reflect those in the majority culture. According to Staples (1981), homosexuality may be tolerated in the black community but will not be approved openly. Bell and Weinberg (1978), in their study of homosexuality, found that black male homosexuals tended to be younger than their white counterparts, had less education, and were employed at a lower occupational level. Moreover, black male gays more often expressed the belief that their homosexuality and homosexual contacts had helped more than hurt their careers.

Compared to black gay males, black lesbians had fewer transient sexual partners. Most reported that the majority of their sexual encounters were with women for whom they cared emotionally.

Coercive Sex and Pornography. The incidence of rape among African-Americans has been subject to some controversy. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 683,000 adult women were raped in 1990. By contrast, the National Victim Center estimated that there were 130,236 rapes in 1990 and 207,610 in 1991. Although earlier reports indicated that African-American women were more likely to be sexually assaulted than white women, newer studies do not find any statistically significant difference between African-American and white samples. The historical notion that most rapists are black men is totally without merit; indeed most rapists and their victims are members of the same race or ethnic group.

There is an important difference between the attitudes of those whites who support the antipornography movement in the United States and the lack of interest this issue stirs among African-Americans. For African-Americans, as Robert Staples (1986, 258) argues, issues of poverty, education, job opportunities, and teenage pregnancy are far more pressing concerns than the crusade against pornography.

Rather than seeing the depiction of heterosexual intercourse or nudity as an inherent debasement of women as a fringe group as [white religious conservatives and] feminists claim, the black community would see women as having equal rights to the enjoyment of sexual stimuli. It is nothing more than a continuation of the white male's traditional double standard and paternalism to regard erotica as existing only for male pleasure and women only as sexual objects. Since that double standard has never attracted many American blacks, the claim that women are exploited by exhibiting their nude bodies or engaging in heterosexual intercourse lacks credibility. After all, it was the white missionaries who forced African women to regard their quasi-nude bodies as sinful and placed them in clothes. This probably accounts for the rather conspicuous absence of black women in the feminist fight against porn.
Contraception and Abortion. Since the early 1970s, many in the African-American community have viewed contraceptive use as a form of genocide advocated by whites. Thus, control over reproduction has had political and social implications.

The majority of women having abortions are white. Although 12 percent of the population is of African-American ancestry, black women constitute approximately 31 percent of the women who seek abortions. There is a history of forced sterilization against African-Americans, which many perceive as a form of genocide similar to contraception.

STDs and HIV/AIDS. In 1932, the United States Public Health Service recruited 600 African-American men from Tuskegee, Alabama, to participate in an experiment involving untreated syphilis. The aim of this study was to determine if there were any racial differences in the development of syphilis. The Tuskegee participants were never informed that they had syphilis. This wanton disregard for human life allowed the disease to spread to the sexual partners of these men, as well as their offspring. This experiment continued until 1972! The repercussions from the “Tuskegee Experiment” still resonate strongly through African-American communities, and negatively impact on HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

HIV was the eighth-leading cause of death for all Americans in 1990, but it was the sixth-leading cause of death for African-Americans. It is the leading cause of death for African-American men between the ages of 35 and 44, and the second-leading cause of death for black men and women between 25 and 35. Again this raises the specter of genocide among many members of the African-American community, in that many believe that the virus was man-made!

Sexual Dysfunction. The stereotyped notions about the sexual experiences of African-Americans not only influence the attitudes that whites may have about African-Americans, but also affect the way in which African-Americans perceive themselves. For example, the willingness of an African-American male who is experiencing difficulty in maintaining an erection or ejaculatory control to seek help may be dependent on how closely he identifies with the myth of the “super potent” black man. Any man may feel embarrassment about a sexual problem, but for the African-American male, the embarrassment that he may feel is compounded by the images of the myth.

For clinicians, an awareness of this historical legacy is essential to the treatment process. A key component in the treatment of many sexual problems is the use of self-pleasuring exercises. These exercises are an effective method for a person to learn more about his or her own sex responses. Many African-Americans have negative feelings about masturbation that may infringe on the treatment process. First, changing these negative feelings may take more time than is typical for other clients. Second, African-Americans who do masturbate may be more reluctant to discuss this issue because, for many, admitting that they masturbate indicates that they cannot find a sexual partner.

Latino Perspectives on Sexuality

Latinos, like most other ethnic/racial groups residing in the United States, exist in a distinct social environment, have developed a unique culture, and are often disfranchised from mainstream society. The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this section to describe a heterogeneous group of people representing a kaleidoscope of experiences, educational attainment, acculturation levels, and citizenship status. The term “Latina” pertains specifically to Hispanic women. The heterogeneity of the Latino population residing in the United States of America can be observed in each group's unique culture, beliefs, language, socio-economic background, family name, racial ascription, and culinary preferences (Castex 1994; Neale 1989; Williams 1989). Although Latinos can be found in almost every state, more than half of them live in Texas and California (National Council of La Raza 1992).

Latinos are one of, if not the fastest-growing population groups in the United States. According to census data, in the last decade, the United States Latino population increased by 54 percent, a rate of increase more than twice that of the general population (U.S. Bureau of the Census [USBC] 1993). Currently, almost nine percent of the U.S. population is classified as being of Hispanic or Latino descent; this figure is expected to increase to 21 percent by the year 2050. High fertility rates, high levels of immigration to the United States, and the relatively young population, are often cited as reasons for this increase (Brindis 1992). Among Latinos, persons of Mexican origin form the largest population group, with a population total of approximately 13.5 million people; Puerto Ricans place at a distant second with over 2.7 million (USBC 1993).

Overall, U.S. Latinos are a relatively young population with a median age of 26 years compared to 34 years for non-Latinos; conversely, less than 5 percent of Latinos are aged 65 or older compared to 13 percent for non-Latinos (USBC 1993). Among U.S. ethnic groups, only Native Americans have a younger population. Further differences among Latinos can be observed in the age distribution of different Latino groups. Census data show that Mexican-Americans have the youngest population, with a mean age of 24 years, and Cuban-Americans have the oldest population - mean age 40 years (Claude 1993).

The following material describes relevant sexological concepts among United States Latinos. Although it does not seek to report all sexual-related knowledge, it will highlight relevant sexological issues and hopefully dispel some of the stereotypes related to Latino sexuality. Comparisons presented here represent general data for Latinos, thus the reader needs to understand that there are differences between Latino subpopulation groups. The truth is that the variety of sexual practices and patterns among Latinos in the United States, and for that matter in Latin America, are only surpassed by the limits of human imagination.

Family Issues. Several authors (de la Vega 1990; Lifshitz 1990; Fennelly 1988) have emphasized the importance of recognizing the differences in family and cultural expectations regarding sexual behavior for females and males in the Latino culture. The acknowledgment of these differences allows for the understanding of the complexity of sexuality-related issues within this population group. Traditionally, Latinos have placed a high value on the family, the entity which shapes their earlier views on sexuality (Brindis 1997). Latinos frequently place family over an individual's needs. It is, therefore, not uncommon for Latinos to reside in multigenerational households with members of their extended families (Alberda and Tilly 1992; Garcia 1993). This arrangement permits the division of labor, sharing of economic and domestic responsibilities, and most importantly, allows extended-family members to participate in the rearing of children (Kutsche 1983; Leaper-Campbell 1996).

Latino culture has been described as being patriarchal in nature. However, although men are traditionally the family's representative before society, women are the primary caregivers at home; in fact, women in the Latino culture are seen as the base of the family structure. Latinas, according to de la Vega (1990), have an important non-public and non-verbal authority within the family. Females are expected to maintain the equilibrium and smoothness of family relationships. In this role, Latinas traditionally tend to pay more attention to the family's needs than their own. This expectation is most often noted in young women taking care of older relatives, while their male counterparts seek to forge their own future, albeit not too far from the family unit.

Along with family orientation, Latinos often show the closely related concept of simpatía. The latter refers to Latinos' willingness to go along with items which may not be understood or that they may disagree with. Szapocznik (1995) has suggested that familism and simpatía may now be liabilities for Latinos in the United States, particularly for gay men who attempt to conceal their true HIV-status from their families and friends.

Sexological Concepts: Acculturation and Sexual Practices. Until the advent of the AIDS epidemic, few researchers had systematically documented sexual practices and knowledge among Latinos. Inappropriate application of methodological issues, language difficulties, and cultural insensitivity have all been identified as barriers to data collection among U.S. Latinos (Ford and Norris 1991).

Sexuality is an important life element among Latinos. However, Latino sexuality is not limited or circumscribed to coital activity, but it is rather expressed through a variety of life attitudes which reinforce male and female sexual identities. In the United States, sexual patterns are not only affected by culture, but also by the individual's degree of acculturation and assimilation (Spector 1991).

Acculturation and education also play a pivotal role in the acceptance of new expressions of sexuality. In a 1990 study, Marín, Marín, and Juárez found that Latinas with higher levels of acculturation reported more multiple sexual partners than those with lower acculturation levels. The same study found that less-acculturated males were more likely to carry condoms and report fewer sexual partners. A follow-up study found that less-acculturated Latinas were less likely to carry condoms and experienced higher levels of sexual discomfort (Marín, Gomez, and Hearst 1993). More-acculturated and educated Latinas are also more likely to adopt a leading role during heterosexual activities.

Acculturation notwithstanding, sexuality continues to be a taboo topic for many Latinos, particularly for older, Spanish-speaking Latinos.

Sexual Stereotypes. It is perhaps significant that general knowledge of Latino sexuality is denoted more by stereotypes than factual information. De la Vega (1990) concluded that numerous myths and stereotypes are found among Latinos, as within any group of individuals. It is important that these subtle cultural forms of differentiation not be missed by North American service providers, as they may be the nuances that allow for the development of educational strategies that will effectively reach the Latino “population.”

Perhaps the most widely accepted stereotype for Latino males is that of the proverbially promiscuous “Don Juan.” This eternally charming individual is known for his ability to sexually conquer and satisfy a large number of females. A second stereotype deals with the erotic nature of some Latino groups as contrasted with more-conservative norms found among more-educated Latinos. Finally, the submissive and passive female stereotype continues to overshadow realities of contemporary Latinas.

Gender and Gender Roles. Worth and Rodriguez (1987) reported that despite the fact some Latinos in the United States have non-traditional lifestyles, they continue to adhere to traditional gender roles. Fennelly (1992) reported on cultural double standards and suggested that, whereas males are encouraged to develop strong self-reliant identities and explore their sexuality, females are taught the value of etiqueta, or proper and expected forms of feminine sexual behavior. These, sometimes-conflicting cultural norms contribute to what has been called the “cult of virginity” (Garcia 1980). This “cult of virginity” has its roots in the Catholic Church's teachings and is seen as a sign of purity for women. The basic premise of virginity until marriage has been found to decrease a number of sexual health problems, such as unplanned pregnancies, and to decrease the number of STDs. The primary problem with this concept, at least as practiced among Latinos, is that it is not applied equally to both genders. The literature suggests that these double standards result in either females postponing sexual activities, underreporting of sexual contacts (Taggart 1992), and in some cases, denial of other sexual behaviors, such as anal sex, in order to preserve the “cult of virginity” basic premises. This, however, does not prevent sexual innuendo from taking place.

Coquetería is a term used to describe a group of female behaviors aimed at reinforcing sexual attraction. Some of these behaviors include the use of sexually appealing clothing, the adoption of manners that stimulate sexual attraction, and the use of verbiage that indicate sexual interest. Latinas are not the only ones to discreetly express their sexual or personal interests. Piropos are statements generally expressed by men that include a sexual connotation within the context of respect and value for females. Cultural sexual standards are also denoted in language which arbitrarily classifies females as either suitable for marriage, novias, or those who can be pursued for sexual conquests, amantes (Alexander 1992; Carballo-Diéguez 1989). This dichotomy of sexual and gender roles may explain the reason sexual discussions seldom take place among spouses, since esposas (wives) are expected to possess little knowledge about their own sexuality, and even less about their spouse's. It has been suggested that, in some cases, the only Latinas totally in charge of their own sexuality are commercial sex workers, as they can be less constricted to express and fully explore their sexuality.

De la Vega (1990) suggested that sexual double standards are based on the erroneous belief that males are less able than females to control themselves sexually. It is believed that women exercise greater control over their sexual impulses while males appear to be guided by their instincts. In this context, male infidelity is more easily tolerated than female infidelity. Research indicates that Latinos who have poor sexual communication skills engage in extramarital affairs more often then those who have fewer difficulties communicating with their sexual partners. A 1994 study found that infidelity rates were higher among those who attended church infrequently than regular church attenders (Choi, Catalnia, and Docini 1994).

Machismo and Marianismo. Machismo has been described as a strong force in most Latino communities, which encourages males to be sexually dominant and the primary providers for their families; it stresses male physical aggression, high risk-taking, breaking rules, and casual, uninvolved sexual relations (de la Vega, 1990). In contrast, Marianismo refers to Latino cultural expectations that include the spiritual and moral superiority of women, and encourage Latinas to be virginal, seductive, privately wise, publicly humble, fragile, and yet, provide the glue that holds the family together. It has been argued that while these standards lead to womanizing, they also foster the tenet among males that they are responsible for their family's welfare.

Sexual Education. The AIDS epidemic has spearheaded an emphasis on the need to investigate sexuality education and communication patterns among Latinos in the United States. Family bonds, moral values, machismo, Marianismo, etiqueta, as well as profound religious beliefs, combine to prevent U.S. Latinos from openly discussing sexuality with family members. In some cases, just saying sexual words in front of family members may be difficult for some Latinos (Medina 1987).

The secrecy surrounding sexuality prevents Latinos from receiving adequate, if any, information about sexuality, contraceptives, and HIV/AIDS and other STDs (Amaro 1991; Carrier and Bolton 1991; Mays and Cochran 1988). In 1992, only 67 percent of Latinos said they had communicated with their children about AIDS, as compared to 77 percent of European-Americans and 74 percent of African-Americans (Schoenborn, Marsh, and Hardy 1994).

In traditional Latino families, sexuality education may come from extended-family members rather than nuclear-family members. Aunts, uncles, and grandparents may assume the role of sexuality educators for younger generations. For instance, Marín, Marín, and Juárez (1990) reported that Latinos were more willing than non-Hispanics to discuss certain sexual topics (i.e., drug use and sex) with an older family member. Similarly, data from the National Health Interview Survey found that less than two thirds (59 percent) of Latino parents had discussed AIDS with their children aged 10-17, compared to 72 percent of African-American and 68 percent of European-American parents (Dawson 1990).

In a study of first-generation immigrant adolescents employed in agriculture, Pérez (in press) found that Latino parents failed to adequately educate their children about sexuality-related matters. However, not all Latino parents hesitate to address sexuality-related issues with their offspring. Some researchers have found that 57 percent of Latino parents do communicate with their children about sexuality. In those cases, home-based sexuality education is the primary responsibility of the mother (Biddlecom and Hardy 1991; Dawson and Hardy 1989).

Supporting our earlier assertion that not all Latinos are created equal, Durant (1990) reported that Mexican-American females where less likely than non-Latinas to have communicated with their parents about contraception, sex, and pregnancy. Dawson (1990) found that Mexican-Americans were less likely to broach these topics with their children (50 percent) than were Puerto Ricans (74 percent) and other Latinos (64 percent). In those instances where parents educate their children about sexuality, the responsibility most often lies with the mother. The data suggest that some Latino parents rely on the schools and, in some cases, mass media to educate their children about sexuality-related issues. In a 1994 study, Schoenborn, Marsh, and Hardy found that 46 percent of Latinos had received AIDS information through radio public service announcements (PSAs), compared to 36 percent of European-Americans and 44 percent of African-Americans. An additional 14 percent of Latinos said they had received information through store displays or brochures, compared to 7 percent of European-Americans and 12 percent of African-Americans. Marín, Marín, and Juárez (1990) concluded that this lack of sexual education may contribute to higher rates of childbearing among Latinos. This is among the greatest paradoxes encountered among Latinos, since research suggests that home-based sexuality education plays a key role in decreasing pregnancy rates among Latino adolescents (Brindis 1997) and increasing condom use (Moran and Corley 1991).

Contraception. Throughout Latin America, the number of children in a household assists in establishing a male's role in the community. A large number of children, especially among low-income populations, are sometimes necessary for economic survival; the more hands available for work, the greater the family's income. It is, therefore, not surprising that contraceptive methods are skeptically viewed by some Latinos. This is further compounded by the fact that contraception among Latinos is primarily the responsibility of the woman.

Research indicates that contraceptive use among Latinos is dependent on a number of factors. Attitudes toward contraceptives, religion, condom use during first sexual experience (Marín, Marín, and Juárez, 1990), sexual orientation (Rotheram-Borus et al. 1994), education, and income (Fennelly 1992) have all been identified as being involved with attitudes and likelihood of using contraceptives. Other studies have found that Latino males are less likely to use condoms with their spouses or other primary partners than with other sexual partners (Pérez in press; Sandoval et al. 1995).

In a survey of urban adolescents, Sonestein, Pleck, and Ku (1989) found that Latino males have more-negative attitudes towards condom use than their non-Hispanic counterparts. Although 42 percent of Latina females reported they had used condoms during their first intercourse, Marín, Marín, and Juárez (1990) reported that males still exert a great deal of influence on the decision to use contraceptives. The researchers found that males' attitudes towards condom use determined the likelihood of using them. Latina women whose sexual partners opposed condom use were less likely than those whose partners did not oppose them or voiced no opinion. In a study of 131 bisexual youth in New York City, Rotheram-Borus and colleagues (1994) found that males were more likely to use condoms with a male than with a female sexual partner. The data indicate that more and more Latino men tend to share the decision on whether or not to use contraceptives with their sexual partners. The couple's acculturation and assimilation level, their adherence to Catholic Church doctrine, and their desire for large or small families also play a key in their decision to use contraceptives (Marín, Marín, and Juárez 1990). Furthermore, the data indicate that the proportion of European-Americans who use contraceptive methods at first intercourse is higher than that of Latinos (69 percent and 54 percent, respectively) and that the decision to use condoms during intercourse will be affected by male attitudes towards prophylactics (Forrest and Sing 1990).

Adolescents and Sexuality. One of the pivotal stages in a Latina woman's life is the quinceañera celebration - an event that is analogous to the traditional “sweet sixteen” observed in North America. The quinceañera party marks a woman's ability to seek a spouse and announces her ability to bear children. During this joyous time, the female is formally introduced to society and is recognized as having achieved full womanhood.

Studies investigating sexual behaviors among Latino adolescents have yielded mixed results. Brindis (1992) found that coital activity rates for Latino youth fall somewhere between that of African-Americans and European-Americans. In contrast to self-reports of lower sexual-activity levels among Latino youth, a national survey found no differences among the proportion of Latino and non-Latino Anglo-American young men who engaged in sexual activities before age 13 (4 percent and 3 percent, respectively) (Sonestein, Pleck, and Ku 1991). Similarly, Forrest and Sing (1990) found that among never-married females 15-19, 49 percent of Latinas reported being sexually active compared to 52 percent of European-Americans and 61 percent of African-Americans.

Differences, however, have been found based on attitudes towards premarital sex (Ginson and Kempf 1990; Padilla and Baird 1991). The data suggest that among adolescents, Latino males tend to engage in sexual intercourse at an earlier age than do females (13 and 15 years of age, respectively). In cross-cultural comparisons, Latino adolescents have been found to have higher sexual risk-taking behaviors (i.e., unprotected sex) than their non-Latino counterparts (Brindis, Wolfe, McCater, Ball, et al. 1995). Brindis (1997) concluded that “acculturation is a key variable influencing adolescent attitudes, behavior, and knowledge about reproduction and contraception” (p. 8).

Latino youths in the United States balance conflicting messages from two cultures regarding their sexuality (Brindis 1992). While the dominant culture appears to promote high levels of non-marital sexual activities, Latino youths, particularly females, must also deal with the more-conservative Latino cultural norms towards sexuality and the “cult of virginity.” Some very conservative families see teenage pregnancy, and in some cases pregnancy before marriage, as a “failure.” These views are expressed in the often used phrase fracazó la muchacha. It is important to clarify that this “failure” does not represent a rejection of the newborn, but rather the woman's limitation to pursue educational goals, employment opportunities, and her possibilities for marriage. Educational level and formal instruction play a role in parental willingness to discuss and educate their adolescent offspring about sexuality. Those with more education have been found to be more willing to educate their children about sexuality-related issues.

Adults and Sexuality. To date, we lack reliable data on the frequency and sexual preferences, masturbatory frequency and techniques, use of pornography, and sexual dysfunctions among Latinos in the United States. Although dialogs about sexual issues are often avoided, Latinos have other more socially acceptable forms to express their sensuality and sexual desire. Some of these mediums include music, dance, art, and poetry. Research indicates that Latino males learn about their sexuality through practical experience rather than through sexual education. Anecdotes suggest that it is not uncommon for young Latinos to lose their virginity through an experience with a sex-industry worker; usually encouraged by older relatives in what could be termed a “sexual rite of passage.” Sexual discussions among Latino men tend to occur within same-gender groups while they are under the influence of alcohol, with sex-industry workers, and in the context of jokes (Carrier and Magaña 1991; de la Vega, 1990; Hu and Keller 1989).

In a national survey of sexual behaviors, Billy, Tanfer, Grady, and Klepinger (1992) found that Latino men reported a median of 6.1 sexual partners over a lifetime as compared to 8.0 for African-Americans and 6.4 for non-Latino white males. The same study found that Latinos were more likely than non-Latinos to report four or more sexual partners in the last eighteen months. In a survey of over 1,500 Latinos, Marín, Gomez, and Hearst (1993) found that 60 percent of single Latino males reported multiple sexual partners in the previous 12 months.

Pregnancy. Researchers have identified acculturation level, parental communication, low education, language, and country of origin as a determinant for pregnancy among Latino women (Durant 1990). Given the cultural significance of motherhood, it is not surprising that in the United States Latinas experience more per-capita births than their non-Latina counterparts. In 1990, the average number of children per Latino family was 3.76 compared to 3.43 for African-Americans and 3.11 for European-Americans (USDC 1991). Brindis (1997) has suggested that the higher number of children among Latinas may be a residual effect of an intrinsic belief that developed among immigrants based on economic needs and high mortality rates in their countries of origin.

Garcia (1980) suggested that motherhood serves to secure an identity for the Latino woman. In a 1991 survey, Segura found that the meaning of motherhood among Latinas differed, depending on their country of birth. In his study, Segura surveyed Mexican-born women and American-born Chicanas; the findings indicate that while Mexican-born women viewed motherhood as all-encompassing, Chicanas gave greater meaning to child rearing. Among Latinas, Puerto Rican females have the highest rate of pregnancies. Among Mexican women, those born in Mexico experience more pregnancies than those born in the U.S. (Aneshensel, Becerra, Fiedler, and Schuler 1990). Darabi and Ortiz (1987) concluded that “one plausible explanation of these findings could be that Mexican-origin women marry at very early ages” (p. 27). Further differences were reported by Fennelly (1992), who found birth rates among Latino adolescent females ranging from a high of 21 percent among Mexican-Americans to a low of 6 percent among Cuban mothers. Fennelly-Darabi and Ortiz (1987) reported that Latino women were more likely than non-Latino women to have a second birth shortly after the first, and were less likely to have positive attitudes towards abortions.

Despite higher birth rates than other ethnic groups, lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and fewer prenatal visits to physicians, Latinas as a group have fewer low-birthweight babies. This finding has confused experts who would expect the opposite to be true based on socioeconomic factors. Several explanations have been offered, such as better nutrition in the form of complete proteins, less use of alcohol and other psychoactive drugs during pregnancy, and increased family support during the months preceding childbirth. Other researchers have attempted to link higher birth-weights with religiosity and spirituality of Latinas in the United States (Magaña and Clark 1995).

Marriage. Marriage is highly valued among Latino groups; however, in some cases, no difference is made between legal unions and long-term cohabitation. Fennelly-Darabi, Kandiah, and Ortiz (1989) reported that it is not possible to determine the number of couples in informal unions. In a later study, Landale and Fennelly (1992), reported that while the number of non-marital unions has decreased on the island of Puerto Rico, they have greatly increased among Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland.

According to the Census Bureau, in the U.S., Latino marriage rates (62.3 percent) are almost the same for non-Latino whites (64 percent) and are higher than that of African-Americans (46.3 percent). On the other hand, National Council of la Raza data indicate that “The number of Hispanic single parents has increased at a faster rate than Black or White female-headed families” (1993, p.12). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1991, 60 percent of Latino families with a female head-of-household with children under 18 lived under the poverty line (USBC, 1993).

Fennelly, Kandiah, and Ortiz (1989) argued that “A woman's marital status at the time she bears a child is important because of the implications for her later fertility, and for her own and her children's economic and social status” (p. 96). The social and legal implications of out-of-wedlock births have then been used to explain the reasons why there are more premarital pregnancies than premarital births in the Latino culture. It has been a time-honored tradition among some Latinos to marry while the woman is pregnant, in order to provide a stable and legal union for the newborn.

Rape. Few studies have been conducted to investigate sexual activities among Latinos in the United States; however, research findings seem to suggest that acculturation and gender, not culture, are key determinants of attitudes towards forcible sexual activities. In a study of attitudes towards date rape among college students, Fischer (1987) found that Latino students held more-traditional gender roles and had a more-positive attitude towards forcible intercourse under certain circumstances. These included spending a lot of money on the woman, the length of time they had dated, the female “leading” the man on, and the perceived female's previous sexual history.

Acculturation and gender was also found to play a role in the views of college students towards forcible sexual encounters. According to Fischer (1987), “Bicultural and bilingual Hispanic women are less rejecting of forcible rape than assimilated Hispanic and majority women are, while Hispanic males, regardless of degree of acculturation, are less rejecting of forcible date rape than are majority males” (p. 99). Lefley and colleagues (1993) reported that Latinos not only had different definitions of sexual coercion, but also were more likely to blame the victim than were their Anglo-American counterparts. A review of the literature did not support the notion of espousal rape. Males under the influence of alcohol may force their spouses to engage in sexual activities. Forcible sexual intercourse may not be perceived as a violation of a female's body if it happens within the context of marriage. As a result, espousal-rape reports among Latinos in the U.S. are more likely to occur among the acculturated, assimilated second generation, and those with higher educational levels.

Same-Gender Sexual Activities. In a study of African-American, Latino, Asian/Eurasian, and Caucasian gay adolescent males, Newman and Muzzonigro (1993) found that traditional families were less accepting of homosexuality than low-traditional families. Bonilla and Porter (1990) found that Latinos did not differ significantly from their African-American and white counterparts on attitudes toward homosexuality; however, they were less tolerant in their perceptions of civil liberties. This lack of acceptance may force males to hide their sexual orientation or to pursue heterosexual lifestyles (i.e., marriage) while secretly engaging in same-gender sexual activities.

Family acceptance is only part of the equation explaining Latino views toward same-gender sexual activities. Same-gender sex has different meanings and connotations for Latinos than for the non-Latino population in the United States. As a general rule, same-gender relationships are heavily stigmatized among Latinos, even among highly acculturated groups (Fischer, 1987). Homosexuality is not a topic easily discussed among males (Pérez and Fennelly 1996).

Magaña and Carrier (1991) suggested that it is not totally uncommon for Latino males to turn to “effeminate” males to satisfy their sexual needs under certain conditions. They identified lack of a female sexual partner and/or lack the economic resources to visit a sex worker as an acceptable reason for male-male sexual activities. Same-gender sexual behaviors are also more likely to appear while under the influence of alcohol. Same-gender sexual activity perceptions are also affected by Latino cultural norms. Latinos do not necessarily classify the penile inserter during male-male anal sex as homosexual (Amaro 1991; Carrier 1976). As a result, Latino males engaging in same-gender sexual activities may not perceive themselves, or be perceived as, “homosexual” or “bisexual,” as long as they play the appropriate dominant sexual role - a role which tends to mirror that of the male in a heterosexual couple (CDC 1993). Carrier (1976) reported that unlike their American “gay” counterparts, Mexican males engaging in same-gender sex prefer anal intercourse over fellatio or other forms of sexual gratification. Also, in contrast to their Anglo-American counterparts, Latino males are more likely to assume only the passive or receptive role during same-gender encounters. Ross, Paulsen, and Stalstrom (1988) concluded that it is not the sexual act itself, but rather the cross-gender behavior which gets labeled and heavily stigmatized among Latinos.

The lack of identification with the homosexual community may explain the inability of Latino men who engage in sex with other men to identify or respond to educational programs targeting homosexuals. But, most importantly, it emphasizes the need for researchers to concentrate more on behaviors than labels when studying sexual interactions (Alcalay et al. 1990; Carrier and Magaña 1991). The labeling-versus-behavior distinction is important in light of the fact that 45 percent of AIDS cases among Latinos are the result of same-gender sex, and that an additional 7 percent of AIDS cases are related to same-gender sex with intravenous drug users (CDC 1994).

Bisexuality. De la Vega (1990) discussed three bisexual patterns among Latino men in the United States. The first type he labeled the closeted, self-identified, homosexual Latino. He described this type as a male with homosexual tendencies, but who lives a heterosexual lifestyle. The second type discussed by de la Vega, is the closeted, latent-homosexual Latino; this type is characterized by a male who describes himself as a heterosexual, but who engages in same-gender sex while under the influence of mind-altering substances, primarily alcohol. Finally, de la Vega described the “super-macho” heterosexual Latino. This man allows himself to have sexual contacts with other males since he considers them to be “pseudo-females.” This last type of male will not admit, even to himself, that he may express homosexual tendencies.

HIV/AIDS. Keeling (1993) described the minority experience with AIDS in the United States as follows:

The factors of social and economic class, poverty, and urban despair... will continue to result in an increasingly disproportionate impact of the epidemic on African-American and Hispanic people during the second decade of HIV; it is worth emphasizing as strongly as possible that these disproportions occur not because of biologic reality of race, but because race is a “front” for class, socioeconomic status, and poverty in this context. (p. 264)
This fact could not be of greater truth among Latinos in the United States of America.

The Latino community in the United States has been disproportionately affected by HIV infection. In 1996, Latinos accounted for 17.3 percent of all male AIDS cases in the United States, some 78,926 cases among this population group (CDC 1996). Intravenous drug use (IVDU) is second only to same-gender sex as a transmission mode among Latino males. Latina women account for 20.5 percent of all AIDS cases, a cumulative total of 11,909 Latinas (CDC 1996). Among Latinas, 45 percent contracted AIDS through heterosexual contact, whereas 44 percent of AIDS cases are contracted from IVDU (CDC 1996). Weeks and colleagues (1995) concluded that, although the number of heterosexual cases are increasing among Latinas, the number of AIDS-prevention programs geared towards them continues to be inadequate.

Among Latinos, Puerto Ricans have the highest incidence of HIV infection. Puerto Ricans also have the fourth-highest rate in the nation (NCLR, 1992). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1993), up to 70 percent of AIDS cases are related to IVDU in Puerto Rico.

Latino awareness of the disease does not vary greatly from other ethnic groups. Dawson (1990) reported that 41 percent of Latinos said they had some knowledge about AIDS, compared to 39 percent for African-Americans and 48 percent for European-Americans. However, less than half (48 percent) of Latinos understood the connection between HIV and AIDS, compared to 69 percent among European-Americans. These figures did not vary greatly two years later, when Schoenborn, Marsh, and Hardy (1994) reported that 40 percent of Latinos, 47 percent of European-Americans, and 39 percent of African-Americans had “some” knowledge about AIDS.

Latinos are less likely than other ethnic groups to accurately identify HIV-transmission modes. Alcalay, Sniderman, Mitchell, and Griffin (1990) found that Latinos were more likely (36 percent) than European-Americans (15 percent) to believe they could get AIDS from blood donations. The same study found that Latinos were more likely than non-Latinos to believe that HIV transmission could occur through casual contact (e.g., hugging or from water fountains). Dawson (1990) found that 7 percent of Latinos believed it was “very likely” they could become infected with HIV by eating at a restaurant where the cook had AIDS, compared to 5 percent of European-American respondents. The researchers also found that 19 percent of Latinos believed they could catch AIDS from an unclean public toilet, whereas only 8 percent of the European-American respondents and 10 percent of African-Americans believed this to be an exposure category.

Knowledge about AIDS seems to be related to language preference among some Latinos. Research indicates that Spanish-speaking Latinos are more likely than bilingual Latinos to believe AIDS is spread through casual contact (Hu and Keller 1989). Another survey found that 24.1 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinos answered positively to the question, “Do you believe that one can catch AIDS from shaking hands with someone who has AIDS?” in comparison to 1.7 percent of English-speaking Latinos (Alcalay, Sniderman, Mitchell, and Griffin 1990).

Dawson and Hardy (1989) found that Mexican-Americans tended to be less knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS than other Latino groups. Only 50 percent of Mexican-American respondents in their study indicated it is “definitely true” that “AIDS is an infectious disease caused by a virus” compared to 62 percent of other Latinos. Only 46 percent of Mexican-American respondents said they knew that blood transfusions are routinely tested for HIV antibodies, compared to 55 percent of other Latinos, 72 percent of European-Americans, and 53 percent of African-American respondents.

Hu and Keller (1989) found that, despite their lesser knowledge about AIDS, Spanish-speaking Latinos reported a higher interest in learning about AIDS (88 percent) than English-speaking groups (83 percent). Pérez and Fennelly (1996) found that Latino farmworkers are willing to learn about AIDS, even though their reluctance to discuss sex has not decreased. One might expect that lower levels of knowledge about HIV/AIDS among Latinos in the United States would lead to more discrimination towards persons with AIDS. Instead, Alcalay et al. (1990) found no differences between Latinos and non-Hispanics in their likelihood to support AIDS victims' rights.

Summary. Latinos in the United States represent a wide range of educational attainment, socioeconomic levels, and skin color. Sexual practices and knowledge among this population have been found to be heavily influenced by strict cultural norms largely shaped by the Catholic Church. However, the data suggest that Latino sexual norms and behaviors are as varied as the heterogeneous group they represent. Further research is needed to properly investigate sexual attitudes and behaviors among the individual groups.

Feminism and Sexuality in the United States

A Brief History of the Feminist Movements. Earlier in this section, we discussed groups that illustrate ways in which religion and race or ethnicity operate as social factors defining subcultures within the U.S.A. and influence sexuality. Gender can be regarded in a similar manner. Here, we now consider feminist perspectives as reflections of a distinct social group or subculture.

Feminism is defined and implemented in various ways by different people. In its broadest interpretation, feminism represents advocacy for women's interests; in a stricter definition, it is the “theory of the political, social, and economic equality of the sexes” (LeGates 1995, 494). Although the terms “feminism” and “feminist” are only about a hundred years old, advocates for women's interests have been active for centuries throughout the world. As Robin Morgan (1984, 5) wrote in Sisterhood Is Global, “An indigenous feminism has been present in every culture in the world and in every period of history since the suppression of women began.” Throughout history, women have protested, individually and collectively, against a range of injustices - often as part of other social movements in which gender equality was not the focus of the activity and women were not organized to take action on behalf of their gender.

However, stress on the ideologies of liberty, equality, and emancipation of men in the eighteenth-century political revolutions in Britain, France, and the United States laid the groundwork for these ideologies to be championed in women's lives also. In addition, the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century provided educational and economic opportunities supportive of a feminist movement in many societies.

Actual women's movements, or organized and sustained activities for gender equality supported by a relatively large number of people over a period of years, have occurred since the mid-1800s in many countries throughout the world. The United States, as well as most European societies, experienced extensive women's movements in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, with another wave of feminism occurring in the 1960s.

The beginning of an organized women's movement in the United States has been traced to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 where a Declaration of Principles called for gender equality (Chefetz and Dworkin 1986). Issues addressed included women's legal rights to property, children, and to their own earnings; equal educational and employment opportunities; the changing of negative feminine stereotypes; and increased opportunities for women to improve their physical fitness and health. These early feminists also addressed more-explicit sexual issues, including the abolition of the sexual double standard of expecting men to be “promiscuous” and women to be “pure”; equality between sexual partners; and the right of married women to refuse sexual activity with their husbands. Yet, although feminist ideology was well developed during these pre-Civil War years, the progressive feminist leaders had few followers. “In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the United States was not ready for a mass movement which questioned the entire gender role and sex stratification systems” (Chefetz and Dworkin 1986:112).

Only when the issues were narrowed to focus upon women's right to vote did the movement gain mass following. By 1917, about two million women were members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and millions more were supporters of the women's suffrage campaign (Kraditor 1965). The reasons for supporting a woman's right to vote, however, were varied. For some, it was an issue of basic human rights and gender equality. Many others, who believed in gender-role differentiation, supported suffrage on the basis that women would bring higher moral standards into governmental decisions. This more-conservative perspective dominated the movement. After achieving the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, this first wave of feminism dissipated.

A second wave of feminism developed within the United States, as well as worldwide, in the 1960s. At this time, many women were finding that, while their participation in educational institutions and the labor force was increasing, their political, legal, economic, and social status was not improving. This American feminist movement came on the heels of the black civil rights movement, which had already focused attention on the immorality of discrimination and legitimized mass protest and activism as methods for achieving equality (Freeman 1995). The contemporary women's movement was organized around many interrelated issues, including: legal equality; control over one's own body, including abortion rights; elimination of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation; securing more political power; and the ending of institutional and social roadblocks to professional and personal achievement. By the mid-1970s, this issue became a mass movement, with over half of American women supporting many of its principles and demands (Chefetz and Dworkin 1986).

The second women's movement had two origins, from two different strata of society, with different styles, values, and forms of organization (Freeman 1995). Although the members of both branches were predominantly white, middle-class, and college-educated, there was a generation gap between them. The younger branch was comprised of a vast array of local, decentralized, grassroots groups that concentrated on a small number or only one issue, rather than the entire movement. Members tended to adjure hierarchical structure and the traditional political system. Some of the activities in which they engaged included: running consciousness-raising groups; providing educational conferences and literature; establishing woman-supporting services (bookstores, health clinics, rape-crisis centers, and battered-women shelters); and organizing public-awareness campaigns and marches. This branch was responsible for infusing the movement with new issues, strategies, and techniques for social change. Many of its projects became institutionalized within American society (e.g., rape-crisis centers) through government funding and entrepreneurship.

These feminists also took their particular perspectives into other arenas, including the prochoice, environmental, and antinuclear movements. They also impacted academia, establishing women's centers and women's studies departments, programs, and courses on campuses throughout the country. By the early 1980s, there were over 300 women's studies programs and 30,000 courses in colleges and universities, and a national professional association, the National Women's Studies Association (Boxer 1982). Many periodicals devoted exclusively to scholarship on women or gender were begun; Searing (1987) listed ninety-four such journals.

The second branch of the women's movement was the older, more-traditional division that formed top-down national organizations with officers and boards of directors, and often paid staffs and memberships. Most of these organizations sought support through contributions, foundations, or government contracts to conduct research and services. Some of these feminist organizations included: the Women's Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Women's Policy Studies, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; with other previously established groups taking on a more-feminist agenda, such as the National Federation of Business and Professional Women and the American Association of University Women.

The National Organization for Women (NOW), an action organization devoted to women's rights, was the primary feminist group to develop a mass membership. NOW focused its attention at the national level to become politically powerful. One of its major campaigns was the passage of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing legal equality for women. The ERA was endorsed by the U.S. Congress and sent to the states for ratification in 1972. In 1978, over one hundred thousand people marched in Washington D.C. in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. But the ERA and feminism were to meet with strong opposition from well-organized conservative and right-wing political and religious groups that depicted feminist goals as “an attack on the family and the American way of life” (Freeman 1995, 525). Stop-ERA campaigns were adeptly organized by these politically savvy groups and, by 1982, the ERA had failed to pass within the allotted timeframe by seven votes in three states.

Yet, it cannot be said that the feminist movement failed. Many states passed equal rights amendments of their own, and many discriminatory federal, state, and local laws were changed with the Supreme Court unanimously ruling in favor of interpreting constitutional law to provide equal opportunity for women. In addition, a powerful women's health movement had been spawned, and efforts for reproductive freedom, including abortion rights, would be continued to combat anti-abortion groups throughout the 1980s and 1990s. As Freeman (1995, 528) concluded: “The real revolution of the contemporary women's movement is that the vast majority of the [United States] public no longer questions the right of any woman, married or unmarried, with or without children to work for wages to achieve her fullest potential.”

Although feminists agree there are still many strides to be made in achieving the goals of legal, economic, political, and social equality for women in the United States, they are often divided over philosophy, goals, and strategies for achieving equality in these areas. Feminism is not a monolithic ideology. There is “not a single interpretation on what feminism means but a variety of feminisms representing diverse ideas and perspectives radiating out from a core set of assumptions regarding the elimination of women's secondary status in society” (Pollis 1988, 86-87).

Feminism and Sexuality. Sexuality has always been a critical issue to feminists, because they see the norms regarding “proper” and “normal” sexual behavior as functioning to socialize and suppress women's expression and behavior in an effort to control female fertility as socioeconomic and political assets (Tiefer 1995). “The personal is political,” the feminist rallying cry, applies particularly to sexuality, which is often the most personal, hidden, suppressed, and guilt-ridden aspect of women's lives. MacKinnon (1982:515) captures this essence well in the analogy that: “Sexuality is to feminism what work is to Marxism: that which is most one's own, yet most taken away.”

Although women are now being seen as sexual beings in their own right, not simply as reproducers or sexual property, Tiefer (1995, 115) describes how women's sexual equality is still constrained by many factors, including:

Persistent socioeconomic inequality that makes women dependent on men and therefore sexually subordinate; unequal laws such as those regarding age of sexual consent and rights in same-sex relationships; lack of secure reproductive rights; poor self-image or a narrow window of confidence because of ideals of female attractiveness; ignorance of woman-centered erotic techniques, social norms about partner choice; and traumatic scars from sexual abuse.
In general, feminists believe that both women's and men's sexuality is socially constructed and must be examined within its social context (McCormick 1994). Gender-role socialization is viewed as a very powerful process creating unequal power relationships and stereotypic expectations for appropriate sexual feelings and behaviors of women and men. Male gender-role socialization based on male political, social, and economic dominance is likely to result in male sexual control, aggression, and difficulties with intimacy. On the other hand, female gender-role socialization based on political, social, and economic oppression of women is likely to result in disinterest and dissatisfaction with sex, as well as passivity and victimization. Feminists question the assumption of a binary gender system and challenge traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity (Irvine 1990). They politicize sexuality by examining the impact that power inequalities between men and women have on sexual expression.

Although most feminists may agree upon the relevance of socialization and context in the creation of male and female sexuality, they may vehemently disagree about the nature of sexual oppression and the strategies for its elimination (McCormick 1994). This has resulted in the emergence of two major feminist camps: radical feminists and liberal feminists.

As described by McCormick (1994, 211), radical feminists have polarized male and female sexuality - often demonizing men and idealizing women in this process. They view women as victims who must be protected. They use evidence showing girls and women as the predominant victims and boys and men as the perpetrators of rape, sexual harassment, prostitution, domestic violence, and childhood sexual abuse to support their views.

Radical feminists are vehemently opposed to pornography, “likening erotic images and literature to an instruction manual by which men are taught how to bind, batter, torture, and humiliate women” (McCormick 1994, 211). They have spearheaded many efforts to censor pornographic/erotic materials, often joining with right-wing organizations in these efforts. Another goal of radical feminists is the elimination of prostitution, which they view as trafficking in women's bodies. They believe that all women in the sex trades are being victimized.

Because of these beliefs, radical feminists are criticized as treating women as children who are incapable of giving true consent to their choice of sexual activities. In response, these feminists argue that it is our sociopolitical system that treats women as second class and has robbed them of the equality needed for consensual sexual expression. Until this system is changed, true consent from women is not possible. In fact, orthodox radical feminists do not recognize the possibility of consensual heterosexuality, finding little difference between conventional heterosexual intercourse and rape, viewing both acts as representing male supremacy (McCormick 1994, 211). Radical feminists are accused of advocating “politically correct sex” by idealizing monogamous, egalitarian, lesbian sex and celibacy, and rejecting any other forms of consensual relationships or activity.

On the other hand, liberal feminists defend women's rights to sexual pleasure and autonomy. They believe that, if women are viewed only as victims, they are stripped of their adult autonomy and their potential to secure joyous and empowering sexual pleasure and relationships on their own behalf (McCormick 1994, 211). These feminists do not view all erotic material as harmful and believe in women's right to create their own erotic material. They differentiate between the depictions of forced sex in pornography and actual violence against women. Although not always pleased with all types of pornographic material, they believe in the right of free speech and choice, and acknowledge that censorship efforts could never eliminate all pornographic material anyway. In addition, who is to decide what is pornographic and what is erotic? Regarding prostitution, they view sex work as a legitimate occupational choice for some, and acknowledge the tremendous range of experience with sex work primarily based on social class.

Liberal feminism dominated the first phase of the women's movement of the 1960s. The emphasis was on women's empowerment to achieve professional and personal, including sexual, potentials. The expansion of sexual possibilities was explored, with pleasure being emphasized. The strategies of consciousness-raising, education, and female-centered care were used to help eliminate sexual shame and passivity, with women being encouraged to discover and develop new sexual realities for themselves (Tiefer 1995, 115). However, beginning in the 1970s, the pendulum began to swing away from an emphasis on the power of self-definition towards the agendas of the radical feminists who emphasized issues of sexual violence against women, including rape, incest, battery, and harassment. Thus, during this current feminist movement, much more time and emphasis has been devoted to women's sexual victimization, danger, and repression than to women's sexual equality, pleasure, and relationship enhancement.

Today, many in the general public, professionals, and even sexologists fail to distinguish between differences within feminism. They are most aware of and react primarily to the radical-feminist ideologies and strategies. Thus, feminism has become stereotyped by the extreme positions of the radicals and seems to have lost much of its overt mass support, with many trying to distance themselves from these extreme positions. For example, it is not unusual to hear someone today say, “I believe in women's rights but I'm not a feminist.”

Feminist Critiques of and Contributions to Sexology. Feminist sexology is the scholarly study of sexuality that is of, by, and for women's interests. Employing diverse epistemologies, methods, and sources of data, feminist scholars examine women's sexual experiences and the cultural frame that constructs sexuality. They challenge the assumptions that sexuality is an eternal essence, arguing “that a kiss is not a kiss and a sigh is not a sigh and a heterosexual is not a heterosexual and an orgasm is not an orgasm in any transhistorical, transcultural way” (Tiefer 1995, 597). These theories and approaches have resulted in an enormous body of work during the last two decades reexamining theories, methods, and paradigms of gender and sexuality, and contributing to social change (Vance and Pollis 1990).

During this time, feminists and others have challenged the preeminence and validity of traditional science, particularly as it has been applied to human beings and their behaviors. They have argued that traditional science, rather than being objective and value-free, takes place in a particular cultural context (one that is often sexist and heterosexist), which thus becomes incorporated into research, education, or therapy (McCormick 1994). For example, research on unintended and adolescent pregnancy is focused almost exclusively on females, reflecting a double standard requiring women to be the sexual gatekeepers while relieving men of such responsibilities.

Another example comes from therapy. Numerous studies have determined that relationship factors, including intimacy, nongenital stimulation, affection, and communication, are better predictors of women's sexual satisfaction than frequency of intercourse or orgasm. Nevertheless, the dominant therapeutic paradigm, as enforced by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, uses physiologically based genital performance during heterosexual intercourse as the standard for determining women's sexual dysfunctions (Tiefer 1995).

Feminist scholarship uses the following principles in overcoming the deficits in understanding of women's experiences, gender and gender asymmetry, and sexuality:

1. Acknowledgment of the pervasive influence of gender in all aspects of social life, including the practice of science;

2. A multifaceted challenge to the normative canons of science, especially the tenet of objectivity, which splits subject from object, and theory from practice;

3. Advocacy of consciousness raising as a research strategy that elevates and legitimates experience as a valid way of knowing, essential to uncovering meaning structures and diversity among individuals;

4. Conceptualization of gender as a social category, constructed and maintained through the gender-attribution process, and as a social structure;

5. Emphasis on the heterogeneity of experience and the central importance of language, community, culture, and historical context in constituting the individual; and

6. Commitment to engage in research that is based on women's experience and is likely to empower them to eliminate sexism and contribute to societal change (Pollis 1986, 88).

Sexology has been criticized for being reticent to integrate feminist perspectives and scholarship into its establishment for fear of being perceived as unscientific and radical (Irvine 1990). However, in recent years feminist perspectives have become more visible in the scholarly journals, conferences, and among the membership and leadership of professional sexological organizations. Future goals for feminist sexologists include more attention to understanding the intersections of race, class, and culture within gender, and making the results of their work more usable.

General Summary of Social Factors

This discussion of social factors influencing sexuality in the U.S.A. has selectively focused on religion, race/ethnicity, and gender. Essentially, we have taken the view that such social variables exert influence largely through membership in corresponding social groups. Our review examined the general tradition of the Judeo-Christian heritage of the U.S.A., membership in the Mormon church, African-American, and Latino minority groups, and identification with feminist perspectives as specific examples.

We recognize that this approach omits other important social factors such as education, social class, and size of city of residence. Our purpose has not been to provide an exhaustive review of all pertinent social groups within the U.S.A. Rather, we wished to demonstrate the abundant evidence that a full understanding of sexuality in American culture eventually will require a recognition of the diverse social groups that reside in this nation. As we proceed to examine what sexuality researchers have learned about specific forms of sexual attitudes and behavior, the authors will report, where possible, the results of research which documents an association between sexuality and social variables.

Unfortunately, a recognition of these associations has not always been incorporated into investigations of sexual practices. For example, much of the existing research has been conducted with predominantly white, middle-class, college-educated populations. Researchers have frequently failed to adequately describe the demographic characteristics of their samples, and they have often failed to test possible correlations with social variables. One consequence is that American sexual scientists have yet to develop a full understanding of the very diversity of social groups we have tried to describe. Closing such gaps in our knowledge remains one of the principle tasks of sexual science in the U.S.A.