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A fantasy is the mental and/or visual image of some person or persons, object, situation, or thing. Some fantasies are based on past experiences while others are wholly imaginary. It is normal for individuals to fantasize or daydream, and these fantasies may or may not include sexual scenes. The consensus among professionals dealing with sexual fantasies is that they are normal, healthy, safe, useful, personal, private imageries that enhance the quality of life for emotionally stable persons utilizing them.

Fantasies may include dangerous, illegal, and unusual activities, which if acted upon might cause harm to someone, including the fantasizer. Kinsey reported that fantasy accompanied masturbation for the majority (64 percent) of females and almost all males. Fantasy frequency and content vary among persons and at times for the same individual. Further generalizations from the Kinsey data include the following:

1. Masturbatory fantasies typically were consistent with the experience of the subject (i.e., heterosexuals fantasized heterosexual activities). Some subjects reported homosexual, animal, or sadomasochistic fantasies, and some reported several of these types combined. Again, variation occurred at different times in the subject's life. In American culture, with heterosexuality the predominant sexual orientation, heterosexual fantasies predominate in both males and females.

2. Some 2 percent of the female sample reported reaching orgasm by fantasy alone, exclusive of any tactile stimulation of the genitalia.

3. Male nocturnal dreams were closely related to the male subject's overt daytime experiences.

4. Fantasies were more common among the older females.

5. Masturbatory fantasies were usually in accord with the overt experience of the individual. Males often fantasized unfulfilled or repressed desires. Females were less likely to fantasize anything outside their experience. Typically, if kissing had been the limit of the female's petting experience, it was the limit of her fantasies. Only after the petting had included genital manipulations did the fantasies go that far.

More recent studies have reported a higher rate of fantasizing among women. Linda Wolfe reported that in a sample of 15,000 women who were between the ages of 18 and 34, only 2.5 percent said they did not fantasize

Whipple and her associates have studied orgasm that is triggered by guided imagery without tactile contact. They have speculated as to whether the perception of orgasm is generated directly within the central nervous system or is an expression of a peripheral sympathetic physiological correlate of imagery.

Often, erotic literature, pornography to some, is a stimulation to sexual fantasy. However, because sexual fantasies vary so much among people, the literature that is actually erotic to specific individuals vanes widely. Historically in American culture, men have been stereotyped as sexual beings with fantasies and actions to express their eroticism, and early pornographic works were directed towards heterosexual men. In the 1930s and 1940s True Confessions and popular romance novels became the reading from which women gathered their fantasy material. Men's sexual fantasy literature was characterized by calendar art, followed in the 1960s by the development of Playboy and Penthouse as well as more explicit erotic material particularly for the gay and other specialized markets. The 1970s and 1980s saw more erotic fiction aimed at women by women writers such as Nancy Friday. In her book Women on Top, Friday argued that women have started a sexual revolution for equality and should complete it with implementation of their sexual fantasies until their erotic nature is fully pursued.

Some experimenters say that when they tried to live out a fantasy, they found that it was a disappointment. One such experiment involved a women's group that viewed a dozen old pornographic films, which included scenes of intercourse with a donkey and a large dog. Several women said they had such fantasies, but after seeing the film they felt that the activity looked much too difficult and would not be fun at all. Fantasies about animal contact are not unusual for either males or females, especially for those from rural areas, and are more apt to be acted on where there are pets and farm animals.

Fantasy can be helpful in therapy The client can be encouraged to remove blocks to sexual functioning in his or her imagination. For example, where there is fear of penetration on the part of a male or female, guided imagery may be used in fantasy to talk the person through the experience of penetration, orgasm, or ejaculation. Both a male and a female therapist are present for this procedure It has proven effective for many males and females.

This technique is especially useful when the male fears that he will lose his penis in the vagina or be impaled on a shark-toothed vagina. The male in fantasy proceeds slowly, first placing the penis at the opening of the vagina, inserting it a little way, moving away, then inserting it a little further and moving away again. This process continues until in fantasy the penis is at full penetration. The procedure is reinforced by the therapist, who talks about what the experience will feel like in a positive way until full penetration can be accomplished in fantasy without stress or anxiety, making possible later penetration with a partner in therapy.


Barbach, L., and L. Levine. Shared Intimacies. New York: Anchor Press, 1980.

Fox, S.C. Joys of Fantasy: The Book for Loving Couples. New York: Stein & Day, 1977.

Friday, N. Men in Love. New York: Dell, 1980.

Friday, N. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women's Sexual Fantasies. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Kinsey, A. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1948.

Friday, N. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1953.

Thorne, E. Your Erotic Fantasies. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971.

Whipple, B., G. Ogden, and B.R. Komisaruk. Physiological Correlates of Imagery Induced Orgasm in Women. Archives of Sexual Behavior (in press).

Wolfe, L. The Cosmo Report. New York: Arbor House, 1981.

William E. Hartman
Marilyn A. Fithian


Three aspects of clothing—hierarchy, function, and allure—are intimately involved with sexuality. Once humans adopted clothing, they also made efforts to distinguish one sex from another even though the materials at hand varied from skins to grasses. It was also through clothing that males and females were able to accentuate their interests, tastes, and desires. Deuteronomy (22:5) states that women should not wear men's clothing nor men wear those of women.

With the development of more sophisticated clothing technologies such as weaving, long lengths of textiles could be used to cover the body, and variations related to gender increased The need for clothing distinction is accentuated or diminished at various times and in different cultures. It is often accentuated when the distinguishing feature of most adult men, the beard, is removed by shaving or plucking. Usually, men have dressed in styles that exaggerate masculine attributes and minimize feminine ones, while women's clothing emphasizes feminine features and minimizes masculine ones. Generally, however, at least in Western culture, women's clothes have been far more confining and limiting of action than those of men, and clothing has been used to make women appear to be weaker and more helpless than they are. Since the medieval period in Western culture, aristocratic men have worn some kind of breeches which were far more suited to horseback riding than the long skirts worn by women. Neither pants nor skirts have to do with anatomical differences, since in China women traditionally wore pants while men wore gowns, as they did in much of the Arabic world. Most societies, however, attempt to draw rigid lines between the sexes in terms of clothing, and women in the west who wore pants, even underpants such as those sported by Amelia Bloomer in the 19th century, were often ridiculed.

Sexual messages are conveyed more directly by clothing or fashion in some periods than in others. In ancient Egypt, men wore a skirted garment that was starched in front to emphasize male virility and constant arousal. In ancient Minoan society, women wore a leather "jacket" that left their breasts completely exposed Both sexes wore metal waist rings to emphasize their small waists. Generally, any clothing that covers an intimate part of the body can be turned into an eye catcher. The classical example of this axiom is the codpiece: originally a metal case for protecting the male genitals in war, it was adopted by the common man in a leather version during the late medieval period and ended up as a conspicuous piece of apparel, often of color that contrasted with the rest of the costume. Sometimes, to emphasize the penis, the codpiece was stuffed with padding or decorated with ribbons and precious stones. This emphasis on the male genitals has appeared in other societies as well, including among some of the residents of the New Hebrides, where a penis wrapper was the only piece of male clothing for much of the 20th century.

Generally in Western culture, women's genitalia have been covered and not accented by costume accessories, although other parts of the female anatomy have been emphasized, including hips, breasts, buttocks, legs, and feet. One reason might be that men are more attracted to visual stimuli than women are, and for males all of the female body is sexualized and eroticized. Thus exposure of any part of the female body or accentuation of body parts through clothing works more erotically on the male observer than any corresponding exposure of the male body does on the female observer. Inevitably, this difference has led to considerable misunderstanding between the sexes on what the female means when she dresses in a certain way. Even though a woman might wear a particular form of clothing because it is the fashion, men often read into it a sexual intent that the woman herself has not meant to imply. As a result men tend to accuse women either of being immodest or of inviting sexual advances when this has not been their intention. When accused, some women hold, on the one hand, that they simply have a more "natural" and "healthy" attitude to the body and that men read too much into what women wear. On the other hand, some women respond that they dress to please men and that they are just expressing themselves as females. The fashion industry is very much aware of the eroticization associated with clothing, and one of its unstated aims is to maintain the erotic appeal of clothes by changing areas of emphasis, this has been a fact of Western life since at least the 17th century.

The 17th century saw remarkable changes in the mood of fashion, and clothes became much more flamboyant in contrast to the more modest styles and changes of the past. This was particularly true for men. Some fashion historians have called these changes in men's fashion the "seduction look." Upperclass men wore their hair coined in ringlets, known as "love locks," and tied with little bows; they also wore lacy jabots (cravats), ruffles, and wigs. Wigs in fact became extremely fashionable, the period's symbol of aristocracy. Women's costume was marked by elaborate coiffures that towered high above the head and were tiered in the Fontanges manner. The bodice was cut very low and the sleeves at most came to the elbows. Women wore a tight corset, stiffened by a steel busk that formed a straight vertical line from just below the breasts to the end of the trunk. By the end of the 17th century beauty patches had appeared, as had high heels for men.

As the 17th century passed into the 18th costumes became somewhat more practical and easier to wear. Wigs were still the norm but gave way to white ones sprinkled with powder. Necklines were even larger than before, but the waist was only lightly laced; panniers were worn to exaggerate the hips. Hoop skirts also appeared. Madame de Pompadour popularized the negligee.

By the end of the 18th century, however, fashion, particularly for males, underwent a revolution. Flugel called it the "great masculine renunciation," which led men to avoid trying to be beautiful and encouraged them to be useful, strong, and silent instead. Part of this revolution was the adoption of the trousers of the lower class. The leader of male fashion in England and the person who set the new tone of simple elegance for men was George "Beau" Brummel, who had the patronage of the regent of England, later King George IV. Women, however, clung to decoration: ornamentation, concealment, and allurement became the mode in clothing from tight corsets, to hoopskirts, to crinolines, to the bustle, to the gradual raising of the hemline to show the female ankle, which for a time became a focus of male attention.

Fashion magazines aimed at a female audience appeared in 1825 in France and gradually spread elsewhere. The first one in the United States, Godey's Lady's Book, appeared shortly before the Civil War. The first haute couturier, the Englishman Charles Frederic Worth, opened a salon in Pans in 1866 and solidified the domination of Pans over women's fashion. There were rebellions against the restrictions that women's clothes imposed on the wearer's activities, and numerous dress reformers appeared, ranging from Dr. Mary Walker, who wore men's clothing, to Amelia Bloomer, who invented the bloomer pant—an immense and very wide-legged garment that tapered at the ankles.

As fashion changed, so did eroticized points of interest. The idea of the bustle, for example, was to have the eye move from the narrow waist to the dome-shaped hoopskirt and finally to the rear —the bustle. This was followed by a new emphasis on the bust and on tighter-fitting clothing instead of the layered garments associated with the bustle. The brassiere was invented by the Parisian couturier Paul Poiret to further emphasize the bosom. For a time the hobble skirt was also popular, a garment which forced the wearer to take small steps to avoid splitting the seams of her skirt. To assist this type of movement a special garter was devised—actually two garters held together by a strip of elastic about three inches long—that when worn under the clothing produced the effect of the woman's taking a bouncing baby step rather than a regular stride. This style was further modified by lampshade-shaped skirts on top of the hobble skirt, which remained fashionable until replaced by the boyish look of the flapper, the new representative of women's emancipation. This flatchested, close-cropped, page boy look was popularized by Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, in the process eroticizing the previously hidden legs of women.

During the past 150 years, women in the west have worn brassieres to emphasize their breasts and padding when their natural endowment was not enough, corsets to make themselves wasp-waisted (in the 19th century), bustles to accent their derriere (also in the 19th century), high heels to emphasize their legs and feet, and panniers to emphasize their hips (in the 18th century). They raised their hemlines in the 1920s to emphasize their legs and ultimately wore miniskirts and panty hose to the point where it became difficult to sit or bend. They bound their chests in the 1920s to gain a boyish look and wore heavy shoulder pads during World War II to achieve a more triangular appearance. None of these areas of emphasis are new but instead seem to recycle themselves throughout history. One of the longest lived, and in a sense the most severely handicapping, of the techniques for eroticizing of female body parts was the foot binding practiced in China for centuries. Though men have also used padding on the shoulders and in the crotch and have worn corsets (e.g., the military corset of the 19th century used to restrain the stomach), they have been less prone than women to change their clothing.

Also associated with sexuality in clothing is the tactile impression made by clothes. For some individuals certain kinds of clothing arouse the tactile receptors in the skin. Certain fabrics or tight-fitting garments can cause sexual arousal, such items range from corsets to underclothes made of silk, from clothing made of leather or rubber to clothing of the opposite sex. In some cases the desire is so great that the person is labeled a fetishist and the habit a fetish. Corset fetishes were numerous in the 19th and early 20th centuries and involved members of both sexes. Some fetishes, such as rubber and leather, are common among individuals with an interest in sadomasochism, bondage, or dominance. Some people select one item of clothing for their fetish, while others like to have complete outfits made of leather or rubber. Cross-dressing, or transvestism, involves not only wearing clothing of the opposite sex but sometimes even living the opposite gender role.

With the growth of the fashion industry, no fashion lasted for very long, and change became the order of the day, especially for women. Different parts of the female anatomy, from the bosom to the derriere to the legs, become eroticized by each succeeding wave of fashion. Hemlines were raised and lowered, narrow waists were emphasized and deemphasized, and bosoms and derrieres were accentuated or ignored; but in the process, women's fashions for the most part came to reflect greater comfort and ease of movement, at least for casual wear. The 1960s saw the beginning of unisex clothing, but though the pants may be the same females still manage to look different in them than males.

Some observers have read more into clothing than others, and for a time the psychoanalysts had a field day. Flugel, for example, saw the tight choking collar and the "clogging coat" of the male as symbols of moral restraint to keep men, ever restless, on the narrow path of virtue and destiny. Many a writer has seen the hidden penis as being represented by the male cravat, something that is a less necessary part of the unisex clothing that includes tight-fitting jeans. For females the so-called bra-less look was said to give greater freedom and relief from fashion, but it was accompanied by the mini-skirt which emphasized legs instead.

It is difficult to predict what the new elegant, alluring fashion of the future will be, but it can be taken for granted that it will be designed consciously or unconsciously with sex appeal in mind. Whether women's costumes will be more or less restrictive than they have been in the immediate past probably depends in part on the role that women have in the world and on how much they want to project—or how much they feel the men in their life want them to project—a feeling of helplessness and fragility. Men in their own way seem prisoners of fashion and the business suit and tie still dominate even in areas of the United States where they are not particularly practical. Beards are out and short hair is back in for males, but that too can and will change again.


Flugel, J.C. On the Psychology of Clothes. London: Hogarth Press, 1930.

Frings, G.S. Fashion: From Concept to Consumer. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1991.

Kybalova, L., O. Herbenova, and M. Lamarova. The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Fashion. Translated by Claudia Rosoux. London: Paul Hamlyn, 1968.

Laver, J. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1985.

Merriam, E. Figleaf: The Business of Being in Fashion. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960.

Rudofsky, B. The Unfashionable Human Body. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971.

Russell, D.A. Costume History and Style. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1983.

Michel Hayworth


Female genital mutilation is ubiquitous at all levels of society in the greater part of sub-Saharan and central Africa. It also exists, more or less sporadically, on other continents. In Africa alone, along an uninterrupted belt across the center of the continent and along the length of the Nile, an estimated 80 to 100 million female infants, small girls and young women have been genitally mutilated.

Female sexual mutilation is an ancient blood ritual of obscure origins. Among some peoples, partial or complete clitoridectomy is customary. Other groups additionally excise the inner lips of the vulva. The most drastic procedures are found along the Horn of Africa in Somalia, northern and central Sudan, southern Egypt, Djibouti, Mali, parts of Kenya, and Ethiopia. Here the clitoris is excised; the labia minora are removed; and the skin of the labia majora, scraped clean of its fleshy layers, is then sewn together over the wound. When the wound has healed, the labia are fused so as to leave only a small opening, which is most valued by the cultures if it does not exceed the circumference of a match stick. This widely practiced procedure, which virtually obliterates the external genitalia and the introitus, is known as infibulation (or Pharonic circumcision). It is, in effect, an artificially created chastity belt of thick, fibrous scar tissue.

While ethnologists and historians have offered various provocative theories on the origins of female sexual mutilation in general, all such theories rest on speculation and are impossible to substantiate. Infibulation is practiced almost exclusively among Islamic peoples of Africa, but must be regarded as a regional rather than a religious practice, since it is found only sporadically in the rest of the Islamic world Moreover, it is known to predate Islam by at least 1, 200 years. The first reference to the procedure appears in the writings of Herodotus, the Greek historian of the fifth century B C E.

The age at which a girl is subjected to the procedure may vary from early infancy to the birth of her first child, depending on the prevailing custom in the area or tribe. Throughout Africa, however, the tendency at the end of the 20th century is to perform the surgery at younger ages because a "small girl is more easily managed ."

When a girl has been infibulated, she must thereafter pass her urine and menstrual blood through the remaining tiny opening, until her infibulation is partially torn or cut open when she marries. Extensive cutting and resuturing of the infibulation are done every time she gives birth. The birth process itself becomes progressively more difficult as scar tissues accumulate to hamper it.

The medical and psychic consequences as a result of genital mutilation, most specifically infibulation, can frequently be lifelong and devastating. No definitive statistics are available on the number of deaths resulting from the procedures, but mortality rates are high since most of this ritual surgery is done by medically untrained midwives without anesthesia, and with unsterile razors, scissors, or kitchen knives. Those performing the surgery are most often medically untrained older women, often with defective eyesight, and the operations are performed on the earthen floors of huts with inadequate lighting. Even when the operation is earned out by medically trained midwives or physicians under somewhat more sterile conditions and with the use of local analgesics and antibiotics, it is hazardous surgery.

The most common medical complications are hemorrhaging, shock due to prolonged pain, infection, tetanus, and retention of urine due to occlusion. Long-term complications from infibulation include difficult and painful urination, retention of menstrual blood, renal and reproductive system infections resulting from urinary and menstrual debris accumulating behind the infibulation, inclusion cysts, and fistulae. Because the genital mutilation is usually performed on small children, the causal relationship of the practice to the later health problems is not understood by the populace in general.

The rationale for female circumcision seems to be consistent in most of the societies practicing it and is based for the most part on a combination of myth and ignorance of biological and medical facts. The clitoris is variously perceived as repulsive, filthy, foul smelling, dangerous to the life of the emerging newborn, and hazardous to the health and potency of the husband. Circumcision is also believed, albeit mistakenly, to carry with it a persuasive array of health benefits. For example, it is said to make conception and childbearing easier, to prevent malodorous vaginal discharges, to eliminate vaginal parasites and the contamination of mother's milk, and to prevent various kinds of sickness. Clitoral excision, and more specifically infibulation, is (wrongly) said to reduce the sexual drive, and to protect women not only from aggressive males but from their own rampant sexuality and irresistible inborn drive toward total promiscuity.

In the Sudan and other regions where these ancient blood rituals are practiced, it is believed that the clitoris will grow to the length of a goose's neck, dangling between the legs in rivalry with the male's penis, if it is not cut. Males for their part are so fearful of an uncircumcised woman's growing such a long clitoris that they refuse to consider marrying such "unclean" women. Since marriage and childbearing remain virtually the only options available to most African women (except for prostitution in the urban centers), this leaves women little choice but to submit to the practice and to impose it on their daughters. In fact leaving a daughter uncircumcised leads to social ostracism in many tribes or clans Radical circumcision, on the other hand, increases the African girl's chances of contracting a favorable marriage and her family's chances of obtaining a high price for the bride.

Throughout history, in fact, infibulation or Pharonic circumcision has distinguished "decent" and respectable women from unprotected prostitutes and slaves, and it carries with it the only honorable and protected status that is possible for a woman in such a society. Without being circumcised, a girl cannot marry and is thereby unable to produce legitimate sons to carry on a husband's patrilineage. An unmarried woman has virtually no rights in most of the African societies where circumcision and infibulation are practiced Since family honor throughout the Arabic Islamic world is defined, in great measure, by the sexual purity of its women, any behavior on the part of the woman defined as indecent by the culture disgraces the whole family. Only the most stringent measures, including ultimately the death of the woman, can restore it. Infibulation instills security not only in the patrilineal family but also in the girl herself.

Giving birth is complicated by the inelastic infibulation scar, which prevents dilation beyond four of the ten centimeters usually required to pass the fetal head, thereby placing both mother and infant at risk. The infibulation must therefore be cut in an anterior direction, and after birth has taken place it must be restored.

Sexual pleasure can still exist in even the most mutilated women. In a study conducted by Lightfoot-Klein in the Sudan, close to 90 percent of the 300 excised and infibulated women she interviewed reported having had pleasurable experiences during intercourse, such experiences varying in frequency from every time to almost never and in intensity from mild to extremely strong. She explained this sexual pleasure as in part due to the fact that these women believe their condition is normal. They had generally enjoyed emotionally secure childhoods in strongly supportive, cohesive extended families; possessed a high level of adaptability; and had bonded strongly to their marriage partners. They also had a rigid but clearly defined social role to which they could safely adhere. Though culturally bound to hide sexual interest and pleasure from their husbands, they had access to a number of covert but also clearly defined and easily communicated sex signals and behaviors that they could use without penalty. Similar studies earned out among Egyptian, Nigerian, and Somalia groups all report an equally high incidence of orgasm, an occurrence that seriously calls into question the contention made in some Western feminist and serological literature that orgasm can be elicited only by clitoral stimulation.

The reports of orgasm among the women are supplemented by secondhand reports of males. The British explorer Sir Richard Burton in the 19th century commented that he observed that rather than dampening sexual desire, genital mutilation tended to intensify it quite possibly because it made orgasm more difficult to achieve. Similar reports have been elicited by investigators who have questioned the women's husbands, and by the observations of Western sex partners.

In virtually all of the societies where genital mutilation is earned out, it is most strongly supported by the mothers and grandmothers who have themselves suffered the mutilation in childhood. In a 1982 Sudanese study, Darer found that 83 percent of the women and 87 percent of the men supported and defended such practices Though a law forbidding the mutilations has been passed in Sudan, Kenya, and Egypt in recent decades, it has not been effectively implemented. Early efforts at reform, beginning perhaps with Muhammad in the seventh century and continuing through later missionary efforts and colonial edicts, have all come to naught.

Moreover, there is some evidence that the custom of genital mutilation, in spite of the effort of authorities, is not declining but growing. This is due not only to growth in the population of circumcising people, but also to the migration of merchants and civil servants from circumcising areas into noncircumcising ones. The reasons for the diffusion appear to be largely economic. In the event of intermarriage between circumcising immigrants and noncircumcising indigenous peoples, a far more favorable price for the bride may be obtained by a girl's family if she is circumcised. Consequently, these new, socially less advantaged converts to the custom have come to practice the most extreme and damaging version of the procedure in an effort to make their daughters most desirable and optimally marketable. They refer to such operations as "scraping the girls clean" and justify them as the "modern and hygienic way that educated people do it ."

African intellectuals of both sexes have become acutely aware that something is intrinsically very wrong with these ancient blood rituals and wish to see them abandoned. At the same time they resent Western interference in their social and personal affairs, and this means that the only help acceptable in dealing with the problem seems to be material aid to programs directed by Africans themselves.

While many of these same intellectuals declare their intent to begin abolishing the practice by not mutilating their own daughters, few have translated these good intentions into action. There is simply too much family pressure and fear of breaking with tradition. In fact, further complicating the problems of infibulation has been the introduction of reinflbulation. In this procedure, women are reinfibulated after delivering a baby, with the vaginal opening again being resutured to a pin-hole sized opening. This practice first started among the better educated and higher social classes in Sudan and was usually performed by physicians.

As immigrants adhering to these practices moved to Europe and to the Americas, non-Sudanese physicians have increasingly participated in them. In England, France, and Sweden physicians have been exposed as performing the operation. They have attempted to justify their actions on the basis that without available professional help, untrained laypersons, often female family members, perform the mutilations on the kitchen table. Many such cases end with hemorrhaging girls being rushed to hospitals.

Some African intellectuals have not hesitated to condemn the ritualistic practices. The outspoken pronouncements of Nawal el Saadawi, an Islamic physician from Egypt, for example, have on occasion landed her in prison.

Increasingly, the practice of both female circumcision and infibulation has come under attack by various international organizations and the International Council of Nurses. Still, director of the Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development, Efua Graham, in Great Britain, views the prospects for change bleakly. Given the poor economic situation facing most African states, many legislators quite simply see female genital mutilation as a nonissue. She adds that "even the African women in the health professions see it as a nonissue ."

Outlawing the custom seems simply to drive it underground. Yet forbidding it also creates unequivocal guidelines for the Western medical and nursing establishment and may on occasion even act as a deterrent to the parents, at least while they are residing outside the borders of their own countries Rituals, particularly blood rituals, have a hold on people that is stronger than reason, stronger than law, and even stronger than religion Change, if there is to be any change at all, may be expected to come only through painstaking sex education and with the development of economic alternatives to marriage for women.


Abdalla, R.M.D. Sisters in Affliction—Circumcision and Infibulation of Women in Africa. London: Zed Press, 1982.

Assaad, M. Female Circumcision in Egypt: Current Research and Social Implications. Cairo: American Univ. Press in Cairo, 1979.

Burton, R. Love, War and Fancy: Notes to the Arabian Nights. London: Kimber, 1954.

Cloudsley, A. Women of Omdurman. London: Ethnographica, 1983.

Dareer, A. el. Woman, Why Do You Weep? London: Zed Press, 1982.

Grassivaro, G.P., and F. Vivianai. Female Circumcision in Somalia. Mankind Quarterly (1988), pp. 165-80.

Koso-Thomas, O. The Circumcision of Women: A Strategy for Eradication. London: Zed Books, 1987.

Lightfoot-Klein, H. Prisoners of Ritual: An Odyssey Into Female Genital Circumcision in Africa. New York: Haworth Press, 1989.

Lightfoot-Klein, H. Rites of Purification and Their Effects: Some Psychological Aspects of Female Genital Circumcision and Infibulation in an Afro-Arab Islamic Society. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, Vol. 2, No. 2 (1989) pp. 79-91.

Lightfoot-Klein, H. The Sexual Experience and Marital Adjustment of Genitally Circumcised and Infibulated Females in the Sudan. Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 16 (Aug 1989), pp. 375-92.

Lightfoot-Klein, H., and E.Shaw. Special Needs of Ritually Circumcised Women Patients. Journal of Obstetrical, Gynecological, and Neo-Natal Nursing, Vol. 20, No. 2 (1991), pp. 102-107.

Saadawi, N. The Hidden Faces of Eve: Women in the Arab World. London: Zed Press, 1980.

Hanny Lightfoot-Klein


Feminists' View of the Social Construction of Sexuality
Factors Affecting Sexology Research
Two Camps of Feminists
Feminist Sexology

Feminists believe that women's sexuality and men's sexuality must be examined within their social context. Sexual behavior and problems, according to feminists, are socially constructed by cultural institutions that shape the rest of human experience: family, friends, community, the mass media, and various public and private institutions.

Feminists' View of the Social Construction of Sexuality

Sex-role socialization—the process by which individuals learn and relearn what it means to be a girl, boy, woman, or man—is believed to be especially crucial in the social construction of sexuality. That is, feminists assume that intimate interactions are shaped by notions as to which emotions, beliefs, and behaviors are possible or appropriate for women and men and most of all by unequal power relationships. For example, women are expected to be tender and nurturing and therefore are scripted in American society to expect sex to be associated with relatively long-term, loving relationships in which they must make numerous personal sacrifices for a partner. Men, in contrast, are socialized to be aggressive and dominant, a process that encourages them to adopt recreational, predatory scripts for sex or to confuse making love with the demonstration of achievement and power.

Feminists pay particular attention to social inequality, pointing out that women, especially women of color and those from lower socioeconomic status families, have far fewer economic resources and social privileges and considerably less power than men. Acknowledging that male dominance pervades the social system, feminists conclude that sexual interactions and expectations are shaped necessarily by inequality in the nuclear family, schools, workplace, and political arena.

Although feminists disagree vehemently about many aspects of sexual politics, they share these basic assumptions. Men's difficulties with intimacy, sexual dominance, and aggression are seen as the result of male political, social, and economic dominance. Female sexual passivity, dislike of sex, sexual dysfunction, and victimization are viewed as the inevitable result of the political, social, and economic oppression of women. In upholding these assumptions, feminists bring more than a nongendered perspective to the study of sexuality. They believe that science and scholarship cannot be entirely objective (or value free).

Factors Affecting Sexology Research

This is what feminists believe about sexology. Rather than being free of prejudice, the scientific study of sex (like all other aspects of science) reflects the values of the researchers or those who sponsor that research institutionally and financially. Almost always, research is structured around values that predominate in the larger culture. Until the very recent past, sexologists as a group have been unreceptive to feminist work. Texts and scholarly books in the field often neglected feminist contributions to the understanding of human sexuality and frequently were written with a male, heterosexist bias. With the exception of research on rape, childhood sexual abuse, sexual harassment in the workplace, and pornography, little feminist content has been published by the major sexology journals. Although numerous articles have appeared on the subject of women, few truly represent feminist scholarship (the effort to overcome androcentricity or male bias in sexology).

In North American culture and most others, a sexual double standard prevails that allocates more sexual freedom to men than to women. Most sexologists, feminists point out, reinforce the sexual double standard by advocating monogamy for women. A distinction continues to be drawn between "good" women who limit sex to one committed relationship and "bad" women who are promiscuous. Teenage girls who have multiple partners and women who are active in prostitution are studied to understand what went wrong, the research justified with the presupposition that these individuals are at great risk for unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

In other examples of nonconscious sexism, sexologists often elect not to study women or assume that women are just like men. For example, most studies of homosexuals are based exclusively or predominantly on samples of gay men, even though research indicates that lesbians have considerably different sexual histories and desires. Studies of responsiveness to erotica reflect a similar bias; samples of women and men are exposed to a pornographic film that was typically written by and for men, and women's reactions (subjectively and physiologically) are matched against those of men (the cultural standard-bearers). Decisions such as these reflect the arrogant presupposition that women are worthwhile only insofar as their behavior pleases the dominant group (heterosexual men) or they resemble the culturally ideal group (heterosexual men again).

Feminists believe that values permeate sexology whether or not researchers present themselves as objective scientists and whether or not the audience is in touch with the social and political assumptions that underlie the design of a study and the interpretation of data. According to feminists, even scholars who advocate a society free of sex-role stereotypes (adherents of the so-called nongendered perspective) have values that shape selectively the questions they ask and the conclusions they draw. Masters and Johnson, for example, overlooked several female-male differences to come up with a uniform (nongendered) set of four stages of sexual response. Human beings cannot help but express values in their work. With this in mind, feminist sexologists are not ashamed about being advocates for those they study. Feminist methodology, whether it is quantitative or qualitative, emphasizes an appreciation for the individuality of those who participate in a study. Feminist sexologists define research as a collaborative task with other humans, not as something they do to research "subjects."

Feminists are exquisitely sensitive to possible sexism in their own work (negative stereotypes based on biological sex) as well as heterosexism (prejudice against bisexual persons, lesbians, and gay men). As a result, feminists may pay greater attention than sexologists with other theoretical orientations to both the language they use to describe women's and men's sexual behaviors and feelings and the way that they make inferences (draw conclusions) from their data.

Typically, the values of the dominant culture prevail in sexological research. The interpretation of sexological data has always been shaped by accepted social and political influences. During the early 20th century, pioneering sexologists exaggerated the differences between the sexes to support the culturally prescribed idea that women were innately inferior to men and exhibited a sexuality that was paler and weaker than male sexuality. In contrast, feminists complain that contemporary sexologists have force-fit their data to support the new cultural standard of the equivalence of the sexes, stipulating that women and men are more sexually alike than dissimilar. As a result, there is a tendency to overlook the extent to which sex-role socialization and sexual inequality continue to shape sexual responsiveness and experience. With the requirement that women be men's sexual equals, men's sexual attitudes and behaviors have become the standard; women are expected to imitate men to be sexually normal or fulfilled.

Feminists question traditional definitions of women's sexuality. But there is no party line on how to interpret recent changes in sexual behavior and information on women's lives. According to one group of feminists, sex has become increasingly pleasurable for women because more heterosexual men than ever before know how and why to stimulate their partner's clitoris. Contradicting this, other feminists argue that women's subordination to men has been eroticized, no woman being truly free to refuse sex with a member of the dominant group. Because so many women are the targets of sexual violence, working and sleeping with men are viewed as sleeping with the enemy by this group. A third group of feminists is convinced that Western culture remains sexually oppressive for men and women alike. This liberal group seeks to increase women's opportunities to enjoy multiple female and male sexual partners, masturbation, and a rich variety of sexual experiences.

Recently, sexologists have become increasingly receptive to the ideas of feminists from within their ranks. Nonetheless, the field continues tacitly to support traditional masculine and feminine roles in sexual interactions and a patriarchal model of the ideal family. Why else would researchers think about women's sexuality only insofar as it relates to marriage? The division of sexual attitudes and behaviors into categories—premarital, marital, extramarital, and post-marital —is not arbitrary. Rather, this division reflects the aspects of sex that are considered important for women. Sexologists profess a nonconscious ideology that equates normal, healthy sexuality with monogamous, male-dominated heterosexuality.

Progress in sexology has not always been progress in the service of women's rights. The major justification for sex research and therapy has continued to be the preservation of conventional heterosexual relationships. Nonconsciously, sex researchers and therapists have used their work to defend a male-centered, heterosexual belief system. Instead of allowing women to have unique sexual desires and characteristics, most sexologists judge women as sexually normal or abnormal on the basis of how they compare with sexually active male heterosexuals. In this context, real sex is equated with the hydraulics of sexual intercourse. Implicit in this ideology is the assumption that the best part of sex is when the penis enters the vagina; orgasm is all-important. Everything else is mere foreplay. Exaggerated emphasis on orgasm and sexual frequency is not a woman-affirming model of sex. Many women value physical affection more than sexual intercourse. Sexual pleasure for women is not necessarily linked to frequent genital stimulation

Sexologists can be criticized for emphasizing the reproductive aspects of women's sexuality over pleasure and autonomy. Although a considerable body of data indicates that masturbation and sexual encounters with other women can be more sexually satisfying for women than coitus, many sexologists continue to believe that heterosexual intercourse is the best vehicle for mature sexual expression.

The treatment of women's sexual problems has had a sullied history. Mental health professionals define women's psychosexual dysfunctions largely as a failure in the proper performance of heterosexual intercourse. Women's desire for nongenital stimulation and emotional intimacy is overlooked by the experts. A feminist model of sex would put greater emphasis on the emotional aspects of women's intimate relationships, numerous studies indicate that these factors are better predictors of relationship satisfaction than are sexual frequency and orgasm.

Men talk about sex more freely than women because most of the words for sex, including scientific jargon, were invented by men Feminists argue that it is time for women to rewrite sexual vocabulary in their own terms. Already, lesbians have transformed the word "dyke" from a pejorative term to a description of pride in loving women Other women in search of a feminist reconstruction of sex have changed the term "foreplay" to "sexual activity" while demoting "sexual intercourse" to the more accurate term "heterosexual afterplay "

Feminists have much to contribute to the future of sex research and therapy. With their inspiration, sexologists could move the study of sex away from sexual bookkeeping, the exhaustive recording of the frequency and variety of genital experiences. From a woman's perspective, sexual bookkeeping distracts sexologists from more important aspects of sexuality: how people think and feel about intimacy. Sexologists, according to feminists, should also stop equating women's sexuality with what they do with their genitals. Reducing sex to a juxtaposition of genitals and orifices denies the magic and breadth of sexual experiences.

Two Camps of Feminists

Radical Feminists
Liberal Feminists

Feminists agree that male-dominant culture has had a negative impact on women's sexuality. However, they disagree vehemently about both the nature of women's sexual oppression and the best course of action. Two major feminist camps have emerged: radical feminists and liberal feminists. Armed with their own interpretations of sex research and personal observations, radical feminists believe that women are sexual victims who must be protected from men, liberal feminists strive to give women greater access to a variety of sexual pleasures.

Radical Feminists

Seeing eroticized male dominance in all aspects of everyday life, radical feminists believe that the sexual revolution of the 20th century has served mainly to reinforce women's subordinate status. As they explain, girls and women are almost always the victims and boys and men are almost always the perpetrators of rape, sexual harassment, prostitution, domestic violence, and the sexual abuse of children. Radical feminists are strongly 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.

Radical feminists have polarized male and female sexuality—demonizing men and idealizing women in the process. Orthodox radical feminists do not recognize the possibility of consensual heterosexuality or female sexual aggression. For them, there is little difference between conventional sexual intercourse and rape, both acts appearing in their eyes to represent male supremacy. When confronted with the fact that many women appear to enjoy having sex with men and experience orgasm readily, they argue that women have been conditioned to identify with the male aggressor, to be aroused by male dominance.

Most radical feminists agree that women are harmed by pornography and the sex industry. Some are strong advocates of censorship (at least of violent or degrading pornography). In contrast with liberal feminists, who oppose censorship and view prostitution and related work as a legitimate career choice for women, radical feminists believe that women in the sex trades cannot help but be victims, and they do all in their power to end what they describe as the trafficking in women's bodies.

United in their opposition to pornography and prostitution, radical feminists disagree about many other issues. There is considerable controversy within the radical feminist movement as to whether it is possible for women to have a satisfying, nonoppressive, heterosexual relationship and which types of sexual activities are woman-affirming for lesbian and female bisexual couples.

Liberal Feminists

Unlike radical feminists—who have been in the forefront of political activism directed against the pornography and sex-trade industries, rape, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and sexual deviancy—liberal feminists are less politically active. They have developed their positions more in reaction to the perceived excesses of radical feminism than in response to any particular cause. Justifying pornography as free speech and invoking women's right to create their own erotic literature and materials, liberal feminists have attacked radical feminists for being hostile to men and denying women their rights to sexual pleasure and autonomy

Liberal feminists believe that radical feminists' ideas about the reasons for female sexual oppression are misguided. They criticize radical feminists for denying the distinction between representations of forced sex in pornography and actual violence against women.

Liberal feminists complain that the sexual values of radical feminists are no different from those of reactionary political groups (e.g., anti-sex, fundamentalist, religious organizations). These values are seen as reinforcing the virgin/whore dichotomy, the distinction made by the patriarchy between "good" sexually controlled and "bad" sexually active women. The goals of the feminist antipornography movement strike liberal feminists as unrealistic and oppressive. Censorship and legal sanctions, argue liberal feminists, might push pornographers and sex-trade entrepreneurs and workers further into the underground economy. However, such measures would neither eliminate their products and services nor protect sex workers from exploitation.

Liberal feminists criticize radical feminists for advocating politically correct sex. By mistrusting heterosexuality and idealizing monogamous, egalitarian, lesbian sex and celibacy, radical feminists are viewed as reinforcing old prejudices that make anyone who practices a different form of consensual sexuality a social outcast.

Finally, radical feminists are criticized by sex liberals for denying women the possibilities of joyous, empowering sexuality. For instance, a few, extremely sex-negative radical feminists equate all heterosexual sex and even much of lesbian sex with sexual violence and exploitation. In seeking to protect women from sexual harm, this extremist group of radical feminists may unwittingly treat women like children who are really incapable of giving true consent to sex. According to liberal feminists, if women are only sexual victims, they are stripped of their adult autonomy, their potential to secure sexual pleasure on their own behalf.

Feminist Sexology

Feminists have encouraged sexologists to wonder about the meaning and implications of sex. Do women need more sexual freedom or is sex, especially sex with men, so dangerous that they should restrict their sexual activities? Thanks to feminism, sexologists are increasingly able to see how their research, educational work, and treatment of sexual dysfunctions can be biased by assumptions from a male-dominant culture. But what is feminist sexology?

Feminist sexology is the scientific and scholarly study of the relationship between sex-role socialization and sexual behavior. It is the consideration of how sex (being male or female) and beliefs about women and men construct the sexual experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual persons. Applied to sex education and therapy, feminist sexology is the advocacy of woman-affirming sexual activities (including equality between partners, open communication, sensuality, an end to all forms of sexual coercion, and the definition of sex as including mutual self-disclosures and warm displays of physical affection). In contrast with their conventional counterparts, feminist sexologists believe that real sex is far more than what people do with their genitals.

Since male sexual aggression and exploitation have taken root and been sustained by institutions that serve a misogynous, patriarchal culture, feminist sexologists seek to use their expertise to understand and eliminate these devastating social problems. A major task of feminist sexology is to increase women's sense of control over their own bodies. The empowerment of women is viewed as a necessary first step to reducing sexual dysfunction and coercion as well as the enhancement of sexual pleasure for women and men of all sexual orientations.

Although they do not always agree on goals, feminist sexologists are committed to positive social change. They hope that their work (be it research, sex education, or therapy) will protect women's freedom to make choices, sexually and reproductively, while increasing sexual equality and physical pleasure in intimate relationships.


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Naomi B. McCormick


The Cultural Context of Sex and Celebration
Rituals of Reversal and Sexual License
Marriage Ceremonies
Rites of Passage
Sex in Temples and Sacred Spaces

Sex has been and continues to be expressed in a myriad of forms in the celebratory activities of humans. These activities may be defined to include ceremonial, festival, and ritual occasions. There is a great deal of crossover in the definitions of these three terms, and they are frequency used interchangeably in socio-cultural literature. For example, a festival may be defined as a periodically recurring social occasion in which, through many forms and a series of coordinated events, all members of a whole community—united by ethnic, linguistic, religious, and historical bonds and sharing a world view—participate directly or indirectly and to various degrees This overlaps considerably with the anthropological definition of rites of intensification that are regarded as collective rituals in which an entire community participates to celebrate events affecting the group, irrespective of age, sex, or status (e.g., Mardi Gras, Thanksgiving). The definition of "ceremonial" as an event associated with the life cycle or a celebration by the community is virtually interchangeable with many of the definitions of festival and collective ritual found in scholarly publications on the subject. Festivals, collective rituals, and ceremonials are therefore all examples of celebratory events affecting everyone in the community. Rites and rituals may be sacred or secular, and sex may be expressed on such occasions in diverse ways.

Rites of passage are another kind of ritual context in which sexuality may be present. In contrast to the communal aspects of ceremonials, festivals, and rites of intensification, rites of passage focus on the individual and mark a transition to a new status, such as from girl to woman or boy to man.

Human sexuality may be encountered in rituals, ceremonials, and festivals in a variety of ways: symbolically, allegorically, metaphorically, and in simulated or actual sexual behavior. Ritualized sex may include component attributes of sexuality, such as sperm and blood, genital mutilation or manipulation, symbolic or actual intercourse, or a blending of these. Moreover, ritualized homosexuality may be expressed, mythologically as among the Iatmul or behaviorally as among the Sambia and Keraki. Coitus may be used as a metaphor for the metaphysical, as in origin myths where it is embedded in a larger cosmic context—for example, in the mating of the sun and moon or the earth and heavens.

This article presents an overview of several types of ceremonial activities in which sex has an important role. Because discussion is restricted to events in which sexuality is expressed behaviorally, the metaphorical expression of sexuality (e.g., in fertility rituals centering on phallic and vulval symbols) cannot be covered in detail. The following brief description of a Japanese fertility ritual demonstrates the symbology of copulation in the absence of coital behavior. It is provided as an example of the richness and variety of sexual metaphor.

The Japanese festival celebrating the marriage of the god Takeinazuminomikoto with the goddess Arata-hime-nomikoto is an example of a fertility ceremonial in which sex is depicted symbolically. This ceremony features phallic and vulval images at two shrines, one representing the male principle and the other the female. Images of the vulva abound: at the female shrine is a rock in the shape of a vaginal orifice; stalls nearby sell live clams as vulvic symbols, and during a parade a priest carries a banner with a clinical picture of the female genitalia. The male shrine has a large stone phallus at its entrance and houses hundreds of phalli of diverse sizes. The male principle is denoted by a parade of Shinto priests in which a banner of an erect penis is displayed, followed by a litter on which a ten-foot-long carved wooden penis is displayed. This rural ceremony celebrates fertility without the ritualized intercourse or sexual license that accompanies some fertility cult celebrations.

Before an overview of the kinds of sexual behavior associated with ritual events, two caveats are in order. Herdt cautions that the investigation of ritual sexuality should proceed beyond the analysis of symbolic significance to include questions of desire and the pleasure or displeasure of the participants. Unfortunately, this focus is neglected in the majority of the literature on sex and ceremonial. In addition, the ethnographic literature is biased towards descriptions of male sexual behavior.

The Cultural Context of Sex and Celebration

Sex in the celebration must be regarded in the particular cultural and historical context in which it is enveloped. It is related to wider structural elements, including social complexity, technological development, distribution of power and privilege, and level of social organization, as well as economic variables. Sex, both symbolically and behaviorally, may be seen to follow trends associated with population growth, surplus, hierarchy, and centralization of governments. Ceremonial sex may also be a vehicle to ensure that inequality in terms of age, gender, and status is perpetuated in ranked and stratified societies.

Sexual control of populations is a vehicle of more generalized political control. In patriarchal societies in which extramarital sex is restricted (particularly for women), ritual and ceremonial sex may find expression in a "time out" period in which the rules for sexual restraint are lifted and a celebration of unregulated sexuality may occur. This allows for the symbolic expression of conflicts over the regulation and control of individuals' intimate lives by governments.

With the advent of urbanization, ceremonial aspects of sex were transformed. As archaic cities emerged as religious and governmental centers, sacred and ritualized sex became associated with the privileged classes and specialized roles. Con-sequence, intercourse with priests, priestesses, and temple prostitutes, as well as ceremonialized sex with divine rulers, was practiced in archaic city civilizations. For the urbanized, the fertility cults prevalent among plant cultivators lost their significance over time. According to Greenberg, this change occurred because concepts of "sexual magic" are more harmonious with the polytheistic religions found among farming peoples than with the later monotheistic ones. The increasing regulation associated with centralized authority and urbanization included increasing control over sexuality. This control inhibited many of the expressions of ritualized coitus that may still survive in plant-cultivating societies but remain only as cultural artifacts in more urbanized ones. Finally, ceremonial and ritual sex lost sacred elements as a result of trends toward secularization associated with population increase, state-level political organization, the industrial revolution, and, ultimately, modernity.

Rituals of Reversal and Sexual License

In old Hawaii when a chief died, his constituency engaged in a bacchanalia of excess and lawlessness that included the violation of sexual norms through sexual license. These rituals allowed for variance from the traditional mores of appropriate behavior. Only when the new chief was installed, usually after a few days, was law and order proclaimed. By ritually demonstrating the havoc caused by the breakdown of the social order, this period of sexual normlessness coincidentaly sustained and endorsed the importance of social regulation. Rituals of sexual license such as this function in societies to reduce tension and ventilate pressure where there are strict sexual prohibitions. Mardi Gras and kissing under the mistletoe are modern-day expressions of such practices. As in the Brazilian carnaval, elements of reversal are found in these rituals, so that the private act of sex takes on public expression.


Rituals to increase human fecundity or generic fecundity may also contain elements of sexual variation from the norm. Fertility rituals abound in plant-cultivating societies in which fecundity is a generic kind of concern. In such societies, an association is made between human fertility and the general abundance of the community and its crops. Davenport has described one of the numerous annual fertility rituals among the Kiwai of coastal Papua-New Guinea. One community-wide fertility ceremony consisted of several nights of erotic singing and sexual abandon. During this period of unrestricted sexuality, the sperm of the men was collected from the women participants and deposited in a container where it was intermixed with other ingredients, illustrating the symbolic importance of fecundity. The collected ejaculate was then shared with the community to dab on whatever object was deemed in need of increased fertility.

The Marind-Anim of New Guinea also participated in a ritual designed to confer fertility. The otiv-bombari ceremony was first experienced by a woman after her marriage. Before she was permitted sexual relations with her husband, she was required to have intercourse with all the male members of her husband's clan. This ceremony was known to extend over several nights. It took place on other important occasions as well, such as following the birth of a child. In this case, it symbolically marked the woman's reentry into society. The otiv-bombari was also likely to be performed for women who had not conceived in order to enhance their fertility Apparently, male power and domination, and perhaps concern over infertility, were salient enough to keep women cooperating in this ceremony, despite reports of their dislike of it.

Marriage Ceremonies

Rituals associated with marriage generally incorporate elements celebrating and defining reproductive relations, kinship, and sexual access. In this regard, marriage ceremonies are known for recognizing the importance of fertility, as illustrated by the otiv-bombari among the Marind-Anim. These ceremonies may also be demarcated by rituals that demonstrate the virginity of the bride. Such ceremonies occur in patrilineal societies in which certainty regarding paternity is important. These rituals typically center on the bride's blood and not the husband's sperm, since the cultural foci are on the contribution of the bride to the male's consanguineal km group. Blood from the breaking of the hymen may be publicly exhibited on bed sheets or on the wife's undergarments, as in Morocco; or it may be displayed on barkcloth, as in Fiji, representing a generalized pattern in the southwestern Pacific. Virginity may also be demonstrated prior to intercourse in a defloration ceremony performed by a person of rank or a specialist, as among the Samoans, the Kagaba of South America, or the Seri of Mexico. Concern with various types of displays of virginity has been found among Middle Eastern societies, several Mediterranean peoples, Africans, Pacific Islanders, East Asian populations, and Eastern Europeans. Defloration may occur in less public exhibitions as well: for example, among the Lenge of Africa the practice was a part of the female's initiation ceremony. A special tool made of horn was used for this purpose.

The death of a spouse may require a ritual in which sex is involved. For example, a ceremonial cleansing of widows among the African Twi, Thonga, and Yao involved decontamination of the wife who had been polluted by her dead husband's spirit. This cleansing was achieved by intercourse with a stranger unaware of her status. The Chaga and Nyakyusa of Africa practiced a form of widow inheritance (in which a son inherited his father's wives with the exception of his mother) that included ritual copulation. Upon inheriting the widows, the son was expected to copulate with all of them (except the pregnant and lactating wives) in one night as a symbolic act of inheritance.

Extramarital sex may also contain ritualized elements, as in the case of the courtly love tradition that flourished between 1000-1300 C.E. Courtly love comprised several phases. It began with a knight adoring a woman from afar, followed by a declaration of his undying love and numerous acts of valor on her behalf. The final phase concluded with admission to the woman's bedchamber. Since the beloved was usually a married woman, if infidelity took place it was engaged in with great discretion.

Rites of Passage

Ritualized homosexuality in New Guinea presents one of the most instructive cases for understanding sexual expression within the cultural context It is reported to occur in 10 percent to 20 percent of the Melanesian societies. It may be prescribed, preferred, or regarded as acceptable. That it is not a recent innovation is demonstrated by the Sambia, among whom ritualized homosexuality was recorded as early as 1862. Among the Sambia of highland New Guinea, boys participate in a seven-year rite of passage into manhood. In the initial phase, the novice engages in fellatio of older boys. In a later stage of initiation, the boys become the "inseminators" and are subsequently fellated by initiates younger than themselves who have recently entered the rite of passage. This is followed by a bisexual phase in which the boys continue the ritualized homosexuality but are gradually introduced to sex with their newly acquired wives. Their passage into manhood culminates with heterosexuality.

This rite of passage is articulated with the well-known masculine orientation of Melanesian patrilineal societies. Men are made and not born in these societies. The key to growth is through sperm, whose reservoir must be built up in the boy. This is accomplished by ingesting the sperm of the older initiates. From the time the boys reach about 15 years of age until they marry and finally become fathers, they are the inseminators of the younger boys. In the subsequent phases of their rite of passage, they learn the mysteries of renewing their sperm stores in ways other than ingestion This is necessary because their sperm supply is endangered by ejaculation with their wives.

In these cultures, ritualized homosexuality resonates with male power and prestige, symbolized through the transmission of sperm between men. Historically, highland New Guinea groups such as the Sambia were well known for warfare with neighboring groups. The rite of passage, with its ritualized homosexuality, functioned to consolidate men (crucial for groups who engaged in warfare), fostered a shared identity, and prepared young men through age cohorts to enter a ranked society. Ritualized female homosexuality in Melanesia is virtually unknown, as would be expected from the environmental and cultural milieu. The New Guinea cases of ritualized homosexuality suggest that Western notions of homosexuality cannot describe the experience of boys in these societies and that such clinically derived terms for sexual behavior lose their utility in the cross-cultural context.

Rites of passage may include ritual and ceremonial sexual behaviors that anticipate the novice's new role as an adult, including rights and obligations related to sex and reproduction. For example, among the African Kikuyu peoples, a novitiate boy was required to copulate ritually with an unknown married woman, although this intercourse was performed more usually as a symbolic act. Instead of copulating the young man masturbated in front of the woman and may have ejaculated on her. Completion of this ritual allowed him to take on the status and role of an adult man and to be eligible to marry a Kikuyu woman Apparently, Kikuyu women. also underwent a similar rite of passage for which information is not available. Among the African Ila, a boy's rite of passage encompassed sex education and simulated sexual intercourse with other novices, as well as masturbation. Among several Bantu groups, a girl's first menstruation was followed by a ritualized copulation with her husband, who upon orgasm ejaculated on a cloth. The cloth was subsequently analyzed by a mature woman of the village as to its relative characteristics.

Sex in Temples and Sacred Spaces

Other forms of ritualized sexuality are associated with sacred spaces or places (e.g., temples) and may involve sacred personages in acts of coitus. Ritualized sex may include village headmen in the founding of a building or even a new village. Among the Bemba of Africa, the headman "warms the bush" by copulating ritually with his wife before the huts of a new village are occupied. The Thonga have a similar custom of ritual copulation by the headman and his primary wife on the site of the new village, followed by a community-wide tabu on sex until the new village is completed. Then, after a purification ceremony, each couple in the village copulates in a fixed order of precedence, one every night. Indigenous Polynesian Mangaiian married couples were reported to have engaged in public sex prior to battle while enclosed in special sacred areas denoted for that purpose.

Temple prostitution has captured Westerners' interest, undoubtedly as a result of the exclusion of sex from the religious sector in Western culture. Sacred prostitutes are reported both cross-culturally and historically among the ancient Israelites and in pre-Muslim times in the Middle East. In India, temple priests were known to have copulated with barren women. Temple prostitution operated as both an act of devotion and a means of funding the employees and the temple as an economic enterprise. In addition, evidence exists of homosexual practices among male transvestite temple prostitutes in India. A similar occurrence among the Peruvian Berdache of Puerto Viejo was reported in a description by the Spaniard Cieza de Leon, who stated: "With these [Berdache], almost like a rite and ceremony, on feast and holy days, they have carnal, foul intercourse, especially the chiefs and headman."

During the flourishing of the Greek city-states, sacred prostitutes, the hierodoules, were associated with temples and contributed to their economic support. They were thought to have special powers. Other historical examples include a ritualized technique similar to that of modern sensate focus that was practiced in the Ming Dynasty under the Taoist sex ethic. In a special area, young couples would engage in sensual and sexual behavior under the verbal commands of the master teacher. This activity incorporated undressing and touching but not intercourse.


Ritualized sexual behavior is intricately woven into the cultural and historical matrix. Sex, like other human activities, is found in ritual, ceremonial, and festival occasions. This is not surprising given its symbolic and metaphorical parameters that transect both the sacred and the profane. Although ritual, ceremonial, and festival occasions may prohibit the expression of sex, they may also require its expression in culturally specific ways.


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Davis, D.L., and R.G. Whitten. The Cross-Cultural Study of Human Sexuality. Annual Reviews of Anthropology, Vol. 16 (1987), pp. 69-98.

Falassi, A., ed. Time out of Time: Essays on Festival. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1987.

Gluckman, M. Order and Rebellion in Tribal Africa. New York: The Free Press, 1960.

Greenberg, D.G. The Construction of Homosexuality. Chicago: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988.

Hendrick, C., and S. Hendrick. Liking, Loving and Relating. Monterey, Calif.: Brooks/Cole, 1983.

Herdt, G. Guardians of the Flutes. Irvington, N.Y.: Columbia Univ. Press, 1987.

Herdt, G. Representations of Homosexuality: An Essay on Cultural Ontology and Historical Comparison, Part II. Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1991), pp. 603-32.

Herdt, G. The Sambia: Ritual and Gender in New Guinea. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1987.

McLeod, J.R. Ritual in Corporate Culture Studies: An Anthropological Approach. Journal of Ritual Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1 (1990), pp. 85-97.

Salter, M. An Analysis of the Role of Games in the Fertility Rituals of the Native North American. Anthropos, Vol. 69 (1974), pp. 494-504.

Van Gennep, A. The Rites of Passage. Translated by M.B. Vizedom and G.L. Caffee. 1909. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960.

Williams, W. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

Anne Bohn


Flagellation—spanking, caning, whipping, or paddling—has a long history. In the 13th and 15th centuries, flagellation was used as an atonement and to mortify the flesh. It was supported by the church, and sects of flagellants were widespread. However, after it became apparent that the practice was sexually stimulating for some practitioners, the church opposed it.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, private clubs of members who enjoyed whipping and birching could be found in London. Two of these were the Hell Fire Club (whose members were men) and the Order of St. Bridget (a club for women). The erotic appeal of being flogged was clearly presented by George Colman, who published a poem, "The Rodiad," in 1810. Pisanus Fraxi, in Bibliography of Prohibited Books, includes works with flagellation themes. Fanny Hill, a novel originally published in 1749, includes a description of the whipping of a gentleman by the heroine.

More recently, whipping and other forms of corporal punishment are common within the sadomasochistic subculture, although many masochists do not wish to experience severe discomfort. Spangler, who studied members of sadomasochistic clubs in West Germany, found that 66 percent of his sample preferred being whipped; 60 percent also enjoyed being caned Whipping was preferred by 47 percent of the males and 39 percent of the females studied by Breslow.


Breslow, N., L. Evans, and J. Langley. On the Prevalence and Roles of Females in the Sadomasochistic Subculture: Report on an Empirical Study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 14 (1985), pp. 303-17.

Bullough, V.L. Sexual Variance in Society and History. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1976.

Falk, G., and T.S. Weinberg. Sadomasochism and Popular Western Culture. In T. Weinberg and G.W.L. Kamel, eds., S and M: Studies in Sadomasochism. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1983.

Fraxi, P. Bibliography of Prohibited Books. New York: Jack Brussel, 1960.

Krafft-Ebing, R. von. Psychopathia Sexualis. 1881. New York: Stem & Day, 1965.

Spengler, A. Manifest Sadomasochism of Males: Results of an Empirical Study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 6 (1977), pp. 441-56.

Thomas S. Weinberg


Foreplay is a traditional term to describe activities prior to coitus. It is based on an assumption that the sexual activity that will follow is heterosexual intercourse. Inherent in the meaning of the term is the notion that the activities involved are not equivalent to, or the goal of, a fulfilling sexual encounter, nor are they fulfilling in and of themselves. Rather, penile-vaginal intercourse is viewed as the ultimate and legitimate goal. For this reason, some sexologists in recent years have advocated using the term "pleasuring," which encompasses the gamut of sexual behaviors.

Historical religious beliefs influence many beliefs about sexuality. Often, reproduction was to be the only purpose of intercourse. Pleasure, if there was any, was likely to be regarded as sinful, immoral, illegal, or perverted, particularly for women. Even today, some people regard all sexual acts between same-sex people as wrong and potentially perverse, because conception is not the factor motivating their behavior.

The notion that orgasm should occur through a penile-vaginal act of penetration, with the possibility of pregnancy occurring, is inherent in this position. Other forms of sexual expression that are pleasurable in and of themselves become devalued, in spite of the fact that pleasuring activities (e.g., touching, kissing, massaging, manually or orally stimulating, body caressing, or masturbating) can be ends unto themselves, with or without an accompanying orgasm.

The sequence of sexual pleasuring behaviors is unvarying. Heterosexual couples first kiss on the lips, followed by the male's caressing the woman's breasts through her clothing. This is followed by caressing her nipples under her clothing, then feeling her vaginal lips through her underwear. He kisses her breasts. She then moves her hand over his pants and feels his penis. He fingers her unclothed genitals, and she moves her hand under his pants and feels his penis. The male puts his fingers into her vagina, followed by the male's kissing her genitals; she then kisses his penis. Simultaneous kissing of the genitals follows. If the interaction is to proceed to intercourse, she guides his penis into her vagina. The last behavior in the sequence is male entry into the vagina from the rear. This is the order in which these sexual pleasuring behaviors are acquired over time.

Unfortunately, similar sequencing data are not available for homosexually oriented individuals, although sequencing information is available for committed couple relationships. According to noted sexologists Masters and Johnson, in committed lesbian relationships sexual interaction usually begins with full body contact. When breast play is instigated, it is more prolonged than it is in the case of heterosexual couples. Similarly, genital contact is attenuated. In male homosexual couples, full body contact is also the rule, before focus shifts to specific erogenous zones. Kissing and caressing are usually followed by nipple stimulation This appears to be regarded as more erotic in homosexually oriented rather than heterosexually oriented men. Male couples, in contrast to their heterosexual counterparts, spend more time in nondemanding genital play, which involves more than just the immediate genital area Teasing, playfulness, and prolonged pleasuring seem to characterize same-sex sexual encounters to a greater degree than is typical of heterosexual episodes. These pairs adopt a slower, less demanding pace. They do not appear as urgently goal oriented, orgasm oriented, as their heterosexual counterparts.

Whether a specific pleasurable sexual act is to be regarded as an end unto itself or as a pathway to orgasmic experience, there is a wide variety of behaviors that couples of all sexual orientations have to choose from. Simple full-body holding and caressing can be a joyful and fully satisfying experience. Sensuous stroking of the skin, the largest erogenous area of the body, affords great comfort and pleasure.

Kissing, both closed and open mouthed, can be an erotic experience. Some people believe that an open-mouthed kiss, or a French kiss, is more intimate than sexual intercourse. Breast stimulation, although pleasurable to both sexes, is most frequently focused on the female in a heterosexual couple, with lesbian couples spending a great deal of time on the breast area. Homosexual male couples also spend some time in this area. Manual stimulation of one's own genitals (self-masturbation), masturbation of the partner, or mutual masturbation are pleasurable in and of themselves, regardless of whether they end in orgasm.

Oral-genital sex is another form of pleasuring. According to Masters and Johnson, the sexual orientation of the stimulator makes little difference in the technique of stimulating the penis, fellatio. There is, however, a difference in tempo and teasing, with heterosexual couples being more performance, and less pleasure, oriented. Oral stimulation of the female vulva, cunnilingus, includes stimulation of the outer lips or labia, the vagina, and the clitoral area. As in the case of male homosexual couples, lesbian couples not only spend more time in pleasuring their partners than do heterosexuals but also show superior and more varied techniques according to Masters and Johnson. Oral stimulation of the anus, anilingus, is engaged in by some heterosexual couples, but it is more frequently a part of male homosexual encounters.

The variety of sexual toys available for pleasuring is limited only by the individual's imagination. Everyday household objects, such as candles, can cast a romantic mood; feathers can be run sensually across the body to give pleasure. More complex apparatus, such as vibrators or penis-shaped objects, dildos, are made from a variety of materials. They can be used to stimulate the exterior of the body or may be inserted into the vagina or anus.

Some individuals receive pleasure from the controlled use of pain In sadomasochistic games, control is of primary importance. A clear contract exists between the players as to how much pain is acceptable, and the terms are strictly adhered to.

Environmental manipulation can also be used to heighten enjoyment. The use of different rooms, the enactment of different fantasies, and the wearing or not wearing of special clothing all provide variety that can increase pleasure and delight.

When there is too much emphasis on being goal rather then pleasure oriented, sexual problems can and do arise. All good sex therapy attempts to take the couple back to, or initiate them into, more pleasure. Pressure to achieve erection or orgasm is not only de-emphasized in the early stages of the therapy; in some instances it is forbidden.

In sex therapy, couples are taught how to discover what is pleasurable to themselves and their partners. Key concepts include nondemand contact that is not genitally oriented at first. In a relaxed atmosphere of pleasure and safety, the couple is taught how to communicate verbally and nonverbally. Pleasure can be learned and returned to. Nongenital massage is usually prescribed. A couple experiences relief in just being able to abandon themselves to the pleasure of knowing themselves and their partners at another level of being.

Perhaps some of the old homilies are correct. It is possible to miss the forest for the trees, to miss the wonder of the journey by only focusing on the arrival. Foreplay, or pleasuring, affords individuals a great range of behavioral options to increase their own and their partner's satisfaction.


Masters, W., and V. Johnson. Human Sexual Inadequacy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966.

Masters, W., and V. Johnson. Human Sexual Response. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966.

Susan B. Bond


Fraud associated with sex is ancient, stretching back to love philters sold in the earliest occidental and oriental civilizations. In early modern Europe, with the revival of travel, the resurgence of venereal disease, and the invention of printing, which fostered advertising through handbills and newspapers, quackery of all types expanded, not the least quackery related to sex. Efforts at suppression by law, beginning at this time but largely a product of the 20th century, have curtailed but not eliminated the dangers associated with sex fraud.

The varieties of deception have been numerous. A major strand has promised to reverse impotency and restore the failing powers of aging men. A German immigrant in 18th-century London marketed a "nervous cordial" in a pamphlet dedicated to the king and entitled A Guide to Old Age or a Cure for the Indiscretions of Youth. The final phrase regarding the purported cause of lost manhood was destined for two centuries of reiteration.

In the United States, a promoter in 1804 offered "a degree of re-animation" to older men who used his Aromatic Lozenges of Steel. Throughout the 19th century, ads ran rampant in the urban penny press and in cheap magazines offering treatments for "nervous debility" by alleged doctors or patent medicines. A handbill for an institute in Wisconsin promised: "Our wonderful electro medical treatment is saving thousands and will save you." The maker of Turkish Wafers stressed that sultans with harems had successfully used the product. Other proprietors trafficked on the theme of Mormon polygamy, giving their nostrums names like Brigham Young Tablets, Mormon Elders Damiana Wafers, and Mormon Bishop Pills. The last of these came in three colors red, white, and blue. Other suggestive names included Ponce de León Cream, Red Rooster Pills, and Sporty Days Invigorator. The Von Graef Sexual Troche was recommended for use both "in the Stomach and on the Organ."

Nostrums for impotence were sometimes pitched in traveling medicine shows, for example, Vital Sparks Pills, made from buckshot moistened and rolled in powdered aloe, were claimed to be an extract from a Chinese male turtle. Mail-order marketing, however, was more common. "Sucker lists" of buyers were bartered among sellers: in 1914, when the promoter of Man Medicine was convicted of mail fraud, he was forced to destroy a mailing list of over half a million names. Blackmail sometimes arose from such promotions. An inquiring letter prompted by advertising brought a COD shipment of the product at a very high price. If the recipient refused payment, he might be warned to ante up or his weakness would be made known to his community.

In the 1920s, a Kansas physician, John R. Brinkley, demonstrated the power of radio as an advertising medium by broadcasting his cure for impotence: transplantation of the sliced gonads of goats into the scrotums of inadequate males. Each patient had the privilege of selecting his own goat from the doctor's herd. Brinkley did a thriving business, and the notoriety almost got him elected governor. When the new Federal Radio Commission refused to renew his broadcasting license, he took his powerful station to Mexico.

So-called male-weakness promotions have been a high enforcement priority since the beginning of the century for U.S. postal officials and enforcers of food and drug laws (the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Chemistry until 1927, then the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA). Scores of actions have been taken against promotors. Two campaigns of the 1950s illustrate the FDA's zeal. The agency banned from importation and interstate commerce the "Vine That Makes You Virile," pega palo, imported from the Dominican Republic, as an unsafe new drug. The FDA also sought to suppress alleged rejuvenators that contained the male hormone testosterone. Where there truly was a lack of hormone, in some 5 percent of impotency cases, sufficient testosterone might fulfill product claims, but only at the risk of activating dormant prostate cancer cells. In most marketed products, the hormone level was too low to be helpful but still posed risks. Through seizures, injunctions, and criminal prosecutions, the FDA severely shrank the market.

Impotence remains a problem, so the promotion of treat-yourself solutions constantly recurs in the form of devices like plastic penis strengtheners or some type of drug. Impotence, modern scientific medicine maintains, results almost entirely from physical causes that can be treated with some degree of success. The lure of pseudoscience, however, leads to wasted resources and health hazards.

Impotency fraud is related to two other aspects of deception. One is the quest for rejuvenation, for eternal youth. The heyday of this doctrine perhaps came in the 18th century, but it has seen recurrent revivals. Two of history's most celebrated charlatans, Cagliostro and Count de Saint-Germain, worked this field with elixirs of life and talismans of magic characters. Sexual renewal would accompany the overall turning backward of time's clock. Women as well as men were entranced with the prospect of regaining youth; Saint-Germain won the hearts of many women, including Madame de Pompadour, by giving them his rejuvenation water.

Impotency "cures" are also related to aphrodisiacs; indeed, such double duty has not infrequently been claimed in the same nostrum advertisement. In the 19th century, Dr. Hollick's Aphrodisiac Remedy also provided "the only sure and reliable... permanent cure of impotence." After World War II, a Flying Fortress gunner who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor promoted Firmo Cream as both an aphrodisiac and a restorer of lost manhood.

Some spurs to sexual performance have relied on ambience, others on ingredients with ancient folkloric reputations. A quack in 17th-century England asserted that, if a wife put the promotor's Sticking Plaster on the pit of her husband's stomach, the husband's "appetite towards family duty" would be so enhanced that he would "love wonderfully and beget a miraculous progeny." In the next century, the flamboyant James Graham rented out a "Grand Celestial" bed in his London Temple of Health, providing also music and fragrances and guaranteeing that beautiful children would be conceived in it. As time went on, aphrodisiacal commerce became simpler. Nostrums were purported to contain the essence of foods (e.g., oysters) or plants (e.g., damiana and mandrake) cherished in tradition as sexual stimulants. Early in the 20th century Damiana Nerve Invigorator was challenged for not containing any damiana; and Nyals' Compound Extract of Damiana, although it had an insignificant amount of that botanical, was cited for containing unlabeled cocaine.

Handbills promoting cures for the French pox appeared in England in the 16th century. As venereal disease spread, so did claims of cures. One charlatan boasted, "I do cure all Persons that have been at Venus Sports of the French, Italian, Indian, High Dutch, English or Spanish variety." A 17th-century proprietor pitched his product in rhyme.

All ye that are of Venus Race
Apply yourselves to Dr. Case;
Who, with a box or two of PILLS
Will soon remove your painful ILLS.

In 1729, the Virginia government council freed a slave and granted him a pension in exchange for his making known his remedy for venereal disease. Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette in 1771 advertised a London nostrum that would cure "the venereal malady." After the 1830s, with the advent of the penny press, venereal disease advertising ran rife, and both nostrum makers and self-styled "specialists" in venereal disease treatments prospered. Some of the latter lured customers with street-level wax museums linked with their offices containing figures that depicted the ultimate ravages of the disease. Treatment could be rugged. One turn-of-the-century New York quack clinic put the naked male patient on a sort of toilet chair, his back against a metal plate, and his scrotum falling into a flowing colored liquid that contained a wire completing an electrical circuit. The patient felt the treatment as soon as he sat down, and its staggering impact, so the quack told him, proved its efficacy.

One American quack of this period appropriated the name of Paul Ehrlich, discoverer of Salvarsan, claiming that his own 914 version of the syphilis remedy far transcended the German scientist's 606 in healing potency. With the population shifts of World War I came an epidemic of venereal disease. Quacks responded to the challenge, offering countless specious cures. With a wary eye on food and drug officials, however, they avoided the terms "venereal disease" and "syphilis" in their promotions, resorting instead to a euphemism recognized by the afflicted, "bad blood. " The Bureau of Chemistry stepped up regulatory pressure.

Epidemics always foster health fraud. So, nearly seven decades later, did the epidemic of a new disease, acquired immune deficiency syndome (AIDS), spur a new wave of quackery. With effective therapies for AIDS and its attendant afflictions being very few, promoters offered hundreds of specious treatments to desperate patients. To mention merely substances for injection into the body, the list included ammo acids, blood serum, cells from fetal animals, Easter lily bulbs, hydrogen peroxide, ozone, polio vaccine, pond scum, snake venom, vitamins, and the sufferer's own filtered urine. The general public also, frightened and slow to comprehend clearly the routes of AIDS transmission, could be victimized; many bought a plastic shield to cover the mouthpieces of public telephones, a device that allegedly protected a person from the infectious breath and saliva of previous users. Regulatory officials faced a fearful burden.

In some ways, sex frauds have victimized both sexes simultaneously. However, gender distinctions have also been evident, for example in the proliferation of "men's specialists." Cosmetic quackery has been a woman's specialty, and appeals to beauty have often had a sexual implication. In 17th-century London, many creams, powders, and pills were pitched to enhance or restore the complexion, even to eliminate smallpox scars. One product was frankly named Amorous Powder. Two centuries later, American women could purchase Juno Drops and Blush of Youth. Sexual allure became a central theme in 20th-century cosmetic and perfume promotion.

The mid-19th century saw a boom in bust-development advertising, many ads employing before and after illustrations to startling effect Products bore names like Mammaleon and Mammarial Balm. This field of enterprise continued into the 20th century with mechanical devices offered in addition to creams; both received the attention of regulators. In the 1950s, a plastic surgeon asserted "Today our civilization is in the midst of a 'breast cult' or 'bosom craze,' with men more aroused by breasts than by genitalia." In his practice, he augmented breasts with surgiform sponges. Such "breastplasty" aroused the skepticism of the American. Medical Association Augmentation procedures continue to make alarming headlines.

Problems peculiar to women have prompted promotions over the centuries. The inability to conceive provided a market for a gentlewoman in 17th-century London whose handbill boasted of her "knowledge of the Best, Rarest, and most Wonderful Secrets which Art and Nature can afford for the cure of Barrenness." Two centuries later, an American promoter resorted to verse:

Lucina Cordial!—Barren wives
It turns to mothers fair,
And the fond name of father gives
To husbands in despair.

(Of course, the problem could have been the husband's infertility, in which case the ad might have recommended the Van Graef Sexual Troche.)

The broad-gauged female tonics pioneered by Lydia E Pinkham's Vegetable Compound promised to help women not only become pregnant but also avoid miscarriage and lessen the arduousness of labor. Dr Pierce's Favorite Prescription offered such assurances and more taking the medicine guaranteed "healthy vigorous offspring, and promote [d] abundant secretion of nourishment on the part of the mother." In time similar claims led to misbranding charges against a nostrum named Mother's Friend.

Mrs Pinkham first marketed her compound—a brew of several botanicals and 19 percent alcohol—in 1875, and her promotion exploited the obtuseness of orthodox male physicians in treating female complaints. The advertising approach was largely responsible for the product's commercial success. Early labeling for the compound termed it "A Sure Cure for Prolapsus Uteri, or Falling of the Womb and All Female Weakness, [and] Weakness of the Generative Organs ." The compound's many competitors made similar claims until eventually restrained by law.

If some women could not become pregnant when they wanted to, other women became pregnant without desiring it. At times, Mrs. Pinkham's Compound was subtly advertised as both a cure for barrenness and abortifacient. Many nostrums promoted as emmenagogues alleged to restore suppressed menstruation were bought in the belief that they would terminate pregnancy. These concoctions dated back to an English patent medicine, Hooper's Female Pills, sold in colonial America and into the 20th century as well. Many nostrums avowedly intended to produce abortions were also advertised in 19th century America. Shady abortionists in various cities had no difficulty placing their ads in the press.

Abortifacient nostrums in due course received the attention of the Bureau of Chemistry, which made known both the ineffectiveness and the hazards of products like Chichester's Diamond Brand Pennyroyal Pills. Later, in the 1930s and 1940s, the Food and Drug Administration earned on a continuous campaign against intrauterine pastes. Women who used them had suffered hemorrhaging and severe injuries, even in some cases death. Two promotors of such pastes were sentenced to short terms in jail.

Sex fraud has exhibited many dire dimensions. Most of the reasons for resorting to it continue to exist, as do credulity and fear on the part of the public and unscrupulous greed on the part of promoters who prey upon the gullible. Therefore, cruel and dangerous deception may be expected to persevere.


Adams, S.H. The Great American Fraud. Chicago: American Medical Association, 1906.

Andrews, C.S. A Century's Criminal Alliance between Quacks and Some Newspapers. New York: Stettiner, 1905.

Bush, L.E., Jr. Mormon Elder's Wafers. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 10 (Autumn 1976).

Carson, G. The Roguish World of Dr. Brinkley. New York: Rinehart, 1960.

Cramp, A.J. Nostrums and Quackery. 3 vols. Chicago American Medical Association, 1912, 1921, 1936.

Francesco, G. The Power of the Charlatan. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1939.

McNeal, V. Four White Horses and a Brass Band. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1947.

Mohr, J.C. Abortion in America. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978.

Stage, S. Female Complaints: Lydia Pinkham and the Business of Women's Medicine. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979.

Thompson, C.J.S. The Quacks of Old London. Brentano's, 1928.

Trimmer, E.J. Rejuvenation. London: Robert Hale, 1967.

Young, J.H. American Health Quackery: Collected Essays. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1992.

Young, J.H. The Medical Messiahs. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1967.

Young, J.H. The Toadstool Millionaires. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1961.

James Harvey Young


Sigmund Freud, unlike Havelock Ellis and Magnus Hirschfeld, did not focus exclusively on sexuality. Rather he developed a comprehensive theory of human behavior that emphasizes sex as the central aspect of human development. In fact, Freud's most significant contribution to sexuality is his popularization of the importance of sex in human development.

Born at Freiberg in Moravia on May 6, 1846, Freud moved with his family to Vienna, where he lived until he was 82. Then, to escape the Nazis, he fled to London, where he died at the age of 93 on September 23, 1939.

Freud, like Krafft-Ebing, held that sexuality (a natural biological force Freud called the libido) is the most important factor in social existence and that it is important to direct the sex drives, not repress them. His publication of Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex in 1905 was greeted with outrage and derision by the establishment intellectuals of the day. Nonetheless, the movement he founded, psychoanalysis, persevered through the torrent of criticism and abuse that marked its emergence to become one of the most influential movements of the 20th century, particularly in the United States.

Unlike other instinctive needs, such as those for food and water, the instinctive need for love and sex, Freud believed, can be repressed by the society or the individual. Even so, its energy source remains, and Freud developed his theory of personality around the fate of the libido. The unfolding of these sexual energies from infancy on is central to Freud's theory of personality development. He taught that early in life, libido is channeled into certain body zones, which then become the center of eroticism. Progressively, individuals pass through psychosexual stages which Freud called oral, anal, phallic, latency, puberty, and genital. Each stage of development involves conflicts to resolve, if they are not, "fixation" occurs in which some libido remains invested in that stage and becomes reflected in adult behavior.

Of particular interest to Freud was the "Oedipal complex." He maintained that children of both sexes develop love and jealous relationships with their parents, first with the mother, then with the father. A boy must shift his identification to his father, although this process is complicated by the young boy's developing sexual desire for his mother, which leads him to fear that his father will cut off his penis. This castration fear leads the boy to repress his desire for his mother and begin to identify with his father. The female Oedipal complex, which some of Freud's students called the Electra complex, results in penis envy because the girl assumes she has been castrated. Blaming her mother for this loss, she shifts her attention to her father; but when she realizes that she cannot compete with her mother for her father's affection, she continues to identify with her mother and develops a feminine identity.

Freud paid comparatively little attention to most forms of variant sexual behavior, but his followers seized on his concepts to emphasize the environmental and accidental causes of variant impulses far more than did Freud, who was much more biologically oriented. Freud, however, also emphasized developmental causes, and though he regarded homoerotic behavior as a normal part of growing up, he held that most individuals move beyond this stage into adult heterosexuality; and so, by implication, adult homosexuality is a distortion of natural development. His explanations for the failure of certain individuals to move beyond the homoerotic phase center around the child-parent relationship, particularly the Oedipal phase. The boy, for example, suppressing his desires for his father, seeks to be like the woman who accepted his father; but unable to reconcile the incestuous sin of a father love, he seeks the father in other males. Such a boy might become effeminate, play the female role in the sex act, and become attracted to other men.

Freud's theories are mainly masculine in orientation, and for him women are essentially inferior to males. This assumption led Freud to conclusions that many feminists have long criticized (for example, his belief that women who have orgasms from stimulation of the clitoris are fixated at an immature phallic stage).

For a time, when psychoanalytic theories dominated American thinking on sexual development, the Freudian explanations seemed to be the only acceptable ones and much of the writing on sex, particularly in the United States, from 1930 to 1960 was dominated by psychoanalysts. Much of sexology since 1960 has focused on undermining many of the psychoanalytic explanations of Freud's followers, who allowed their theoretical assumptions to cloud their research findings. Freud, however, remains a seminal figure in the development of sex research.



Freud, S. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Group Psychology and Other Works. Vol. 18 of the Standard Edition. London: Hogarth Press, 1955.

Freud, S. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Edited and translated by J. Strachey. Reprint. New York: Basic Books, 1963.


Jones, E. The Life and Works of Sigmund Freud. 3 vols. New York: Basic Books, 1953-57.

Vern L. Bullough


Historical Perspective
Female-Male Friendship
Benefits of Friendship
Barriers to Female-Male Friendship
Favorable Conditions for Female-Male Friendship
Sexual Attraction and Female-Male Friendship

Friendship is usually thought of as a close, non-sexual relationship between members of the same sex. Unlike sex, which can be pressured, or love, which can be unrequited, friendship by definition is mutual, equal. Now that more men and women are employed in the same kinds of jobs and meet each other in work-related situations as peers, friendship between them is becoming a viable social option.

Strong cultural pressures are mounted against the development of such friendships, but the advantages to be derived transcend these barriers. These friendships can be the catalyst for breaking down the obstacles of sex-role stereotyping and form a revolutionary way for the sexes to interact. Cross-gender friendship could be the accepted basis of social and business networking for the next generation of men and women.

This entry describes risks and pitfalls to be negotiated before friendship between men and women can be free of the fear and suspicion that now surround it.

Historical Perspective

Aristotle proposed that friendships have three qualities. First is goodness, which is manifested in a relationship between two persons having mutual admiration for each other's loyalty or justness. Second, and to a lesser degree, is utility, present when two individuals value the benefits their friendship provides. Finally, is enjoyableness, exemplified by a friendship that is valued for the sheer pleasure inherent in the presence of the other. Other ancient philosophers cited characteristics men admired (e.g., bravery, loyalty, duty, heroism) as the measures for friends. It was, after all, the friendship of men with which these philosophers were concerned. Women were thought to be incapable of friendship, since they had no masculine attributes and were insufficient in loyalty and sincerity to sustain friendships, even with other women.

Until recently, society cast women in subservient roles, making a friendship of equals between men and women impossible in concept or practice. Although men and women could be colleagues, theirs were apt to be working relationships (e.g., mentor-protege or leader-follower) rather than friendships between equals and peers.

It is not surprising, then, that female-male friendship is an ignored topic in the social science literature. Yet the findings in the scant body of literature dealing with cross-sex friendships support the conclusion that some adults do experience these relationships and consider them a significant part of their lives.

Female-Male Friendship

Because cross-gender friendship is rare, there is no consensus about its nature, dynamics, and meaning. Even language describing this relationship is open to misinterpretation due to the often-maligned phrase of "just a friend."

Wright provides a good working definition for exploring the unique aspects of these relationships: "A voluntary or unconstrained interaction in which the participants respond to one another personally, that is, as unique individuals rather than as packages of discrete attributes or mere role occupants." To this, O'Meara adds other attributes: "Cross-sex friendship is nonromantic, purposefully dissociated from courtship rites, and includes the characteristic of equality." In other words, for a woman and a man to become friends they have to be able to let go of sex-role stereotypes and treat each other as equals and companions, not as potential dates or spouses.

Benefits of Friendship

Male friendships tend to be activity oriented, competitive, and focused on exchange of information about events and interests. In comparison with women's friendships, men's relationships are goal oriented, less personal, less disclosing, and less nurturing. Female friendships tend to be more intimate, confiding, and personally supportive. But despite their differences, both men and women benefit from the trust, acceptance, and enjoyment of friends. In attempting to identify the factors associated with mental health, the sociologist Nan Lin found friendship to be significantly related to good mental health Moreover, those research subjects with the most positive mental health had a confidant of the opposite sex.

Generally, men experience benefits from their friendships with women that are missing from their friendships with other men, such as nurturance, personal support, and intimacy. According to Rubin, when men said they had a best friend, that person was more likely to be a woman than a man. Women, in contrast, almost always named another woman as a best friend. Rubin reported that "it is common gossip among professional women, for example, that, while their male colleagues—married or single—will exchange professional talk with other men, when they want a sympathetic ear for their problems, whether personal or professional, they'll invite a woman to lunch." Men tend to offer less emotional support to their women friends; consequently, women report an imbalance of emotional rewards in their cross-sex relationships.

Women do benefit from these relationships, albeit in a different way than men. Through their male friends, who act as interpreters of the male psyche, women develop insight into how to relate to men, both personally and professionally. This wisdom not only improves their intimate relationships with men but also gives a boost to their careers. In a study of 50 successful career women, Ruman discovered that virtually all these subjects had experienced close friendships with males early on, during adolescence or childhood, and through these relationships learned how to approach men as people, rather than as mysterious strangers.

Of course, men as well as women gain an "insider's perspective" from their other-sex friends, but the connection to career success is less clear for men than it is for women. However, when researchers at the University of Michigan Business School asked more than 1, 000 executives (mostly male) to describe their on-the-job relationships, 22 percent reported sharing close emotional partnerships with other-gender colleagues that did not involve sex, and they said those friendships were a big plus in their careers. "These people shared a self-giving love that had a positive effect on the whole workplace, and in some cases even improved their romantic relationships at home," reported researcher Andrea Warfield.

Barriers to Female-Male Friendship

Societal Restrictions
Lack of Role Definition
Internal Barriers: Jealousy

Despite the obvious advantages of friendship between a man and a woman, it is mostly an ambiguous relationship, one that is regarded in many segments of society as vaguely disturbing or inappropriate. These friendships are suspect and not encouraged for several reasons: (1) society's rigid prohibitions against those relationships, (2) a lack of role definition, and (3) the intensity of internal restrictions, such as sexual jealousy.

Societal Restrictions

A major hurdle for men and women in quest of friendship is the age-old Noah's Ark concept: men and women are naturally destined to walk two by two to the altar and, of course, to multiply. This emphasis on the biological destiny of couples fuels the widely held assumption that all relationships between men and women must include mating to be meaningful. A platonic relationship is automatically regarded with misgivings because of the belief that any adult transaction between men and women has to be linked to seduction and sex.

As a result, male-female friendships have a deviant status because they tend to be regarded as failed romances—not "real" relationships. Couples often feel pressure from relevant social networks that may propel two friends into a dating relationship, when friendship might be more appropriate and desired.

Lack of Role Definition

Because man-woman friendships are ignored or not recognized, society provides no role structure or guidance for their initiation and development. There are no norms, or the norms are unclear, and there is a dearth of role models.

Exacerbating the problem is that the potential for these friendships is sabotaged in the bud. It begins in childhood, when sex separatism is rigorously ingrained. Most parents rear male and female children with very different messages about sex-appropriate behaviors. By school age, the psychologist S.B. Damico says, boys and girls establish separate social systems, have only limited contact with each other, and act as though members of the opposite sex are horrible and to be avoided at all costs. In school, sex enmity is taught by segregating girls and boys into separate lines or pitting them against each other in spelling bees or volleyball. Boys and girls learn quickly that to cross the lines of sex demarcation is to risk the slurs of sissy or tomboy. After years of separation and mutual contempt, adolescents find it difficult, if not threatening, to enter alien territory to initiate a friendship. Future adult relationships are distorted by this early casting of men and women into opposite sex roles and the teaching of the cultural lesson that males and females are incompatible.

Older people, in particular, have had difficulty visualizing the prospect of a man-woman friendship. In Adams's 1985 study of friendships among elderly women, virtually none of the respondents could distinguish between cross-sex friendships and courting relationships. She wrote that "since [the respondents] generally considered cross-sex friendships as romances, they evaluated potential male friends as potential mates and rejected them.... Cross-sex friendships had been outside the realm of most of their life histories."

Internal Barriers: Jealousy

The possibility that friendship could lead to physical intimacy, or that it could arouse jealousy, is most frequently cited as the reason why friendship between men and women will not work.

The fragile feeling of being "most important" in the life of the person one loves can be threatened by cross-sex friendship. The fear is that the love relationship could be jeopardized by other emotionally intimate bonds experienced by one's mate or lover. According to this notion, love and intimacy are finite; there is only so much to go around. If love is given to a friend, there will not be enough left for a primary relationship.

A man can be jealous of his lover's intimacy with her female friends, and certainly a woman can be jealous of her male lover's camaraderie with men. But these emotions pale by comparison to the anxiety aroused by a male-female friendship. As Friday observed, "Jealousy is a protective emotion that alerts us to defend what we cherish."

We are taught to guard jealously not only our emotional place in our primary relationships but also the physical exclusivity of these relationships as well. Because of the belief that sexual involvement is inevitable, those who are married or in other primary relationships are apt to tread lightly in developing new friendships lest they generate fears or jealousy in their mates.

Such fears tend to seal off most people from the possibility of having a cross-sex friendship. A study by Henri Rix revealed that 80 percent of married people do not have friends of the opposite sex, and about half do not have "best" friends or "good" friends of either sex outside their marriages.

Favorable Conditions for Female-Male Friendship

Despite the obstacles, friendships between men and women are becoming more common where there are places to meet and opportunities to associate with one another. A conducive setting tends to be found most often in the workplace, school, club or association, or athletic organization.

Young, college-educated professionals who work or associate with many people of the opposite sex are most likely to participate in male-female friendships. Moreover, people who have other-sex friends tend to belong to professions or associations in which women have achieved a high degree of equality with men.

Early relationships and associations also play a role in the development of cross-sex friendships. Women with brothers are more comfortable with male friends than are women without brothers . Anyone—man or woman—who had either some type of early, close cross-gender friendship or a sibling of the opposite sex is more likely to develop other-sex friendships in adult life than those who did not. Clearly, these associations remove some of the mystery of the opposite sex and enable both men and women to regard each other simply as human beings.

Sexual Attraction and Female-Male Friendship

Platonic Relationships
Friendships That Include Sex

Platonic Relationships

What distinguishes platonic friendships from sexual relationships is not so much the absence of sexual attraction as the decision not to become sexually involved. People choose to be friends rather than lovers for countless reasons, including the existence of other romantic attachments or differences of temperament or life-style Alternatively, perhaps the addition of sex would add uncomfortable complications to the relationship or destroy it altogether.

Men are more likely than women to initiate friendships on the basis of sexual attraction. Men also tend to have difficulty distinguishing between platonic and sexual signals from their women friends, especially if the cues are subtle. Shotland found that men are less likely than women to differentiate among liking, loving, and sexual-interest cues and more likely than women to "perceive people to be interested in sex."

Most men and women friends are able to recognize and appreciate their mutual attraction without feeling compelled to act on it. The sexual chemistry in a friendship may always be strong, but usually the feeling peaks, then subsides or goes into low gear.

Friendships That Include Sex

There is widespread disagreement over whether a friendship between a man and a woman that does include sex should be termed a "friendship " Some observers say that sex has no place in a friendship—that the terms "sexual relationship" and "friendship" are mutually exclusive. Others assert that bona fide friendships can include sex.

"Feelings that arise in a sexual friendship may not be the eternal love sworn by married couples, but these emotions are nonetheless real," says the psychologist Richard Walters. People who have had sexual friendships say that sex is a natural, accepted expression of a loving, caring relationship. But for any number of reasons, it is not a relationship in which the partners view themselves as lovers or potential mates.

The particular problem with sexual friendships is that, at some point, one partner's expectations may change. One might begin to desire a romantic love affair—and the feeling may not be reciprocated.


Male-female friendship can be as difficult as love, perhaps more so, because, unlike love, it often lacks prescribed roles and the support of society. Moreover, it lacks a defined priority among the other relationships men and women experience. A man's female friend is likely also to be someone else's lover or wife. Likewise, a woman's male friend is involved in other roles and relationships. A friendship between a man and a woman has to be cultivated with respect given to the loyalty limitations imposed by primary commitments. It requires coming to terms with sexual tension, should it exist, as well as with the limitations of time and energy and the demands of intimacy itself.

Despite the different friendship styles of men and women, there is, without question, a common meeting ground on which they can become friends. Both have a need for intimate relationships that are not bound by exclusivity, that involve someone who can give insight into a different world, and that are free from the electrically charged atmosphere surrounding spouses or lovers.

As women increasingly enter the labor force, traditional restraints on friendship between the genders are softening. It is becoming more acceptable for a man and a woman to be friends if they work together, are in the same professional field, or are networking; however, there are still restrictions.

Having a discussion at the office, over lunch, or on the way home from work is considered to be appropriate behavior for a male-female friendship. Attending a movie or dining at an upscale restaurant for the evening meal tends to arouse suspicions, particularly if these activities take place during nighttime hours. These observations mean that for friendship between men and women to flourish, there has to be acceptance and support among relevant audiences (i.e., the spouses, friends, and coworkers of the friendship couple). The challenge, then, is for cross-gender friends to develop a shared definition of the bond they experience and to adopt a strategic position in presenting the authenticity of their friendship to others, especially those who would disapprove of it or feel most threatened.

Cross-gender friendship is still uncharted territory, but as men and women begin to know each other as people, the kind of sexism that leads to exploitation and manipulation will diminish. In the comfortable atmosphere of friendship, men and women will develop more empathy for each other as vulnerable and unique individuals.

A provocative aspect of the new alliance formed between men and women lies in the public arena. Undoubtedly, men and women who are unabashedly intimate friends—platonic or erotic— will shake up the segregated sex roles of society's old order by calling for a permanent truce in the battle of the sexes. Female-male friendship is a concept whose time has come.


Adams, R.G. People "Would Talk: Normative Barriers to Cross-Sex Friendships for Elderly Women. The Gerontologist, Vol. 25 (1985), pp. 605-11.

Aukett R., J. Ritchie, and K. Mill. Gender Differences in Friendship Patterns. Sex Roles, Vol. 19 (1988), pp. 57-66.

Booth, A., and E. Hess. Cross-Sex Friendship. Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 36 (Feb. 1974), pp. 38-47.

Buhrke, R.A., and D.R. Fuque. Sex Differences in Same- and Cross-Sex Supportive Relationships. Sex Roles, Vol. 17 (1987), pp. 339-52.

Bukowski, W.M., B. Nappi, and B. Hoza. A Test of Aristotle's Model of Friendship for Young Adults' Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Relationships. Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 127, No. 6 (1987), pp. 595-603.

Burker, E.J., M.W. Goldstein, and G.C. Caputo. Effects of Siblings of the Opposite Sex on Friendships. Psychological Reports Vol. 48 (1981), p. 190.

Cassell, C. The Final Frontier: Other-Gender Friendships. SIECUS Report (Oct. -Nov. 1989).

Griffin, E., and G.C. Sparks. Friends Forever: A Longitudinal Exploration of Intimacy in Same-Sex Friends and Platonic Pairs. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Vol. 7 (1990), pp. 29-46.

Lin, N. Friendship Between the Sexes. In L. Pogrebin, Among Friends. New York: McGraw-Hill (1987), p.335.

Metts, S., W.R. Cupach, and R.A. Bejlovec. "I Love You Too Much to Ever Start Liking You": Redefining Romantic Relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Vol. 6 (1989), pp. 259-74.

O'Meara, J.D. Cross-Sex Friendship: Four Basic Challenges of an Ignored Relationship. Sex Roles, Vol. 21 (1989), pp. 525-43.

Pogrebin, L. Among Friends. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987.

Rose, S.M. Same- and Cross-Sex Friendships and the Psychology of Homosociality. Sex Roles, Vol. 12 (1985), pp. 63-74.

Rubin, L.B. On Men and Friendship. Psychoanalytic Review, Vol. 73, No 2 (1986), pp. 165-81.

Sapadin, L.A. Friendship and Gender: Perspectives of Professional Men and Women. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Vol. 5 (1988), pp. 387-403.

Shotland, R.L. Can Men and Women Differentiate Between Friendly and Sexually Interested Behavior? Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 1 (1988), pp. 66-73.

Sigal J., et al. The Effect of Romantic and Nonromantic Films on Perception of Female Friendly and Seductive Behavior. Sex Roles, Vol. 19 (1988), pp. 545-54.

Wright, P.H. Self-Referent Motivation and the Intrinsic Quality of Friendship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Vol. 1 (1984), pp. 115-30.

Carol Cassell
Nancy Keith


"Frotteurism" derives from a French word of unknown origin, frotter, which means to rub, chafe, stroke, or caress. One who performs the activity is a "froterer" or "frotteur."

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-III R, 1987), defines frotteurism (also called "touchism") as the continuing sexual arousal and fantasies brought about by rubbing against or touching a fully clothed, nonconsenting person. The touching may be directed toward a particular body part or may be a more general caress. The activity is usually performed by a young male toward a female, and it usually occurs under crowded conditions (e.g., on a bus, in a subway, or on a crowded walkway). Frotteurism is often performed in conjunction with other paraphilias (e.g., voyeurism, exhibitionism, or rape). The froterer may visualize having an affectional relationship with the object of his attention but feels a strong need to get away before his activity is discovered. The person being touched is rarely harmed and usually considers the attention a minor annoyance.

More broadly defined, frotteurism is the rubbing of any part of the body with another part of the body or some other, perhaps inanimate, object In this context, frotteurism is often incorporated into masturbation, either of oneself or of someone else. It is not uncommon for a woman to rub her clitoris with her finger or to experience sexual feelings when she rubs her thighs together. She may do this while performing household functions, such as sitting at a sewing machine or ironing. Men, women, and children have been observed to rub their genital areas against a cushion, pillow, chair, or other furniture. Crossing the legs to bring thigh pressure to the sexual regions of the body has been used for sexual stimulation, often accompanied by swinging a leg or foot to increase the friction. Particular parts of the body are sometimes requested to be used to stimulate the genitalia: for example, a foot fetishist may request that the froterer use the feet to rub his erect penis before orgasm can occur.

Frotteurism is often used by young people to achieve sexual release without the fear of getting pregnant. A girl will rub the genital area of her boyfriend until he reaches orgasm. He will return the favor. Since this rubbing often takes place through the clothing of the boy or girl, there is no penetration and thus no fear of pregnancy. An individual may also rub the genitals of a member of his or her own sex in a homosexual context. A man may rub his penis against the buttocks of a partner, or two men may rub their penises together through their clothing to achieve orgasm. Because there is no direct exposure of the penis and no anal or oral contact with the penis, some men use this method of homosexual expression to enable each participant to retain the perception of his "masculinity." Homosexual men sometimes stuff a pillow into a pair of jeans or other masculine clothing and achieve orgasm by rubbing their penis on the clothing. In the age of AIDS, some homosexual men are using these methods as a means of assuring safe sex. When two women rub their genital areas together, either through clothing or when naked, the action is called tribadism and lesbians are sometimes called tribades for this reason.


Allgeier, E.R., and A.R. Allgeier. Sexual Interactions. Lexington, Mass: D.C. Heath, 1991.

Katchadourian, H.A. Fundamentals of Human Sexuality. 5th ed. Fort Worth, Tex.: Rinehart & Winston, 1989.

James D. Haynes

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