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A range of terms has been used in the past to describe variant forms of sexual behavior. Early writings on sex often referred to pathologies, perversions, and deviant or unnatural sex, while others tried to be less judgmental by using terms such as "variant sexual practices" or even "stigmatized sexual practices." Popularly, such behaviors were often called bizarre or kinky. Now they are increasingly called paraphilias, a term derived from the Greek para, meaning alongside of, beside, or beyond, and phile, literally "other loves."

Paraphilia is defined as an erotosexual and psychological condition characterized by recurrent responsiveness to an obsessive dependence on an unusual or socially unacceptable stimulus. The term has become a legal synonym for perversion or deviant sexual behavior, and it is preferred by many over the other terms because it seems more neutral and descriptive rather than judgmental. The combining form "philia" can be used with various prefixes to describe general categories. Hypophilia, for example, is a term used to describe responses below the normal range, and several sexual dysfunctions belong to this category, such as inhibited sexual desire. Hyperphilia, in contrast, refers to responses above the normal range, such as Don Juanism or nymphomania.

Many of the terms listed below appear in some of the literature, but not all of them are widely used. Sometimes the same phenomenon is described by two or more terms. The most complete listing can be found in the writings of John Money, who coined many of them, although some date from the 19th century and Richard von Krafft-Ebing's attempt to describe sexual pathologies.


Sexually Attracted to or Aroused by


Amputee partner


Older person imitating an adolescent



Amputation fetish

Amputee partner


Bisexual orientation


Impersonating a male


Partner who is a male impersonator or a female-to-male transsexual




Fantasizing about becoming an amputee


Erotic self-strangulation


Being observed or appearing on stage or in film while engaged in sexual activity


Staging one's own masochistic death

Autoerotic death

Near-death or imagined death, and death when miscalculation is involved


Self-inflicted whipping


Self-inflicted pain


Imagining oneself as a corpse


Impersonating an infant or being treated as a baby (also called infantilism)


Impersonating an infant or being treated as one


Sexual love of self


Aroused by looking at one's own body or genitals


Sex with animals


Surprise and violent attacks on strangers

Bondage and discipline

Sadomasochistic practices and fantasies


Being charged or forced to pay for sexual services


Creating graffiti about excrement


Thinking about, seeing, smelling, or handling feces


Eating feces


Smell or taste of feces or seeing someone defecate


Being diapered


Listening to accounts of, or observing, sexual encounters


Male cross-dressing


Postpubertal or adolescent partner

Erotic pyromania


Erotic strangulation

Erotic self-strangulation


Obscene talk


Preoccupation with or morbid exaggeration of sexual matters


Lust murder


Publicly exposing one's genitals


Any nonsexual inanimate object or a nongenital body part (e.g., the foot)


Small creatures, ants, insects, or snails crawling on genitals


Rubbing against a stranger in a public place


Having a much older sexual partner

Golden shower

Female urinating on male


Impersonating a woman


Having a sexual partner who is a transvestite or male-to-female transsexual


Lust murder, erotophonophilia


Partner of the same sex


Sexual partner who is a criminal


Touching or feeling skin, fur, hair, leather, or fabric


Erotic self-strangulation


Impersonating an infant and being treated as a baby; autonepiophilia


Impersonating a juvenile and being treated as such by a sexual partner


Compulsive stealing


Compulsive stealing


Being given an enema


Receiving punishment, discipline, humiliation; forced servitude


Watching others engage in sexual intercourse

Mixoscopia bestialis

Watching someone have sex with an animal


Partner with one leg


Partner whose body characteristics are exaggeratedly different or prominent from one's own


Recurrent short-term limerance (i.e., falling in love with new partners)


Something soiled or filthy (i.e., underwear, menstrual pads)


Using or hearing dirty or obscene words or reading or listening to erotic narrative in the presence of a sexual partner


Corpses and death


Sexual activity with a corpse


Infants; a pedophile attracted to infants


Smells and odors emanating from parts of the body, especially sexual areas


Smells and odors emanating from parts of the body, especially sexual areas


Adolescent males


Girl or boy who is prepubertal or in first stages of puberty


Girl or boy who is prepubertal or in first stages of puberty

Peeping Tom



Exhibitionism; evoking surprise, dismay, or shock, from a stranger by exhibiting the penis


Viewing erotic pictures, films, or other images alone or with a partner


Repetition of the same activity many times with many partners


Writing sexually obscene material and graffiti




Sexual intercourse by force


Meeting resistance of a nonconsenting victim to a sexual assault


Meeting resistance of a nonconsenting victim to a sexual assault


Particular smells


Women's shoes


Humiliating, punishing, torturing, inflicting pain on others


Reciprocal interaction of sadist with masochist


Filth, ugliness, deformity


Talking about sexual or obscene matters to an unknown person

Scoptophilia, passive

Having other people view one's genitalia

Scoptophilia, active

Viewing sexual acts or others' genitalia


Intruding on and fondling a sleeping stranger


A partner who is tatooed or scarified, or having oneself tatooed, particularly in the genital area


Stage-managing a disaster and then observing it

Telephone scatophilia

Talking about sexual or obscene matters to an unknown listener over the telephone; recent variant is computer scatophilia


Surreptitiously touching a stranger on an erotic body part (i.e., breasts or genitals)




Observing one's partner having sex with another


Urine and urination


Smell and taste of urine


Being urinated upon or swallowing urine


Covertly watching another person undressing or engaging in sexual activity


Oral contact with animals or smell of animals


Sex with animals


Inflicting pain on animals

There are many other paraphilias as well, since new ones are continually being coined.


Money, J. Lovemaps. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1986.

Vern L. Bullough


Parthenogenesis is the spontaneous or artificially induced development of an ovum. into a fully functional organism without fertilization by a sperm. Literally, the term means "virgin birth." Natural forms of parthenogenesis are limited to the invertebrates, insects, and a few lizards.

Some animal species regularly mix parthenogenetic (asexual) reproduction with sexual reproduction. In such species, both male and female individuals occur. Examples of this include many species of tropical fish, such as mollies and platies, and insects such as the aphids or plant lice. In the latter, seasonal and diet controls determine whether sexual or parthenogenetic reproduction occurs.

Other species are monochoric or monecious, meaning that all members of the species have the same type of gonad, namely ovaries. In monochoric species, the ovum is usually diploid, having two complete sets of chromosomes. Only "females" are produced in such species, and these are genetically identical with the parent. When a whole species is monochoric and reproduces only by parthenogenesis, there are strictly speaking no males or females, only unisexed parthenones.

Among bees, haploid male drones produce haploid sperm and mate with a queen, a fertile female. Such matings produce hundreds of diploid but sterile female workers. If a diploid female larva is fed a special royal jelly, it will become a fertile queen. The queen also produces haploid male drones by parthenogenesis.

The whiptail lizards (Cnemedophorus uniparens) are exclusively parthenogenetic. Egg-producing parthenones seek out a nonovulating mate with whom they go through a kind of mating ritual without mating. This activity suggests a bisexual potential in the brain, since an individual whiptail can play either of the sexually dimorphic roles in the mating ritual. The ritual appears to release pituitary hormones that expedite egg formation and increase clutch size. All whiptails are triploid, with no diploid males or females.

Parthenogenesis has been clinically induced in a variety of animal species—frogs, sea urchins, and even mice—by producing sublethal damage to the surface of the ovum by chemical or physical means. Parthenogenesis does not occur in humans.

Parthenogenic origin, being born of a virgin mother impregnated by a god, is commonly claimed for religious prophets such as Jesus and Buddha and legendary leaders such as Genghis Khan and the Roman Emperor Augustus.


Berrill, N.J. Sex and the Nature of Things. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1953.

Crews, D. Functional Associations in Behavioral Endocrinology. In J.M. Reinisch, L.A. Rosenblum, and S.A. Sanders, eds. Masculinity/Femininity: Basic Perspectives. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987.

Lawrence, R. The Poisoning of Eros: Sexual Values in Conflict. New York: Augustine More Press, 1989.

Ranke-Heinemann, U. Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven. New York: Doubleday, 1990.

Robert T. Francoeur



Passionate Love and Sexual Desire: Cultural and Historical Perspectives

I.  Definitions of Passionate Love and Sexual Desire
II.  Anthropological and Evolutionary Perspectives
III.  Historical Perspectives
IV.  Cross-Cultural Perspectives
 A.  The Cross-Cultural Data
  1.  Susceptibility to Passionate Love
  2.  Intensity of Passionate Love
IV.  Directions for Future Research
 A.  Historical Differences in the Meaning of Passionate Love and Sexual Desire
VII.  Gazing Into The Future
 A.  From Male Supremacy to Gender Equality
 B.  The Pursuit of Happiness and the Avoidance of Pain
 C.  A Belief That Things Can Change for the Better

        Today, the scholarly world is in a state of creative ferment.  Western views are yielding to more global perspectives, academic isolation to multi-disciplinary cooperation; important intellectual territories are being staked out, new questions posed, and new methodologies utilized in the quest for new kinds of answers.  

Few multi-disciplinary marriages offer more promise than that between history and psychology.  Until recently, history was, in the main, the study of the public arena and of power-of kings, presidents, generals, and war; now it has become the study of Everyone.  Once historians were interested in "history from the "top down."  Today, a generation of psychological historians is committed to exploring the activities of humankind from the "bottom up."  Their pioneering research has cast a dazzling light into the dark corners of history.  These scholars have much to say about such "private" and "psychological" concerns as marriage, love, sexuality, and intimacy; family life, women's issues, child rearing, and emotions.

         Their observations and conclusions are fascinating in-and-of themselves; in addition, by opening up windows to the past, they also furnish social scientists with a wider perspective on the past, present, and future.  Psychology, like the other social sciences, once focused almost exclusively on one area, the West, and on one dimension of time: the present.  But now new and exciting possibilities present themselves.  Historians help us gain an understanding of culture's impact on people's attitudes, emotions, and behavior.  In this era-when it has become faddish to attribute all gender and human differences to our evolutionary heritage and biology-cultural and historical insights provide a much needed balance.  History reminds us that people's greatest strength may the diversity and flexibility that has allowed us to survive and prosper in an amazing array of ecological niches; to explore this planet and beyond.  A knowledge of history also provides a perspective which allows us make informed guesses about the future of ourselves, our families, and the planet.  So valuable is this research, that we wish all social scientists could know more about it.  (To help to advance this goal, we'll cheerfully send our bibliography of this psychological/historical research, conducted over the past 20 years, to anyone who writes us asking for it.)

I.  Definitions of Passionate Love and Sexual Desire

Passionate love (sometimes called "obsessive love," "infatuation," "lovesickness," or "being-in-love") is a powerful emotional state.  It has been defined as:

A state of intense longing for union with another.  Passionate love is a complex functional whole including appraisals or appreciations, subjective feelings, expressions, patterned physiological processes, action tendencies, and instrumental behaviors.  Reciprocated love (union with the other) is associated with fulfillment and ecstasy.  Unrequited love (separation) with emptiness, anxiety, or despair (Hatfield & Rapson, 1993, p. 5).  

        The Passionate Love Scale was designed to assess the cognitive, physiological, and behavioral indicents of such love (Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986).

        Social psychologists tend to use the terms passionate love and sexual desire almost interchangeably.  This is not surprising.  Passionate love has been defined as "a longing for union," while sexual desire has been defined as "a longing for sexual union" (Hatfield & Rapson, 1995, p. 3).  As Susan and Clyde Hendrick (1987) noted:

It is apparent to us that trying to separate love from sexuality is like trying to separate fraternal twins: they are certainly not identical, but, nevertheless, they are strongly bonded (p. 282).

        In a recent study, Pamela Regan and Ellen Berscheid (Regan & Berscheid, 1995) found that most young people assume that although platonic love exists, one cannot be "in love" with someone unless he or she is sexually attracted to the beloved.


        Today, anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists generally take it for granted that passionate love and sexual desire are cultural universals.  Cross-cultural researchers and historians point out, however, that culture may have a profound impact on people's perceptions and feelings, and on their ideas as to what is appropriate and permissible in the expression of romantic and passionate feelings.  Let us review what these scholars have learned about the nature of passionate love and sexual desire.

        II.  Anthropological and Evolutionary Perspectives

         Recently, anthropologists have found compelling evidence in support of the contention that passionate love is a cultural universal.  William Jankowiak and Edward Fischer (1992), for example, argued that romantic love is a pan-human characteristic.  They searched for evidence of romantic love in a sampling of hunting and gathering societies included in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample.  They relied on five indicators to ascertain whether or not romantic love was present in a given tribal society: (1) accounts depicting personal anguish and longing; (2) the existence of love songs or folklore about such love; (3) elopement due to mutual affection; (4) native accounts affirming the existence of passionate love, and; (5) the ethnographer's affirmation that romantic love was present.  They found clear evidence of passionate love in 147 of the 166 tribal cultures.  In only one society was there no compelling evidence of romantic love.       

        III.  Historical Perspectives

        The earliest Western literature abounds in tales of lovers caught up in a sea of passion and violence: Odysseus and Penelope, Orpheus and Eurydice, Daphnis and Chloe, Dido and Aeneas, Abelard and Eloise, Dante and Beatrice, Romeo and Juliet.  In those stories, love was not expected to end well.  Romeo and Juliet, Ophelia and Hamlet, Abelard and Eloise did not fall in love and live happily ever after.  Romeo swallowed poison.  Juliet stabbed herself.  Ophelia went mad and drowned herself.  Hamlet was felled by a poisoned sword point.  Peter Abelard (a real person) was castrated and his beloved Eloise retired to a nunnery.

For more than 4,000 years, China's art and literature have been filled with stories of passionate love and sexual yearning.  In the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), the Jade Goddess recounted the story of a passionate young couple who defied their parents' wishes and eloped, only to fall into desperate straits (Ruan, 1991).  In Japan, love suicides have been an institution since the end of the 17th century (Mace & Mace, 1980).     

 It is clear, however, that though out the world, people's attitudes toward passionate love and sexual desire have changed markedly over time.  

In the Medieval Western world, a number of social factors conspired to make sexual activity unappealing-if not terrifying.  The early Catholic Church urged Christians to be celibate.  Reay Tannahill (1980) observed:

It was Augustine who epitomized a general feeling among the Church Fathers that the act of intercourse was fundamentally disgusting.  Arnobius called it filthy and degrading, Methodius unseemly, Jerome unclean, Tertullian shameful, Ambrose a defilement.  In fact there was an unstated consensus that God ought to have invented a better way of dealing with the problem of procreation (p. 141).

        The only conceivable excuse married couples had for engaging in non-passionate, tepid, duty-bound sexual activity was the desire to produce children.  So, for married couples, sex was grudgingly permitted.  But, as Tannahill (1980) points out:

Though not very often.  Some rigid theologians recommended abstention on Thursdays, in memory of Christ's arrest; Fridays, in memory of his death; Saturdays, in honor of the Virgin Mary; Sundays, in honor of the Resurrection; and Mondays, in commemoration of the departed.  Tuesdays and Wednesdays were largely accounted for by the ban on intercourse during fasts and festivals-the forty days before Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas; the seven, five, or three days before Communion; and so on (p. 146).   

        Secular authorities contributed to the fear-mongering clamor.  Until the 18th century, physicians generally assumed that masturbation was unhealthy.  Even well into the Enlightenment, Swiss physician Samuel Tissot (1766/1985) claimed that masturbation drained away men and women's strength and left them vulnerable to almost every ailment known to humankind, including: pimples, blisters, constipation, tuberculosis, blindness, insomnia, headaches, genital cancer, insanity, feeblemindedness, weakness, jaundice, nose pain, intestinal disorders, confusion, insanity, and a host of other grotesque maladies.  Daniel Defoe (1727), too, warned about the pitfalls of sexual excess:  "Whence come Palsies and Epilepsies, Falling-Sickness, trembling of the Joints, pale dejected Aspects, Leanness, and at last Rottenness, and other filthy and loathsome Distempers, but from the criminal Excesses of their younger times?" (p. 91).

        Until 1500 and continuing well into 1800, men wielded all the power.   As with the Chinese during Mao's Cultural Revolution, sexual intercourse generally lasted only a few minutes.  Most couples had never even heard of foreplay.  Men simply climbed on top, thrust for a few minutes, and ejaculated.  Women rarely enjoyed sex or experienced orgasm.  Women's pleasure in sex was also tempered by their fear of getting pregnant and perhaps dying in childbirth.  

In the Early Modern period, the double standard reigned.  Men's extramarital affairs were ignored; women's were not.  Women were regarded as the sexual property of men.  Their value was diminished if they were "loaned" out to anyone other than their legal owner.  In 1700, De la Rivière Manley, observed of a "fallen" woman:

"If she had been a man, she had been without Fault:  But the Charter of that Sex being much more confin'd than ours, what is not a Crime in Men is scandalous and unpardonable in Woman" (Cited in Needham, 1951, p. 272).  

As late as 1825, Sir John Nicholls declared that: "forgiveness on the part of a wife . . . is meritorious, while a similar forgiveness on the part of a husband would be degrading and dishonorable" (cited in Thomas, 1959, p. 202).

        Perhaps temptation was less rife in the early days of the Early Modern era.  Lawrence Stone (1977) pointed out that in this period, young men and women were unlikely to encounter anyone who was very sexually appealing in their daily lives.  People's hair was caked with lice.  They had bad breath and rotting teeth. They rarely bathed and their skin crawled with eczema, scabs, running sores, oozing ulcers, and other disfiguring skin diseases.   

        Men and women who engaged in sexual relations were likely to catch any number of venereal diseases.  (James Boswell, the 18th century biographer, contracted gonorrhea at least 17 times.)  Women suffered from gynecological problems-vaginal infections, ulcers, tumors, and bleeding which made sexual intercourse uncomfortable, painful, or impossible (Shorter, 1995).     

        Nor did people generally have much excess energy to "squander" on sex.  Robert Darnton (1984) described French peasant life in the 16th and 17th centuries this way:

Men labored from dawn to dusk, scratching the soil on scattered strips of land with plows like those of the Romans and hacking at their grain with primitive syckles. . . .  Women married late-at age twenty-five to twenty-seven-and gave birth to five or six children, of whom only two or three survived to adulthood.  Great masses of people lived in a state of chronic malnutrition, subsisting mainly on porridge made of bread and water with some occasional, home-grown vegetables thrown in.  They ate meat only a few times a year, on feast days . . . [and] often failed to get the two pounds of bread (2,000 calories) a day that they needed to keep up their health (p. 24) . . . .

        Whole families crowded into one or two beds and surrounded themselves with livestock in order to keep warm.  So children became participant observers of their parents' sexual activities.  No one thought of them as innocent creatures or of childhood itself as a distinct phase of life . . .

        The peasants of early modern France inhabited a world of stepmothers and orphans, of inexorable, unending toil, and of brutal emotions, both raw and repressed.  The human condition has changed so much since then that we can hardly imagine the way it appeared to people whose lives really were nasty, brutish, and short (p. 29).

        In the 300 years from 1500 to 1800, England and America showed stunning change in mentalité.  People began to question patriarchal and repressive attitudes and to adopt more individualistic, egalitarian, and permissive attitudes toward passionate love and sexuality.

        By the 1800s, most people had adopted a more individualistic orientation.  They possessed a stronger sense of personal autonomy and a stronger desire for personal freedom, the pursuit of happiness, and privacy; they became less concerned with kin and community.  Couples were now bound together by affection, sexual attraction, and habit rather than by ties of political, familial, or economic interest.  They were more sexually liberated and less guilt ridden; they began to countenance birth control to limit pregnancy.

In the early 1900s-fueled by rapidly changing notions as to the value of individualism, personal freedom, and personal happiness and by advances in birth control-the sexual revolution began to pick up speed.  In the 1960s, the women's movement sparked an explosion of change.  There is no question that today, in the 21st century, a startling change has occurred in the way men and women in the West view sensuality and sexuality.  There is, of course, no guarantee that this evolution in sexual freedom will forever continue.  (The AIDS epidemic has already slowed the pace of change.)  America may be poised on the threshold of another pendulum swing.  But the best bet is that there will never be a return to the kind of sexual "repression" or "restraint" (the term you use depends upon your value system) that existed prior to 1500.  The West is likely to continue to view sexual desire and expression positively.  The debate over how much affective individualism and how much communitarianism, how much sexual freedom and how much sexual restraint are ideal, is taking place over a narrower range and around a more tolerant base.  (Readers interested in other histories of Western sexuality should see Bullough, 1990; D'Emilio and Freedman, 1988; or Tannahill, 1980.)

One particularly intriguing and important phenomenon: it took the West over 500 years (from the Renaissance into the present) to accept "modern" ideas concerning love, sex, and intimacy.  In many non-Western cultures, however, these same historical changes seem to be occurring in a mere 50 years or less.  These changes come about as TV, MTV, movies, the Internet, DVDs, and expanded travel weave their webs.  It is as if some historical deity has pushed the fast- forward button on global change.

        Recently, of course, there has begun to be a world-wide backlash.  Non-Western ethnic groups have begun to celebrate their own cultures, traditions, and religions, and to resist wholesale Western cultural expansionism.  Throughout the world, people have begun to speculate about the possibilities of taking the best that the West has to offer, integrating it with cultural traditions that are uniquely their own, and rejecting the rest (Kagitçibasi, 1990).  Some feel it is best to turn back the clock and reject Westernization entirely, as was attempted by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and Mao during China's disastrous Cultural Revolution.  The dialectic between Westernization and resistance to it defines much of international life today, and different societies are seeking different balances.  It remains to be seen whether a nation can accept science, technology, rock and roll, and capitalism and keep out gender equality, democracy, avaricious materialism, and individualism.  

(In this chapter, space is necessarily limited.  For readers interested in the history of sex in China and other non-Western nations, see Hatfield & Rapson [1995], Kon [1993], and/or Ruan [1991].)

     Currently, the historical perspective suggests several questions for researchers interested in personal relationships: What aspects of love, sex, and intimacy are universal?  Which are social constructions?  Is the world becoming one and homogeneous . . . or are traditional cultural practices more tenacious and impervious to this sort of deep transformation than some have supposed?  

IV.  Cross-Cultural Perspectives

        Cross-cultural researchers point out that culture has a profound impact on how susceptible people are to falling in love, with whom they fall in love, and how passionate affairs work out.     

The world's cultures differ profoundly in the extent to which they emphasize individualism or collectivism (although some cross-cultural researchers would focus on related concepts: independence or interdependence, modernism or traditionalism, urbanism or ruralism, affluence or poverty).  Individualistic cultures such as the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, and the countries of northern and western Europe tend to focus on personal goals.  Collectivist cultures such as China, many African and Latin American nations, Greece, southern Italy, and the Pacific Islands, on the other hand, press their members to subordinate personal interests to those of the group (Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, McCusker, & Hui, 1990).  

         At one time theorists argued that passionate love was a uniquely Western phenomenon.  Harry Triandis and his colleagues (1990), for example, pointed out that in individualistic cultures, young people are allowed to "do their own thing."  In collectivist cultures, the group comes first.  Godwin Chu (1985, 1993) argued that although in America, romantic love and compatibility are of paramount importance, in China such things matter little.  Traditionally, parents and go-betweens arranged young peoples' marriages.  Parents' primary concern is not love and compatibility but men tang hu tui.  Do the families possess the same social status?  Are they compatible?  Francis Hsu (1985) and L. Takeo Doi (1963, 1973) contended that passionate love was a Western phenomenon, almost unknown in China and Japan . . . and so incompatible with Asian values and customs that it was unlikely ever to gain a foothold among young Asians.  

        Recent scientific evidence suggests that the cross-cultural theorists were wrong.

A.  The Cross-Cultural Data

        1.  Susceptibility to Passionate Love

It has been claimed that Americans are preoccupied with love and passion (Murstein, 1974).  Early researchers (Goode, 1959; Rosenblatt, 1967) assumed that romantic love was prevalent only in modern, industrialized nations.  The emerging evidence, however, suggests that men and women in a variety of cultures are every bit as romantic as Americans.  Susan Sprecher and her colleagues (1994) interviewed 1667 men and women in the United States, Russia, and Japan.  Passion was found to be far more common worldwide than the researchers expected.  Sprecher and her colleagues found that the percentage of those "currently in love" was surprisingly high in all three societies.  They had expected American men and women to be most vulnerable to love, the Japanese the least.  In fact, 59% of American college students, 67% of Russians, and 53% of Japanese students said they were in love at the time of the interview.  In all three cultures, men were slightly less likely than were women to be in love at the present time.  Surveys of Mexican-American, Chinese-American, and Euro-American students have found that in a variety of cross-national groups, young men and women show high rates of reporting being in love at the present time (Aron & Rodriguez, 1992; Doherty, et al., 1994).

2.  Intensity of Passionate Love

          What impact does culture have on how passionately men and women love one another?  In one study, Elaine Hatfield and Richard Rapson (1987) asked men and women of European, Filipino, and Japanese ancestry to complete the Passionate Love Scale.  To their surprise, once again they found that men and women from the various ethnic groups-individualist or collectivist-seemed to love with equal passion (see Table 1.)

Table 1
Intensity of Passionate Love in Various Ethnic Groups

Average PLS Score

Ethnic Group                     Men   Women

Euro-Americans (Mainland USA)  97.50  110.25
Euro-Americans (Hawai'i)      100.50  105.00
Filipino-Americans            106.50  102.90
Japanese-Americans             99.00  103.95

        In a survey of European-American, Chinese-Americans, Filipino-American, Japanese-American, and Pacific Islanders, William Doherty and his colleagues (1994) secured similar results.

        In summary: the preceding studies, then, suggest that any stunning differences that may have once existed between Westernized, modern, urban, industrial societies and Eastern, modern, urban industrial societies are fast disappearing.  Today, those interested in cross-cultural variations may be forced to search for them in the most underdeveloped, developing, and collectivist of societies-such as in Africa or Latin America, in China, or in the Arab countries (Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi-Arabia, Iraq, or the U. A. E.).  It may well be, of course, that even there the winds of Westernization, individualism, and social change are blowing.   

IV.  Directions for Future Research

        Thus far, we have focused on what cross-cultural, historical, and social psychological researchers have learned about the nature of love and sexual desire.  What about the future?  What directions might we expect theorists and researchers from these and other disciplines to take?  

        A.  Historical Differences in the Meaning of Passionate Love and Sexual Desire

During the Middle Ages, Western Crusaders, troubadours, and courtiers spun tales of the joys and searing torments of pure love.  Andreas Capellanus (1174/1941), in The Art of Courtly Love, set down the cruel rules of chivalry.  To be worthy of love, a woman must put herself beyond it; she must be noble, chaste, and so utterly virtuous as to be forever unattainable.  In his turn, the true lover must eagerly embrace not his beloved, but the Grail-like quest for love.  He must be willing to perform any deed, suffer any torment, to attest to the purity of his doomed love (Gay, 1986; Murstein, 1974; Tannahill, 1980).

        In the 7th and 8th centuries, Arab storytellers told a more complex tale of romantic, erotic, love.  One source of the tales were the professional storytellers, who florished in the cities of the Near East.  Reay Tannahill (1980) observed:

        The repertoire of these men, especially the Persians among them, was astonishingly varied.  They drew on the Bible and the Vedas, recounted the exploits of Greek heroes, Roman warriors, and Egyptian queens, told of angels and djinns, winged horses and magic carpets, of treasure houses on earth and dancing girls in paradise.  Their word pictures had a wild, exotic glamour that took possession of the Arab imagination (p. 235).

        Often, their stories were tales of the purest of love.  Pure love was a spiritual, romantic, and eternal kind of love.  The beloved was usually a dimly glimpsed woman, chaste, and forever unattainable.  (Generally, the beloved was a devout Muslim wife, imprisoned in a harãm).  This sort of love promised only yearning and exquisite torture.  

        Seductive slave singers, on the other hand, offered another vision of romance-love-desire.  This was a happier, rougher, sexier, and transient kind of love.  Here, the woman who caught the lover's eye (for the moment) was generally a slave singer-cultured, exquisite, deceitful, and very sexy.  Love-desire was not expected to last forever.  Men buzzed from flower to flower, enjoying whichever slave-singer or adolescent boy happened to catch their attention at the moment (Tannahill, 1980).  

        Although the Western Crusaders, troubadours, and courtiers and the Arab storytellers and slave singers tended to separate falling in love and making love, tenderness and lust, throughout history, for many people, the two were tightly connected.

In the last decade, social psychologists have become increasingly interested in laypersons' "naïve" perceptions of a variety of emotions, including love.  Social psychologists such as Beverley Fehr (1993, 1994; Fehr & Russell, 1991) and Julie Fitness and Garth Fletcher (1993) have used a "prototype analysis" to explore people's mental representations of passionate love and sexual desire (see also: Shaver, Schwartz, Kirson, & O'Connor, 1987).

Researchers find that there are cultural/historical differences in the way men and women view and have viewed passionate love.  In one study, Shelley Wu and Philip Shaver (1992; Shaver, Wu, & Schwartz, 1991) interviewed young people in America, Italy, and the People's Republic of China about their emotional experiences.  Passionate love is by definition a bitter-sweet experience.  Whether the emphasis is on the sweet or the bitter, however, seems to depend on one's culture.  American and Italian subjects tended to equate passionate love with happiness.  Chinese students, however, had a darker view.  In Chinese, there are few "happy-love" ideographs.  Love tends to be associated with sadness, pain, and heartache.  Chinese men and women generally associated passionate love with such ideographs as infatuation, unrequited love, nostalgia, and sorrow-love.

        We suspect that in the next few years social psychologists (utilizing such techniques), will devote increasing attention to the way that passionate love and sexual desire are defined and the meanings they have had at various times and places.  If theorists do set out on such explorations, historians, cross-cultural psychologists, and social psychologists offer some speculations on which they might choose to build.  

        Social psychologists interested in the social construction of emotions have pointed out that people may possess various mental representations of passionate love and may differ markedly in the ways in which such love is perceived, interpreted, labeled, and expressed (see Fehr, 1993, 1994; Fehr & Russell, 1991; Fitness & Fletcher,1993; and Hatfield & Rapson, 1993, 1995.)

        What about sexual desire?  Theorists have also speculated as to the various social constructions and meanings that sexual desire and sexual activity have had throughout time.  This work is probably less well known by personal relationship researchers than is the research on cultural differences in the meaning of "love," so we will discuss it in some detail.

Historians such as John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman (1988) point out that throughout history, people have assumed that it is appropriate to engage in sexual activity for a variety of very different reasons.  They observe:  

Sexuality has been associated with a range of human activities and values: the procreation of children, the attainment of physical pleasure (eroticism), recreation or sport, personal intimacy, spiritual transcendence, or power over others (p. xv).     

Others, too, have observed that in different historical eras, the words "love," "sex," and "intimacy," have carried profoundly different meanings (See also Bullough, 1990; Degler, 1980; D'Emilio & Freedman, 1988; Gay, 1984, 1986; Gillis, 1985; Hatfield & Rapson, 1995; Mintz, & Kellogg, 1988; Phillips, 1988; Stone, 1977 and 1990).  

        To determine the meanings that sexuality has in a given historical era, historians ask a number of questions: In what kinds of sources do references to "sexuality" appear-sacred or secular, personal or public?  What is the language of sexuality-are the dominant metaphors religious, medical, romantic, or commercial?  

        They find that in different historical eras, men and women have assumed that people should and do choose to engage in sexual activity for a variety of very different reasons.  For the thousand years in Europe after the fall of Rome, the Church sanctioned only procreation as a legitimate justification for "sinful" activity, although the exercise of power (mostly, though not exclusively of men over women) constituted a large part of the reality of sexual behavior.  

        In the modern era, among the new meanings-sometimes culturally-sanctioned, sometimes not-which D'Emilio and Freedman and other historians have ascribed to sex are: passionate love, spiritual transcendence, procreation, kindness (a "mercy fuck,"), eroticism (the attainment of physical pleasure, recreational sex, "sport fucking,"), self-esteem, mental and physical health (see China's recent emphasis on sex education), the formation of alliances, appeasement (the Bonobo), curiousity, excitement-seeking and thrills, self-aggrandizement, a desire to save the world, duty, power over others, submission to others (the other side of power), political revolt, revenge, to make a point, money, and health and long life (Yin and Yang)!

Sex researchers and sociologists, too, have explored the various meanings of sex.  They document that men and women from various groups cite many of the proceeding reasons in explaining why they chose to engage in sexual activity (see, for example, the landmark research of DeLamater & MacCorquodale, 1979; and Nelson, 1979).

        We speculate that in the next decade, social psychologists will discover a great deal more as to the meanings that have been ascribed to passionate love and sexual desire in various cultures and at different times.

        VII.  Gazing Into The Future

        Yale historian Robin Winks once said that writing history is "like nailing jelly to the wall."  Setting out to describe sweeping historical trends and then attempting to predict future trends in love, sex, and intimacy is even more difficult.  But despite the fact that history does not always move in a linear direction, let us make-with good cheer and a large, necessary dose of humility-a tentative effort.  

        First, recent evidence suggests that men and women in the West and in most modern societies are moving slowly and bumpily in the direction of social equality and freedom for all in the arenas of passionate love and sexual desire (although tolerance can be slowed by events such as the AIDS epidemic, backlash against permissiveness, and religious revivals.)  The global village created by worldwide communication, computers and satellites, information exchange, travel, and trade makes it hard to imagine that non-Western cultures can long hold off the advancing currents of individualism or that they can forever restrain the spirit of sexual equality and experimentation.  Of course, that revolution is far from being consummated-and healthy, honorable disagreement about the revolution remains ongoing.  

        We would predict that people throughout the world will come increasingly to accept a transforming trio of powerful ideas.  First, a belief in the equality of women and members of minority groups.  Second, a belief that the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain are desirable goals in life.  Third, a belief that it is possible to improve life and that action is preferable to the passive acceptance of age-old traditions.  Let us end this paper by briefly considering this trio of revolutionary ideas.

        A.  From Male Supremacy to Gender Equality

        The women's movement may be the most momentous social upheaval taking place in our lifetimes.  Though its sources lie in Euro-America, it is rapidly spreading around the world.  

        Of course, the world is still far from achieving gender equality.  As we enter the 21st century, male supremacy continues to be the rule worldwide-even in the West.  In 1993 and 1994, when Western and developing-world women joined together to speak first at United Nations human rights conferences in Geneva and Cairo, they itemized the staggering array of human rights violations that are routinely inflicted upon women throughout the world.  Girls are ritually mutilated in the Sudan and Somalia.  In Burma and Thailand very young girls are coerced into prostitution.  In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, household maids are often beaten and raped.  The list of abuses include female infanticide, genital mutilation, the sale of brides, dowry murders, suttee (in India, widows are still sometimes required to immolate themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres), and discriminatory laws against women's civic, social, and legal equality.    

        Yet, there are signs around the world that existing assumptions of the worthlessness of women (and the absolute rights of men to have their way over them) may not be immutable doctrines.  The recent Geneva and Cairo conferences are two examples.   Dramatic transformations in the role of women are infiltrating into some sanctuaries of the most deeply-entrenched male-dominated cultures.

        If these changes occur, they will continue to have an impact on the issues with which many of us are concerned.  In the arena of love and sex, we would expect men and women to move toward gender equality in their sexual preferences, feelings, and experiences.  We might expect to see the continued erosion of the sexual double standard.  We might see greater acceptance of heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality.   We might see broader cultural definitions of the institution of family combined with more creative social measures to support families while women work outside the home, with or without mates.

        B.  The Pursuit of Happiness and the Avoidance of Pain.

        The subversive notion which lies behind all modernization is the simple idea that in life people are entitled to pursue happiness and avoid pain.  Traditionally, many religions-including Christianity and most varieties of Hinduism and Buddhism, laboring to stem the tide of individualism and self-interest-asked people to accept what was given, to repress individual desire, indeed to regard such desire as sin.   Authoritarians, political and religious, have worked with great success to sell these propositions to their constituencies; they have been concerned with maintaining order and keeping down the unwashed masses.

        Although the validation of the pursuit of happiness only regained currency in the 18th century Enlightenment (after a very long absence), there is now evidence that the notion of pleasure and Thomas Jefferson's "pursuit of happiness" as a desideratum is gaining increasing acceptance worldwide.  If this trend continues, we might expect societies around the world to begin to accept a more positive view of passionate love and sexual desire (no longer seeing them as evil).  

We might also expect to see an increase in pre-marital sexual activity and sexual permissiveness, a growing acceptance of birth control, and a belief that individuals should be permitted to marry for love (rather than submitting to arranged marriages), and perhaps, even more important, permitted to terminate unhappy marriages by divorce.  Some historians (such as Lawrence Stone, 1990) regard the movement from non-separating to separating societies as among the most significant of all historical developments.

        C.  A Belief That Things Can Change for the Better

        Modernism has wrought its most far-reaching change with its onslaught on fatalism.  The possibility of progress outweighs hopelessness and resignation in most places in the world.     

Each year, Richard L. Rapson teaches a graduate seminar in which students spend the semester attempting to imagine what life will be like in the 21st century.  They consider the changes in the world that have occurred since 1500 and, given contemporary innovations, attempt to predict what is likely to happen if such trends continue.  The futurists at the University of Hawai'i, fully cognizant of the perils of such an enterprise, have come up with the following predictions:

In the economic/practical realm: (1) both spouses working outside the home; a continuation of the movement toward gender and economic equality; more consensual unions; more long-distance relationships; and more cyberspace relationships.  

In the technological realm: Improvement in birth control and abortion technology; more test-tube babies, clones, babies without fathers; a  cure for AIDS and for male and female impotence, both of which may eventuate (for better or worse) in greater sexual permissiveness; increased availability of pornography; and technological sex.  

In the cultural realm: increasing acceptance of interracial relationships; of homosexuality; and of more varied definitions of what society will mean by "family."  (The last would suggest that there will be many more childless marriages and, on the other side of the coin, better childcare services-each, along with consensual and homosexual unions, eroding the traditional dominance of the nuclear family.)  Men and women will be more experienced about sexual relationships.  The norm will not be stability but change.

All of our readers surely possess their own theoretical frameworks in the arenas of love, sex, and intimacy.  Whether or not you agree with our playful speculations, the attempt to look ahead into some sort of future has several advantages: (1) it provides an exciting test of existing psychological and historical theories and it introduces the element of time into our researches; (2) it is in the intersections of disciplines that some of the most productive intellectual activity is taking place these days.  (The combining of cross-cultural, historical, and psychological insights is likely to yield new knowledge); (3) when one looks at the broader picture, it helps to put theorizing based primarily upon contemporary findings into a broader perspective.

By all this, we mean to suggest there is an explosion of new questions to ask and new ways to find answers. We may be at the threshhold of an expansive and quite remarkable moment in intellectual inquiry.



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Elaine Hatfield and Richard L. Rapson



Pederasty was a custom valued in ancient Greece and Rome as well as other early societies in Africa, Australia, and New Guinea. It involved a sexual relationship between an adult man and a younger male, usually, but not always, an adolescent male. Reasons for the custom were based on love, education, learning gender roles, and puberty rites. It was not considered a barrier to heterosexual marriage and fatherhood. The concept of exclusive or obligatory homosexuality was not an issue in these cultures. Ambisexuality was normal.

In the fifth century B.C.E., Plato, in the opening of his Protagoras, has a companion talking with Socrates:

Companion: Where do you come from, Socrates? And yet I need hardly ask the question, for I know that you have been in chase of the fair Alcibiades. I saw him the day before yesterday; and he had got a beard like a man—and he is a man, as I may tell you in your ear. But I thought that he was still very charming.
Socrates: What of his beard? Are you not of Homer's opinion, who says "Youth is most charming when the beard first appears?" And that is now the charm of Alcibiades.

The issue here was that the companion was chiding Socrates because he thought Socrates' young lover was getting too old. In both ancient Greece and Rome, same-sex relations were considered as normal and acceptable as heterosexual relations are in our day. Some form of pederasty was accepted and valued in both cultures. (See article on Greeks.)

For some readers, it might be interesting to note that Jesus, most probably, had an encounter with a pederast and made no judgment on the practice. One cannot understand the history of the first century C.E. in Palestine without understanding the cultural context. Greek and Roman concepts were widely accepted and promoted by Hellenizers. It is likely that they were not trying to overthrow their ancestral way of life and customs but, like many in the 20th century, were trying to get their people to "keep up with the times" and modernize their approach to life; thus, many Jews were very accepting of common customs and practices of the Romans.

Jesus of Nazareth lived in a cultural context highly influenced by Greek and Roman tradition. There is a story in the gospels of Matthew (8:5-13) and Luke (7:1-10) that most certainly illustrates pederasty as not having a negative value in Jesus's thought. Most versions of the Bible are not accurate in their translation of the story of the centurion and his servant "boy." Most translators just use the term "servant" or "slave," leaving the implication of an adult. However, the Greek word used is the same as a youth in a homosexual relationship with a man (or a pederastic relationship). Biblical scholars believe that Matthew and Luke basically tell the same story taken from a common source, known as the Q source. Matthew's story reads as follows:

When Jesus arrived in Capernaum, a Roman army captain came and pled with him to come to his home and heal his servant boy (italics added) who was in bed paralyzed and racked with pain. [Note: Luke's version adds that the servant boy was very dear to him.]

"Yes," Jesus said, "I will come and heal him."

Then the officer said, "Sir, I am not worthy to have you in my home; (and it isn't necessary for you to come). If you will only stand here and say, 'Be healed,' my servant boy will get well! I know, because I am under the authority of my superior officers and I have authority over my soldiers, and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave boy, 'Do this or that,' and he does it. And I know you have authority to tell his sickness to go—and it will go!"

Jesus stood there amazed! Turning to the crowd he said, "I haven't seen faith like this in all the land of Israel! And I tell you this, that many Gentiles (like this Roman officer), shall come from all over the world and sit down in the Kingdom of Heaven with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And many an Israelite—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—shall be cast into outer darkness, in the place of weeping and torment."

Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, "Go on home. What you have believed has happened!" And the boy was healed that same hour!
(The Way: The Living Bible)

Since pederastic relationships were so common and accepted in the ancient world of Jesus, it is likely that, as the story indicates, Jesus himself had no problem with the practice of pederasty. In fact, Jesus was deeply impressed with the Roman army captain and states, "Nowhere, even in Israel, have I found such faith." From what we know, the relationship of the army captain to his beloved servant boy was probably as a mentor and educator into the world of manhood, as well as sexual. His role would be to introduce the young man to people who would later help him in his advancement, and the captain would teach him how to be a good citizen. It was probably also assumed that when the servant boy got older he would take his place in the world as a heterosexual (or bisexual) man, have a family, and initiate a new boy lover. Increasingly, however, the Romans became uncomfortable with the aristocratic and ruling class having their young men in this relationship and instead assigned young slaves to the pederastic relationship.

This increasing discomfort with pederasty may account for the view of Paul in the New Testament. In his letter to the Romans (1:27), Paul writes, "And the men, instead of having a normal sex relationship with women, burned for lust for each other, men doing shameful things with other men." Many biblical scholars believe that Paul is referring to the practice of pederasty in this passage, in that the Greek phraseology used in this verse is the same used to describe the pederastic relationship. He wanted to make the new religious expression based on Jesus Christ very distinct from Roman and Greek practices, so he would attack those customs and practices he felt to be alien.

Today, we would refer to the practice of pederasty as pedophilia or, in the case of early adolescence, ephebophilia. In the context of our culture, this is considered harmful and damaging to individual development. Indeed, in the context of our culture, this is often true. This illustrates how important cultural context is to understanding any particular sexual behavior. There seems to be nothing inherently harmful or damaging in sexual acts alone, but rather harmfulness and damage must be interpreted within the context of the way each particular behavior is seen in each culture and in terms of its long-range effects on the individual.


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William R. Stayton


Petting has come to mean noncoital physical touching designed to produce sexual pleasure between human beings in premarital, marital, or extramarital relationships, either homosexual or heterosexual. It may involve passionate kissing (sometimes differentiated from petting as "necking"), manual or oral genital touching, or any other form of tactile or oral stimulation of various body parts short of genital coupling. It is different from foreplay only in the sense that petting is an end in itself, while foreplay is considered a preliminary to sexual intercourse. Of course, a session of erotic touching can only be defined as petting or foreplay after the fact.

Each generation feels that it invented sex (at least, the pleasures it affords us), and each generation might be surprised to discover that all the petting techniques known today have been found in the art and writings of ancient civilizations. Today's generations do seem to be engaging in it at an earlier age, continuing the trend reported by Kinsey from data dating from the 19th century to 1953. A recent Roper poll among youths from 12 to 17 years old found that 73 percent of girls and 50 percent of boys identified social pressure from their peers as the primary reason for engaging in heavy petting. As social pressures against petting diminish, or even become supportive of it, an increasing number of people will engage in it. That petting is quite natural behavior for us can be gauged by the fact that it has been reported that all mammalian species engage in it (e.g., nuzzling, biting, smelling, scratching).

Despite the popularity of petting, the Judeo-Christian tradition has consistently frowned on it, even marital petting if it did not precede sexual intercourse for the purpose of procreation. A Protestant marriage manual by Bovet advises that any and all kinds of sexual excitement toward a young man's fiancée must be assiduously avoided "since it is not good for her"; Stolper gives similar advice in a Jewish Orthodox guide, which even extends the prohibition to holding hands. Catholic instructions, as put forth by Hettlinger, allow for kissing, but only as long as it does not cause a "reaction in the organs of generation." The authors of such proscriptions may as well be King Canute holding back the waves lashing the beach.

People engage in petting precisely because it causes a "reaction in the organs of generation," and because they find that reaction, and all other kinds of sexual touching, to be highly pleasurable. The skin is formed from the same layer of embryonic tissue that forms the brain, so it is no wonder we "light up" so brightly when being touched in intimate ways. Intimate sexual touching recalls the pleasures we once found snuggled in our mother's arms. The warmth of skin-to-skin contact, the sucking of our lover's breasts, the eye gazing all evoke deep and fond subconscious memories of the mother-infant bond—the template of all loving. Thus, we are not likely to respond favorably to exhortations such as, "Pet your dog, not your date."

Given that nature has devised a most agreeable way for humans to perpetuate themselves, the question is not so much why people pet but rather why they limit their sexual activity to petting. Petting without orgasm at an age when hormones are raging for expression echoes the masochism of the anorexic dieter who sniffs the feast without sampling it. Petting without orgasm leads to frustration and discomfort for both males and females, who may have to resort to solitary masturbation to relieve themselves after kissing their dates goodnight.

Why, then, in this day of available contraceptives, is petting still popular? The answer seems to be, despite all the talk about "sexual revolution," that many subcultures still place high value on female virginity. Petting to orgasm allows young people the sexual release they need while still maintaining "technical virginity." The French have a pejorative name for such a woman—demivierge (half a virgin). Petting to orgasm without actual intercourse allows young women to pleasure their dates (and themselves) and still be eligible for a marriage market that insists on female virginity. Parents who are apoplectic about the prospect of their children engaging in premarital intercourse—realizing that it is difficult, if not near impossible, to deny young lovers any kind of sexual outlet—may show an uneasy acceptance of petting. While some people consider petting to be a permissible alternative to sexual intercourse, some heavy petting techniques, such as fellatio and cunnilingus, are still considered criminal activities in some states, even within the bounds of marriage. While it is extremely rare to find such statutes being activated, it is not unknown for men in the United States to be imprisoned for engaging in oral sex, even with willing partners.

A major issue in petting is "how far to go." Crooks and Baur see it as a "contest between the young man and woman, he trying to proceed as far as possible and she attempting to go only as far as respectable." Hunt also views petting as something of a sexual skirmish in the battle between the sexes, with the boy trying to see how much he can get and the girl how little she can decently give in recompense for the attention lavished on her. The better he "made out," the higher was his status among his fellows, while the less she gave in, the more desirable she was considered to be. This male ambivalence (the desire to get, paired with contempt for the giver) appears to be ubiquitous and is probably the origin of the whore/Madonna image of women many men apparently hold. A recent national survey of 815 American males found that 67 percent of them expressed a dislike for women that "gave" on the first date. A survey of students at two universities found that both sexes considered females who had gone no further than petting the most suitable partners for dating or marriage.

All this indicates that a smart strategy for a female to pursue is to begin the dating relationship very slowly, increasing the intensity of her sexual favors as the relationship develops. Collins writes that "males date primarily for sexual conquest, whereas women use sex as a way of attracting men to flatter, entertain, and eventually marry them.... Sex is used progressively as bait that gets nibbled up bit by bit, with males paying for increasing sexual favors by increasing commitments." Thus, if a female slowly increases the intensity of her petting over a period, she holds out the tantalizing possibility of what is yet to come. Males in such a relationship may be frustrated, but if they stay in the relationship they will come to know the unique individual for what she is rather than as simply a sex object. Operant psychologists might term this as a "shaping" process, or various incremental stages to falling in love. Ellis shows that these mating tactics are used among many different species. If a female "goes all the way" on the first date, she reinforces the male's perception of her as a sexual object, and he will quickly move on to the next conquest.

Some interesting sex differences were found in a 1986 study of sexual attitudes and behavior. In a dating situation with no particular affection involved, 11 percent of the males and none of the females thought that heavy petting was proper behavior, although 18 percent of the males and 6 percent of the females reported that they had done so. Percentages of males and females who thought oral sex to be proper behavior under the same dating circumstances were 16 and 1, respectively; 10 percent of males and 2 percent of females reported that they had done so, however. In a monogamous dating relationship with love involved, 76 percent of the males and 71 percent of the females approved of heavy petting (81 percent and 82 percent, respectively, reporting that they had done it). In the same kind of relationship, 83 percent of the males and 63 percent of the females thought oral sex to be proper, and 79 percent and 59 percent, respectively, had engaged in oral sex. Thus, petting tends to be tied more closely to love for females than for males, and, except in the case of oral sex, a slightly greater percentage of both sexes have engaged in the behavior than think it proper.


Arrington, C. A generation of Men Grows Up. Men's Life, Vol. 1 (1990), pp. 64-70.

Bovet, T. A Handbook to Marriage. New York: Doubleday, 1958.

Collins, R. Conflict Sociology: Toward and Explanatory Science. New York: Academic Press, 1974.

Crooks, R., and K. Baur. Our Sexuality. Menlo Park, Calif.: Benjamin/Cummings, 1983.

Ellis, L. Evolutionary and Neurochemical Causes of Sex Differences in Victimizing Behavior: Toward a Unified Theory of Criminal Behavior and Social Stratification. Social Science Information, Vol. 28 (1989), pp. 605-36.

Harper, R-., and W. Stokes. Levels of Sexual Understanding and Enjoyment. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1971.

Hettlinger, R. Human Sexuality: A Psychosexual Perspective. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1975.

Hunt, M. Sexual Behavior in the 1970s. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1974.

Kinsey, A., W. Pomeroy, C. Martin, and P. Gebhard. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1953.

Miller, B., and K. Moore. Adolescent Sexual Behavior, Pregnancy, and Parenting: Research Through the 1980s. Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 52 (1990), p. 1029.

Roche, J. Premarital Sex: Attitudes and Behavior by Dating Stage. Adolescence, Vol. 31 (1986), pp. 107-21.

Stolper, P. The Road to Responsible Jewish Adulthood. New York: Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, 1967.

Williams, J., and A. Jacoby. The Effects of Premarital Heterosexual and Homosexual Experience on Dating and Marriage Desirability. Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 51 (1989), pp. 489-97.

Anthony Walsh


Pheromones are chemical substances, produced externally by a species, that cause a response from another member of that same species, usually of the opposite sex. They differ from hormones, which are chemical substances produced by an organism that cause a reaction somewhere else in the body of the organism that produced them.

It has been long known that extremely small amounts of insect pheromones, when produced by the female of a species, can be detected from a great distance by the male of that species and will induce him to seek out the female and mate with her. The males, in turn, produce pheromones that induce the female to copulate. In insects, the response is automatic and irresistible.

Mammals are also known to produce pheromones that incite sexual activity as well as induce other kinds of social interactions. Pheromones in urine and feces attract mates and mark territory. These are usually fast acting and produce immediate effects on the physiology and behavior of the mammal. Other pheromones act more slowly over a longer period. For example, if female mice are housed together, their estrus cycles are interrupted by periods of infertility caused by the lack of a cycle occurring. Exposure to a male mouse, or his urine, will revive the cycles. The odor of male mice will accelerate puberty in young female mice, and the introduction of a foreign male to a colony will suppress the pregnancies of females that have already mated with males from their own colony. Some higher primates (e.g., rhesus monkeys) are known to produce, in their vaginal secretions, volatile fatty acids that induce male behavior such as mounting and ejaculation.

It has long been known that odor has an effect on human sexual interactions. In ancient Greek literature, an older man asks his young lover to return the roses that he has sent to be spread over his bed because they would then contain the fragrance of the lover's body as well as the sweet scent of the roses. Many cultures, certainly in the United States, find body odors and secretions at least mildly repugnant. They may, however, influence behavior, and there is some evidence for the idea that human beings react differently to body odors during times of sexual excitement. For example, depending on their sexual orientation, some men become sexually excited by smelling the soiled undergarments of women or other men.

Although authorities are not in agreement, there is a body of circumstantial evidence that human beings do secrete pheromones. In humans, the reaction is more controlled and less automatic and irresistible. This may be an evolutionary adaptation that produced survival value in the controlling of reproduction.

Women who live together in close quarters such as college dormitories often have their menstrual cycles at roughly the same time. That this synchronization may be brought about by pheromones is illustrated by the fact that when a woman is exposed to a pad that has been worn for 24 hours under the armpit of another woman, the recipient woman's menstrual period shifts closer to that of the donor woman. Men may also secrete pheromones that influence the sexual behavior of women. Women who date men have shorter cycles, and if they sleep with the men, their cycles are likely to be more regular with fewer fertility problems. Evidence that these are reactions to pheromones (or at least to body odors) and not to sexual activity is supplied by the observation that the periods of women become more regular when underarm secretions from men are mixed with alcohol and spread on the women's upper lip. All the studies of human beings have shown correlation but not necessarily cause and effect, although volatile fatty acids similar to those in the rhesus monkey have been found in human vaginal secretions.

The perfume and deodorant industries make use of the powerful effect of odor on sexual activity. They spend billions of dollars in research and development either trying to cover up odors they believe people find offensive or producing odors they believe will incite people into romantic interludes. The idea is not new; the ancient Egyptians used odor in this way centuries before the common era.


Hopson, J.L. Scent Signals: The Silent Language of Sex. New York: William Morrow, 1979.

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

Vandenbergh, J.G., ed. Pheromones and Reproduction in Mammals. New York: Academic Press, 1983.

James D. Haynes


What does it mean to say that a certain desire, sensation, or act is "sexual"? Is there such a thing as "plain sex, "or is sex always conceptually linked with something else—for example, expressing love, reproduction, or union with some metaphysical entity? What is the difference between sex and love, and is sex that expresses love always superior qua sex to sex for sex's sake? Does it make sense to say that a sexual act could be "perverted," or are there simply sexual variants that can be viewed nonjudgmentally? Does sexual desire solve any ancient philosophical problems? For example, does the intentionality of sexual desire—that sexual desire is ordinarily desire for contact with another person whose desire we want in return—answer the skeptics' claim that we have no proof that there are other persons with minds like our own? (Sartre thought sexual desire did indeed answer the skeptics.) Can one distinguish pornography from erotica? Is adultery always immoral? Are all pedophiles child molestors, or could a child desire sex, consent to it, and receive it from an adult in a nonexploitative way? (This would seem to be an empirical question, but for a philosopher it involves trying to define terms like "child," "adult," "consent," and "power" in a sexual context.) Does sex essentially involve two persons, such that masturbation is only a borderline case of sexual activity? If sex is an appetite like the desire to eat, why do differing sexual tastes generate heated controversies and intolerance that are akin to those found in religion and politics? (Unless a culture makes food into a religion, we do not ordinarily persecute those with bizarre tastes in food.)

Although philosophers have historically not had much to say about such questions (believing, perhaps, that logic and lust don't mix), the second half of the 20th century has seen an explosion of articles and books applying contemporary techniques of philosophical analysis to such conceptual and moral issues. To be sure, someone who claims to be interested only in the empirical aspects of sex may find such discussions tedious. But the philosopher holds that there are no "bare facts" that are not a function—directly or indirectly—of one's conceptual framework. The old view that there can be no lesbians because sex requires a penis is, of course, largely rejected today. Yet presuppositions about what is considered "sexual" can change rapidly. In the 1970s, the prosecutor in the Charles Manson trials denounced one of the defendants for having obtained "orgiastic ecstasy from wallowing in the blood of the victims." Today, he would be roundly denounced for having confused sex with violence. Is this more egalitarian philosophy of sex confirmed by empirical research? Or will it not be true that one's philosophy will determine what the results will be?

The debate among philosophers about what constitutes sex has centered around "reductionist" and "expansionist" accounts. The reductionist rejects traditional utilitarian accounts that sex must justify (purify?) itself by serving some supposedly lofty purpose like reproduction or communication of emotions. Goldman and Vannoy defend this approach, albeit in differing ways. The expansionist account has been updated by new theories defended by Sartre, Nagel, and Solomon. These philosophers view sex as various kinds of intricate patterns of communication between persons, something the reductionists scorn as subjecting sex to another kind of utilitarian requirement.

For Goldman, the essence of sex is nothing more than "a desire for contact with another person's body and for the pleasure which such contact produces." A perversion, for Goldman, would be a desire just to look at someone (voyeurism) or to have contact with something other than another person's body (e.g., a shoe fetish). If, however, the essence of sex is skin rubbing against skin, Goldman's claim that it must be another person's skin leaves masturbation out in the cold. Goldman is willing to admit that masturbation is "borderline" sexual activity if it is accompanied by sexual fantasies of touching someone else. If, however, the essence of sex is epidermal stimulation that yields sexual sensations, there seems to be no reason why it must involve another person's skin rather than one's own skin. For these reasons, Soble rejects Goldman's account because it perversely scorns what is arguably the plainest of plain sex, masturbation.

Another version of the reductionist account, defended by Vannoy, is that sexual desire is the desire for sexual sensations, however they may be produced. This allows masturbation and shoe fetishism to be fully sexual. Vannoy claims that sex intended for reproduction is actually statistically aberrant when one considers the number of children produced as opposed to the number of times a typical couple has sex in their lifetime. Since nature has given sexual desire to the sterile, to those too old or too young to reproduce, and to women who are already pregnant or in a nonfertile cycle, it is clear that what is common to all these desires is a desire for a sexual experience. Indeed, sex as an expression of love presupposes that one has a gift of a sexual experience to give to the beloved, and sex for reproduction presupposes that an enjoyable act makes reproduction much more likely. Thus, Vannoy argues that if nature had not provided us with sexual pleasures, we would not use the term "sexual act" at all. We would speak only of reproductive acts. Even in those cases, such as animals, where sexual desires are present, we do not speak of them in sexual terms when they are ordinarily outside our conceptual framework as to what could cause us sexual pleasure; we merely say that animals breed.

One difficulty with this view is that prostitutes and rape victims are commonly said to have engaged in sexual acts even though a desire for sexual sensations is ordinarily not what they were interested in. Yet, although such acts have the form of sexual acts, those who perform them (or who are forced to do so) would ordinarily view them more as an unpleasant form of calisthenics that one must endure. They are perhaps called "sexual" only in the derivative sense, in that they have the form of a sexual act that in other contexts does provide pleasure or because they provide some degree of sexual pleasure for the rapist or for the prostitute's customer.

Perhaps the most philosophically interesting difficulty with the plain-sex philosophy is trying to define what a sexual experience is. Not all sensations we get from bodily contact are sexual, so what makes some sexual and the others not? Manipulating the genitals in certain contexts ordinarily provides a sexual experience, but what is one to say of the gourmet who claims that, for him, eating roast Peking duck is the ultimate sexual experience? One cannot say that the gourmet's experience is even analogous to genital sensations, except in the broad sense that they both involve "meat," as it were, and both produce an ecstatic experience. Even with one's own body, being whipped in a sadomasochistic encounter is highly sexual for the masochist, even though such an experience does not always correlate with genital arousal and pleasure. Nor can we say that genital pleasures are paradigmatically sexual, whereas the masochist is using the phrase "sexual pleasure" in some unspecified broader sense of the term, for the sexual pleasure in being whipped is paradigmatic for the masochist. One might argue that pleasures of the flesh are involved in each of these examples, but this does not explain the sexual experience philosophers sometimes claim to feel while reading (say) Spinoza and contemplating his ideas. The latter experience is doubtlessly rare; yet statistics are irrelevant in deciding what is paradigmatic. The phenomenology of sexual experience is such that, when we are enjoying an intense sexual experience—no matter how common or rare it may actually be—we feel then and there that this sexual experience is utterly unique and irreplicable.

Finally, there is the Freudian view that all sensations obtained from manipulating any part of the body are sexual. Soble, however, writes:

This answer clearly handles the difficulty we had previously with the pleasurable sensations produced in the wrist without genital arousal. But the cost of this victory is that this view must admit too many pleasurable sensations as the sexual ones. There is some point, after all, in distinguishing the pleasure felt in the mouth when drinking cool water on a warm and dry day, and the pleasure felt in the mouth when performing an oral sex act. And if the position retreats and says, instead, that all parts of the body are (simply) capable of producing sexual pleasure (which is undoubtedly true) we are still left with the problem of what makes the manipulation of part x sexual on one occasion but not sexual on another occasion, when on both occasions the physiological components are likely to be the same or at least overlapping.

Perhaps the solution to many of these difficulties is to be a linguistic libertarian and allow each person to decide—although not necessarily achieve—what counts as a paradigmatic sexual experience on a personal basis. (The last sentence in Soble's remarks poses a problem that will be discussed later in this article.)

A final difficulty, at least for those who conceptualize sex as an expression of love, is the reductionists' suspicion of or even rejection of sex as expressing love. Goldman argues that defining sex as an expression of love unduly restricts what counts as sexual, leads to a repressive sexual ethic, and has disastrous consequences when sex is confused with love such that marriage results on that assumption. Yet he grants that sex can express love, and that this may be a fulfilling option in the way that some prefer their coffee with cream and sugar, while others prefer theirs plain to get the full "punch" of the coffee itself undiluted by anything else. What is important for the reductionist is that things like love and reproduction must serve sex rather than the other way around. That is, thoughts about love and reproduction are only sexually relevant if they intensify the power of the sexual experience itself.

Vannoy, however, goes even further and argues that sex is best divorced from erotic love entirely. The concept of love, he argues, is beset by numerous contradictions, which bring more torment than joy to the lover. One dilemma is the following:

Even the most ardent defender of love's unselfishness does not want erotic love to arise out of mere charity or duty. This demand is itself based on self-interest. For one's esteem is damaged if one feels one wasn't chosen for one's merits or appealing qualities and was only worthy of love that is given to just anyone.... But if one wants to be chosen for one's appealing qualities, one is committed... to the selectivity and exclusiveness that reveal the egoism of one's lover. For he or she will be chosen on the basis of qualities that appeal to the lover's needs and self-interests.
Vannoy's view is diametrically opposed to that of the 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant:
Human love is good will, affection, promoting the happiness of others and finding joy in their happiness. But it is clear that, when a person loves another purely from sexual desire, none of these factors enter into love.... Sexual love makes of the loved person an object of appetite; as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person has been cast aside as one casts away a lemon that has been sucked dry. Sexual love can, of course, be combined with human love and so carry with it the characteristics of the latter, but taken by itself and for itself, it is nothing more than appetite. Taken by itself, it is a degradation of human nature; for as soon as a person becomes an object of appetite for another, all motives of moral relationship cease to function, because as an object of appetite for another a person becomes a thing and can be treated and used as such by everyone.
Kant further argues that only in marriage can two persons treat each other as whole beings. Matrimony, he held, is an agreement between two persons by which they grant to each other reciprocal equal rights, each of them undertaking to surrender the whole of their person to the other with a complete right of disposal over it. This view of marriage, however, seems to lead to a loss of autonomy, but Kant disagrees:
If I yield myself completely to another and obtain the person of another in return, I win myself back. I have given myself up as the property of another, but in turn I take that other as my property, and so win myself back in winning the person whose property I have become.... In this way two persons become a unity of will. Whatever good or ill, joy or sorrow befall either of them, the other will share in it. Thus sexuality leads to a union of human beings.
In trying to overcome the problem of mutual ownership, Kant has made the mystically unified couple into the autonomous individual. This, however, means that the individuals in Kantian love have no independent existence or individuality at all. Furthermore, Kant fails to understand that if sexual desire is inherently exploitative and if love is inherently altruistic, trying to combine the two generates a contradiction rather than a sexual love of persons. Furthermore, it is not penises and vaginas that have sex, but persons; and persons can be generous or selfish with their sexuality irrespective of whether or not they are in love. Even in anonymous sexual encounters, the "you-please-me-and-I'll-please-you" ethic, while doubtlessly of the give-to-get variety, serves the purpose quite nicely, since that is all such persons want.

Indeed, the vulnerability of sexual partners both of whom have, as it were, become their bodies is such that they are hardly in a position to exploit anyone. Only the coolly controlled sadist who refuses to surrender to sexual passion and who insists on essentially remaining a pure consciousness (while turning his body into a torture machine) could succeed in having the absolute control he requires. (Hannibal Lector in the film The Silence of the Lambs is an example.) Furthermore, to focus on someone's body in a sexual sense is not the same as objectifying someone in the moralist's sense of the term, that is, treating another person as being of less moral worth than oneself. The latter entails the former, but not vice versa. The contempt for the body that is invariably implicit in the defense of sex with love is also shown by the fact that Kant would surely not be bothered at all if his students focused solely on his ideas when he lectured on the critique of pure reason. For that is the appropriate thing to do in that context. Demands for "wholeness" only seem to arise in those situations when the body is appropriately the primary focus of our attention. Even an eminent philosopher of love such as lrving Singer has attacked Kant's claim that sex requires love, albeit in a nonreductionist way:

For though sexual interest resembles an appetite in some respects, it differs from hunger or thirst in being an interpersonal sensitivity, one that enables us to delight in the mind and character of other persons as well as in their flesh. Though at times people may be used as sexual objects and cast away once their utility has been exhausted, this is no more definitive of sexual desire than its responsiveness to those bodily manifestations without which human beings could not be perceived as just the persons that they are. By awakening us to the living presence of someone else, sexuality can enable us to treat this other being just as the person he or she happens to be.... In all areas of life, it can happen that people are treated as means merely, but there is nothing in the nature of sexuality as such that necessarily brings that about or reduces persons to things. On the contrary, sex may be seen as an institutional agency by which persons respond to each other through their bodies.
In the case of the expansionists, who would view the reductionists as defending nothing more than a hedonistic pursuit of superficial epidermal stimulation, Sartre, Nagel, and Solomon claim that the sole or primary purpose of sex is a complex form of interpersonal communication. For them, perversion arises when there has been a violation of or a breakdown in the various forms of communication they espouse. None of these theories requires penile-genital intercourse and none is presented by these philosophers as requiring heterosexuality, since homosexuals can have interpersonal communications of desires, attitudes, and feelings as well. Some antigay theorists do, however, use the communication model to try to refute homosexual desire. They argue that sex with a member of one's own sex is like talking to oneself—one's mirror image— whereas "real" communication responds to another who is truly other than oneself. This argument is fallacious, since it assumes that all males or all females are alike. Indeed, the male poet and male boxer who are lovers may be more unalike than many heterosexual partners.

Both Nagel's and Solomon's views are inspired by a Sartrean view of sex, which is part of a complex ontological theory about the nature of human relationship. Sartre argues that personhood is dualistically defined in terms of two radically—even contradictory—types of being: consciousness and freedom ("being for itself') and the body ("being-in-itself'). Although one may not share Sartre's subject-object dualism in a metaphysical sense, there is clearly often an acute phenomenological awareness of such a distinction, (e.g., when a male's penis insists on remaining an inert object when he subjectively wills that it become erect). The question for Sartre is how to unite these two realms into a psychosomatic unity and achieve a feeling of wholeness. He argues that this occurs when two persons sexually desire each other in such a way that each becomes an incarnated consciousness. He writes that being which desires is consciousness making itself body: "The revelation of the other's flesh is made through my own flesh; in desire and in the caress which expresses desire. I incarnate myself in order to realize the incarnation of the other.... I make her enjoy my flesh through her flesh in order to compel her to feel herself flesh. And so possession truly appears as a double reciprocal incarnation."

However, as soon as sexual desire translates into activity that aims for sexual pleasure, Sartre claims that this fragile psychosomatic unity necessarily self-destructs. If I am overwhelmed by sexual pleasure, then I am transformed into a mere body that masochistically requires only that the other person stare at me so that my feeling of being an object is sustained and enhanced. My partner must then become a pure subject for whom I am an object. If, however, I refuse to become my body and sadistically try to possess my partner in the requisite consciously controlled way, I then become a nonincarnated freedom and my partner becomes an object. My psychosomatic unity and that of my partner (i.e., our completeness as persons) is thus destroyed whichever way we turn.

Personhood in sex is not rescued by love, as it is for Kant. Sartre argues that love is inherently possessive, that is, when I "give" myself to another, it is merely a roundabout way of getting him or her to surrender his or her personhood to me. Since the beloved is doing the same thing, love becomes pure conflict. Kant would also find it remarkable that Sartre would turn to sexual desire in hopes of discovering what he could not find anywhere else—two persons viewing themselves and each other as both subject and object. Indeed, the essence of all human relations, Sartre argues, is conflict: If I am a subject, the other necessarily becomes an object for me by means of my judgmental, categorizing, Medusa-like stare. If the other is a subject for me, then I similarly become an object for him. Sartrean life thus becomes a struggle to retain one's subjectivity, which can only be accomplished by possessing another's subjectivity. A stolen freedom is, however, no longer free, so even this fails.

All sex, therefore, seems to be a failure in Sartre's system, except—as Oaklander has argued—for the one brief moment when the two partners initially desired each other and each had achieved the mutual mind-body (or subject-object) wholeness they sought. Oaklander holds that Sartre does allow for a momentary success in achieving this goal—something other Sartre scholars have denied. Instead, he states that Sartre held that the moment the communion of desire is realized, each consciousness, by incarnating itself, has realized the incarnation of the other; each one's disturbance has caused disturbance to be born in the other and is thereby so much enriched. By each caress a person experiences his own flesh and is conscious that his flesh which he feels and appropriates through his flesh is flesh-realized-by-the-other.

Oaklander argues that since Sartre's goal of interpersonal communion is on occasion realized but then invariably self-destructs, all sex for Sartre is perverse. This result is remarkable. (Solomon once noted that if one believed Sartre's account, it would be enough to keep one out of the bedroom for a month.) Indeed, Sartre's claim that sexual pleasure causes the true goal of sex (as he sees it) to self-destruct and that ideally sex should not be about sexual pleasure at all would mean that—for the reductionist—Sartre has not given a theory about sex at all. It is merely a curious study of the ontology of human relationships discussed in the language of sex. Feminist philosophers would argue (rightly or wrongly) that Sartre has merely shown that his androcentric conceptualizing of sexual pleasure solely in terms of dominance and submission is incompatible with preserving personhood during the sexual act. Indeed, if the Sartrean caress works, why not remain at that level rather than regard it as merely foreplay? Or is this something men could never do?

Nagel's classic paper "Sexual Perversion," while inspired by Sartre, nevertheless deviated from the latter's pessimistic theory in many ways. Like Sartre, Nagel believes that sex is essentially interpersonal communication and that its ultimate goal is incarnation of consciousness. Unlike Sartre, he believes that sex often does succeed in these goals. The failure to do so constitutes perversion, something he grants may in some cases bring more sexual pleasure than nonperverted sex, which he dubs "complete sex." Thus, as in the theory of Sartre, sexual pleasure does not have the primacy it has for reductionists.

Nagel's most famous idea is that of complete sex, which is also his definition of naturalness. Complete sex requires multiple levels of interpersonal communication of desire, such that sexual desire escalates through feedback into an ultimate mutual incarnation of consciousness. The feedback mechanism operates as follows: I see you and I am aroused; you see me and you are aroused; I then see that you are aroused by me and this arouses me even further; you see that I am aroused by your arousal, and you are aroused even further; this further arousal of yours then arouses me even further, and so on. Nagel writes:

Let us suppose that Juliet, who is a little slower than Romeo, now senses that he senses her. This puts Romeo in a position to notice, and be aroused by, her arousal at being sensed by him. He senses that she senses that he senses her. This is still another level of arousal, for he becomes conscious of his sexuality through his awareness of its effect on her and of her awareness that this effect is due to him. Once she takes the same step and senses that he senses her sensing him, it becomes difficult to state, let alone imagine, further iterations, though they may be logically distinct. Physical contact and intercourse are perfectly natural extensions of this complicated visual exchange, and mutual touch can involve all the complexities of awareness present in the visual case, but with a far greater range of subtlety and awareness.
For Nagel, sexual perversion results when this feedback mechanism is truncated or incomplete. For example, narcissistic practices and intercourse with animals, infants, and inanimate objects seem to be stuck at some primitive version of the first stage. If the object is not alive, the experience is reduced entirely to an awareness of one's own sexual embodiment. Small children and animals permit awareness of the embodiment of the other, but present obstacles to reciprocity, to the recognition by the sexual object of the subject's desire as the source of the object's sexual self-awareness.

Homosexuality would not be a perversion, since the theory (like Sartre's) is presented as being gender-neutral. Yet while sex-as-communication theories liberate gays and lesbians, who can have Nagel's complete sex just as heterosexuals do, they also view masturbation (Nagel's "narcissistic practices") as perverted. Soble, however, attacks what he calls the binary framework of sexuality as a mere prejudice and defends a unitary theory of sex (the rubbing of flesh against flesh for sexual pleasure), which allows masturbation and intercourse to have equal status.

Nagel's theory also perversely requires that two persons who are already highly aroused by other means (e.g., dildoes) and who meet and instantly have sex are to be considered perverted because they skip the initial multiple levels of arousal of each by the other. Nagel argues that desire is not merely the perception of a preexisting embodiment of the other, but is ideally a contribution to his further embodiment, which in turn enhances the original subject's sense of himself. This, he holds, explains why it is important that the partner be aroused—and not merely aroused, but aroused by the awareness of one's desire.

Elsewhere, however, Nagel claims that sex "involves a desire that one's partner be aroused by the recognition of one's desire that he or she be aroused." He also holds that "physical possession must eventuate in the creation of the sexual object in the image of one's desire, and not merely in the object's recognition of that desire, or in his or her own private arousal." These claims, however, make sexual desire needlessly egocentric.

The third expansionist, Solomon, sharply attacks the notion that sex is primarily for pleasure. Solomon notes that Masters and Johnson have claimed that masturbation provides the most intense orgasm. Why, then, Solomon asks, do people (sometimes risking great personal loss) largely seek out sexual intercourse? Solomon argues that what people really want is to communicate various emotions and attitudes to others, and that sex is a kind of body language for achieving what words alone cannot convey.

As it is for Sartre, sex for Solomon is not essentially about sexual pleasure at all; indeed, it may interfere with communication. Solomon, unlike those who conceptualize sex solely in terms of expressing love (such that sexual violence cannot really be sexual), is quite generous in the range of things he thinks sex can convey: shyness, domination, fear, submissiveness and dependence, love or hatred or indifference, lack of confidence and embarrassment, shame, jealousy, possessiveness.

What of Solomon's claim that we prefer intercourse to masturbation? Does it refute the hedonistic reductionist? Solomon ignores the fact that there are many other reasons besides communication that explain why so many prefer sexual intercourse. With a sexual partner, one may enjoy a variety of sexual techniques, positions, and forms of mutual sensory stimulation and kinesthetic sensations one cannot have alone. Another example Solomon might have used is one Soble evaluates in responding to Solomon: why is it that when I rub my own elbow I feel only a mildly pleasurable sensation, but when someone else rubs it, it may produce an intensely sexually pleasurable sensation? Is it because the other person is bolstering my ego by communicating desire (Nagel)? Is it because the other is communicating a Solomonic message in body language? These psychological phenomena may occur, but they are not essential to my being sexually aroused. Although Soble does not solve the elbow puzzle in reductionist terms, the answer is surely that I am aroused because I am being touched by someone I find to be quite sexually attractive and whose body I would like to touch in turn. Desire does not escalate and messages from body language mean nothing sexually unless I first find the flesh of the other to be the embodiment of sensual pleasure. Even when pressure on the wrist is intense enough to communicate dominance, it will still not be sexually arousing unless I have eroticized dominance and the dominant person is seen as embodying dominance in a sexually appealing way—as opposed to another dominant person who is quite unappealing. Thus, the sexual significance of Solomonic messages presupposes what Solomon assigns to peripheral significance—sexual pleasure. Indeed, this is the only way to distinguish a sexual from a nonsexual use of body language.

Moulton criticizes Solomon for failing to recognize that sex is often a less than ideal way to communicate attitudes, since it is not clear that some attitudes are best expressed sexually. Tenderness and trust are often expressed between people who are not sexual partners. The tenderness and trust that exist between an adult and a child is not best expressed sexually. Even if Solomon's claim is taken only to apply to sexual partners, a joint checking account may be a better expression of trust than sexual activity.

For Solomon, a perversion is defined as a misuse of the body language of sexuality (e.g., pretending to communicate love when there is none). He also attacks masturbation because, in his words, masturbation is "self-denial." It represents an inability or refusal to say what one wants to say, and though masturbation is essential as an ultimate retreat, it is empty and without content, the equivalent of a "Cartesian soliloquy."

Solomon, however, fails to recognize that there are ways of communicating with oneself (e.g., keeping a private diary) that are hardly "empty and without content." Soble argues that Solomon's claim that masturbation is an "inability or refusal to say what one wants to say" overlooks the fact that it might be false that one has something to say, that there is something worthy of being said that is not being said, or that something ought to be said. The communication model of sexuality forces people to say things that there might be no compelling reason to say just in order to achieve first-rate sexuality.

Philosophers are contributing important insights about the nature of sexuality, however much they may disagree with each other and however much the philosophy of sex is still in its infancy. To be sure, one may make the old claim that philosophy is futile because philosophers never agree about anything. But is it not also true that sex researchers constantly challenge each other's assumptions (and often even their data)? Indeed, science without controversy would become sterile and much less likely to make progress. So it is with philosophy as well.


Atkinson, R. Sexual Morality. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.

Baker, R., and F. Elliston, eds. Philosophy and Sex. Rev. ed. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1984.

Batchelor, E. Homosexuality and Ethics. New York: Pilgrim, 1980.

Bullough, V.L. Sexual Variance in Society and History. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1976.

Davis, M.S. Smut, Erotic Reality/Obscene Ideology. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983.

Goldman, A. Plain Sex. Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 6 (Spring 1977), pp. 267-87.

Kant, E. Lectures on Ethics. Translated by L. Infield. London: Methuen, 1930.

Moulton, J. Sexual Behavior: Another Position. Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 73 (1976), pp. 537-46.

Nagel, T. Sexual Perversion. Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 66 (1969), pp. 76-88.

Oaklander, L.N. Sartre on Sex. In A. Soble, ed.. The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings. Rev. ed. Totowa, NJ.: Littlefield, Adams, 1991.

Sartre, J-P. Being and Nothingness. Translated by H. Barnes. New York: Philosophical Library, 1956.

Singer, I. The Nature of Love: Courtly and Romantic. Vol. 2. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984.

Soble, A. Masturbation and Sexual Philosophy. In The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings. Rev. ed. Totowa, NJ.: Littlefield, Adams, 1991.

Soble, A. Pornography: Marxism, Feminism and the Future of Sexuality. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1986.

Soble, A., ed The Philosophy of sex: Contemporary Readings. Rev. ed. Totowa, N.J.: Littlefield Adams, 1991.

Solomon, R. Sex and Perversion. In R. Baker and F. Elliston, eds., Philosophy and Sex. Rev. ed. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1984.

Soble, A. Sexual Paradigms. Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 71 (1974), pp. 336-45.

Vannoy, R. Sex Without Love: A Philosophical Exploration. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1980.

Russell C. Vannoy


"Phobia" is a technical term describing an anxiety disorder characterized by an obsessive, irrational, intense, and morbid dread or fear of something. It is a term not confined to the sexual behaviors. An Anglophobe, for example, is a person who hates the English. Phobias are manifested in various sex behaviors, although the vocabulary is not as extensive as it is for the paraphilias. Many phobias are a result of sexual fears instilled by parents, teachers, or religious authorities as a means of controlling sexual impulses and behavior, particularly masturbation and premarital sex.

Since the development of psychoanalysis, it has also been widely recognized that phobias not usually associated with sex might well have sexual overtones. Freud, who began writing on the subject at least as early as 1894, argued that phobias were a form of neurotic anxiety and featured a fear all out of proportion to the actual danger of the object. He found the mainspring of the anxiety in the id rather than in the external world, and the object of the phobia represented a temptation to instinctual gratification or was associated in some way with an instinctual object-choice. In other words, behind every such neurotic fear is a primitive wish for the object of which one is afraid. The person wants what he or she fears or wants something that is associated with, or symbolized by, the feared object.

Whether or not one adopts the Freudian view, many forms of phobia directly relate to human sexual performance, and some of these are listed below.


Source of Fear

Anal-castration anxiety

Toilets, defecation




Remaining unmarried


Penislike musical instruments (e.g., the flute)


Being unclean, dirty; "messy" sex


Body smells


Sexual intercourse


Defecation and excrement


Contacting a sexually transmitted disease


Committing a sexual sin


One's sexuality and responses


Color red, and also associated with blushing, sex flush


Female genitalia



Genital penetration phobia

Sexual intercourse




Naked body




Committing a sexual sin


Being touched


Experiencing sexual pleasure


Heterosexual persons


Homosexual persons




Fear of snakes as a symbol of sex


Virgins, young girls


Inherited genetic defect or disease


Sexual sins

Penetration phobia

Vaginal, anal, or oral penile penetration


Penis, especially the erect penis


Enemas, rectal exams, anal sex


Defecation and excrement


Being looked at or seen naked


Anything having to do with sex

Snake phobia

Snakes as penis symbols




Monsters, particularly birth of defective or deformed offspring




Money,J. Lovemaps. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1986.

Freud, S. The Neuro-Psychoses of Defence: (An Attempt at a Psychological Theory of Acquired Hysteria, of Many Phobias and Obsessions and of Certain Hallucinatory Psychoses. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Translated by J. Strachey, et al. 24 vols. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-74, Vol. 3.

Freud, S. Obsessions and Phobias: Their Psychical Mechanism and Their Aetiology. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Translated by J. Strachey, et al. 24 vols. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-74, Vol. 3.

Vern L. Bullough


Some Common Disabling Diseases and Conditions

Any inquiry into the subject of physical disabilities and sexuality must begin with the basic understanding that every person with the spark of life in them is capable of some sexual functioning. The comprehension of that single fact is essential if one seeks to understand the effects that a physical disability may have on a person's sexuality.

The statement that all people, and therefore all disabled people, are capable of some sexual functioning seems simple enough, but the misunderstanding and denial of it is perhaps the primary reason why the sexual concerns of the physically disabled have been historically dismissed as of no importance by most segments of most societies.

Only recently has society started to deal with the sexuality of previously sexually disenfranchised groups such as the unmarried, the elderly, the young, the incarcerated, and the mentally and physically disabled. Chief among the reasons why so many have for so long dismissed the sexuality of these groups is the connection that sexuality has with procreation. The erroneous belief that the sole purpose and function of human sexuality is or should be procreation leads to the conclusion that many societies have in fact made, that is, the denial of the sexuality of all subgroups that the society has determined cannot or should not bear children. In the collective minds of those societies, that is the thread that connects those six subgroups.

However, over the last several decades there has developed, at least in much of the Western world, a series of advances in thinking about the rights of subgroups that were formerly and systematically ignored. Along with greater recognition of the rights of racial and ethnic minorities and of women, a new sense of the rights of the physically disabled to express and enjoy their individual sexualities is evolving. It is not an accident that a general awareness of and improvements in the sexual rights of the physically disabled followed advances in the other areas.

Before there could be a general acceptance of the sexuality of the physically disabled, two things had to occur first, and in the decades since the mid-1960s both of those prerequisites began to occur. One prerequisite was the development of a genuine concern for the rights and the dignity of subgroups in a society. The other prerequisite was the breaking down of repressively rigid and factually erroneous limits on sexual expression. Along with the onset of changes in both of these areas came an explosion of research in each of them.

Social and biological scientists from a wide range of academic disciplines, as well as other researchers and writers, suddenly discovered in the physically disabled population a virtually unexplored research terrain, which was to yield, and is still yielding, rich returns—rich at least in terms of improving the lives of untold millions of physically disabled people and their loved ones and companions into the indefinite future.

This brief background is vital to an understanding of the sexuality of the physically disabled. It seems almost absurd to state that the physically disabled are people just like everyone else in the community. But that simple concept is, as strange as it may seem, the one that has been traditionally and is still the most commonly misunderstood by the societies of the world. Although much progress has been made in recent decades, there are still some individuals, some groups, and some societies that either ignore or do not grasp the truth of the fact that the physically disabled are no less "people" and as such have sensual and sexual potentials and are capable of the same sexual needs and desires as are others. So even though there has been progress in the recognition of the sexual rights of the physically disabled, that recognition is by no means universal.

People with physical disabilities are as diverse a group as are the able-bodied members of a society. They are found in all age groups. They are of all cultures, all economic and social strata, and both genders. Some are married, single, divorced, widowed, or separated. Some are heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, or asexual, and some are undetermined as to any sexual orientation. Among the physically disabled there are homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual transvestites, preoperative and postoperative transsexuals, and some she-males. Likewise, as a group, people with physical disabilities have the same range and diversity of sexual interests and sexual dysfunctions as does the society of which they are a part.

Among the physically disabled there are those who have no offspring and desire to remain childless, those with one or many children, those who desperately wish to have a child but have been unsuccessful in doing so or have not had the opportunity to try, and those who are ambivalent about it. There are people who are actively seeking to practice birth control so as to manage the number and timing of their or their sexual partner's pregnancies or to prevent them entirely.

From that description, it can be seen that all the joys, thrills, and satisfactions that sex can bring to a person are to be found in the global universe of the physically disabled. But it is also true that all the problems and issues about sex that perplex the able-bodied members of a community are also present to be dealt with by the physically disabled portion of that society. In addition, the physically disabled must also face and deal with the unique problems that one or more physical conditions place in the way of sexual functioning and fulfillment.

Some general observations can be made about sexuality and physical disabilities that more or less pertain regardless of the particular disabling condition. One of the most troubling issues that the physically disabled routinely must face regarding their sexuality is that of self-worth (or self-esteem). The issue of self-worth is like a ball in a pinball machine—it trails its way through the maze of barriers in the game of life and bangs up against all of them, setting off bells and whistles and lights as it goes. No aspect of a physically disabled person's sexuality is not in some way affected by his or her perception of his or her self-worth. Of course, that may be said of the able-bodied person as well, and it is true that it is a daunting issue for many of them. But in the case of a physically disabled person, the concept of self-worth takes on a new dimension. In societies such as those in today's developed nations, in which perfection in physical beauty and performance is the ideal, the further away one is from an ideal physical state, the more vulnerable one's ego becomes and the more likely it is that a damaged sense of self-worth will have a negative impact on one's sexual functioning. As is evident from the word "disabled" (or any euphemism for it), the physically disabled, by definition, occupy a distinctly low spot on the totem pole of physical desirability. There are no popular calendars of disabled bathing beauties or male hunks.

For the physically disabled, self-worth may be negatively affected in many different ways—all potentially very important to an individual. Perhaps the most common effect comes from a damaged body image. When one considers that an able-bodied person may feel depressed because of the appearance of a temporary pimple on his or her face, it is understandable that a person who may have both arms and legs missing or has no control over his bowels and bladder and has to use a respirator to breathe has a lot to deal with in terms of self-worth and body image. Self-worth can also be affected by whether or not one sees oneself as a sufficiently productive member of society or of a family unit, or by the extent to which one is physically dependent on others for such things as personal care (e.g., bathing, dressing, eating, elimination), driving a car, opening a door or window, answering a telephone, and so on, or by the amount of control one has over one's life in general.

Self-worth can be particularly affected by how one is able to function sexually. Regardless of the absolute level of sexual functioning, the most important thing to a physically disabled person in this regard is whether he or she can function to a level that is personally satisfying (and that may entail being able to sexually satisfy one's sex partner). That level will be different in each individual case.

Some people, whether physically disabled or not, simply will never be satisfied with any level of sexual functioning that they perceive to be less than the optimum. That type of aspiration is typically destined to be forever denied fulfillment—especially if such a person has a physical disability. The more flexible the disabled person is in terms of the degree of sexual functioning that is felt to be satisfactory and satisfying, the greater is the likelihood that some form of sexual satisfaction may be attained.

The general concept of what sex is also differs from individual to individual. To one person, it might consist solely of intimate touching and holding. Some people find their satisfaction in masturbation, while the sexuality of others may include orgasmic sex with a partner that does not involve genital-to-genital intercourse. Some people consider acceptable sex to be limited to a rare instance of vaginal-penile intercourse with one's spouse in the missionary position for the sole purpose of initiating an intended pregnancy. To such people, the physical ability to carry out the desired act and to have it result as intended may be the extent of his or her concern with sexual functioning. In contrast to such limited sexual desires or goals, some of the physically disabled develop, or at least wish to develop, an extensive sexual and sensual repertoire. It may in fact be said that there are perhaps as many ideas of what constitutes acceptable and desirable sex as there are people. Nevertheless, it is possible to make some sense of such a huge variety of ideas by categorizing them.

Thus, it is useful to say that people value or devalue sex on the basis of such things as the type of relationship that exists between the sex partners, the purpose of the sexual behavior, the particular sex acts involved and how they are conducted, the environment and the circumstances in which the behavior occurs, and the physical and psychological results of the sex activity. Within each of those categories there are many possible variations of circumstances, and the relative importance to a particular person of any of those categories or of any of the variations within the categories may be unique to that person.

To some physically disabled persons, what may be important is the physical positions they may be able to use in sexual activities, or whether or not they are orgasmic, or that their sex partners are usually or sometimes orgasmic. To some males, it may be important whether or not they can ejaculate. To some females, it may be important whether or not sexual activity results in vaginal lubrication. The amount of or lack of sensory feelings over parts of the body, especially in the usually recognized erogenous areas (i.e., genitals, thighs, breasts, buttocks), may be of importance to some physically disabled people. The extent of control over one's bowel and bladder or spastic muscles during sexual activity may be an important factor. The necessity of having to have one's sex partner or a third person prepare and position the disabled person to engage in the anticipated sexual activity may also be of importance.

Consider the case of a person whose physical disability and personal circumstances are such that the realistic prospects are that no sex partner is likely ever to come along, and, in addition, it is physically impossible for him or her to engage in masturbation. Add to that the circumstance that person has a strong sex desire and has no religious, moral, or personal inhibitions about engaging in sex in any possible way with a willing partner. To such a person, the possibility of any of a large variety of sexual circumstances actually occurring to him or her may be most welcome.

Between the extremes of the person who never wants to have a sexual experience with anyone, even with himself or herself, and the person who will willingly do almost anything sexually with almost anyone at almost any time he all the rest of the disabled population. That brings in the next set of factors that affect the sexuality of the disabled. Just like everyone else, the physically disabled are influenced in various degrees in their personal feelings about sex by such forces as religion, culture, and personal experiences. With regard to what are permissible sex acts, who are legitimate sex partners, and what are the proper purposes of sex, a physically disabled person's opinions and practices may be entirely or only partially controlled by his or her religious beliefs, or they may be formed as a reaction against formerly held religious beliefs or be the product of no such belief system. The cultures (e.g., Hispanic, Polynesian) and the subcultures (e.g., peer groups, socioeconomic class) with which a physically disabled person identifies traditionally have certain customs or beliefs about sex that may be internalized by that person.

The influences of religion and of culture have to do with what is "permissible" sexual behavior, whereas the influences of experience have more to do with what is "possible" and "pleasurable." At times, those influences may be in conflict with each other. Consider, for example, a particular adult male of Mexican heritage, Catholic, who is paralyzed from the chest down from a gunshot wound in a gang cross-fire. His culture and his religion may influence him to have negative feelings about engaging in cunnilingus with his wife. Yet he may have found that all other attempts at pleasuring his wife to orgasm have been unsuccessful. He tries cunnilingus, it works well, and they both enjoy it and will continue doing it. Another individual in a similar circumstance and with a similar heritage and religious background may be opposed to oral sex on religious and cultural grounds and may not choose even to try cunnilingus. A third person in a like circumstance and with a similar background may have tried cunnilingus and found that the prior negative conditioning prevented any enjoyment of it; the one attempt ended unsuccessfully and unpleasantly and will not be repeated.

Each of these three types of influences—culture, religion, and experience—also affect nondisabled people in various ways and degrees. However, the physically disabled are potentially much more susceptible to being affected by them in ways that the nondisabled usually are not. The physically disabled person is much more likely to have physical and practical constraints (from the disability itself) placed on the types of sexual activities in which he or she may engage and to have his or her fertility compromised (biologically, opportunistically, or both) by the disabling conditions. As a result, oftentimes the very methods and purposes that a disabled person's culture, religion, or past experiences dictate as acceptable sexual expressions for that person are, because of the disabling condition, rendered impossible or disturbingly unsatisfactory. When those conflicts exist something has to yield: either the strict adherence to the imperatives of one's background and previous experiences, or the likelihood of attaining some satisfying sex.

The sexuality of many physically disabled people often depends not solely on their personal decisions and wishes and those of any potential sex partners that may be involved, but as much if not more on the personal decisions and wishes of third persons. This most often occurs when the disability is such that the disabled person is by necessity dependent upon a third person for his or her personal care, such as getting in and out of bed, dressing, and being transported. The third person is often in effective control of the disabled person's access to any form of sexual expression. That is particularly true when the third person is a parent or other family member or is a care giver or decision maker in the hospital or other institution in which the disabled person resides. But sexual expression is often just as effectively in the control of a third person when the latter is an employee of the disabled person. In any of these cases, the sexuality of the disabled person may be and often is hostage to the cultural and religious background and personal belief system, or perhaps even the mere whims, of the third person.

In addition to these factors, it is normally the case that the sexual concerns and interests of a particular disabled person will also usually depend on and vary according to that person's age, marital status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic bracket, life experience, age of onset of the disability, strength of sexual desire, amount and quality of adjustment to the disability, and general personal living conditions, general health, and availability and wishes of a sex partner. Therefore, when one contemplates the general subject of the sexuality of the physically disabled, rather than considering the community of the physically disabled as a monolithic entity it is infinitely more appropriate to liken it to a beach strewn with millions upon millions of individual pebbles, each unique.

Disabled people in each age bracket have their own special concerns—concerns that are somewhat similar to those of their able-bodied same-age peers, yet are profoundly different. The differences have to do with the limitations that the disability brings with it in each person's unique case. With the young, concern revolves around acquiring knowledge and experiences; with adolescents and young adults, it usually involves performance anxieties (e.g., how one can function sexually and socially and compete in the relationship marketplace). With older adults, it may be the same as with the younger adult but is also likely to be concerned with maintaining relationships or getting over those that have ended and moving on. The elderly person often must learn new sensual techniques (e.g., new ways in which to conceptualize sex and engage in it) and become comfortable with an ever-changing physical situation as the disability exacerbates the normal complications of increasing age.

The age at which the disabling condition occurs is an important factor. A person whose disability occurs after many years of an active sex life in which he or she has experienced perhaps a range of sexual feelings, including orgasm from several different methods of stimulation, has a completely different frame of reference from which to begin a sexual rehabilitation process than does a youngster whose disability occurs early in life or perhaps is congenital. The issue of sexual experience prior to disability is particularly a factor in disabilities in which sensory faculties or severe motor functions are impaired.

The earlier in life a disabling condition occurs that seriously affects sensory faculties (e.g., sight, hearing, or touch) or affects motor functions, the greater is the likelihood that the child will need extraordinary assistance throughout childhood, adolescence, and perhaps young adulthood in exploring and learning how his or her body and the bodies of others function sexually and in acquiring the socializing skills that are necessary for the eventual development of intimate relationships.

It is essential, if that socialization process is to work effectively, that disabled children and young adults not be isolated from other disabled and nondisabled peers. But in most instances, much more than that is needed. The type of extraordinary assistance that is required will ordinarily depend on whether a young person is blind or deaf or has severe limb and torso mobility limitations, as well as the age at which the disability occurred. Naturally, any assistance in learning about body characteristics and functions and in gaining socializing skills needs to be age appropriate.

At some point, a particular child, blind at an early age or from birth, may need the assistance of a live model to experience, as opposed to "see," how the body of the other sex is formed. A particular deaf child or blind child may need extensive one-on-one tutoring in the mysterious intricacies of flirting, being seductive, dating, negotiating sensual or sexual engagements, and so forth. A particular youngster whose disability is such (e.g., through paralysis, immobility, or missing limbs and joints) that he or she is rendered incapable of sexually pleasuring himself or herself may need the assistance of another person to experience the sensations their bodies are capable of producing and which their nondisabled peers learn from their own bodies as a matter of course. It is, of course, essential that all disabled children be given age-appropriate sex education that is both accurate and complete—going beyond the merely biological to include the sociosexual knowledge and values that a well-adjusted person must possess.

Physically disabled adults of any age may need some extraordinary assistance in developing or rehabilitating their sexual functioning, depending on their physical and interpersonal situation and expressed desires. That assistance may be explicit instruction in special positions or procedures that are necessary, viewing films or videotapes of others coping in similar circumstances, experimenting and practicing with a sex surrogate, or developing orgasmic responses from stimulation of body areas that still have sensitivity. Physicians, institution administrators, and other care givers have a duty to provide required information or access to privacy, as circumstances require, so as to not unreasonably deny to any physically disabled person, by ignorance or coercion, the right of sexual expression.

There are several methods available for aiding males whose conditions prevent them from attaining an erection or one of a strength or duration sufficient to accomplish the desired sexual activity. He can be taught to self-inject or have someone else inject a substance (commonly prostaglandin E 1 or a combination of papaverine and phentolamine) into the shaft of his penis, a procedure which produces an erection that may last as long as several hours. Improper use may lead to severe complications. There are also devices that may be surgically inserted into the shaft of the penis; such devices, depending on the type, produce either a permanently rigid or partially rigid erection or an erection that can be produced or released at will. There are also external pumping devices that produce an erection that lasts until a constricting elastic band at the base of the penis is removed, which should normally occur within one-half hour.

There are several somewhat effective methods that are being used to obtain sperm from males who wish to procreate but who are not able to ejaculate in the course of ordinary stimulation or to ejaculate out the end of their penis (the ejaculate going instead into their bladder). The collection procedures are performed by specialized medical personnel. The collected semen is processed and eventually mechanically inseminated into the prospective mother.

It has been demonstrated so often that it is now generally accepted that even severely physically disabled people can function as effective parents. The success of parenting in such cases depends more on the individuals involved than on the disability. Very few physically disabling diseases or conditions render infertile an otherwise fertile female. As a general rule, infertility only occurs in an otherwise fertile female if her disabling condition directly damages her reproductive organs, results in their removal, or sufficiently impairs her body's hormone production or utilization. That is not normally the result of such commonly occurring disabling conditions as spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, polio, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, cerebral palsy, muscular diseases, spina bifida, and most amputations. However, in view of the medical risks of pregnancy that exist in certain cases and the genetic transmissibility of some disabilities, physically disabled women should seek and be provided with medical advice on the subject prior to engaging in any sexual activity that could result in a pregnancy, because counseling for pregnancy prevention may be indicated in some cases.

Although a person's sexuality may be meaningfully expressed as a solo activity, such as by masturbation, most people desire to share their sexuality with another person in some way. Most single able-bodied people from about adolescence onward will admit that the most constant problem they face in developing an intimate relationship, or even a casual onetime sexual relationship, is in finding "the right person."

Multiply that by many orders of magnitude and one can approximate the level of the problem for the typical physically disabled person who would like to have or is actively seeking a new relationship of the intimate or sexual kind. The use of the words "like to have" and "actively seeking" is not a semantic nicety. The range of disabling conditions and personal situations is such that there are large numbers of the physically disabled who would very much "like to have" an intimate partner but, because of their personal situation, are precluded from ever having access to a source of potential partners. For them, even the ability to have some such access would be a breakthrough accomplishment. It is those who do at least have access to potential partners who must learn to penetrate the social veil. It is they who regularly encounter the often immensely frustrating and numbing task of trying to find, if not "the" right one, then "a" right one, and if not for the indefinite future, then for the moment.

It is to the credit of the human species that a "right" one does in fact come along for large numbers of the physically disabled. For the fact is that a large percentage (no one knows accurately how many) of disabled people who do have access to normal socializing situations are successful in finding an intimate partner (or partners). It is rare in nature for animals to mate voluntarily with a disabled candidate, much less pair-bond with one. That it is not so rare among Homo sapiens speaks eloquently of the human spirit and argues mightily for the proposition that each physically disabled person in a civilized society deserves the opportunity to function at the highest level possible. That includes the development, exercise, and enjoyment of their individual sexual potentials.

Some Common Disabling Diseases and Conditions

Cerebral Palsy (CP).
Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI).
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
Poliomyelitis (Polio).
Muscular Diseases.
Spina Bifida.
Some Possible Sexual Effects of Disabilities Discussed Above

Following a brief description of some of the more commonly occurring physically disabling diseases and conditions is a table that displays some of their specific ramifications for sexual functioning. In addition to the specific disabling conditions discussed below, there are, of course, many others that are no less serious and no less sure to affect the lives and the sexuality of those who have them. Their omission here is not meant to diminish their importance.

Cerebral Palsy (CP).

CP results when the brain is damaged either before, during, or within a few years after birth. The damage to the brain results in improper signals going to the muscles. As a result, any or all of the following may occur: involuntary or exaggerated voluntary movements, lack of balance, irregular gait, slurred speech, drooling, facial grimacing, or impaired intelligence. The degree of each of the symptoms may range from mild to severe.


A stroke (cerebral vascular accident) occurs when the normal blood supply to the brain is interrupted, as, for example, by a vascular clot, to such an extent that brain cells die due to the lack of their normal oxygen supply. A stroke on one side of the brain of sufficient intensity and duration will result in numbness and paralysis in the face, arms, and legs on the opposite side of the body. In addition, the stroke may affect speech, emotional stability, urinary continence, and sight.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

MS is a disease in which, for an unknown reason, the myelin (covering sheath) of the nerves is attacked and destroyed at multiple sites. That results in the interruption of signals passing along those nerves. This disease usually occurs in young adulthood, more often in women than men, and is persistent, with periods of remission and exacerbation. Usually beginning with only mild symptoms, the disease often leads to muscle incoordination, slow and difficult speech, oscillating movements of the eyes, muscular weakness, numbness and paralysis of one or more limbs, and urinary incontinence.

Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI).

Injuries to the spinal cord are most often the result of an impact trauma to the spinal column but may occur as a consequence of a tumor, abscess, or infection or because of a congenital defect. When the causative event results in a partial or complete lesion (discontinuity or loss of function) of the spinal cord, a partial or total interruption of the messages that normally pass through the injured area occurs. If the interruption is in the region of the cervical (neck) vertebrae, quadriplegia (partial or total paralysis in all four limbs) is the usual result. Lesions below that level affect the lower extremities (paraplegia). Sensitivity to touch, pain, and temperature and the use of trunk muscles are partially or totally lost at various levels of the body, depending on the severity and location of the injury. In addition, voluntary control of bowel and bladder is usually lost. Psychogenic responses (triggered by the mind) in the genitals are usually, but may not be, lost as well. Reflexogenic responses (triggered by physical stimulation) in the genitals are usually, but may not be, retained.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

This disease, which primarily affects women, is a systemic, chronic, and progressive disease that is manifested by inflammation of the joints. Through periods of remission and flare-ups in multiple joints, the disease results in joint swelling and damage accompanied by severe pain. Progressing in stages, this ultimately leads to ankylosis of the joints and to pain and damage to nearby muscles.

Poliomyelitis (Polio).

Polio is an infectious disease that results in damage to the motor nerve cells of the spinal cord. Sensory sensations remain intact. The result of the nerve damage is flaccid paralysis of the affected muscles. The paralysis may range from mild to severe and may affect arms, legs, trunk, or respiratory muscles or any combination of them. Once the virus runs its course, the paralysis is stable and nonprogressive.

Muscular Diseases.

There are several myopathies (muscular diseases) that result in severe physical disabilities. They each result in the gradual and progressive wasting away of voluntary muscles. Depending on the particular myopathy, the onset may be in early childhood, adolescence, or early or advanced adulthood. Different myopathies affect different voluntary muscle systems. Most are genetic in origin. As muscular use is gradually impaired, the consequences of the disability increase.


Amputations may be of part or all of each limb or any combination of them or of part or all of the pelvis or other appendage of the body. An amputation may be the result of a massive accidental trauma to a portion of a body or a disease that renders it imperative that a portion be severed and removed. It occasionally happens that due to a birth defect, a malformed limb that is deemed to be functionally obstructive is removed. Sexual functioning is most directly affected in cases involving the removal of both testicles (orchiectomy) or portions of the penis (penectomy) or the pelvis (hemipelvectomy) or the entire pelvis (hemicorporectomy). Generally, the disabilities that result from an amputation, depending on the body part(s) affected, involve mobility, dexterity, posture, self-image, and self-sufficiency.

Spina Bifida.

Spina bifida is a developmental anomaly caused by a defect in the spinal column. The spinal column does not close properly at one or more vertebrae. As a result, a sac containing a portion of the spinal cord protrudes through the opening. The defect occurs prenatally. Symptoms are usually apparent at birth but may not appear until the rapid growth period of adolescence. The result is usually that the muscles and nerves of the lower trunk are affected, causing muscle weakness or paralysis, loss of sensation, and partial or total loss of bladder and bowel control.

Some Possible Sexual Effects of Disabilities Discussed Above



Touch sensation may be impaired

Spina bifida, stroke, RA, MS, SCI

Possible impairment of genital engorgement upon physical stimulation

spina bifida; stroke; SCI: if lesion is complete or is at or below conus medullaris; amputees: only if organs removed; MS

Inability of male to ejaculate

spina bifida: usually; SCI: a few have no trouble, some need electrical or mechanical stimulation, others cannot ejaculate; amputees: only if organs are removed; MS: possibly

Possible difficulties in assuming desired positions

All conditions listed

Dependence on others for physical help with sexual preparations

All conditions listed (except usually not SCI paraplegics or most amputees) when use of limbs or trunk muscles are sufficiently impaired

Certain common sexual positions may be impossible to assume

Usually all conditions listed, except in rare instances of only slight degree of disability

Reproductive capacity likely to be lost

spina bifida: males rarely can reproduce, females likely can; SCI: some males who do not ejaculate by any means; amputees: only if reproductive organs removed


Anderson, F.,J. Bardach, and J. Goodgold. Sexuality and Neuromuscular Disease. Rehabilitation Monograph No. 56. New York: Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, 1979.

Csesko, P.A. Sexuality and Multiple Sclerosis. Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, Vol. 20 (1988), pp. 353-55.

Heslinga, K. Not Made of Stone. Springfield, Ill.: Thomas, 1974.

Mooney, T.O., T.M. Cole, and R.A. Chilgren. Sexual Options for Paraplegics and Quadriplegics. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.

Phillips, L., M.N. Ozer, P. Axelson, and H. Chizeck. Spinal Cord Injury. New York: Raven Press, 1987.

Rabin, BJ. The Sensuous Wheeler. San Francisco: Multi Media Resource Center, 1980.

Schuster, C.S. Sex Education of the Visually Impaired Child: The Role of Parents. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, Vol. 80 (1986), pp. 675-80

Task Force on Concerns of Physically Disabled Women. Toward Intimacy: Family Planning and Sexuality Concerns of Physically Disabled Women. New York: Human Sciences Press, 1978.

Dwight Dixon
Joan K. Dixon


A pimp is a man who manages street prostitutes (as opposed to escorts or call girls). Prostitutes support the pimp by giving him a high percentage of their earnings. In turn, the pimp provides food, shelter, sexy clothes, and drugs for the prostitutes. He also arranges bail and helps protect them from police and brutal clients. Pimps may give their prostitutes kindness and love. Many prostitutes have an ongoing sexual relationship with their pimp. Often, prostitutes fall in love with their pimps.

The group of prostitutes working for a pimp is called his "stable." According to Benjamin and Masters, the street prostitute without a pimp is regarded with suspicion and called an "outlaw." Most often the girls or women who enter prostitution seek out the pimp. The pimp does not persuade or coerce women into becoming prostitutes.

In the United States, it has been reported that at least 90 percent of pimps are black. Many pimps feel that they are overcoming a past history of racial oppression, because they have money and power. The pimp spends most of his time drinking or using drugs and leisurely making business arrangements. He rarely goes into the streets, except to collect money from his prostitutes.

The pimp-prostitute relationship may involve physical abuse, but it does not always. In most cases, the abuse is less extreme than husband-wife abuse. As Gray explains, the relationship between a pimp and his prostitutes,

although it reverses the "financial provider" role of conventional marriage, does show similarities to some kinds of conventional, marital behavior. The pimp serves as the major decision maker and the controller of the funds. The[y] may argue, frequently over money, but as long as the pimp does not administer too severe or brutal a beating the prostitute [s] will accept the occasional use of physical force in their relationship as part of the life.
The prostitutes often become extremely dependent on the pimp, thus leading to his further exploitation of them. Because of its intensity, the relationship is relatively short, lasting less than several years.

Pimping is illegal, with punishment more severe than for prostitution. In some states, punishment includes fines of up to $2,000 and imprisonment for up to 20 years. However, few pimps are arrested, since they are effective at dodging or paying off the police.


Armstrong, E.G. Pondering Pandering. Deviant Behavior, Vol. 1 (1983), pp. 203-17.

Benjamin, H., and R.E.L. Masters. Prostitution and Morality. New York: Julian Press, 1964.

Caplan, G.M. The Facts of Life about Teenage Prostitution. Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 30 (Jan. 1984), pp. 69-84.

Carmen, A., and H. Moody. Working Women: The Subterranean World of Street Prostitution. New York: Harper and Row, 1985.

Gray, D. Turning-Out: A Study of Teenage Prostitution. Urban Life and Culture, Vol. 4 (Jan. 1973), pp. 401-25.

Hall, S. Gentleman of Leisure: A Year in the Life of a Pimp. New York: New American Library, 1972.

Slim, I. Pimp: The Story of My Life. Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1969.

Sari Locker


Pleasure Resistance
Pleasures of Sex
The Connection Between Pleasure and Health.
Emotional Involvement
Sex Play
Erotic Potential

People derive many different kinds of pleasure from sex. They may enjoy the physical contact: the kissing, touching, holding, stroking, and warmth of two bodies together. They may enjoy the emotional connection: the affection and the intimacy of shedding clothes and sharing feelings. They may enjoy the childlike abandon of playful sex, the adventure of a new erotic activity, the challenge and anticipation of a new love, the intensely exquisite sensations of skillful lovemaking, the explosive release of orgasm. Under the best of circumstances, they sometimes enjoy a magical, spiritual experience of two bodies and souls merging for a timeless moment in sheer ecstasy.

For certain people, however, sex and pleasure do not necessarily go together. Some think sex is primarily for making babies, and they have no other use for it. Others would like to associate sex with pleasure but have difficulty making that happen. Still others would simply rather read a book or watch television.

This article takes a brief look at the tendency to resist the pleasures of sex and then goes on to explore at greater length the variety of elements that go into the positive experience of sexual pleasure.

Pleasure Resistance

Many people recognize that while they derive pleasure from sex, they could enjoy themselves more intensely and more consistently than they already do. A number of factors, which are not all that uncommon today, may contribute to limiting a person's sexual pleasure.

If, as a child, someone had painful experiences with sex (e.g., being caught at sex play and punished), it is understandable that sex might come to be associated with fear and shame. A surprising number of women and men have been molested as children, and now, as adults, they naturally have mixed feelings and are confused about their sexuality. Some people feel guilty about sex because of religious training. Others, who have learned to be self-critical, are anxious and insecure about their physical desirability to others.

Then, too, there are all those people who grew up with parents who were dissatisfied with their lives, and, fight it though they may, they absorbed attitudes and behaviors consistent with a life of struggle and suffering. Even when their parents' troubles were real and their own lives are more blessed, these people now tend to have a negative, rather than a positive, view of things. One of the most profound ways of resisting pleasure is to devalue it, to associate reality with pain and to see pleasure merely as escape.

But the culture as a whole tends to foster pleasure resistance by undermining pleasure's worth, by valuing sacrifice and pain as character building, and by relegating the taking of pleasure to the realm of selfishness and self-indulgence. Whatever our personal beliefs may be, the larger cultural code of values and ethics still prescribes strict control over pure enjoyment, especially when it comes to sex. All of us learn to resist pleasure in the course of growing up and acquiring self-control. At the very least, there are times when the fulfillment of what is most desired must be postponed. To live in a congenial society naturally requires that we all learn to control our impulses.

But too often, people become overcontrolled and come to fear what they enjoy the most. Instead of acknowledging their desires, they renounce them as weaknesses. They can become critical of themselves for their food preferences, their vocational interests, and the people they are sexually attracted to, as well as whatever it is that piques their sexual appetite. They equate self-control and morality with self-denial. In so doing, they become deprived and undernourished, robbing themselves of their full measure of life's joys.

Wilhelm Reich, the Austrian psychiatrist who was Freud's student and associate, was probably the first major theorist to suggest that because of early sex-negative training, pleasure becomes associated with guilt and shame, and an individual may come to fear and resist pleasure. That means that when such a person is in a situation that generates good feelings, he or she may fear losing control and doing something shameful. To safeguard against that possibility, a person who resists pleasure will often tense rather than relax the body in a potentially pleasurable situation, making sensual and sexual abandonment virtually impossible.

Pleasure resistance can be observed in someone who becomes superstitious every time something good happens, as though any minute the other shoe is going to drop. Feeling obligated to fulfill other people's expectations rather than one's own needs and desires is another typical way to hold back from taking pleasure. Whenever a man, for example, has a tendency to expect the worst to befall him, or a woman, no matter how good she is toward others, finds herself consistently running internal tapes of self-recrimination and guilt, there is a denial of the pleasurable possibilities of that moment. At the very least, each could enjoy a better frame of mind and a lighter heart.

When we look into the physiological effects of pleasure and its linkage with good health, we see how crucial it is to give up this resistance to pleasure that most of us share to some degree because of our earliest sexual experiences—even in these supposedly hedonistic modern times.

Pleasures of Sex

Usually, good sex involves some combination of these basic ingredients: physical arousal, emotional involvement, eroticism, sex play, orgasm, and, at its best, the opportunity to explore one's erotic potential. The physiology of sexual excitement in both men and women depends on the ability of blood to flow into the genital glands and into the supporting tissues and muscles of the pelvis.

It is the full engorgement of blood in the muscles and tissues of the pelvis that eventually triggers orgasm. One reason that women in general may be slower to orgasm than men is because they have a far more complex system of arteries, veins, and capillaries in the pelvic area than men do that must be fully engorged for orgasm to occur.

A person who feels uncomfortable with his or her sexuality will unconsciously tense the muscles in the genitals, thighs, anus, and buttocks, preventing the free flow of blood into the area and thereby limiting the possibility for complete arousal. But a person who can relax and allow energy in the form of blood to flow into the pelvic area and genitals will enjoy the sensations of building excitement.

The sex center of the brain is in the limbic system, an area of the central nervous system that is also involved in emotional reactions, such as anger and fear, and in regulating homeostasis by monitoring such functions as body temperature, blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate. The limbic system also contains centers that are specifically associated with pleasure. While research on neural activity and sex is only in its preliminary stages, there is some evidence showing that during sex these pleasure centers are stimulated. It is also likely that sexual activity releases endorphins, the body's own opiates, which trigger feelings of euphoria. These are the same chemicals released during physical exercise and are responsible for what has been called "runner's high."

The Connection Between Pleasure and Health.

New research by medical biologists, neurologists, nurses, psychologists, and sociologists on immunity has provided strong evidence that pleasurable experiences and states of mind can have a highly positive effect on health. This field of study, known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), has shown that such diverse events as having faith, listening to music, getting massaged, daydreaming about a loved one, having a view of trees from one's hospital bed rather than a brick wall, caring for a pet, and doing a good deed all have been associated with better resistance to disease, better recovery from illness, and longer life. Sex, as one of life's greatest pleasures, obviously belongs on that list.

However, the connection between sex and health has not been well documented. Ornstein and Sobel suggest that a strong bias exists in the scientific literature against studying any kind of pleasure and that pain and pathology have always dominated medical research. But this bias particularly holds for sex. Thousands upon thousands of studies, articles, and books have been written on sexual dysfunction and on the hazards of sex, but hardly anything has been done to examine the benefits of sexual pleasure.

Nevertheless, Ornstein and Sobel do report on research that shows that pheromones (hormones released in perspiration) given off by a man and inhaled by a woman can help to regulate a woman's menstrual cycle, and that regular sex play in the postmenopausal woman helps in preventing tissue loss in the vagina. Studies reported by Alexander Lowen also show that for both men and woman, emotional satisfaction during sex and coronary health are also related.

Sex is a complex activity and, when broken down into its components, there is plenty of evidence that gratifying sex is healthy. If touch, play, loving feelings, sensual delight, physical exercise, stress reduction, and feeling capable of satisfying one's needs are all associated with an enhanced immune system and greater longevity, as they are, then the same can be said of good sex, which contains all these elements.

Emotional Involvement

Affectionate Touch
Angry Passion


The most treasured events in our lives are those that are accompanied by strong positive emotion. Positive feelings are expansive; they impel us forward to reach out for contact and connection. The more love, gratitude, enthusiasm, and joy that is present in a situation, the more meaningful and memorable the event. Many people feel that their most profound pleasures during sex occur when they and their partners feel especially loving toward one another.

Lowen, a student of Reich and founder of bioenergetic analysis, cites research demonstrating that failure to experience emotional satisfaction during sex can adversely affect the heart. In two separate studies of female and male patients hospitalized for heart attacks, nearly two-thirds of each group had significantly more dissatisfaction or problems with sex in the months just prior to the attacks than did a group of controls with no coronary disease. Lowen suggests that when orgasm occurs in combination with a heartfelt emotional response of love, a person's sex life can contribute to a strong and healthy heart.


Intimacy is often considered to be one of the most enjoyable features of positive sexual contact. It is said that a woman needs intimacy to feel sexual, and a man needs sex to feel intimate. Either way, there is no doubt that sexual intimacy, especially when it is fulfilling, forges a strong bond between lovers. It is probably this potential for giving one another great pleasure, as well as the tendency for satisfying sexual contact to encourage self-disclosure, that accounts for the bonding power of a good sexual relationship.

Affectionate Touch

When loving feelings fuel sexual desire, there can be no doubt that a major part of that excitement is being stimulated by the tremendous pleasure people derive from affectionate touch. From the moment of birth, the neonate, the toddler, the child, and the teen, as well as the adult require loving, empathic touch to feel good about themselves and about life in general.

Montague, in his classic book on touching, reports that infants raised in orphanages at the turn of the 19th century who were hardly ever picked up and held died of a disease known as infant marasmus, literally meaning "wasting away." They simply lost interest in living.

Today, prematurely born infants who are handled and stroked three times a day for several weeks can gain as much as 50 percent more weight and leave the hospital as many as six days earlier than their unstroked counterparts. Stroked babies not only were more alert and responsive but also maintained their growth advantage in follow-up studies more than eight months later.

Loving touch is an essential nutrient for healthy living, not just for babies but for adults as well. Ornstein and Sobel report one study where patients with chronic anxiety and muscular tension were treated to ten sessions of deep massage. Physiological measurements taken after each massage often showed a slower heart rate and less muscular tension than before the massage. Many said they felt less distressed and had less need for their medication. Another study showed that patients recovering from heart attacks who live alone but have pets (literally, creatures we enjoy petting) live longer than heart patients without pets.

A person does not have to be in a state of chronic anxiety to benefit from the elixir of empathic touch. Ordinary living, with its everyday stresses, temporary crises, and personal challenges is enough to trigger fear, doubt, and a host of other contracting kinds of feelings. One of the great pleasures of passionate lovemaking is that there is a lot of hugging, kissing, stroking, and squeezing that does not only serve sexual needs but also serves the body's hunger for physical contact. Some people who are touch deprived may have sex when they really only want to be touched. Yet the most pleasurable sexual experiences come when the touching not only expresses caring but also sparks genuine sexual desire.

Angry Passion

However, sometimes it is not love, intimacy, or affection that intensifies sexual passion, but anger. A couple may find that some of their most exciting lovemaking occurs after they have had a screaming match. They may rage furiously at one another, yell at the top of their lungs, chase each other around the house, stomp their feet, flail their arms, and maybe even throw things that perilously whiz by their heads. Then suddenly, someone says something that the other interprets as loving or apologetic, and the fight is resolved. They kiss, perhaps gingerly at first, and make up.

Only the kiss lingers, and more kisses follow as the intensity of the anger becomes transmuted into sexual excitement. It makes sense that this would happen, since the heat of anger, with its rapid heart beat and adrenalized activation level, shares some powerful similarities with the state of sexual arousal. Within seconds, and overcome with desire, the couple, reinterpreting their emotional response, fling themselves down wherever they happen to be and lose themselves in wildly passionate lovemaking.

There is a danger, however, that a couple can become addicted to turmoil to pump up their sexual passion. Naturally, any kind of compulsivity around sex ultimately will cause more pain than pleasure. Eventually, the constant drama grows stale. When people depend on an angry routine to become aroused, they may be able to temporarily enjoy intense sexual passion, but the abuse they suffer together militates against the possibility of having any kind of loving relationship.


Resistance Anticipation
Pain as an Aphrodisiac
Novelty, Adventure, Challenge

The erotic is anything that arouses sexual desire and heightens sexual excitement. This can involve activities that a person does alone or with others; it can be a state of mind or a heightened emotional state; it can be a personal invention or it can involve literature, art, or film. Some of the more popular ways of stimulating the pleasures of the erotic imagination are briefly explored below.


Everything we know of the world comes through our five senses. We either see it, hear it, smell, taste, or touch it, and that is known as sensory reception. Sensuality involves those same senses, but instead of merely receiving the data, we take delight in it; we linger over the stimulation and are drawn in by its beauty and the pleasure it gives.

Erotic sensuality involves engaging each sense to augment sexual arousal. Seeing certain body parts, such as firm breasts on a woman or the rounded muscular buttocks of a man, or seeing a person in certain items of clothing like black stockings and a garter belt on a woman or bikini briefs on a man, can be very erotically arousing. Lovers may enjoy the voyeuristic pleasure of watching sexually explicit videotapes or looking at sexy magazines together—typically considered either erotica or pornography, depending on whether one is for or against it. They may enjoy performing before the impersonal "eye" of a video camera for a tape only they will see.

Voyeurism, exhibitionism, even fetishism (investing certain objects with sexual meaning, such as high heeled shoes, and incorporating them into sex play) are problems only when they keep people from having satisfying sex with desirable partners. These can also be ways in which normal, healthy people can playfully heighten their sexual arousal with consenting partners.

Hearing certain sounds during a sexual encounter—such as the raspy sighs and moans of one's lover—certainly can add excitement. Erotic smell can be the most evocative of all the senses, not only in terms of sheer animal arousal but also because pheromones may draw individuals to one another in much the same way as a male dog is drawn to a female dog in heat. Taste is erotic when the mouth drinks in the lover's kisses and body flavors.

Touch has almost become synonymous with eroticism, in the quality of pleasure people experience in the long, slow strokes of a caress and during mutual fondling and embracing. Partners can become proficient at giving each other an erotic massage, where they learn to stimulate each other's bodies with their hands, fingers, or mouths in ways specifically geared to arouse their partner's passions.


To fantasize about sex is to daydream about sexual scenarios, usually because desire has already been aroused but sometimes with the intent of increasing desire. A fantasy can involve imagined activities that a person has never done but may at some time like to try out in reality, such as having oral sex with a new lover. It can be a mental movie of something that would be very unpleasant if it were to happen, such as a rape, but in fantasy, for reasons usually related to one's earliest sexual history, these images trigger sexual arousal. Sometimes people relive in their mind's eye particularly exciting past sexual encounters, and the vivid recall of the details of the past event feeds a present sexual encounter.

Sexual fantasy can be a handy boost to any erotic activity, whether it be masturbation or sex play with a partner. A pleasant sex reverie can even provide a brief, energizing respite from routine with none of the negative side effects of caffeine or candy bars. When people feel troubled that they are spending too much time in fantasy, it is usually because they are dreaming but not acting on their needs, or if they have a partner, they are not expressing to him or her these feelings and desires. But if one's lover is amenable, rather than creating distance a sexual fantasy may be shared in a way that is arousing for both partners and brings them closer together.


The term "romance" originally comes from the literature written about the adventures of the knights and ladies of the court during the Middle Ages. Modern romance is a kind of commonly held fantasy that flows through our culture and titillates through a variety of fanciful tributaries. The cultural myth etched into our collective unconscious and from which most contemporary scenarios are derived is the medieval saga of the desirable, though unattainable, damsel in distress who is rescued by the powerful male on horseback who can slay dragons.

As a genre, romance novels embellish on this basic story line. They are usually long-drawn-out scenarios of lovers yearning for one another but separated by circumstance, fate, or geography— usually at least until the final few pages of the book. Romantic illusion, on the other hand, seems to have more to do with idealizing a person to whom one is very sexually attracted and then imagining him or her to be perfect in every other way as well. Disillusionment in this case, though painful at first, is typically seen to be a good thing, particularly if the relationship is strong enough to survive the reality check.

Everyday romance, of course, does not have to be quite so dramatic and can add greatly to sexual ardor. Unfortunately for many couples, there seems to be some inherent gender differences in what constitutes romance. When women yearn for their men to be romantic, typically it has to do with being treated as special. Traditionally, women are portrayed as enjoying a gift of flowers or some other token symbolic of sweetness, or being taken to a pretty public place, dimly lit is usually preferable, where the two of them can seclude themselves in a private corner and only have eyes for each other. By most accounts, men do not share the same romantic scenario. For them, boats and mountains and lovemaking in parkas tend to figure more prominently.

Resistance Anticipation

Nothing adds lust to sex better than having to surmount some obstacle to get there. Whatever the impediment, having to work hard to achieve some reward not only provides time for fantasy to operate but also builds in the necessary delay between arousal of interest and attainment of the goal to foment anticipation and appetite.

Tripp has suggested that the highest erotic excitement occurs in those very relationships where it has not all been worked out, and that it is the separateness between lovers that makes for "high" romance. In fact, it appears that a certain amount of resistance and distance are necessary for sexual attraction to occur and to remain. When these factors are not present in a relationship, as when there is too much familiarity and too much taking things for granted, the erotic component of the relationship often suffers.

Pain as an Aphrodisiac

Pain may be emotional, as in guilt, shame, humiliation, and feelings of powerlessness, or pain may be physical, as in being spanked or whipped. Either way, sexually nondisruptive levels of pain can induce a state of physiological excitation that can have an additive effect on sexual arousal—as well as provide juicy plots to intensify emotional involvement.

Morin has suggested that sexual arousal is most intense when there is a strong attraction to a person and one or more barriers stand in the way of attaining that person. The pain of longing for someone hard to get or feeling anxious about the encounter can make for some of the most intense feelings of desire and for highly explosive sex when they do get together.

Sometimes, a more complex linkage between shame and sexual arousal causes intense arousal when two people play out sexual scenarios that involve power games of dominance and submission. The dangers in this kind of behavior lie in making oneself a target for abusive behavior. Masochistic people can get hurt by sadistic partners. They may feel depressed and ashamed of their sadomasochistic encounters, become obsessed with the activity when they are not engaging in it, and feel generally out of control. These conditions do not make for much ongoing pleasure.

Certain people, however, seem capable of gratifying their taste for emotionally complex scenarios in playful, nonabusive ways and with consenting partners. Under carefully controlled conditions, these unique sexual desires need not be disruptive of a person's life and, for such a person, may be considered to be a genuine source of sexual pleasure.


Here, the major element of the situation that can arouse intense excitement is the violation of some moral precept or personal pledge. Naturally, some of the aphrodisiac qualities of overcoming obstacles or feeling anxious or ashamed may also apply here. But the main characteristic that builds erotic intensity is that, above all else, it is considered "bad." Violating a taboo may be a part of the appeal when a married person engages in infidelity, especially when sex in the marriage has grown stale and routine.

The association of forbiddenness with intensification of desire is unavoidable in our society as long as childhood sexuality is prohibited and children caught in sexual activity are humiliated and punished. Even though the reproductive system does not mature until puberty, the sexual system begins to function even in utero, and males can get erections and females can lubricate from birth on. Infantile and childhood sexuality is a fact of life, and sex play occurs in children from every culture in the world. Yet adults in our society still tend to respond to a child's sexual interest with discomfort and sexually repressive discipline.

When hiding and defying authority are paired with the intense sexual arousal that often characterizes early sexual exploration in our culture, these qualities become part of the building blocks in our sexual development. Forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest because that is what we cut our teeth on. There is something very exciting about being rebellious and self-assertive that comes with secretive sex. For some people, engaging in forbidden sex is one of the few ways they assert themselves, even if the taboo act remains covert.

Novelty, Adventure, Challenge

There can be no doubt that sexual activity that becomes too familiar and repetitious loses its ability to arouse. The sensory system responds mostly to change, and when stimulation is too constant, we adapt to it and turn off. Again, this is true for all kinds of activity, whether it is mental stimulation we seek or sexual. We are most turned on by new thoughts, new ways of doing things, places to explore we have never been to before, situations that call on us to find and test our personal resources and capabilities and which, ultimately, bring out the best in us. This makes for enthusiasm at work, in sports, in a relationship, and certainly during sex.

Some situations can always be counted on to produce novelty, adventure, and challenge. New lovers who are also off limits are sure things. Sneaking off for a quickie in a semipublic place, such as in the bathroom of a friend's home during a party, also has a certain romantic and rebellious appeal. No-strings sex, sex that does not lead to long-term commitment, may be erotic, because it is the very absence of emotional entanglement that allows some people to focus on and revel in their own pleasure. But when people become dependent on novelty scenarios to stay interested in sex, eventually this, too, can grow boring. Even novelty can become repetitive and grow stale.

However, if two people can create sexual adventure in a long-term relationship, where they can explore all the variations on a sexual theme of physical arousal, emotional arousal, and eroticism, including a variety of different kinds of sex play and orgasms, this could be the most sexually adventurous opportunity of all. Of course, this is not easy because our cultural bias is that excitement and commitment do not quite go together. But when a committed relationship is not exciting, it is usually because one or both partners is playing it safe and withholding feelings with the other just to keep the peace.

Sometimes, it can be exciting to reveal one's secret likes and dislikes to one's partner. Speaking up about one's unique sexual desires is one way people can take some personal risks with one another. In fact, being self-assertive can itself intensify excitement in any relationship. It feels good to ask for what you want or to give yourself permission to say no to something un-desired.

A loving relationship that is pleasure supportive is stimulating because it means people have the courage to say what they want, particularly about sex. In a number of surveys, people who said they felt sexually satisfied in their marriage were also more likely to rate their overall satisfaction in the relationship as high. When two people who love each other are available to travel unexplored sexual terrain and to feel the exhilaration of being sexually free and open with one another, their commitment to sexual fidelity is not likely to feel limiting or restrictive.

Sex Play

Usually, the more intense the arousal prior to orgasm, the more exquisite the pleasure of orgasm. Skillful sex play has an important role in the physical, emotional, and erotic build up of excitement that contributes to generating powerful orgasmic release. Sex play can be solitary, as in masturbation; it can involve pleasurable activity with a partner that does not include penetration— what is often called foreplay; or sex play can include intercourse. The essential features of the contact are not in who does what to whom but in the more important elements of what constitutes play.

Sex play, like any other kind of play, is activity that is intrinsically rewarding. That means it is engaged in for its own sake, because it is pleasurable, and not as a means to some other end. Usually, play involves opportunities to be expressive, energetic, and imaginative. Being absorbed in the events of the moment and experiencing the activity as effortless, even though one may expend a great deal of energy, is a big part of what causes a deep sense of enjoyment.

Sex play during masturbation involves not just rushing through the experience to trigger orgasm but taking time to fully arouse oneself and, in this way, achieve a more gratifying release. Dodson argued that masturbation is a wonderful way for people to discover their own eroticism and to become more proficient at sex with or without a partner. She considers skillful masturbation to be "a meditation on self-love" and recommends that people set up an erotic setting, just for themselves, with soft lights and music, to give themselves greater pleasure.

Sex play with a partner, whether or not it leads to intercourse, involves taking the time to luxuriate in the sensations of the activity. To maximize the pleasures of sex play, it takes two people whose only goal is to enjoy one another. It means not just aiming for orgasm but rather taking delight in, and being fully absorbed by, the events of the moment.

Erotic Potential

There is no reason to assume any automatic ceiling to the amount of sexual pleasure a person is capable of experiencing over a lifetime. Many of us, at different times in our lives, have had sexual experiences that were singularly outstanding and enormously pleasurable. These peak erotic experiences have the right combination of physical, emotional, and erotic elements that make them intensely arousing: the lovers are "hot" for each other, the sex play is inspired, and the orgasms nearly cosmic. But instead of seeing these as rare and fortuitous events, they can also be considered signposts of what is possible in erotic pleasure.

In fact, it is very likely that most people have a potential for erotic enjoyment that they have hardly approached in their lifetime. Schnarch has suggested that probably few people come close to achieving their sexual potential, and those who do are most often in their 50s and even 60s. Aging, rather than inevitably leading to a decline in sexual pleasure, can actually provide the experience and relaxed attitude necessary to reach the heights of erotic ecstasy.

In the same way that Hartman and Fithian's male clients were able to learn how to have multiple orgasms, and women who have never had an orgasm can learn to achieve one, all of us can continually push our sexual limits. There is apparently a whole world of pleasure out there in orgasm that most people have yet to explore (see orgasm and multi-orgasm). Enjoying masturbation and exploring one's erotic potential in solitary pleasuring can be one very effective way of being more sexually experimental. Having a committed relationship can also facilitate this kind of experimentation. Sexual playmates who love and trust one another certainly can provide opportunities for themselves to safely explore their erotic potential together.

What is important is to recognize that pleasurable experiences are essential to health, to the quality of life, and to the quality of our relationships. The more we enjoy ourselves and each other, and the more gratified and fulfilled we feel, the more energy we have not only to realize our own dreams but to nurture and support the dreams of the people we love.


Calderone, M. Above and Beyond Politics: The Sexual Socialization of Children. In C.S. Vance, ed., Pleasure and Danger. London: Pandora Press, 1989.

Cassell, C. Swept Away. New York: Fireside, 1989.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.

Dodson, B. Sex for One. New York: Harmony, 1987.

Field, T.M., S.M. Schanberg, R. Scaldi, C.R. Bauer, N. Vega-Lahr, R. Garcia, J. Nystom, and C.M. Kuhn. Tactile/Kinesthetic Stimulation Effects on Preterm Neonates. Pediatrics, Vol. 77 (1986), pp. 654-658.

Hartman, W.E., and M.A. Fithian. Any Man Can. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984.

Klein, M. Your Sexual Secrets. New York: Dutton, 1988.

Lowen, A. Love, Sex, and Your Heart. New York: Macmillan, 1988.

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

Money, J. Lovemaps. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1988.

Montagu, A. Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

Morin,J. The Four Cornerstones of Eroticism. In D. Steinberg, ed., The Erotic Impulse: Honoring the Sexual Self. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1992.

Ornstein, R., and D. Sobel. Healthy Pleasures. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1989.

Reich, W. The Function of the Orgasm. Translated by T.P. Wolfe. New York: Orgone Institute Press, 1942.

Reiss, I.L. Journey into Sexuality: An Exploratory Voyage. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall, 1986.

Schnarch, D. Constructing the Sexual Crucible. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.

Stubbs, K.R., with L.-A. Saulnier. Erotic Massage: The Touch of Love. San Francisco: Secret Garden, 1989.

Tripp, C.A. The Homosexual Matrix. New York: Meridian, 1987.

Stella Resnick
—Adapted from the forthcoming book As Good As It Gets, to be published by Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., a member of the Putnam Berkley Publishing Group.


Sex constitutes a basic need among human beings and a biologically founded category. Historically, political theorists have sought to provide overarching, normatively based explanations for politics that take into account all significant aspects of human existence. From the Book of Genesis in the Bible to contemporary history of ideas, thinkers about politics have included discussions of sex in their treatises defining what politics should be.

Ancient literature is full of sexual symbols, from Plato's cave (representing the womb) to the ever-present sea shells (representing the female genitalia) to the variety of objects representing the phallus. Gender roles and differences are clear. In the epic poems of Homer, the role of the female is housekeeping, motherhood, and faithfulness to the husband. The 19th-century U.S. women's movement theorist Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued in her Woman's Bible (1898) that interested parties used the Old and New Testaments alike to prescribe a predestined place in society for females, a place that was far more limited than that for males.

Recent scholarship, in reinterpreting this past, has tended to give new dimensions to the female role. For example, the narratives in Genesis have recently been interpreted as giving women certain social rights, which males in the patriarchy then recognized and to which they consented. Ancient writers also recognized, at least sometimes, that women would act different if their role in life was different. In the Ecclesiazusae (Congress of Women), Aristophanes emphasized that where women had to act as men, they became concerned with private gain, something that a woman was not supposed to do. In Genesis, Sarah, the mother of nations, upholds the law of Mesopotamia in her dealing with the handmaid Hagar. Centuries later (1986), the Canadian author Margaret Atwood, in her Handmaid's Tale, projected an unstable, bureaucratically specialized society in which sex role followed function and awareness was ironic and dangerous.

The French theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), in Émile, explored means by which to obtain the inner tendencies of females and males before their advent in society. He arrived at two conflicting systems of education: the public, which was common to man, and the private or domestic, the female one. "That man is truly free who desires [needs] what he is able to perform, and does what he desires [needs]." Males, Rousseau found, were fitted for consultation on morals and comprehension, the public sphere, while females for consultation on the body and senses, the private sphere. The two differed, though, only in their sex, which was complementary; difficulty lay, Rousseau stated, in determining where sex mattered.

In The Vindication of the Rights of Women, Rousseau's contemporary, the English theorist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), said she differed from Rousseau in that he held that originally everything was all right, while she showed that everything eventually would be all right. Both political theorists emphasized experiential content in the good education; Wollstonecraft, however, also assumed and explicated critical reason in females, assuring her readers that development of this capacity to understand led to the ready assumption of obligation. By comparison, she held, Rousseau sooner would yoke or compel women to do what they needed to do, that is, to become free through the social order and civil liberty.

Wollstonecraft agreed that the environment was not favorable to females but found in its unfavorability compulsion toward civilization's more perfect end. Women would become free when they submitted to reason. Rousseau, by contrast, sought submission to the general will as represented in the social contract. Wollstonecraft lamented the precipitate events of the French Revolution, events that had followed upon otherwise magnanimous conduct, and cast her lot with systematically managed reform.

In The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, Frederick Engels (1820-1895), the colleague of Karl Marx, did not take as obligatory a relationship between sex and social order. By tracing the evolution from a matrilineal society, or mother right, to primogeniture, or father right, Engels concluded that civilized society's basis in monogamous marriage confined women to private domestic labor. Economics, rather than mutual inclination, determined a woman's choice of a husband, and sexual inequality had emerged during the evolution of a private property-based system. Abolition of contractual relations, including those associated with sex, and women's access to socially productive labor, would be accomplished but only through increasing violence, a manifestation of the contradictions in capitalism's production mode that the state had proven unable to moderate.

The American Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) did not adhere to Engels's deterministic view of change, although, along with him, she found in technology an important spur to sexual adaptation. In Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relations, Between Women and Men as a Factor in Social Evolution, Gilman attributed the change in unequal economic relationships between women and men to the development of human social tendencies. Gilman argued that woman first became modified when man acted upon her economic environment; this segregation rendered motherhood pathological. Man also became modified, or at least his destructive force was, by existing in sexual-economic relationships with woman.

Women, nonetheless, moved toward more complex social relations in their recognition of the sexes' specialization and differentiation. "Sweet union of the family group," Gilman contended in The Home: Its Work and Influence, required that the mother become engaged actively in work for human progress. This meant that the domestic class had to become socialized, and only self-conscious human beings, living on a plane of separate industry (i.e., in "a personal home") achieved the necessary personality or social evolution associated with collective action.

Despite the institutionalization of technology, science, and law in the 20th century, there was little revolutionary thinking about the social roles of females and males. "The constancy of sex," as Oakley calls it, has remained the source of inquiry about differences between women and men. The study of difference and of inheritance represents one and the same thing, with claims about nature infused with assumptions about normality and deviance. This infusion might well mark an adaptation stimulated by the demands of preindustrial capitalism. Some approaches to this subject, such as sociobiology or biopolitics, tap into a tradition extending back to Plato and treat nature as a conventionally feminine, innate motive.

In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), a French author of the existential school, found women's civil liberties to be imminently theoretical and lacking in economic freedom. In her view, transcendence to reciprocal relations with men gave rise to authenticity in women. She found, however, all too much emphasis on the future and not enough on women's situation in the here and now.

More recently, the French theorist Michel Foucault (1926-1984) found in the subjectivity of modern discourse on rights, among other things, a treacherous form of power called normalization. For Foucault, categorization, grading and monitoring by sex, economics, history, and so on have generated limitations through essentialism. Deconstruction of the subject, an archeological-genealogical task, will reveal that there is no more a "nature" of human beings than there is unlimited freedom. Spurning modernism and transcendence, Foucault spoke to the creation of humanity as a kind of aesthetic, public acting-through-struggle against nonconsensuality. This struggle goes on unendingly in a regulation-oriented society.

A victim of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), Foucault left unexplained the possibilities for the collective action he intended; feminist and other theorists also have lamented the failure in Foucault to include gender as a category to clarify issues about differences between the sexes. There remains as well the difficulty inherent in coping with the conflicting needs for constraint and opportunity in order to reconceptualize sex and political life.

"Whether in Aristotle's assumption-laden hierarchy and defense of Homer's masculine limitations on women, or in Sabine's History of Political Theory, in which a discussion of social class in the Greek city-state never admits to women's existence, mainstream political theory has tended to celebrate manly virtue. In short, males and masculine values have dominated among theorists, even if only by default. Lost in the discussion was the brilliance of Pericles's adviser Aspasia; Mary Wollstonecraft was eclipsed by Tom Paine, and the significance of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, long forgotten. John Locke's relationship with Damaris Cudworth Masham and her influence on his ideas have been the subject of only a few discussions. A major exception is John Stuart Mill's admission of debt to his wife, Harriet Taylor, but current theorists such as Susan Moller Okin have adopted the position that Mill's enrapt perception of Taylor's abilities distorted reality somewhat; and Okin speculates on his discomfort with her advocacy of women's separate, independent existence.

The net result becomes what the feminist theologian Daly has called "the morality of victimization." The U.S. poet and essayist Rich has urged a restructuring of sensibility, to emphasize more feminine concerns such as an ethic of care, which would revolutionize interpretations of relationships between the sexes. MacKinnon, in her examination of the role of power in social relations, has concluded that sexuality and gender are all about power and that the power relationship has traditionally been defined in male terms. She believes that a political transformation is in order. Critics of MacKinnon, such as Wendy Brown, hold that her analysis is harsh and uncompromising and that there needs to be a reconceptualization of the concept of "obligation." For the present, sex and political theory remains dominated by male terminology and theorists.


Atwood, M. The Handmaid's Tale. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1985.

Beauvoir, S. The Second Sex. Translated by E.M. Parshley. New York: Knopf, 1953.

Bordo, S. The Cartesian Masculinization of Thought. Signs, Vol. 11 (Spring 1986), pp. 450-62.

Bullough, V.L., B. Shelton, and S. Slavin. The Subordinated Sex. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1988.

Butler, M.A. Early Liberal Roots of Feminism: John Locke and the Attack on Patriarchy. American Political Science Review, Vol. 72 (March 1978), pp. 135-50.

Daly, M. Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1973.

DiStefano, C. Dilemmas of Difference: Feminism, Modernity, and Postmodernism. Women and Politics, Vol. 8 (Summer-Fall 1988), pp. 1-24.

Elshtain, J.B. Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political Thought. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981.

Engels, F. The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. 1902. Reprint. New York: International, 1972.

Foucault, M. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1, An Introduction. New York: Vintage, 1980.

Gilman, C.P. The Home: Its Work and Influence. 1903. Reprint. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1972.

Gilman, C.P. Women and Economics: The Economic Factor, Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution. Boston: Maynard, 1898.

MacKinnon, C. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1989.

Oakley, A. Sex, Gender, and Society. New York: Harper Colophon, 1972.

Oakley, A. Woman's Work: The Housewife, Past and Present. New York: Harper Colophon, 1972.

Okin, S.M. Women in Western Political Thought. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1979.

Rich, A. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. New York: W.W. Norton, 1976.

Rossi, A. Preface. In A.S. Rossi, ed., Essays on Sex Equality: John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970.

Rousseau, J.-J. Émile. Translated by B. Foxley. 1762. Reprint. New York: Dutton, 1911.

Sabine, G.H. History of Political Theory. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1961.

Schramm, S.S. Plow Women Rather Than Reapers: An Intellectual History of Feminism in the United States. Metuchen, NJ.: Scarecrow, 1979.

Stanton, E. The Woman's Bible. 2 vols., New York: European Publishing Co., 1895-98. Reprint. Seattle: Seattle Coalition Task Force on Women and Religion, 1974.

Tronto. J. Beyond Gender Differences to a Theory of Care. Signs, Vol. 12 (Fall 1987), pp. 644-63.

Wollstonecraft, M. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. 1792. Reprint. New York: W.W. Norton, 1967.

Sarah Slavin


Polyandry ("poly" = "many"; "andry" = "men") is a rare polygamous form of marriage in which a woman is married to two or more men simultaneously. In Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas of 849 human cultures, 709 (83.5 percent) were polygynous (one man with two or more wives), 137 (16.1 percent) were monogamous (one man, one wife), and only 4 (0.047 percent) were polyandrous (i.e., Todas, Marquesans, Nayar, and Tibet). Polyandry is overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, fraternal—two or more brothers sharing the same wife. Polyandry is distinguished from the levirate system, the sometimes mandatory marriage of a widow to her dead husband's brother (the rule that so irked Onan who "spilled his seed upon the ground"), in that a woman is married to one or more brothers of her first husband at the same time. Polyandry is associated with extreme poverty and tends to occur in cultures that practice female infanticide, itself a function of extreme poverty. Such a situation leads to a surplus of males, for whom mates must be found.

All polyandrous cultures allow monogamous and polygynous marriages also. Among the Todas of southern India, where fraternal polyandry is practiced by the lower classes, it is not uncommon for the upper classes to practice polygyny, the opposite of polyandry. Other cultures, such as the Yanomama Shirishana of Brazil, have practiced intermittent polyandry during periods in which the sex ratio was severely unbalanced with an abundance of males, and certain native American tribes practiced "circumstantial" fraternal polyandry if an older married brother became disabled. The granting of sexual access to one's wife to siblings among some native American tribes has sometimes been mistaken for polyandry.

Polyandry and polygyny (one man, many women) should not be viewed as sexual mirror images. Sexual variety is undoubtedly a motivator (one among many others) for a man to take extra wives in polygynous cultures, and the choice to take on additional wives is his to make. Wives in cultures practicing fraternal polyandry have little or no say in the matter—if her husband has brothers, she is married to them also. Additionally, and unlike a wife in a polygynous culture, a polyandrously married male can choose to leave the marriage and take his own wife if his resources allow. Although the eldest brother in a polyandrous marriage is the dominant authority figure, each brother is supposed to enjoy equal sexual access to the wife. No sexual favoritism is supposed to occur, but numerous deviations from this ideal have been noted.

Polyandry has an economic rather than a sexual or status-prestige basis. A woman does not take on extra husbands for novel sexual pleasure, nor does the number of husbands she has confer any special status on her. Among the Todas, where there are often two males for every female, a situation further exacerbated by the polygyny of the upper classes, polyandry can be viewed largely as a function of a shortage of women.

However, such a shortage cannot explain the existence of polyandry in Tibet, the most populous polyandrous culture. Goldstein reports that 31 percent of women of childbearing age are unmarried there. Polyandry functions in Tibet in the same way that primogeniture functioned in former times in England, that is, to retain family lands intact. Just as primogeniture maintained family estates over the generations by permitting only one heir, fraternal polyandry accomplishes the same end by keeping brothers tied together with one wife and producing one set of heirs in each generation.

Polyandry has been viewed as a serious challenge to the sociobiological theory of parental investment in that it minimizes the reproductive fitness of its male practitioners (although it maximizes female reproductive fitness). It runs counter to the fundamental principle of evolutionary mating systems of male mammals, a principle which posits that the optimal male reproductive strategy is to maximize matings with as many partners as luck and ability allow. While some common gene transfer is assured in fraternal polyandry, there is certainly some reproductive sacrifice for each brother.

Polyandry is not considered a valued marriage form in the cultures where it is practiced in the same way that, say, monogamy is valued in the United States. It is one born out of harsh economic conditions or female shortages. As economic conditions improve in such cultures, there is a decline in polyandry in favor of monogamy or polygyny. Thus, as survivability becomes less problematic, humans come to conform more to the mating norms of other mammals and become either monogamous or polygynous. Symons views the rarity of polyandry, the harsh economic conditions under which it exists, and its decline when those conditions improve as evidence for panhuman differences in male and female approaches to reproduction and sexuality. We may consider polyandry as an ethnological curiosity destined for extinction.


Beal, C.M., and M.C. Goldstein. Tibetan Fraternal Polyandry: A Test of Sociobiological Theory. American Anthropologist ,Vol. 83 (1981), pp. 5-12.

Goldstein, M.C. When Brothers Share a Wife. Natural History, Vol. 96 (1987), pp. 38-49.

Murdock, G.P. Ethnographic Atlas. Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1967.

Peters, J.F., and C.H. Hunt. Polyandry Among the Yanomama Shirishana. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Vol. 6 (1975), pp. 197-207.

Quale, G.R. A History of Marriage Systems. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Symons, D. The Evolution of Human Sexuality. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1979.

Anthony Walsh


Polygamy is a general term for specific plural marriage forms in which one man is married to two or more women at the same time (polygyny), or one woman is married to two or more men at the same time (polyandry). Bigamy (one man or woman married to just two spouses) is also a form of polygamy. Any form of plural marriage in Western societies is forbidden by law, although polygyny is still practiced by many thousands of fundamentalist Mormons in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California despite legal proscriptions and the 1890 ban on the practice by the Mormon Church. By far the most usual form of polygamous marriage is polygyny, so much so that the term "polygamy" is often erroneously used synonymously with polygyny. The prefix "poly-" means "many," and the suffix "-gamy" refers to a union for the purpose of reproduction. (See Polyandry and Polygyny.)

Anthony Walsh


Polygyny ("poly"="many"; "gyny"="women") is a polygamous form of marriage in which a man is married to two or more women simultaneously. In Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas of 849 human cultures, 709 (83.5 percent) were polygynous, 137 (16.1 percent) were monogamous (one man, one wife), and 4 (0.047 percent) were polyandrous (one woman married to two or more men). Many people incorrectly use the terms "polygyny" and "polygamy" interchangeably; polygamy is a general term for both polygyny and polyandry. Although most cultures are polygynous, most marriages, even within cultures allowing for polygyny, are monogamous.

Historical and anthropological evidence clearly shows that polygyny occurs mainly in the middle ranges of societal complexity, that is, in the agricultural stage between primitive communism and modern industrialism. Primitive communism was a cultural system in which everything, including sexual partners, was considered common property, or at least in which there was a strong expectation of liberal sharing. Primitive communism died out when cultures settled down in one place and started agricultural economies and when individuals started to think in terms of "this (land, food, woman) is mine." As with life's other amenities, the rich and powerful were able to grab more than their fair share of women.

Why would men dream up the institution of marriage, with all its psychological irritations, obligations, and restrictions? It was not to satisfy their erotic appetites, for marriage, even polygynous marriage, could not compete with earlier sexual communism as a method of gratifying the stirrings in the loins. Perhaps it was animated by the eugenic passion of high-born ancients for transmitting their superior abilities while minimizing the possibility of cuckoldry, by their desire to have cheap slaves, or by their desire to avoid bequeathing their property to progeny not carrying their genes. It may also have been that couples with a propensity to pair-bond (a propensity later formalized by the institution of marriage) increased the survivability of their offspring, thus exerting pressure for the selection of that trait into the human gene pool.

Once the idea of personal property began to take hold (and this would seem to be a very natural idea), men with property desired to protect it from men without it. One way of doing this is to surround the issue of ownership of women with the rites, rules, and regulations of marriage. Islam is the faith most supportive of polygyny, with the Koran permitting a Muslim four legal wives and as many concubines as he can properly support providing he shows all wives equal consideration. Recognizing the difficulties of living up to these provisos, polygyny is not encouraged within Islam as it was, say, among the early Mormons in the United States. Fewer than 10 percent of Muslim marriages are polygynous, and the trend is toward fewer and fewer as those countries develop more along industrial lines. The best estimate of its incidence among the early Mormons is also no more than 10 percent.

Is polygyny the "natural" state of affairs for males? Those of a sociobiological or biosocial persuasion believe that it is. The mammalian animal literature indicates the tendency for female harems to form around a single male in many species, but there is no evidence of the reverse. Sociobiologists see cultural evolution proceeding in concert with biological evolution; that is, culture values the same traits that lead to reproductive success. A corollary of this is that individuals will strive for culturally defined status positions because, ultimately, those positions maximize reproductive success and such behavior is biologically adaptive.

Culture, of course, is a compromise between natural inclinations and cultural proscriptions, but it is always the less privileged who do most of the compromising. One might say that the rich and powerful are freer than the rest of us to indulge their natural inclinations, whatever they may be. In cultures legally allowing for plural marriage, those at the top of the social hierarchy will seek multiple wives, both as a mark of their standing and to increase their reproductive success.

As a subculture with excellent records available, the early Mormons have been the target of many researchers seeking to test the sociobiological theory. These tests have tended to support the sociobiological interpretation, even placing religion in the evolutionary context of reproductive competition. For instance, Brigham Young rivaled King Solomon (reported to have had 60 wives and 80 concubines) in the number of wives he took (53) and the number of offspring he sired (57), offspring who were called, as their status befits, "bodies of honor." All available evidence shows that polygyny is a perquisite of the privileged, that polyandry is not much more than wife sharing among the destitute, and that monogamy is an uneasy compromise between biological urges and cultural imperatives.


Anderton, D.L., and R.J. Emigh. Polygynous Fertility: Sexual Competition Versus Progeny. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 94 (1989), p. 839.

Breuer, G. Sociobiology and the Human Dimension. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982.

Faux, F.S., and H.L. Miller. Evolutionary Speculations on the Oligarchic Development of Mormon Polygyny. Ethology and Sociobiology, Vol. 5 (1984), p. 21.

Mealey, L. The Relationship between Social Status and Biological Success: A Case Study of the Mormon Religious Hierarchy. Ethology and Sociobiology. Vol. 6 (1985), p. 249.

Mellen, S. The Evolution of Love. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1983.

Murdock, G.P. Ethnographic Atlas. Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1967.

White, D.R., and M.L. Burton. Causes of Polygyny: Ecology, Economy, Kinship, and Warfare. American Anthropologist, Vol. 90 (1988), p. 871.

Anthony Walsh


"Wardell Baxter Pomeroy (1913-2001) is best known for his coauthorship of the first two Kinsey reports as well as special studies on sex offenders and on pregnancy, birth, and abortion. He served as director of field research at the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research from 1956 to 1963.

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, December 6, 1913, the son of Mary Adelia Baxter and Percy Wardell Pomeroy, he attended Indiana University, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1935 and a master's degree in 1941. He worked as a clinical psychologist at a mental hygiene clinic, then at the Indiana Reformatory, and was working at the Department of Public Welfare in South Bend, Indiana, when he first met Kinsey. He consented to Kinsey's taking his sex history and recruited others to give theirs. He organized an informal group of social workers to help Kinsey get information on sex offenders. In 1942, Pomeroy made a cautious approach to joining the Kinsey team, but the salary was unsatisfactory. He consented to join Kinsey early in 1943 on the condition that he be allowed to continue his studies toward a Ph.D., a degree he eventually received from Columbia University in 1952. At the Kinsey Institute, Pomeroy at first did mainly interviewing, and he estimated that of the 18,000 case histories compiled by Kinsey, about 85 percent were divided equally between Pomeroy and Kinsey.

Pomeroy married Catherine Sindlinger on September 4, 1937, and has three children, two sons and a daughter.

When Pomeroy left the Institute in 1963, he moved to New York, where he opened an office as a psychotherapist. He remained active in sexology, both in his private practice and in his community activities. Pomeroy was a major force in the development of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex. In 1976, he moved to San Francisco to become academic dean of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Human Sexuality and remained there until he retired at the end of the 1980s. In this capacity, he was influential in the training of several hundred sex counselors, therapists, and educators.

Pomeroy continued to write on sexual subjects, and in addition to his participation in four books associated with the Kinsey group, he also wrote two popular books dealing with boys and sex and girls and sex. He also wrote an account of his experiences at the Kinsey Institute and a summary of Kinsey's interviewing technique "Taking a Sex History: Interviewing and Recording" (with Christine Wheeler). In his later years, he moved to Bloomington, Indiana, the place of his collaboration with Kinsey and his most important research activity. He died there in 2001 at the age of 87.


Pomeroy, W.B. Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

Pomeroy, W.B. Taking a Sex History: Interviewing and Recording, New York: The Free Press, 1982

Vern L. Bullough (updated 2011 by Erwin J. Haeberle)


The Three Commissions
The Evidence
Pornography Defined
Matching Pornography to Fantasy


Although pornography is of ancient vintage as a celebration of sex across diverse cultures, within Western culture antisexual ideology has led to a series of moral panics aimed at punishing all who engage in nonprocreative, nonmarital sexuality. In the 15th century, two Dominican monks, Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, published Malleus Mallificarum (The Witches Hammer). This textbook of the Inquisition abominated witchcraft as a sexual form of heresy. This heresy, they said, not only renounced Christianity but also dedicated the body and soul to evil by acts of coitus with a demon—either a (male) incubus or a (female) succubus—and by sacrificing unbaptized infants to Satan. The demons were collecting souls and semen through sexual acts. According to Thomas Aquinas, these demons secured semen from men as a soul-seducing succubus, changed form to become an incubus, then seduced and impregnated a woman, creating a monster (birth defects?) through the bad seed. To be possessed by Satan required a sexual act; thus, to save the soul, exorcism must torment the body to drive out Satan.

Witches were stripped naked to search for sexual stigmata (the marks of Satan in erotic zones), tortured to obtain confessions (including sexual torture, e.g., plunging a fiery sword into the vagina), and then punished by burning at the stake, either alive or dead. Deaths of women called witches numbered in the hundreds of thousands. This ideology linked sex, Satan, masturbation, bestiality, sodomy, adultery, incest, and child molesting. Still today, charges of satanism are hurled at lust murderers and child molesters, but the Malleus Mallificarum itself was the handbook of sexual torture. The inquisitors were the lust murderers; the witches (variously the insane or mentally disturbed, Jews who had converted to Christianity in Spain to avoid deportation, political enemies, religious heretics, and other misfortunates) were the victims of sexual sadism.

The 16th century created a different heresy for the Catholic Church to contain: the Protestant Reformation. During the Reformation, in 1562, the Council of Trent of the Catholic Church zxc established the Index of Prohibited Books. Obscene books were included among the books on theology and witchcraft—each was an instance of sexual, religious, or sexuoreligious heresy—that were prohibited at the directive of Pope Paul IV. Earlier, Paul IV had considered Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel to be obscene and ordered them to be destroyed. A storm of protest forced him to relent; instead, he ordered that clothes be added to the Virgin Mary and the heavenly hosts. And they were. But not by Michelangelo.

By the end of the 17th century, religious influence over sexual mores declined. In that century, one of the dominant figures in European literature was Don Juan, appearing in works in Spanish, French, English, and German and in Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. In the standard version, the fictional rake seduced and abandoned a multitude of innocents, resulting in his eventual and presumably inevitable punishment.

In contrast, the Memoirs of Casanova (1725-1798) recited a litany of hundreds of seductions of sexually inexperienced girls. After each success, Casanova lost interest but he happily moved on; at the end, he wrote, "I regret nothing."

In the 18th century, the pornographic novel attained a new level of eroticism. Fanny Hill, by John Cleland; Les Liaisons dangereuses, by Pierre Laclos; Bijou indiscrets, by Denis Diderot; and Justine and Juliette, by the Marquis de Sade, appeared. Mary, A Fiction, by Mary Wollstonecraft, became the first novel to be written about lesbians by a woman.

The 18th century saw also an increase in the social distance between the rich and the powerful and the poor and the helpless in England, accompanied by turmoil between the classes and followed by increased harshness in punishment. Two hundred offenses were punishable by death, many more by flogging. The standard disciplinary practice in schools became whipping. Not unrelated, the first pornographic work on whipping, A Treatise on the Use of Flogging, appeared in 1718. (Such works would flourish in the next century, portraying what became known as the English vice—specifically, spanking and whipping but also bondage, discipline, and cross-dressing as punishment.)

In 1709, Edward Ward published The Secret History of the London Clubs. It detailed the riotous sexual activities of gentlemen who were above the law because of their power and influence. All were graduates of the flogging of English schools; undisciplined by such discipline, they continued to meet to drink, whore, and play sadistic tricks. Specializing, the Mohocks forcibly exposed women by standing them on their heads, the Blasters preferred exposing their penises to passing women, the Bold Bucks practiced rape, the Hell Fire Club allegedly celebrated black masses with promiscuous sexuality, and the Mollies (a familiar name for Mary) dressed as women to drink and party. The clubs could adjourn to houses of prostitution, including special brothels for flaggelation, and "Molly" houses. Could it be that whipping the masturbating boy did not drive the devil of sex out of him, but traumatized his sexuality, sometimes eroticizing his violence?

But just as religion was losing its power for sexual restraint, gained by portraying sex as sinful and dirty and corrupting, science began to portray sex as dangerous. Fornication became dangerous and onanism (masturbation and all seminal emissions not intended for procreation) more dangerous still. Demon possession was more or less replaced by degeneracy theory. According to the emerging medical-scientific myth of degeneracy, onanism caused degeneracy that caused all manners of physical morbidity, even death. In 1758, S.A.D. Tissot published his work on onanism and the wastage of semen. According to this medical madness, such wastage produced cloudy ideas and madness, coughs and consumption, a numbness and pain, pimples and blisters, impotence and premature ejaculation, priapism and gonorrhea, and constipation and hemorroids.

In England, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century produced a growing middle class that reacted against the immorality of both the lower and the upper classes; it created Victorianism. Victorianism is more than a synonym for prudery; it implies a self-satisfied and self-conscious rectitude, an acceptance of authority because of the superior social evolution of "Great" Britain, the effect of industrialization in creating a private realm of the family to compensate for a difficult world of work, the idealization of home as haven and of woman as home-maker, and the forming of traditional family values, including sexual purity and chastity.

"Masturbation" became medical science's new word for the religious sin against nature; for example, the physician James Foster Scott described masturbation as including coitus interruptus, coitus interfemora, pederasty, bestiality, mutual masturbation, and "self-pollution." For Scott, masturbation led to homosexuality, viewed as a perversion. It was only a baby step from demon-possession to moral-degeneracy theory.

Another English physician, William Acton, taught that sexual activity produced a loss of vital energy, that males must engage in sex infrequently and only briefly, and that God created women to be indifferent to sex to prevent the male's vital energy from being expended. Procreation itself was dangerous, but masturbation compounded the risks, being ten times worse.

In America, Sylvester Graham asserted that the loss of an ounce of semen was equivalent to the loss of several ounces of blood. Married couples should limit their sex to procreation, copulating no more than once a month. Not only orgasms but also sexual imagination posed a threat to the body, according to Graham, as lascivious thoughts excited sexual desire. Everyone knew that pornography—the very writing of whores—excited sexual desire, producing both the social vice (prostitution) and the solitary vice (masturbation). Moreover, sexual desire and insanity were reciprocal causes and effects, each producing the other. Some of his prescriptions were dietary— the Graham cracker.

At the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Graham's disciple John Harvey Kellogg not only was introducing America to new breakfast cereals, flaked to fight against masturbation; he was also alerting America to the suspicious signs of the secret masturbator: round shoulders and a weak back, lassitude and sleeplessness, bashfulness and unnatural boldness, shifty eyes and cold moist hands, epilepsy and bed-wetting, use of tobacco and obscenity, and boys who don't like girls as well as girls who do like boys. New forms of sexual torture were created by physicians for use by parents to prevent masturbation. Kellogg prescribed circumcision in young boys, sewing foreskins closed in older boys, and carbolic acid on the clitoris of girls—all without anesthesia to associate pain with sexual ideas. (Is this a forerunner of aversive conditioning to treat sexual deviants?)

This antisexual "science" employed the idea that stress was increasing with the modern times created by the Industrial Revolution, and it claimed that the more highly educated were more highly evolved (social Darwinism) and thus more susceptible to the dangers of masturbation. The wag calls pornography "the book that is read with one hand"; the literate masturbate. Kellogg even favored acid for the clitoris of girls who mentally masturbated to orgasm through sexual fantasy. It is speculated that Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist, appeared to find coitus repulsive; he may never have consummated his marriage; he may have found sexual satisfaction in klismaphilia, receiving a daily enema from an orderly each morning.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population, proposing that war, vice, and misery resulted from a human sexual urge that increased population at a geometric rate, whereas the supply of food could only increase at an arithmetic rate. Opposed to contraception, Malthus urged men to marry late and to bridle their sexual urges.

Many neo-Malthusians encouraged the use of contraception to control the growth of population. The Massachusetts physician Charles Knowlton proposed the method of douching in 1832; he was fined and jailed, but the attempt at censorship publicized his work. The possible inventor of the cervical cap or diaphragm, Edward Bliss Foote, advocated the right of women to decide when to have children—a radical idea for the time. Using a pseudonym, the Inspector for the Post Office, Anthony Comstock, requested a copy of Foote's pamphlet, then fined Foote for sending obscene material through the mails. Also, Comstock arrested Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, for sending contraceptive information in the mails. After Comstock attacked one of his plays as obscene, "Comstockery" was coined as an epithet for blue-noses by George Bernard Shaw. Comstockery has come to mean overzealous moral censorship of the fine arts and literature, often mistaking outspoken works for obscenity.

In the 19th century, the Napoleonic Code took the enlightened stance of leaving unpunished any private sexual behavior between consenting adults. Deviant sexual acts were criminal only if they outraged public decency, if they were nonconsenting or violent, or if one party was underage or otherwise unable to give a valid consent. Following William Blackstone, the English (and hence American) law remained harshly punitive about sex. In 1853, the first laws against pornography were passed in England. In 1868, in Regina v. Hicklin, Lord Alexander Cockburne declared that the test of obscenity was its tendency to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences (presumably the lower classes). Pamphlets describing contraceptive methods, including Knowlton's, were swiftly seized as obscene literature. Antisexual attitudes are general, not specific; they are part of a worldview descending from Thomas Aquinas and others in which the only moral sex is coitus in the missionary position within a monogamous marriage for procreation and without too much passion or pleasure.

Each introduction of a new technology of communication appears to have produced new concerns about pornography. From classical painting to the novel, the penny thriller, the photograph, the movie, the magazine, the telephone, the computer bulletin board, the video-cassette recorder (VCR.), and cable television, each transformation in the means of conveying information has been exploited to convey pornographic images. Just as Lord Cockbume was concerned about those into whose hands such material might fall, opponents of pornography remained concerned about effects on some third party who would be susceptible to corruption or incitement to sexual activity or to sexual violence.

Nonetheless, the most important historical trend, occurring within the last two decades, has been the integration of explicit sexual materials into the mainstream communication media. Sex magazines have entered mainstream bookstores; sex videos are available for rental in general retail outlets. The sexual revolution has changed mores about sexuality, including pornography. Although pornography has remained controversial and antipornography forces continue to claim the moral high ground, contemporary community standards are more accepting of sexual expression, including explicit sexual material.

The Three Commissions

That pornography remains controversial is attested to by three important governmental commissions, two in the United States and one in Britain. In January 1968, President Johnson appointed the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. In July 1977, the British Home Secretary appointed a Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship, usually referred to as the Williams Committee after its chairman. In May 1985, Attorney General Edwin Meese announced the formation of a Commission on Pornography. These three commissions illustrate contemporary concerns about the effects of pornography on the public: is pornography harmful? Respectively, they answered no, maybe, and yes.

The President's Commission liked neither of the terms, "obscenity" or "pornography," that were used in its title, preferring the neutral phrase "explicit sexual materials." Unlike the other two commissions, it sponsored direct research on pornography and its effects.

The Williams Committee thought the word "obscene" connoted disgust or repulsion and was too exhausted to do more work in the courts. For them, pornography combined two features: (1) a function of or intention to arouse its audience sexually, and (2) a content of explicit sexual representation.

The Meese Commission believed the word "pornography" was used by individuals when sex was depicted in a disapproved way, and "erotica" was used when sex was depicted in a way that the user approved. It approved of the definition of obscenity given in the Supreme Court's 1973 decision Miller v. California; in fact, it favored more vigorous prosecution under Miller. The three prongs of the Miller decision that form the current American legal test of obscenity are (1) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, finds that the work taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest, (2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct defined by the applicable state law, and (3) whether the work taken as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Most open to social science research, the President's Commission concluded that empirical research found no evidence to support the claim that erode materials caused sex delinquency or crimes. Beginning with an allegiance to the harm principle (harming others is a good reason for legislative action in a free society), the more agnostic Williams Committee concluded it was not possible to reach conclusions about the influence of pornography on sexual crime. By extending the range of "acceptable" evidence beyond social science to include anecdotal evidence from so-called victims who claimed that pornography had incited and corrupted their victimizers and from offenders who admitted being so incited or corrupted, as well as impressions given by criminal-justice and selected clinical professionals that offenders were so incited and corrupted, the Meese Commission reached the conclusion, "unanimously and confidently," that the "available evidence" strongly supports that substantial exposure to sexually violent materials bears a causal relationship to acts of antisocial violence, and possibly to unlawful acts of sexual violence. This conclusion was criticized for including non-cross-examined personal testimonials to harmful effects and for selectively weighting the nonconclusive scientific evidence.

Neither these three commissions, nor social scientists, nor the public can approach the issue of pornography without revealing ideological stances that produce passionate rhetoric in the face of uncertainty about the still largely unknown effects of pornography. Ideology fills the gap of uncertainty; rhetoric becomes the voice of ideology, producing partisan debates about what is true, good, and real.

Three ideological stances are prominent. The first, sexual naturalism, views sexual expression as positive and natural; it defends pornography on First Amendment grounds, turning to scientific evidence to demonstrate the lack of serious and likely harms. The second, traditional morality, views sexual expression as undermining the family by fostering nonprocreative sexual expression and argues that pornography corrupts and depraves, leading to sexual addiction and perversion. The third, women against pornography, views the compulsive heterosexuality of men as violent in nature, arguing that pornography degrades women and promotes violence against them. Although strange bedfellows, the moralist and feminist positions have melded into an anti-pornography position. (Of course, many feminists include themselves in the sexual naturalist or civil libertarian position, believing that a New Right agenda will curtail many additional freedoms in the name of morality after censoring or prosecuting pornography.) Preferring the labels "anticensorship" and "antipornography," each side accuses the other of selective uses of scientific evidence to suit its ideological ends.

The Evidence

Scientists can agree on one conclusion: exposure to pornography increases sexual arousal, as measured by retrospective reports and by subjective and physiological measures of sexual arousal in the laboratory. Men report more exposure to pornography in everyday life and more subjective sexual arousal than women. In the laboratory, the average heterosexual man reports predominantly positive emotions, usually interest and enjoyment, whereas the average heterosexual woman reports mixed emotions, a combination of interest and disgust. People with less exposure to pornography, less sexual experience, more sexual guilt or erotophobia, and more traditional values report less sexual arousal and more negative affect, rating explicit sexual materials as more pornographic, abnormal, and obscene. Following the viewing of explicit sexual materials, men and women may participate in sexual behavior within established outlets, but there is little evidence consistent with the view that their sexual behaviors become more perverse or violent.

That ideology influences social scientists can be inferred from their positive reaction when studying pornography compared to the negative reaction of social scientists studying violence. Liberal social scientists are more accepting of sexuality than violence. As researchers within the television-violence tradition began to study pornography, their approach was more accepting of the possibility of harms. In the interim between the President's Commission and the Meese Commission, a series of investigations suggested that pornography or violent pornography might have an effect on selected aggressive outcomes, usually the administration of electric shock in the laboratory. At present, the tentative conclusions from such researchers are these: (1) exposure to aggressive pornography may reinforce or strengthen preexisting callous sexual attitudes in men, including rape myths, and (2) exposure to violence, rather than exposure to explicit sexual material, may be linked to aggressive sexual behavior.

Predisposition to sexual aggression, opportunity, and drinking appear to be more plausible contributors to violence than the incitement effect of pornography. The most damaging claim against pornography may be that it might desensitize violence in men or in aggressive men; yet commercial television contains massive amounts of violence. If such violence is as important causally as many psychologists claim, sex does not have to be portrayed explicitly to create a linkage between sex and violence. So an emphasis on containing pornography for its presumed danger of desensitizing, without censoring violence in the mass media, appears to be nonsensical, revealing a hidden view of sex itself as morally corrupting. The violence in the mass media is directed more frequently at other men than at women.

Macho men support male dominance over women and engage in aggressive sexual behavior, but they do not learn this personality script from pornography. The macho personality script (see Virility and Machismo) is punitively socialized by preventing boys from crying, from fleeing when afraid, and from hanging their head in shame when significant others threaten, dominate, and humiliate such affective displays of "feminine" emotion. Both parents and sex-segregated male peer groups discourage these so-called "inferior, feminine affects" and encourage the warrior affects of surprise, excitement, anger, disgust, and contempt. Anger, disgust, and contempt are directed toward inferiors—the wimps, faggots, and girls who tremble in fear, weep in distress, and hang their head in shame. It is more plausible that rapists form a toxic script from extensive exposure to scenes in which they are childhood targets of fear, rage, and contempt; sexual violence recasts such victimizing scenes with the now adult rapist as the victimizer. Pornography cannot have much affect unless the affects generated in the imagined scene match the sexual scripts of its consumer, creating a vicarious resonance. Real-life scenes ordinarily generate more dense emotions than vicarious scenes.

The problems of sexual violence and sexism require a more complex analysis than depicting pornography as the root of evils of sexism and violence. Ideologies of sex-as-sinful and sex-as-dangerous permeate the oversimplified claims that pornography is causally linked to sexual perversion and sex crimes.

Pornography Defined

Pornography is a commercial product designed to elicit or enhance sexual arousal by the portrayal of sexually explicit images that produce or activate the consumer's sexual fantasies. Pornography either embodies an intended audience's sexual fantasies as a fictional drama or (if not a narrative) provides an image that serves as a projective stimulus that invites and only partially constrains the sexual fantasies of its audience. Given the intention to stimulate sexual arousal as its exclusive function, pornography presents a cast of supersexual characters whose sexual motivation (and, secondarily, power motivation) is paramount. In pornography, fictional characters experience an erotic reality without the constraints of everyday reality, social norms, and conventional morality. That is, the traditional themes in pornography flaunt the flouting of the social conventions of courtship and monogamy and the moral prohibitions against variety in sexual acts and sexual partners, without producing any unwanted consequences like sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, sexual dysfunction, or rejection.

Like sexual fantasy in general, the constraints of everyday reality and the possibility of negative affects are left behind to produce a sexual mood filled with the positive affects of sexual excitement and enjoyment. In pornography, the customary obstacles to sexual contact are more apparent than real, since all the cast is supersexed, uninhibited, and unrestrained regardless of either their role tags as doctor or cleric or their attributes, such as age or gender. Commonly, pornography has been the companion of the solitary masturbating consumer, but, with VCR technology, more couples are using explicitly sexual videotapes to elicit or enhance sexual arousal.

In pornography, unlike more serious art, the protagonist—traditionally male—overcomes apparent obstacles (deviant sexual objects, e.g., nuns or several partners at once; and deviant sexual linkages, e.g., oral or anal sex) with ease, thus failing to undergo the dramatic conflict and transformation in character that distinguishes literature or drama seen as art that illuminates the human condition. If a single image rather than a narrative, the pornographic image is both literally and figuratively naked; it is an explicit image of sexuality rather than an expressive symbol that requires interpretation; the image merely expresses the mundane aspect, not the inexpressible aspects, of sex. It is the conjunction of purpose, exclusively to elicit sexual arousal, and structure, a nonsymbolic image or a lightweight version of fictional drama, that defines a commercial product as pornographic.

Because pornography is a commercial product, it must either fit the sexual scripts of an intended audience or be open to assimilation to the audience's favorite fantasies. An image off a pinup or a split beaver permits easy assimilation into many male masturbation fantasies. Narrative pornography often selects themes that may appeal to men. Market signals include tides like "Bald Beavers," "Oreo Sex," or "Debbie Does Dallas."

Thus, most pornography was developed for heterosexual men by appealing to a range of sexual behaviors and partners that are socially taboo, given the criterion of monogamous marital coitus in the missionary position. The supersexed heterosexual hero finds a wide variety of women, including those of higher or lower social class, who are immediately interested in having hot sex in a variety of linkages, always featuring fellatio with delight.

For pornography to sell, most of the partners and sexual acts must fit the range of sexual fantasies held by heterosexual men. Nonetheless, many of the conventions or stereotypes of stag films include features that do not match the features found in surveys of heterosexual male fantasies.

After the early days of black socks and masks, X-rated film stereotypes included always showing ejaculation outside the vagina, often on the body or face of the woman, who greedily swallowed the ejaculate as she appeared to climax. After Linda Lovelace's starring role, deep throating during fellatio became common. The protagonist usually would have sex with at least three different women, be sexually serviced by two women, have female actors involved in same-sex scenes, and participate in an orgy scene. Absent were expressions of affection, love, or committed relationships. So when women eagerly grasped penises to fellate them, it seemed that foreplay, mutual concern 'with female pleasure, and cuddling afterplay were unnecessary, at least in the sexual fantasies of men who are masturbating. This illustrates the thesis of supersexed phallic men meeting supersexed receptive women who provide no obstacles to sexual access or to sexual pleasure as the central theme of heterosexual male pornography. Thus, there is no fear of rejection by men, no performance pressure to please the woman, no sexual fear or shame or guilt by either men or women, no distress by women at anal penetration, and no disgust by women at swallowing semen—no negative affect at all is permitted to intrude to break the mood of such lusty heterosexual fantasy.

Recently, in response to VCR technology, women pornographers have begun producing explicit sexual videos "without the raunch." These videos, made by and for women, exclude spurting ejaculate and other stereotypes from stag films; they use sexual fantasies containing more appeal to women. Some evidence suggests that such women-oriented videos may have more appeal to women and perhaps to couples. As yet, no pornography seems to have attained maximum goodness-of-fit to the sexual fantasies of heterosexuals.

Videotapes for gay men include similar sexual acts, excepting penile-vaginal sex. With the onset of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), some pornography for gay men has included safer sex as an educational device. The small market for lesbians has more often consisted of magazines rather than videotapes.

A small audience exists for paraphilic pornography. "Paraphilic" means beyond the normal; it includes themes of urination and defecation, sadomasochism and the like. Because these tastes are relatively rare, the appeal for a mass audience is lost. It should be noted that pornography featuring children is not readily available, unless one counts, as the law does, films with female actors like Tract Lords, who were under age 18 but appeared to be fully developed women. Because the theme of younger women appeals to many heterosexual men, female actors often portray teenagers, but the age discrepancy of actress and role is usually noticeable. In America, child pornography remains rare and illegal.

A small amount of material is available with themes of sadomasochism. Such material is designed for an audience of adults who consent to engage in recreational S&M. The encounter is heavily stylized and fetishized to make the scenes dramatic and to match the sexual fantasies of people who participate in S&M. Commercial establishments specializing in S&M usually do not permit sexual contact between the dominant and the submissive, thus staying within the laws against prostitution. In S&M fantasies, the motive of power is even more central than the motive of sex. Recreational participants in S&M are not true sexual sadists or masochists who want to hurt or be hurt, to mutilate or to be mutilated, to kill or to be killed. Instead, they enact dramatic fantasies of dominance and submission. The small commercial market of S&M was not designed for lust murderers, and most lust murderers probably confine their fantasy materials to more readily available horror scenes of violence that include realistic portrayals of blood and gore or violence against nonconsenting victims, not dominance over consenting submissives.

Despite many claims of a large and increasing volume of violent pornography, X-rated videotapes contain little or no violence. R-rated videotapes, in contrast, contain nudity and sexualized but nonexplicit scenes that are linked with violence. Although a sadistic individual or group may have made a personal videotape of a murder, pornography as a commercial product includes few films that portray death, much less recording an actual lust murder—the so-called "snuff" film. Such claims are common in anti-pornography rhetoric that uses the worst-case scenario to persuade people of its dangers.

Matching Pornography to Fantasy

Sexual-involvement theory posits that deep involvement in the scenes portrayed by pornography requires a goodness of fit between the product and the preferred sexual fantasies of the consumer. Elements that are turnoffs for the consumer either are selectively ignored or disrupt deepening involvement by producing negative affects such as fear, shame, or disgust. Strong attraction to a pornographic product reveals a goodness of fit with the consumer's sexual script. Indifference reveals an absence of fit with a sexual script; the consumer who purchases the wrong product may wonder how anyone can find this explicit material sexually stimulating.

People who hold antipornography positions disregard the commercial motives of producers of pornography, who must satisfy a demand if they are to make money. Selecting worst-case examples of pornography that appeals to few (paraphiles) and offends many (normophiles), they argue that pornography is corrupting and dangerous. Or they argue that the violence in pornography creates violence against women by sloganeering, "Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice." To determine if pornography degrades women, "degrading" must be defined. Certainly, pornography is stereotypic, but it stereotypes everyone it portrays, both men and women, clerics and doctors, gay and straight people, by portraying them as supersexed. If sex degrades, if sexual fantasy degrades, if commercial use of sexual fantasy degrades, then pornography may degrade its cast and its audience. However, if sex is not necessarily degrading of both men and women, and if sexual fantasy is not degrading, then the commercial depiction of explicit sexual activity does not necessarily degrade a consenting cast and audience. If a person believes the only acceptable sexual activity is coitus for procreation in a monogamous married couple using the missionary position, without too much passion or pleasure, then pornography flouts this traditional moral view. Contemporary community standards accept more varied sexual activity between more diverse partners than this traditional more would have it. Contemporary community standards probably do not encompass a full range of deviant linkages and deviant partners. The statistically normative, rather than the moral norm, forms the criterion of a contemporary community standard.

Since the audience for pornography has largely been male, stereotypic male-female relations— male dominance and female submission—are present, given the gender hierarchy in this culture. Whether gender hierarchy and stereotyping are greater or more pernicious in X-rated pornography than in other mass media is debatable. Does anyone take pornography or explicit sexual fantasy seriously as a portrayal of everyday reality? The mass media may be more insidious in its effects. This may be why some civil libertarian feminists argue that what is needed is fewer women against pornography and more women pornographers.

The war over pornography is a war over sexuality as good or evil. For the sexual naturalist, pornography is sexual fluff but not sexual menace. Sex, sexual fantasy, and pornography are accepted expressions of individual and plural sexualities.

For the sexual moralist, pornography is linked to moral evil; to satanism and the moral decay of the family and society; to the corruption of innocence, producing degeneracy through masturbation; to fornication and adultery; to perversion; to rape; and to lust or satanic murders. However, no answer is given as to how to eliminate sexual fantasy and sexual desire, if one were to accept such an impossible mission, out of the minds of either teenagers or adults.

For the antipornography feminist, all pornography degrades women, violating their civil rights. Some antipornography feminists would exclude erotica from the pejorative "pornography," but the line is hard to draw. When balanced on a slippery slope, where does the censor stop—at sexual dissidence, at religious dissidence, at political dissidence? The pornographer's sexual intent is in his or her mind, but disgust is in the mind of the censor. Violent pornography, although hard to find, is condemned as inciting violence. No answer is given as to how to get the violent sexual fantasies out of the minds of rapists. An error of the first feminist revolution was to idealize the sexuality of women as pure, chaste, and moral; an error of the second feminist revolution is to demonize the sexuality of men as objectifying, degrading, and rapacious. Surely, a humanist ethic can argue for freedom of and tolerance for sexual and gender diversity that sets none above the other in power or morality, yet leaves all free to choose so long as they do not harm others.


Berger, RJ., P. Searles, and C.E. Cottle. Feminism and Pornography. New York: Praeger, 1991.

Bullough, V. Sexual Variance in Society and History, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1976.

Christensen, F.M. Pornography: The Other Side. New York: Praeger, 1990.

Copp, D., and S. Wendell. Pornography and Censorship. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1983.

Donnerstein, E., D. Linz, and S. Penrod. The Question of Pornography: Research Findings and Policy Implications. New York: The Free Press, 1987.

Hawkins, G., and F.E. Zimring. Pornography in a Free Society. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988.

Mosher, D.L. Pornography Defined: Involvement Theory, Narrative Context, and Goodness-of-Fit. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, Vol. 1 (1988), pp. 67-85.

Weatherford, J.Mc. Porn Row. New York: Arbor House, 1986.

Donald L. Mosher


Management of Labor
Cesarean Section
Fetal Indications for Cesarean Section
The Types of Cesarean Section
Pregnancy Complications
Medical Problems in Pregnancy
The Postpartum Period
The Postpartum Examination

Pregnancy is a normal physiological phenomenon, and every healthy young woman is capable of conception, carrying a child, and delivering that child. Pregnancy is possible from the time of puberty to the menopause. At the present time, obstetricians see many teenage pregnancies, with young, basically immature females from ages 9 to 13 becoming pregnant, developing all sorts of complications because of their age and immaturity, and suffering through a very difficult pregnancy. Under normal circumstances, we would prefer not to see a young woman conceive and become pregnant until somewhere around the age of 18. Pregnancy is possible in the older female right up to the menopause. The menopause in the United States today occurs between the ages of 48 and 52, but in reality most spontaneous pregnancies occur before the age of 46. Although there are many complications with the older pregnant woman, they are in general not as severe or as complex as the problems encountered in the young teenager.

The average length of pregnancy is from 270 to 280 days (40 calendar weeks or 9 lunar months). The expected date of delivery of the baby is calculated on the basis of the woman's last menstrual period. Once this date is firmly in hand, we count back three months and add seven days to give us an expected date of delivery. Since the advent of sophisticated ultrasound machines, the expected delivery date can also be calculated if the patient is subjected to abdominal pelvic ultrasound around the 18th week of pregnancy. Pelvic ultrasound after 20 weeks of pregnancy is less accurate.

The normal menstrual cycle averages about 28 days, with the average menstrual period lasting from four to seven days. On a 28-day cycle, the woman is fertile and is capable of conception in midcycle around day 12 to 14. When intercourse occurs, the male sperm from the ejaculate is deposited in the vaginal vault, usually in the posterior fornix, and bathes the cervix. Once the sperm are mixed and bathed with the thin, succulent mucous from the cervix, the sperm then traverse up through the cervix, the endocervical canal, and the endometrium and into the Fallopian tubes. In the vast majority of cases, conception occurs in the outer third of the Fallopian tube, and once conception has occurred, it takes approximately four to five days for the fertilized egg to traverse its way down the Fallopian tube, and implant or imbed itself in the endometrium, which has been prepared by the hormones estrogen and progesterone for the implantation of this fertilized egg.

This sounds like a very simple process, but in reality it is a very delicate and complicated mechanism and is fraught with many complications. For example, spontaneous abortion occurs in at least 10 percent of fertilizations, and some authorities venture to state that the spontaneous abortion rate may be as high as 20 percent. If there are anatomical or structural abnormalities in the uterus or the endometrial cavity, or if there are adhesions in the endometrial cavity, from previous infections, this increases the spontaneous abortion rate.

Pregnancy is still not a totally benign medical procedure, and the maternal death rate in the United States is approximately nine women for every 100,000 pregnancies. How can this maternal mortality rate be kept down? The best and probably only way to do it is by adequate and thorough obstetrical medical preventive management. To achieve this goal, prenatal care should start ten days to two weeks after the first menstrual period is missed. At that time, a complete history is taken, and a complete physical examination should be performed. This should include a complete pelvic examination, with vaginal-cervical cultures to rule out the possibility of early infection that may complicate the pregnancy later on; a Papanicolaou smear is taken to screen for cervical malignancy. Once the patient has been examined and the pregnancy has been confirmed, laboratory work is performed. Certain blood and urine work is mandated by law in many states in the United States.

Instructions must be given covering all facets of the pregnancy. We invariably start with thorough dietary instruction, and it is imperative that the pregnant woman have a high-protein, low-carbohydrate, low-salt, low-fat diet, including about 75 grams of protein daily. One must remember that one quart of skim milk a day provides 35 grams of protein and all the calcium that the pregnant patient requires on a daily basis. One egg a day supplies seven grams of protein and all the iron that the patient needs to meet a daily metabolic requirement for pregnancy. A reduced salt intake is very important, because in pregnancy the high-salt diet combined with the high food intake give the patient an excess of weight gain based on the retention of salt and water. The weight of pregnant women is closely monitored, as is their dietary intake to make sure they receive an adequate nutritional diet sufficient to sustain both the patient and the fetus. During the first three months of pregnancy, we restrict the intake of caffeine because of its effect on the early intrauterine development of the fetus and its stimulating effect and possible developmental effects. Pregnant women should not smoke or use tobacco in any form. Nicotine has a negative impact on the vascular vasomotor system of the woman and on the developing fetal and placental bed. Smoking also decreases the oxygen supply available to the baby, in turn producing a small placenta that does not function well and results in a low-birth-weight infant.

Alcohol is another social problem that confronts the pregnant woman. It is imperative that the patient refrain from the use of alcohol during the entire pregnancy. Excessive use of alcohol affects the growth and development of the child and produces a fetal alcohol syndrome with very definite developmental abnormalities that are grossly identifiable at the time of delivery. Even more dangerous reactions occur with other drugs, such as heroin, and they are summarized at the end of this article. A vitamin supplement is important, and we prescribe any one of a number of good prenatal vitamins that are on the market.

To simplify charting the progress of the pregnancy, it is divided into three periods called trimesters, as the nine months of growth and development. The first trimester is of the utmost importance, because it is during this time that cell division and the development of the nervous system and the circulatory system occur, and noxious elements can contribute to poor growth and development of the fetus, producing an abnormal fetus, which could then be carried on into the second and third trimesters and eventually end up in delivery. The patient may experience nausea and vomiting during the first trimester.

The second trimester is a period when the patient begins to feel better, since the nausea and vomiting are ordinarily gone by the 14th week. Pep and energy, which were diminished during the first 12 weeks, are now back, and the woman is a vigorous individual capable of living a very normal and healthy life.

The third trimester is a period of massive growth in the baby, when the cartilaginous tissue is being transformed, with the deposition of calcium, into the cartilage to create bone structure, and the muscle mass in the infant is also being laid down and developed. An adequate maternal diet is of the utmost importance, because the infant needs extra proteins and calcium. The third trimester is also the time when an infection in the vagina, whether it be preexisting or recently acquired, can cause premature rupture of the membranes and premature labor. This usually occurs around the 32nd or the 34th week and creates serious problems both for the patient and for the obstetrician. This possibility of danger makes it imperative to identify and recognize infections in the genital tract during the third trimester of the pregnancy.


At the end of the pregnancy, around 270 to 280 days, the patient is beginning to feel very uncomfortable, unwieldy, and bulky. She has great difficulty finding a comfortable place to sit or to lie. Her back is bothering her from the lordosis of pregnancy. Her pelvis feels heavy and has tremendous pressure, because the fetal head is now working its way down into the pelvis prior to the onset of labor. Before the onset of labor, the patient usually has a nesting instinct and is aware of the fact that changes are occurring and that labor is not far away. She will frequently lose two to four pounds in weight, since the hormones that have sustained the pregnancy for 40 weeks are now beginning to subside, and some of the physiological fluid retention of pregnancy is being released through an increased urinary output.

The first sign of labor is the onset of uterine contractions, which the patient is well aware of and can discern very effectively. These contractions, especially if this is a first pregnancy, are usually mild and irregular, occurring every 20 to 30 minutes and lasting for 15 to 45 seconds. The woman is able to move around and has no complaints. As the contractions continue, she frequently notices an increased vaginal discharge that consists of mucous that is clear or slightly blood tinged and nonirritating. As labor progresses, the contractions increase in regularity, and when they are occurring every five minutes by the clock for at least one hour, the patient should go to the hospital. If this is her first pregnancy, she can anticipate a total labor of 18 to 24 hours. If this is the second or a subsequent pregnancy, she can anticipate a total labor time of 6 to 12 hours.

Labor can be divided into three stages. The first stage of labor begins when the patient has established regular uterine contractions with a full cervical dilatation of ten centimeters. The second stage of labor is from the period of full dilatation until the delivery of the child. The third stage of labor is from the delivery of the child until the delivery of the placenta.

One must realize that labor is a mechanism in which the mature fetus at term begins its descent through the maternal pelvis, down through the vagina, passing all the bony anatomical structures in the pelvic girdle and ending up with the presenting part, usually the baby's head, visible at the dilated vaginal introitus. This is a complicated mechanism, and the baby has to rotate from at least 90 to 180 degrees to traverse the pelvis. The true maternal pelvis has basically a 90-degree turn in it in that the baby engages and descends down to what we call the midpelvis; then the baby must do a 90-degree turn to exit from the pelvis.

Labor is categorized as normal or abnormal. Normal labor is characterized by a spontaneous onset with normal progression throughout the three stages of labor and terminating in spontaneous vaginal delivery of an infant. When a problem exists for one of many reasons, the labor is termed abnormal. The patient may purely and simply have what we call a dysfunctional labor, that is, she has a poor uterine contraction pattern and can never establish a normal, effective pattern of contractions that permits the cervix to dilate progressively. A dysfunctional labor can be indicative of cephalopelvic disproportion or an abnormal presentation, such as a persistent occiput posterior, a face presentation where the baby's head is deflexed and the face is presenting instead of the vertex, or a transverse lie where the baby is lying transversely in the mother's abdominal cavity with no presenting part in the pelvis. Last, there are the problems that are associated with a breech (buttocks or foot) presentation.

Management of Labor

In the first stage, which lasts approximately 6 to 12 hours with a prima gravida (first pregnancy), the patient needs constant support and adequate fluid intake either by mouth or intravenously. Strong sedation should be avoided until the patient is dilated approximately five centimeters. If the patient is stressed and is losing control, non-narcotic medication intramuscularly, such as vistaril, can be used. This medication has the unique ability to calm the patient down, let her resume total control of herself, and permit the labor to continue.

After five centimeters of dilatation, if sedation is required or needed, narcotics such as Demerol, or a newer medication called Stadol, are used. These work very effectively and enable most of the patients to continue their labor in a normal, uninterrupted fashion. Another form of analgesia often used after five centimeters of dilatation is an epidural block. This is a regional anesthetic that gives the patient complete pain relief and permits the labor to progress and continue. There are a few rules that must be followed in the use of the epidural: the patient must be at least five centimeters dilated, the membranes should be ruptured, and the presenting part should be in the midpelvis or below the level of the ischial spines in the midpelvis. If the epidural is given without following these criteria, the labor is prolonged and, in many cases, ends with an operative delivery, such as a low forceps delivery or, in some instances, even cesarean section, all of which would have been unnecessary if the rules for the use of an epidural block were followed.

All labors do not go to fruition uneventfully, and complications do occur. Prolonged labor, due to an ineffectual contraction pattern, can delay descent of the presenting part, necessitating use of medication, such as pitocin, that stimulates effective uterine contractions. This is given intravenously and it is monitored very closely with what is called a Harvard infusion pump. With this technique, it is possible to know exactly how much medication the patient is receiving intravenously on a per-minute basis. Pitocin corrects the ineffectual labor, strengthens contractions, and enables the presenting part to descend into the pelvis. With these complicated labors, however, a spontaneous vaginal delivery is not always possible, and there is very definitely an increased use of forceps with this contraction problem in labor. On occasion, labor has to be terminated by a cesarean section.

The second stage of labor by definition occurs when the cervix has reached full dilatation, and the second stage lasts from the full dilatation of the cervix until the delivery of the presenting part. This time interval is somewhere between 30 minutes and four hours. Once full dilatation occurs and the membranes have been ruptured, either spontaneously or artificially, the presenting part continues to descend through the pelvis. When the presenting part, in most instances the baby's head, reaches the vaginal introitus, it is called crowning, and at this time the fetal scalp and the fetal hair can be seen.

When this occurs, delivery is not far behind. Delivery will either be a spontaneous delivery or it will be an easy outlet forceps delivery. If the woman is a prima gravida, an episiotomy is almost invariably done. This is a surgical incision made in the perineum to facilitate the delivery of the baby's head without a perineum tear. Tears are to be avoided because the tears are jagged and the repair is difficult, involving a prolonged recovery period and pain in the perineum. With a clean episiotomy and a clean surgical repair after the delivery of the placenta, the perineum heals easily and the patient is reasonably comfortable.

When the presenting part, namely the head, is delivered, the obstetrician has an obligation to clean the infant's airway, and we do this by aspirating mucous, blood, and other debris from the nose, throat, and mouth. Once the baby has been completely delivered, the cord is cut and clamped, and the baby is given to the pediatrician in attendance at the delivery. Babies are evaluated immediately after delivery by what is called the apgar score. This is a score that assesses the baby's color, heart rate, muscle tone, and breathing at the time of delivery. Both an immediate and five-minute apgar score are calculated. A normal score will be in the range of 8 to 10, 10 being a perfect score. If the score is below 5, the baby has been subjected to some degree of stress and reduced oxygen supply at the time of delivery. If the score spontaneously reverts to an 8 to 10 rating at the five-minute apgar evaluation, the baby is in good condition and will ordinarily have no significant problems.

The third stage of labor begins with the delivery of the baby and is terminated with the delivery of the placenta. The time frame is usually from 5 to 10 minutes up to one hour. If the placenta has not spontaneously delivered by one hour, removal of the placenta under an anesthetic is advised. Immediately upon delivery of the placenta, the patient is given medication to bring about contraction of the uterus to prevent excessive bleeding. This will be either pitocin administered intramuscularly, an ergot derivative or both. The average blood loss at vaginal delivery is 150 to 200 cubic centimeters. If the blood loss is in excess of 500 cubic centimeters, the patient has had a postpartum hemorrhage.

Cesarean Section

Cesarean section is an operative surgical delivery in which the woman's lower abdomen and uterus are opened and the baby is manually removed from the interior of the uterus. This is done in an operating room under anesthesia. The indications for a cesarean section are twofold: one is maternal, and leading the list for maternal indications for cesarean section is cephalopelvic disproportion. In this instance, the baby is too big for the mother's bony pelvis, and the baby is unable to safely traverse through the bony pelvis because of its size. Another maternal indication for cesarean section is an abnormal presentation. By this is meant a transverse lie where the baby is lying transversely in the uterus with no presenting part in the pelvis. If a woman has a breech presentation, if this is her first baby, and if the baby is in a position called a double footling breech, elective delivery by cesarean section is usually advised. The reason for this is that once the membranes are ruptured, with the double footling breech the incidence of spontaneous prolapse of the umbilical cord is very significant. With spontaneous prolapse of the umbilical cord, the baby is subjected to anoxia and, in many instances, severe and irrevocable changes that are not compatible with a healthy life. Another maternal indication for cesarean section is placenta previa. This means that the placenta, or the afterbirth, is presenting first in front of the baby and totally covers the cervix, so that if and when cervical dilatation occurs, the woman will have severe bleeding, which is life threatening. Another maternal indication for cesarean section is abruptio placenta. The placenta spontaneously separates from the lining of the uterus or the endometrium, creating an acute surgical emergency for both the mother and the infant. This usually occurs with some form of vascular disease. Occasional cesarean sections are done because of preeclampsia, which is a vascular disease, or in the case of twins who share one placenta and one set of membranes.

Fetal Indications for Cesarean Section

The major fetal indication for a cesarean section is acute fetal distress in labor. In modern labor rooms, the fetal heart rate is monitored continuously throughout labor so that attendants are acutely aware of what the fetal heart rate is at any given time. If the infant gets into a situation where there is a compromise in the oxygen supply, the fetal heart rate is drastically reduced. If it stays reduced, this is acute fetal distress, which must be handled by an emergency cesarean section.

Another fetal indication is cord compression, caused by an umbilical cord that is lying close to the fetal head in the pelvis; every time the uterus contracts, the cord is impinged upon and the fetal heart rate drops. Another form of cord compression is when the cord is wrapped tightly around the infant's neck. In this instance, the infant will manifest acute fetal distress on the fetal monitor. Again, if this persists, it is considered a surgical emergency, and the infant must be delivered by cesarean section. Another significant fetal indication for a cesarean section is a bowel movement by the fetus into the amniotic fluid during labor, creating a meconium milieu in the amniotic fluid. If this meconium is thick, it is a problem, because the infant may well aspirate a significant amount of this meconiumstained amniotic fluid and develop a meconium aspiration syndrome. This syndrome causes a chemical pneumonitis, and, in many instances, this compromises the infant's life. When the membranes are ruptured and thick meconium is seen, serious consideration is given to effecting delivery by cesarean section.

The Types of Cesarean Section

There are two types of cesarean sections. The classical cesarean section uses an incision in the upper uterine segment, or what is called the fundus of the uterus. This is the original cesarean section done years ago, but it is seldom used now because of problems with increased morbidity and infection in the immediate postpartum period and because of the weakness of the uterine scar and the incidence of spontaneous rupture of this classical incision in future pregnancies. The low cervical transverse incision, which is made transversely in the lower uterine segment below the fundus, is now the surgery of choice. To effect this type of surgical delivery, the vesical peritoneum is opened up and the bladder is reflected down off the lower uterine segment. After the surgery is performed and both infant and placenta are delivered, the uterus is closed with two continuous running sutures and the bladder peritoneum attached in its proper place over the lower uterine segment so that, in essence, this incision is totally exteriorized and does not in any way contaminate the peritoneal cavity. Blood loss with the average cesarean section is between 500 and 700 cubic centimeters, depending on the indications for the cesarean section and the skill of the surgeon.

There is a very definite morbidity attached to cesarean section, and it is not always a benign procedure. The major postoperative problem is infection of either the incision, the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, or the urinary tract and, rarely, a pneumonitis or infection in the lungs.

Pregnancy Complications

The number one complication of pregnancy is spontaneous abortion, the incidence of which runs somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent. Spontaneous abortions in the first three months of pregnancy are due mainly to the fertilization of a defective egg or the fertilization of an egg by defective sperm, and the products of conception are spontaneously aborted. Once an abortion occurs, approximately 50 percent of the patients with a spontaneous abortion will have to have a D&C (dilatation and curettage) or D&E (dilatation and evacuation) to clean the uterine cavity of the retained products of conception, which, if not removed, will cause continuing bleeding or infection. If it is an early ovular abortion in the first four to six weeks of pregnancy, however, mother nature very effectively cleans out the uterus, and D&C or D&E is rarely indicated.

Another complication of pregnancy occurs around the 20th to the 24th week, and this is spontaneous premature labor or spontaneous dilatation of the cervix due to an incompetent cervix. This means that the cervix is not strong enough and firm enough to keep the products of conception within the uterine cavity for the full 40 weeks of pregnancy. When this is diagnosed, the patient must be put at bed rest, and once the situation is under control, the cervix is sutured with a special suture called a McDonald suture. This suture remains in the cervix until the patient goes into labor at or near term.

Another complication of pregnancy is vaginal and cervical infection. If this is undetected and not diagnosed, and if the patient has a group B-beta hemolytic streptococcus colonizing in the vagina or the cervix, it invariably causes premature rupture of the membranes and premature labor at around the 32nd week of pregnancy. Once this occurs, the membranes rupture and the patient must be delivered quickly because of the danger of infection. Because of the severity of the group beta hemolytic streptococcus on pregnancy, routine culturing of the cervix and the vagina of all patients at the 28th week of pregnancy is now advocated.

Another complication, seen especially in women having their first pregnancy, is the development of preeclampsia. This is a vascular condition characterized by excessive weight gain; fluid retention; swelling of the body, including the legs, hands, and face; elevation of blood pressure; and appearance of protein in the urine, called proteinuria. Once this occurs, the patient and the infant are in a potentially dangerous situation, and the preeclampsia must be treated by hospitalization; bed rest; control of the blood pressure with oral, intramuscular, or intravenous medication; and control of the possible development of convulsions with a drug called magnesium sulfate that is given intravenously. Once the preeclampsia is under control and the blood pressure and urine output are stabilized, the patient must be delivered. If the cervix is favorable and labor can be induced with pitocin, a vaginal delivery may be possible, but in many of these cases, the pregnancy is terminated by cesarean section.

Cephalopelvic disproportion was alluded to during the discussion of cesarean section. When it does exist, the patient can be given a trial of labor to see if she can possibly deliver her baby vaginally safely before cesarean section is called for.

Medical Problems in Pregnancy



AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is a serious viral problem today. When a woman is HIV-positive, it usually means that the infant that she delivers will also be HIV-positive. These patients require very intense medical support and care throughout pregnancy. The vast majority of these patients will, however, be able to deliver vaginally if they do not have any serious medical problems that complicate the pregnancy during the nine months.


Marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, and heroin are all dangerous to the pregnant woman and fetus. Marijuana has a systemic effect on the mother, which in turn is transmitted to the infant. There is also some evidence that marijuana may have a deleterious effect on chromosomes. Cocaine and crack cocaine are absolutely deadly in pregnancy and affect both the mother and the infant. Cocaine, because of its ability to rapidly increase the blood pressure, causes many severe and serious medical complications, such as heart attack, stroke, and premature separation of the placenta, or what is commonly called abruptio placenta. There is no distinction between crack cocaine and cocaine as far as the medical complications are concerned. Heroin has the same devastating effect on both the mother and the infant as cocaine and crack.

Both alcohol and smoking pose dangers. All patients should be warned of the problems with drugs, alcohol, and tobacco and urged to avoid the associated danger.

The Postpartum Period

The postpartum period lasts from the delivery of the infant to six weeks postpartum, and special instructions are required for the patient in this immediate postpartum period. If the patient is breast-feeding, special attention should be paid to the patient's diet. Her protein intake, her calcium intake, and her iron intake may need to be increased to support the patient and also to provide the essential nutrients for the growth of the infant. Patients are advised to continue their prenatal vitamins as long as they are breast-feeding. Breast-feeding lasts from a few months up to a year, depending on the patient's desires. During the breast-feeding period, the patient should abstain from tobacco, drugs, and caffeine. These substances are transmitted to the breast milk, and they all have deleterious effects on the infant.

The episiotomy requires special attention in the immediate postpartum period, and that includes absolute cleanliness and frequent changing of external sanitary pads. Tampons should be avoided during this period. It is important that the patient wash thoroughly after bowel and bladder elimination and wear clean underwear at all times. Cleanliness promotes healthy, rapid healing of the episiotomy. The postdelivery vaginal discharge, called lochia, exists for an average of three weeks. It will manifest itself in many different colors, from bright red bleeding immediately after the delivery to a darker red color to a brown color and then to a yellowish color toward the end of the three-week period. It has a very characteristic odor, and this odor does not mean in any way that there is infection present. It is the odor of the discharge during the healing phase of the lining of the uterus where the placenta was attached.


Sexual contact should be avoided in the postpartum period until the episiotomy is well healed and the vaginal discharge is completely gone. This usually is somewhere around four weeks. If the patient is going to engage in intercourse, she must give serious consideration to contraception, or she may become pregnant immediately after delivery. Today, women are very healthy, and they resume spontaneous ovulation quite early even though they may be breast-feeding; this is why instructions must be given about contraception and the prevention of pregnancy during the period of breast-feeding.

The Postpartum Examination

All patients should be seen six weeks postpartum for a complete examination, including an examination of all parts of the body and especially the pelvis. On pelvic examination, special attention is paid to the episiotomy and its healing, and the vagina is checked closely. All patients at the postpartum examination get a Papanicolaou smear, probably the first one that they have had since before the pregnancy commenced. After the examination, there is consultation to answer all the patient's questions and to discuss contraception. This is the time to sit down face to face with the patient and discuss all aspects of contraception. There are many methods of contraception available today, and these should be discussed in great detail, one by one, with the patient. Family planning is very important, and a patient, especially a young patient, should not have one pregnancy right on top of the other. If it is possible, at least a two-year interval between pregnancies is advised. In this way, the patient is able to enjoy her new offspring, is able to participate in breast-feeding if that is her desire, has adequate time to enjoy the very interesting years of growth and development, and permits bonding to occur so that there is a very strong connection between mother and child. This is a very significant part of the patient's development and gives the child great emotional and mental stability.

In conclusion, pregnancy is one of the great miracles of life. When one gives sober thought and reflection to the fact that it all starts with conception, when a microscopic egg is released by the ovary and is fertilized by a sperm that has been deposited in the woman's vagina, then growth and development occur and after 40 weeks of gestation a new, healthy infant is delivered into the world, pregnancy is truly remarkable and should be greatly appreciated and respected by all humankind.

W. Robert Penman


Incidence and Prevalence of Teenage Sexual Activity
Factors That Influence the Initiation of Sexual Activity
Contraceptive Use During Premarital Sexual Behavior
Risks Associated with Premarital Sexual Activity

The term "premarital sex" refers to a variety of sexual behaviors, including sexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, masturbation, and petting before marriage. These behaviors usually occur with a partner. Masturbation is self-genital manipulation, which may be done alone or with a partner. It often occurs long before marriage, even as early as infancy. Therefore, most people engage in premarital sexual activity even if they do not have sexual intercourse before marriage.

Sexual experiences with the same gender is common during adolescence, particularly between the ages of 10 and 16. Some same-sex behaviors, such as mutual touching or masturbation, are considered to be a normal aspect of the transition from childhood to adulthood and not predictive of adult homosexuality.

When research is conducted on premarital sexual behavior, sexual intercourse is usually the focus. Often, when we think of premarital sexual activity, we think of teenagers. However, because many people are postponing first marriage into their 20s or beyond, premarital sexual behavior can be experienced by many people older than adolescence.

Many people still consider sex within marriage the best and only acceptable option for themselves, for either moral or religious reasons. In addition, there seems to have been a slowing in the rate of increase in premarital intercourse and a decrease in the number of partners in the past decade, partly due to the fear of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and other STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Premarital sex implies that marriage is a norm in this culture and that sex is expected within marriage. In recent decades, sexual behavior has also become the norm, both before and after marriage.

The fear of STDs decreased after the 1940s, when penicillin and other antibiotics became available to cure a number of them. Since the advent of oral contraceptives in the 1960s, there has been an even greater increase in premarital sex, because pregnancy is more easily preventable. When abortion became legal in the United States, there was again an increase in premarital sex rates, because unwanted pregnancies could be safely terminated.

Incidence and Prevalence of Teenage Sexual Activity

Between 1900 and 1960, there was a tenfold increase in the incidence of sexual intercourse among single teenage girls in the United States. More than 70 percent of 19-year-old women and more than 80 percent of 19-year-old men have engaged in sexual intercourse prior to marriage.

Unfortunately, contraceptive usage by teenagers is notably low and sporadic, although it has increased within the last few years. In 1989, more than half of teenage girls and more than three-fourths of teenage boys had engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse at least once.

For each year of age, the proportion of adolescent women reported having premarital intercourse increased at least 55 percent from 1970 to 1988. The largest relative increase occurred among 15-year-olds, while three-quarters of 18-to 19-year-old women reported having had premarital sexual intercourse in 1988. African-American teenage girls consistently report having more premarital sexual activity than white girls, although the gap is closing between the two groups.

Factors That Influence the Initiation of Sexual Activity

The initiation of sexual activity among adolescents is governed by a complex mixture of social, psychological, religious, and physical influences. Girls most frequently mentioned peer pressure, with less frequent mention of being in love, wanting to feel grown up, or having feelings of sexual desire as reasons to have sexual intercourse. Boys also cited social pressure as a reason for having sex, followed by feelings of sexual desire, accomplishment, and curiosity.

For girls, sexual intercourse is usually initiated about four years after menarche. Early-maturing girls are more likely to begin early sexual activity at younger ages than late-maturing girls. Factors that promote the initiation of sexual activity in girls include risk-taking behaviors (e.g., drinking, drug use, not wearing seat belts), low socioeconomic status of the family, a dysfunctional family (with parental drug or alcohol use), poor academic performance, residence in a large inner-city community, low self-esteem, high susceptibility to peer pressure, mother and sister who became pregnant as teenagers, or absence of the father through death or divorce. Several factors that are likely to delay the initiation of sexual activity include the prospect of a college education, career goals, and high religiosity. School-based health clinics seem to decrease the incidence of teenage pregnancy and to delay the onset of the first sexual intercourse.

Contraceptive Use During Premarital Sexual Behavior

Many teenagers who engage in premarital sex do not use birth control for the first six months of intercourse. In the event that the sexual encounter is with a new partner, many young women are reluctant to suggest a condom or indicate that they are on the pill for fear that their "reputation" will be tarnished. The two most common reasons given by teenagers for not using contraceptives are failure to anticipate intercourse and the belief that the risk of pregnancy is small, often due to belief in myths about pregnancy.

Teenage daughters who discuss sex with their parents had attitudes and behavior patterns that lowered their risk of becoming pregnant before marriage and delayed their first sexual intercourse. Since the 1960s, societal attitudes have changed considerably regarding premarital sex. While over 80 percent of parents of college-age students condemned premarital sex for their children in 1967, in 1981 most of the parents interviewed accepted premarital sex for their children who were in love. However, even when premarital sex is considered permissible or acceptable, few parents adequately prepare their children with the information they need about pregnancy and STD prevention.

Providing birth control information to unmarried people was illegal in some States until a 1977 Supreme Court case. Now, young people in the United States have access not only to birth control information before marriage but also to contraceptive devices. Parental consent is not required for unmarried people to obtain birth control or abortion services in most states.

Although premarital sex is common in the United States, and birth control information and services are available, the United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. This is due to the fact that the United States is a sexually repressive culture, which does not provide young people with complete and accurate information about sex or the ability to exercise responsible sexual decision making or behavior.

Risks Associated with Premarital Sexual Activity

The time when adolescents mature physically, psychologically, and cognitively is also the time when many are most likely to become sexually active. Although sexual development and expressions of sexuality are part of the psychosocial maturation of teenagers, they put the ill-prepared teenager at risk for both unwanted pregnancy and infection by sexually transmitted organisms.

Increased sexual activity among adolescents has several common health consequences: gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes simplex 1 and 2, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Consequences of these diseases are often infertility and ectopic pregnancies. These risks are especially high as a consequence of premarital sexual activity beginning early in adolescence. The earlier teenagers begin sexual activity, the greater is the likelihood of multiple sexual partners. The more sexual partners one has, the greater the risk of contracting an STD.


Alan Guttmacher Institute. Teenage Pregnancy: The Problem That Hasn't Gone Away. New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1981.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Adolescent Wellness. Adolescent Sexuality Monographs. Lindenhurst, NJ.: Health Learning Systems, 1989.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Adolescence: Adolescent Pregnancy. Pediatrics, Vol. 83 (1989), pp. 132-34.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Adolescence: Care of Adolescent Parents and Their Children. Pediatrics, Vol. 72 (1983), pp. 249-50.

Fox, G. The Mother-Adolescent Daughter Relationship as a Sexual Socialization Structure: A Research Review. Family Relations, Vol. 29 (1980), pp. 21-28.

Minnesota Clinic. Population Today, Vol. 14 (June 1986), p. 4.

Premarital Sexual Experiences Among Adolescent Women: United States, 1970-1988. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vol. 39 (Jan. 4, 1991), pp. 929-32.

Stoller, R.J., and G. H. Herdt. Theories of Origins of Male Homosexuality: A Cross-cultural Look. Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 42 (1985), pp. 399-402.

Trussell, J. Teenage Pregnancy in the United States. Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 20 (1988), pp. 262-72.

Andrea Parrot


The definition of premature ejaculation is imprecise and the subject of disagreement among sex therapists and researchers. Masters and Johnson suggested that ejaculation occurs prematurely if the woman does not reach orgasm during intercourse at least 50 percent of the time. This definition is problematic, as some women reach orgasm very rapidly during intercourse, while for others, orgasm never occurs during intercourse, regardless of duration. Kaplan proposed that a lack of voluntary control over the occurrence of orgasm defined premature ejaculation. However, it is not clear that the ejaculation reflex is truly subject to voluntary control. Rather, the ejaculation reflex, similar to the sneezing reflex, is at best only partially under voluntary control.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association defines premature ejaculation as "ejaculation with minimal sexual stimulation or before, upon, or shortly after penetration and before the person wishes it." This definition acknowledges that there must be a subjective element to the diagnosis of premature ejaculation. As well as considering the duration of intercourse, the nature of the couple's sexual interaction must be evaluated. A couple who engages in 45 minutes of unrestrained manual and oral-genital foreplay, followed by one minute of pleasurable intercourse, would not be considered to be troubled by premature ejaculation. However, ejaculation after ten minutes of intercourse might be premature if this duration can only be achieved by avoiding all foreplay; spraying the penis with a skin anesthetic; wearing three condoms; thinking unpleasant, distracting thoughts; and biting one's tongue so the pain interferes with sexual arousal.

The rates of premature ejaculation found in population studies have varied between 10 percent and 25 percent of men surveyed, probably due to differences in the definition of the problem. In terms of actual duration of intercourse, the 1948 Kinsey Report found that "for perhaps three-quarters of all males, orgasm is reached within two minutes" of intercourse, but Hunt's 1974 study found that the average duration of intercourse had increased dramatically, to 10 to 14 minutes, in the intervening 26 years. This dramatic change in the societal norm for duration of intercourse has increased the distress of men who suffer from premature ejaculation.

Premature ejaculation, according to Bancroft, is typically a younger man's problem, with the majority of cases involving men under the age of 30. Premature ejaculation is typical for young men in their first sexual experiences and might be considered normal at this time. However, as these men have no history of successful sexual relationships as a basis for their sexual self-esteem, self-blame and self-labeling as dysfunctional often occur. With continued sexual experience, most men spontaneously get over their initial premature ejaculation. Along with the effects of experience, as a normal physiological change in aging the time required for a man to reach orgasm increases, but this is a slow change occurring over many years. A young man whose premature ejaculation is not resolved with greater sexual experience would have to wait 20 or 30 years for normal aging processes to solve his problem.

Premature ejaculation does not seem to be caused by any physiological factors or medical conditions. While Kaplan suggested that some local diseases or medications could cause premature ejaculation, Bancroft did not find this to be the case.

Research has also failed to connect premature ejaculation with the complex individual psychodynamic and couple-relationship problems associated with other sexual dysfunctions, such as hypoactive sexual desire. Rather, premature ejaculation seems to be typical of young, sexually inexperienced males who simply have not learned to slow down and modulate their arousal and to prolong the pleasurable process of making love. Men who have sex only infrequently are also prone to ejaculate prematurely. Indeed, Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin proposed that the primary cause of premature ejaculation was a low frequency of sexual activity. Research has indicated that sensory thresholds in the penis are lowered by infrequent sexual activity and that premature ejaculation patients have a low rate of sexual activity. However, it may well be that premature ejaculation makes sex an unpleasant failure experience, which is therefore avoided, rather than that low frequency of sexual activity causes premature ejaculation.

Anxiety and ejaculation both involve activation of the sympathetic nervous system, so anxiety about trying to delay ejaculation can make the problem worse. Masters and Johnson proposed that men learn to be rapid ejaculators during adolescent masturbation, when they often hurry to ejaculate because of fear of being discovered by parents. However, such experiences seem to have been equally common in men who are not premature ejaculators. There has even been some speculation by evolutionary biologists that rapid ejaculation may have been selected for during primate evolution, through a "survival of the fastest" process. A male who could ejaculate rapidly would be more likely to reproduce successfully, as there would be less chance of the female escaping, another male interrupting, or a predator attacking before coitus was completed.

Kaplan proposed that premature ejaculators cannot accurately perceive their own arousal level and therefore cannot engage in self-control. However, one laboratory study comparing premature ejaculators and age-matched normal control subjects actually found that the premature ejaculators were more accurate when their self-ratings were compared to objective measures of physiological arousal. It may be that premature ejaculators, who because of their problem keep their attention focussed on how close they are to ejaculation during sexual activity, have trained themselves to be unusually accurate self-observers of arousal. None of the theories of the cause of premature ejaculation is well supported by research, except that premature ejaculation is typical of younger, less experienced men and men who have sex infrequently.

The treatment of premature ejaculation, using the "pause" and "squeeze" procedures developed by Semans and by Masters and Johnson, has been found to be highly effective. Research has demonstrated that such procedures work well in group as well as in individual treatment, and in self-help programs; they can be practiced in individual masturbation with relatively good transfer of therapeutic gains when sex with a partner is resumed. Success rates of 90 percent to 98 percent are reported.

In the stop-start or pause procedure, the penis is manually stimulated until the man is fairly highly aroused. The couple then pauses until his arousal subsides, at which time the stimulation is resumed. This sequence is repeated several times before stimulation is carried through to ejaculation, so the man ultimately experiences much more total time of stimulation than he ever has before and thus learns to have a higher threshold for ejaculation. The squeeze procedure is much like the stop-start procedure, with the addition that when stimulation stops, the woman firmly squeezes the penis between her thumb and forefinger, at the place where the glans of the penis joins the shaft. This squeeze seems to further reduce arousal. After a few weeks of this training, the necessity of pausing diminishes, with the man able to experience several minutes of continuous penile stimulation without ejaculating. Next, the couple progresses to putting the penis in the vagina but without any thrusting movements. If the man rapidly becomes highly aroused, the penis is withdrawn and the couple waits for arousal to subside, at which point the penis is reinserted. When good tolerance for inactive containment of the penis is achieved, the training procedure is repeated during active thrusting. Generally, two to three months of practice is sufficient for a man to be able to enjoy prolonged intercourse without any need for pauses or squeezes.

We have no real understanding of why the pause and squeeze procedures described by Semans in 1956 and Masters and Johnson in 1970 work. The pause procedure fits Guthrie's theoretical paradigm for counterconditioning by "crowding the threshold." Additionally, the stimulation and pause procedure is typically repeated by the patient several times per week, thus raising the frequency of sex and raising the sensory threshold of the penis. Either or both of these mechanisms may underlie the effectiveness of treatment.

Some variations on the pause and squeeze procedures have been reported, typically as clinical case reports. One variation described by LoPiccolo involves reversing one of the physiological changes that occurs during high arousal. During high arousal, the scrotum contracts and elevates the testes close to the body. As well as having the patient cease stimulation or squeeze on the penis, the patient may also be instructed to stretch out the scrotum and reverse this testicular elevation. However, during high arousal, any additional stimulation of the scrotum and perineum may trigger an ejaculation and thus may make the pause and squeeze procedure ineffectual. Empirical data on the effectiveness of this technique are lacking.

Another procedure that has been proposed is to have the patient perform a Valsalva maneuver while pausing or squeezing. The Valsalva maneuver involves forced exhalation with the airways closed, as one does to clear the ears when descending in an airplane. The Valsalva maneuver is purported to reduce sympathetic nervous system arousal. Because ejaculation is primarily mediated by sympathetic arousal, the Valsalva should delay ejaculation. However, more recent neurologic evidence by Kedia indicates that there is also some parasympathetic mediation of ejaculation, and parasympathetic arousal is not lowered, and may even increase, during the Valsalva maneuver. Furthermore, performing a Valsalva may simply lower arousal by distracting the patient and may therefore be a type of placebo treatment. Empirical research is lacking in clinical reports on this procedure.

Segraves reported that drugs and medications that block sympathetic arousal often have the effect of delaying ejaculation. Such agents include anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and major tranquilizing medications; sedatives; some medications used to treat high blood pressure; and some antihistamines. However, because of serious side effects, the use of medication in treating premature ejaculation is not recommended, especially when the effectiveness of the behavioral retraining procedure is considered. Many of the recreational or "street" drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, "downers" (barbiturates), and heroin also delay ejaculation, and although some men do use such agents to deal with their premature ejaculation, this is even more unwise than the use of prescription medications.

It is somewhat puzzling that although there is little agreement about the definition or cause of premature ejaculation, and no real understanding of how the treatment procedure works, treatment is virtually 100 percent effective. If one has to have a sexual dysfunction, this is the one to have.


Bancroft, J. Human Sexuality and Its Problems. New York: Churchill Livingston, 1989.

Frank, E., C. Anderson, and D. Rubinstein. Frequency of Sexual Dysfunction in "Normal" Couples. New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 299 (1978), pp. 111-15.

Heiman, J. R., B.A. Gladue, C. W. Roberts, and J. LoPiccolo. Historical and Current Factors Discriminating Sexually Functional from Sexually Dysfunctional Married Couples. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Vol. 12 (1986), pp. 163-74.

Hong, L. K. Survival of the Fastest. Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 20 (1984), pp. 109-22.

Hunt, M. Sexual Behavior in the 1970s. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1974.

Kaplan, H. S. The New Sex Therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1974.

Kedia, K. Ejaculation and Emission: Normal Physiology, Dysfunction, and Therapy. In R. J. Krane, M. B. Siroky, and I. Goldstein, eds., Male Sexual Dysfunction. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983.

Kilmann, P. R., and R. Auerbach. Treatments of Premature Ejaculation and Psychogenic Impotence: A Critical Review of the Literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 8 (1979), pp. 81-100.

Kinsey, A. C., W. B. Pomeroy, and C. E. Martin. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1948.

LoPiccolo, J. Treatment of Sexual Dysfunction. In A. S. Bellak, M. Hersen, and A. E. Kazdin, eds., International Handbook of Behavior Modification and Therapy. 2nd ed. New York: Plenum Press, 1990.

Masters, W. H., and V. E. Johnson. Human Sexual Inadequacy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.

Sanders, D. The Woman Book on Sex and Love, London: Joseph, 1985.

Sanders, D. The Woman Report on Men. London: Sphere, 1987.

Segraves, R. T. Drugs and Desire. In R. C. Rosen and S.R. Leiblum, eds., Sexual Desire Disorders. New York: Guilford, 1988.

Semans, J. H. Premature Ejaculation: A New Approach. Southern Medical Journal. Vol. 49 (1956), pp. 353-57.

Spiess, W.F., J. H. Geer, and W. T. O'Donohue. Premature Ejaculation: Investigation of Factors in Ejaculatory Latency. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol. 93 (1984), pp. 242-45.

Joseph LoPiccolo


Virginia Prince (1913-2009), also known as Virginia Bruce and Charles Prince, all pseudonyms, organized, publicized, and indoctrinated others into her views of cross-dressing. Though biologically male, she has lived as a woman for nearly thirty years and is identified as "she" for this period. She more than any other person, brought male cross-dressing out of the closet by emphasizing the importance of learning to express "the girl within." She established a publishing house that disseminated information about cross-dressing, traveled, made public appearances around the world, organized groups wherever she went, and served as a role model for many transvestites. For some 20 years, from 1960 to 1980, she was the dominant voice of transvestism, and it was only in the 1980s, when she was well past the age of retirement, that others moved into leadership in the transvestite movement.

Born in Los Angeles in 1913 to a middle-class family, Prince began cross-dressing as a teenager, and by age 18 he (I use the male pronoun for this period in Prince's life) was sneaking out of his house in women's clothes. He continued to cross-dress, albeit secretly, after his marriage and while studying for his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California at San Francisco. "When he returned to Los Angeles to work as a research chemist, he told his wife about his cross-dressing. She tolerated it but refused to be with him while he did so, and relations between the two deteriorated after the birth of a son. She sued for divorce on the basis of his cross-dressing, and the result was an outburst of lurid newspaper stories that alienated him from many of his friends and acquaintances.

Though he later remarried, this marriage, too, ended in divorce, after which he began to live permanently as a woman. In 1960, she began publishing a magazine, Transvestia, and as the number of subscribers grew, she began establishing chapters of what she called a sorority for cross-dressers. She also added a number of other publications on transvestism to her list.

Prince seems to have been the first to use the term transgender, meaning a person who lives full time in a gender different from the one assigned at birth. Although she herself underwent sex reassignment surgery, she came to consider it unnecessary. She died aged 96 in 2009.


Prince, V. My Story. Transvestia, No. 100 (1977).

Vern L. Bullough  (updated by Erwin J. Haeberle  2011)


Consensual Male Homosexual Liaisons
Homosexual Prostitution
Female Homosexual Liaisons
Inmate-Staff Sexual Liaisons

When either a male or a female is imprisoned and forcibly denied sexual contact, he or she does not lose libido or sexual energy. Forced abstinence leads naturally to seeking substitute outlets. When prolonged, as in lengthy prison sentences, abstinence may turn into impulsive or compulsive action, such as rape or homosexual involvement. After a period, which differs from individual to individual, he or she must find a way to release the built-up excessive sexual energy. At that point, the individual appears to have three choices: abstinence, masturbation, or homosexual activity.

Abstinence is rarely, if ever, the choice, since sex in prison means more than simply the release of sexual energy. The pressures, fears, anxieties, and frustrations that result from confinement continue to build and need some form of quieting. Sex, then, becomes a tranquilizer, a sleeping pill, an anger release, a way to deal with frustration, a method of providing self-love when feelings of rejection are the greatest, and whatever else the inmate decides to use it for. Abstinence would prevent this solution to so many types of personal problems.

Some prisoners use masturbation as their only sexual outlet for the duration of their sentence, but many others find masturbation unsatisfying, since it does not satisfy the needs for affection, companionship, and security. While initially using masturbation for a sex outlet, this group, after a period, progresses to other forms of human sexuality.

Homosexuality is a simple and easy choice for those prisoners who were homosexually involved or active in the community, but this choice presents a complicated solution for persons who considered themselves exclusively heterosexual before their confinement. Oftentimes, the homosexual activity is not consensual but involves various types of rape.


By far, the most frequently discussed and reported sexual activity in prisons is homosexual rape. By no means is this problem simple in any way. The dynamics are complicated and are the cause of much conflict among professionals in the field who are studying, speaking, or writing on the subject. Homosexual rape in prison takes several forms. The following example depicts an individual rape: An aggressive heterosexual inmate rapes a young, hairless, slim, passive, frightened young inmate. He uses the victim as his "woman," fantasizing intercourse with his wife or girlfriend in order to perform anal intercourse. The aggressor would never consider reciprocity, and if his "woman" suggests or asks for reciprocation, he could be seriously assaulted or even killed by the aggressor.

This type of homosexual rape could be either a onetime incident, often referred to in prison jargon as a "wolf and punk" rape, or an introduction to a long-term relationship, often referred to in prison jargon as a "daddy and his kid" rape. The relationship develops not because the victim enjoyed the rape but because the aggressor gave him the choice either of being his "kid" in return for protection and other material benefits (e.g., better food, better clothing, better jobs) or of being an open prey for the entire population of inmates.

The gang rapes usually involve a leader of a prison gang who chooses a young, passive, frightened, defenseless, loner-type new inmate to bring into the group. The gangs may use the rape as an initiation or, more often, as proof of their dominance and power. Gang rape could also be a punishment for an inmate's siding with officers, being a "rat" (informer), or refusing to join the gang or to behave in a manner that they insist on.

There have been a few scholarly studies of sex in prison. Yochelson and Samenow found that sexual release itself is not the objective, but rather the purpose of sex in prison is to establish oneself in a position of dominance. Groth theorizes that when a person feels powerless in regard to controlling his life, he can defend against the discomfort of such an experience by asserting control over someone else. Sexual assault becomes a means of compensating for his sense of helplessness and vulnerability and of retaliating for his feelings of resentment and anger. Accepting this hypothesis explains the large number of these rapes that occur daily in the prison system, both reported and mostly unreported.

The damage that results from male prison rape is incalculable. Formerly adequate male inmates become passive, frightened, submissive individuals who suffer guilt and self-recrimination for being too inadequate to protect themselves from such attack. The results often do not become visible until these rape victims are released and then vent their anger and hatred on society for placing them in prison. They may even inflict their anger on females (mother figures) for not training them to be as manly as their attackers. It is also not uncommon, when their attackers are either released or transferred out of their prison setting, for them to become victimizers of other new and weaker inmates. Thus, the chain is continued.

Rapes are usually not reported. Buffin states that if a person who is the victim of a prison sexual attack has the temerity to complain, the likely result will be (1) retaliation by other prisoners, (2) segregation and attendant loss of privileges within the prison, (3) ridicule and embarrassment, and (4) possible prosecution of the offender, which in fact provides the prisoners with no tangible relief. Reporting also must deal with the problem of "inconsistent enforcement." Due to opposing attitudes of prison staffs, ranging from protective overidentification to moral rejection and punitive anger, the victim of rape in prison never knows what to expect from the prison administration if he or she risks life itself by reporting such attacks. The dilemma is further complicated by the forced allegiance to prison codes. Reporting becomes a two-edged sword in that, if the victim of prison rape reports it, he will be put into protective custody and identified as an informer, and the reporting will soon become common knowledge, placing the victim in additional jeopardy.

Finally, where homosexual rape is concerned, the subject of prevention must be addressed. While a highly controversial issue, conjugal visits appear to be the only means of lessening this difficult problem for young inmates who have made their first serious mistake. While not much research has been done on this in terms of rape, it seems clear that conjugal visits are a means of reducing sexual tension and homosexual rape among prisoners

Consensual Male Homosexual Liaisons

A second common type of sexual activity in prisons is consensual homosexual relationships. Even here, however, there is more than one type. The most straightforward relationship involves two openly homosexual inmates who join together for a mutually supportive, protective, and nurturing relationship that usually only lasts for short periods. If it lasts for the length of the stay for either partner, it rarely continues on the outside. If it does continue on the outside, it rarely lasts, primarily since the common bond and compatibility of being prisoners no longer exists. Even in these relationships, there is usually a dominant and a passive partner who, respectively, plays the male or the female role.

The danger of such a relationship, should it become known, is that the two inmates will be looked down upon both by the prison officials and by the remainder of the prison population, who are threatened by homosexual relationships either due to repressed homosexual feelings of their own or due to strong homophobic rearing. An alternate danger is that other inmates will begin pressuring and even forcing known homosexual inmates to provide them with sexual favors as well.

Homoerotic relationships may also develop between formerly heterosexual males. Money has argued that when a society imposes effective barriers to heterosexual intercourse, there is a likelihood that institutionalized male bisexual practices will result. He stated that under the deprivation of living sex-segregated in prison, a man may discover in himself a bisexual versatility formerly hidden. Then, he may impose a homosexual encounter on a nonconsenting partner, a so-called joy-boy. Thereby, Money demonstrated rather nicely the dependence of a person on his environment to provide him with a partner for an erotic pair-bond.

The homoerotic relationships tend to follow several patterns. A supposedly normal heterosexual individual pair-bonds (Money's phrase) with an openly passive homosexual. In these cases, secrecy is paramount, and there is usually no reciprocation in the beginning, but there often is at a later time. Bisexual, conscious, or repressed feelings emerge, often due to untreated, unreported early childhood homosexual molestation or abuse, usually willing and long-term. Often, the dominant male never allows emotions or feelings for the younger male to occur, and to prove there are none, he often offers his "kid" to other friends for their pleasure or to solidify a new relationship. This usually occurs when the aggressor begins to feel genuine emotions for the younger male and panics, interpreting these feelings as making him homosexual. Denial is the main factor in these cases.

Homosexual Prostitution

Homosexual prostitution usually is practiced by an admitted young or older homosexual inmate for money, gifts, protection, or friendships. Monogamy is not practiced, and the male prostitute usually has many "clients," who often are jealous of each other and vie for the affection and favors of the prostitute. These are the situations that often result in assaults, stabbings, and other serious situations between the clients and are a major concern of prison administrators and officers. These situations and their dangers account for many prohibitions, as well as for anger on the part of both prison officials and other inmates. In riots, these homosexual prostitutes, if not hidden and protected, often are viciously raped by lines of angry, and damaging, heterosexual inmates. In one such riot, one of these prostitutes was forcibly and violently raped by over 100 inmates, resulting in a damaged anal sphincter that did not close for over a week. The emotional damage made transferring him to another institution necessary.

For a homosexual to escape the usual stigmas attached to his behaviors, Kirkham explains that he must fulfill two criteria: (1) the homosexual act or acts must present only a situational reaction to the deprivation of heterosexual intercourse, and (2) such behavior must involve a complete absence of emotionality and effeminacy—both of which are regarded as signs of "weakness" and "queerness." An inmate who engages in homosexual activity must present a convincing facade of toughness and stereotypical "manliness" to escape being defined as a homosexual.

Female Homosexual Liaisons

There are vast differences in the way that homosexual relationships occur in female prisons and very different motives behind these relationships. While power-dominance relationships do exist in the more dangerous and aggressive female prisons, where the more frightened and passive younger females are forced into lesbian situations, these appear to be the exception rather than the rule and often occur in more of a gang situation than a one-on-one relationship.

A major difference in these homosexual relationships is the "family dynamic" that does not exist in the male prisons to either the degree or the duration that it does in all female institutions. This "family" is composed of a "father," a "mother," and a "child" (or children), all roles assumed by adult female prisoners. The "father" is usually a highly assaultive and aggressive lesbian who is in total control of the "family" and all its members. The "mother" is more passive and compliant and is in charge of the care, nurturance, and protection of the "child(ren)," who remain dependent, close, and loyal to both parents. Knowledge of the family is universal throughout the institution, and the existence of the family is accepted by both inmates and staff.

Research indicates that homosexual liaisons are more frequent in female than in male prisons, but the evidence is rather old and inconclusive. One reason for this is the degree of openness in female prisons concerning these relationships and the secrecy and guardedness that necessarily exists in male institutions.

Another distinction between the two sexes is made by Edelwick and Brodsky, who state that the relationships women formed in prison usually were not sexual in the full sense. Women in prison met their emotional needs by forming little "families"—father, mother, and child, all of them actually grown women.

Homosexual rape does take place in female as well as male prisons. Tollison found that in women's prisons, rape may involve forcing the victim to perform masturbation or cunnilingus on the offender(s), mutual masturbation or cunnilingus, or more violent acts involving vaginal rape with foreign objects.

While power struggles and needs do exist in female prisons, female homosexual rape is far less frequent than it is in male prisons, while consensual homosexual liaisons are more frequent and involve more feelings and human emotions. Relationships that begin in female prisons also carry over into the community more often than do those that begin in male prisons.

Inmate-Staff Sexual Liaisons

Both male and female prisoners who are in need of power and control often try to seduce a staff member. Yochelson and Samenow observed that there is an even greater challenge to establish a sexual liaison with a staff member than a fellow prisoner, since what counts is what the criminal can gain for himself or herself, using sex merely as a means to an end.

Once the staff person becomes involved with the prisoner, the prisoner has the ability to blackmail and to extort whatever he or she pleases from that staff person: food, favors, illegal mail and parcels, even money to be sent to the prisoner's family or friends. Male prostitutes with sociopathic personalities find a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction in "winning" at what they see as a challenge, or big game, and change in personality as soon as they have "hooked a fish." Previously a pleasant, cooperative, friendly inmate, he now takes total control of the frightened and intimidated staff person and uses his sexual prowess to maintain the relationship.

The staff member-victim can be either male or female. Rapists and playboy types choose female officers and staff more often than they choose male staff, often impregnating the staff person and then bragging about how they "got over" (deceived) the system. Female prisoners play the same sex-power game, especially in prisons where there are male officers as well as female officers. This is an increasingly common practice in today's prisons.

In summary, there is a need to understand why sex plays such a great role in the lives of prisoners. Several factors are evident:

1. In cases of forced assaultive homosexual rape in prison, the main motivation on the part of the aggressor does not appear to be sexual but rather a need for power and dominance over another human being, often to deny the aggressor's true feelings of fear of being dominated (reaction-formation).

2. Even in cases of so-called consensual homosexual relationships, there is often a strongly coercive element. Young, passive-inadequate males and females entering prison are often given the "choice" either of being a "kid" to one aggressive protector or of being open prey to anyone and everyone in the prison population.

3. Often, the intense interpersonal and intimate contact with so many members of the same sex and the constant exposure to naked same-sex inmates (showering is often in large, open areas with no privacy, and strip searches are conducted in large rooms with hundreds of naked men in close quarters), coupled with the knowledge that there will be no heterosexual contact for many years to come, trigger latent, suppressed, or repressed bisexual interests.

4. Guilt and feelings of betrayal of their spouses or partners often result from prison homosexual liaisons in cases of men or women who, prior to prison, considered themselves exclusively heterosexual. Visits with these significant others becomes a problem, and the conflict of confessing their sexual activities or not is an ever-present dynamic.

5. Both men and women prisoners who have been raped and could not or did not report the occurrence to the authorities due to fears or threats against their lives carry an additional burden of guilt, shame, and damaged self-esteem. When the sexual assaults are ongoing and there appears to be no relief in the immediate future, suicidal thoughts begin, and many young prisoners of both sexes have committed suicide as the only solution.

6. For formerly heterosexual male or female prisoners in ongoing consensual and reciprocal homosexual relationships, conflicts over their future identity and life-styles when released are a major problem. This factor is exacerbated when the individual is married and there are children.

7. Upon release, the aggressive, raping types who prey on younger inmates and use them as women or men, maintaining heterosexual fantasies during the sexual behaviors and refusing to consider reciprocation, usually return to heterosexual activity and deny (to themselves) their homosexual relationships and activities in prison. In one such case, when meeting his passive partner on the streets and having the partner suggest a friendship due to their past sexual involvement, the aggressor assaulted the passive individual, who had to be hospitalized for serious injuries.

Heterosexual men who had repressed or suppressed bisexual feelings and interests that became acted upon in prison return to society in a confused state unless the situation has been resolved during the prison sentence through therapeutic intervention. Some of these individuals deny the bisexual feelings and interests to their significant others and continue to masturbate to fantasies of sex with same-sex individuals, even when having intercourse with their heterosexual partners. Without resolution, these former relationships usually end quite soon after the prisoners return to society.

During their incarceration, a surprising number of these inmates find the courage to tell their heterosexual partners (during visits or, more frequently, in letters or telephone calls) about their homosexual partners. Surprisingly, a large percentage of the partners are able to accept the situation, since they feel they cannot compete sexually. Often, a condition of this acceptance is that there is no true "love" involved in the relationship and that it will remain purely physical. It is truly remarkable how many of these relationships survive.

Some people deny the bisexual feelings and behaviors in prison to themselves. These individuals, especially males, often report sexual dysfunctions, ranging from desire-phase dysfunction to impotence.


With the increase of prison deaths from AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), the problem of prison sex exists for all of society. Eventually, many of these infected men and women (from prison unprotected homosexual behavior) return to society and their wives, former partners, or new heterosexual or homosexual partners, not even knowing that they are infected. Prison authorities are still homophobic to the extent that most prison systems will not support the use of condoms or other prophylactic measures. They insist that forbidding the activity and punishing those caught in homosexual behavior will prevent the problem. The facts are that, in most major prisons, the ratio of staff to inmates is at minimum 100:1 and strict surveillance, 24 hours a day, on every prisoner is virtually impossible. The adage "where there's a will, there's a way" wins out.

The problem for the administration, ultimately responsible to society, is that providing condoms or other AIDS-prevention paraphernalia, while motivated by community health, may be (and often is) misinterpreted as condoning homosexual behavior, considered abnormal and perverted by conservative, homophobic community leaders.

Staff over-identification or the need to be liked by the inmates also plays a major role in prison sex. It is not uncommon for certain officers and staff members who themselves may be closeted homosexuals or bisexuals to permit homosexual behavior between inmates. This often occurs on the late-night shift (midnight to 6:00 A.M.) but has also been reported during regular daytime hours as well.

On the opposite side of the scale, the overly homophobic, puritanical, and moralistic officers and staff may go out of their way to set up or catch inmates in covert sexual activity and then demand the harshest possible sanctions. The mixed message given to the prisoners causes further confusion and turmoil.


Most of the research used for this article appeared in the literature between 1971 and 1982. Since that period, interest in this most important topic has waned to a trickle. More research, focusing on solutions rather than explanations, is needed if this all-important and overlooked source of both psychopathology and sexual disease (especially AIDS) is to be eliminated or, at least, lessened.


Buffum, P.C. Homosexuality in Prison. Prepared for the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1971.

Edelwick, J., with A. Brodsky. Sexual Dilemmas for the Helping Professions. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1979.

Groth, S. N. Men Who Rape. New York: Plenum Press, 1980.

Haberle, E. J. The Sex Atlas. New York: Continuum, 1982.

Kirkham, G. L. Homosexuality in Prison. In J. M. Henslin, ed., Studies in the Sociology of Sex. New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 1971.

Money, J. Love and Love Sickness. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980.

Prendergast, W. E. Treating Sex Offenders in Correctional Institutions and Private Practice. New York: Haworth Press, 1991.

Tollison, C.D., and H. E. Adams. Sexual Disorders: Treatment, Theory, Research. New York: Gardner Press, 1979.

Yochelson, S., and S. Samenow. The Criminal Personality. Vol. 3, A Profile for Change. New York: Jason Aronson, 1976.

William E. Prendergast


The prostate is a male gland that is located just below the urinary bladder and close enough to the rectum that it can be felt when a finger is inserted. Although the size may vary from man to man, the normal gland is usually about one and one-half to two inches at its widest point, weighs from 15 to 20 grams, and is composed of a glandular and muscular portion. It is usually described as being about the size of a chestnut or walnut. A portion of the urethra (the tube that leads from the urinary bladder) passes through the gland. The ejaculatory ducts, which are produced from the union of the vas deferens and the tubes from the seminal vesicles, run their entire length through the prostate gland and unite with the prostatic urethra. The glandular portion of the prostate produces about 30 percent of the seminal fluid, which is thought to be necessary before sperm can fertilize an egg. Tissue hormones called prostaglandins are produced by the prostate (as well as by many other tissues in the human body) and produce physiological reactions, usually in those tissues adjacent to the location at which they are produced.

Some workers have postulated that women have a "female prostate," which is rudimentary glands (Skene's glands) found around the urethra near the neck of the urinary bladder. These glands are produced from the same embryological tissue that produce the prostate gland. It has been suggested that the "female prostate" is the Grafenberg or G spot, or is at least anatomically related to it. The existence of either the "female prostate" or the G spot has not been adequately demonstrated to the satisfaction of many workers, and certainly not in all women.

The prostate contracts during the various stages of male orgasm. These contractions, along with contractions of other glands and various muscles, cause the semen to spurt from the end of the penis. The prostate is also a source of sexual pleasure for some men who enjoy being recipients of anal sex. The prostate can be stroked by inserting a finger, penis, or some other item into the anus to a depth of about three inches and gently pressing toward the navel. This is actually what a physician does when he or she conducts a digital examination of the prostate. Although these sensations are pleasurable to many men, some find them uncomfortable and, for that reason, are hesitant to submit to a digital examination.

A digital examination of the prostate can reveal changes that are important to the health of the man. The prostate remains about the same size from the time of puberty until about age 50, when it begins to enlarge. This growth can lead to a condition known as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), which affects almost all men after the age of 60. The condition may cause reduction in the size of the prostatic urethra and ejaculatory ducts, thus producing problems of urination and ejaculation. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer of the male sex organs and is the third most common cancer of men. Its cause is unknown. Although it is uncommon in men younger than age 60, some workers believe that virtually all men who reach the age of 80 will have the beginnings of the disease. Because it is such a slow-growing cancer, most men of that age will not show symptoms before they die of some other cause. However, it does cause 17 percent of cancer in men, and, because men are living longer, about 70,000 new cases are reported annually.

Prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) is an extremely common condition among men. Infectious prostatitis is caused by a bacterium, yeast, or virus and can be sexually transmitted. The condition can be either acute or chronic. Congestive prostatitis is a condition caused by abrupt change in the frequency of sexual activity. Thus, a man who greatly increases his number of ejaculations over a short period of time (this sometimes happens to men who are newly married) or a man who suddenly decreases his number of ejaculations may both develop the condition. This may happen when a spouse becomes ill and sexual contact is no longer possible. Masturbation is sometimes recommended in this case.

The initial symptoms of all of these conditions are general. They are lower-back pain, painful urination, urinary urgency or frequency, pain or discomfort during or after ejaculation, unexpected discharges from the penis, and blood in the urine or semen. Any combination of these symptoms should send the man to his physician, who will palpate the prostate to discover changes in the size, shape, or texture of the gland.

Most problems of the prostate are treated with antibiotics or surgery, especially if the condition is discovered early. Usually, there are no lasting effects from the treatment, although retrograde ejaculation and loss of some erectile ability may be a result of some surgery.


Greenberger, M. E., and M. E. Siegel. What Every Man Should Know About His Prostate. New York: Walker, 1983.

Masters, W. H., V. E. Johnson, and R. C. Kolodny. Human Sexuality. 3d ed. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1988.

Rowan, R. L., and P. J. Gillette. The Gay Health Guide: A Modern Medicine Book. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.

James D. Haynes


Prostitution is one of the most written about topics in the whole field of human sexuality. It has a long history, but it is not clear that everyone is writing about the same thing. This is because what constitutes prostitution is not something that is easy to define. Even in the United States, there is considerable legal ambiguity about definitions. Several state penal codes, for example, define prostitution as the hiring out of one's body for sexual intercourse. Other states fail to stipulate that money has to be exchanged, defining prostitution only as the giving or receiving of the body for indiscriminate sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse, per se, however, is not always necessary. One dictionary, for example, defines prostitution as the "offering of the body to indicate lewdness for hire," a definition so broad that the girl (or boy) who sells kisses at a church fund-raiser could be labeled a prostitute, since what constitutes lewdness is just as unclear as what constitutes prostitution.

Definition becomes all-important when dealing with sexual workers such as surrogates, used by some sex therapists to help patients overcome impotence or frigidity. These sexual surrogates see their mission as helping patients achieve a more satisfactory sex life. This includes not only offering theoretical analyses of sexual dysfunction but also engaging in intercourse with their clients if it is a necessary part of the teaching-learning process. In other words, they perform sex for hire. Surrogates, however, emphasize the therapeutic aspect of their teaching, but a similar therapeutic function has often been claimed by prostitutes in the past. Does the fact that surrogates work closely with physicians or sex therapists make them paraprofessionals rather than prostitutes?

Traditionally, prostitution has been defined in terms of females, but such a definition excludes the large number of males. For this reason, Havelock Ellis, a pioneer in the scientific investigation of sex, defined a prostitute as "a person who makes it a profession to gratify the lust of various persons of the opposite or the same sex." This definition has the advantage of including both sexes but leaves unanswered a whole host of other issues. Does the person who offers telephone sex to gratify a caller's lust become a prostitute? Does a spouse who is uninterested in having sex at a particular time become a prostitute when she or he engages in sexual intercourse simply to gratify a spouse? Does a person who sells his or her body for lustful purposes a single time become a prostitute, or does he or she need to do so 10 times or 100 times? One canon lawyer argued that a woman had to have had sex with a minimum of 23,000 customers to be called a prostitute.

As far as police records are concerned, a prostitute is a person who has been arrested, charged, and convicted of prostitution, but this ignores some of the more successful prostitutes who have never been arrested. In some European countries where there is state regulation of prostitution, a prostitute is someone who is registered as a prostitute. Parent-Duchâtelet, a 19th-century pioneer in the study of prostitution, restricted the term to those cases where "several mercenary acts of immorality had been legally established, when the person involved was publicly notorious, [and] when she (or he) had been caught in the act by witnesses other than her accuser or the police agent." In short, one had to be arrested to be called a prostitute.

Most definitions of prostitution include phrases about promiscuity, multiplicity of sexual partners, continuous sexual offenses, payment, and an element of notoriety, but no one of these factors is enough to establish a person as a prostitute. Some investigators have argued that the key to determining whether a person is or is not a prostitute is the emotional involvement and the pleasure gained. Probably, most prostitutes are emotionally uninvolved with their clients and most get little pleasure themselves, but this is not always the case, and it is certainly not true for male prostitutes. Moreover, in the past many married women did not obtain sexual satisfaction from intercourse with their husbands and were actually repulsed by the sexual act, but almost no one has suggested that they be called prostitutes.

Is a mistress a prostitute? In most such cases, there is a mercenary relationship, and not infrequently, over time, a woman passes from one love to another, but whether she can be classified as a prostitute ultimately depends not only on the nature of her relationship with her lover but also on her own self-image. But then, not everyone who thinks they are a prostitute might be classed as a prostitute by others. The most comprehensive definition was offered by Iwan Bloch at the beginning of the 20th century; he held that prostitution was a distinct form of extramarital sexual activity characterized by being more or less promiscuous, was seldom without reward, and was a form of professional commercialism for the purpose either of intercourse or of other forms of sexual activities and allurement, resulting in due time in the formation of a special type. This wide-ranging definition allowed Bloch to include the procurer or pimp as well as the prostitute, since he or she engaged in activity associated with the commercialism of sex and its allurement. Bloch, however, wrote before the development of modern advertising, which is in the business of selling products and often does so by hinting at sexual rewards to the buyer. In fact, by Bloch's definition, many professionals in the advertising business could be classified as engaging in prostitution.

However we define prostitution, history is full of examples of it, and we know the names of far more women prostitutes than we do of any other category of women. The Greeks developed a special erotic literature associated with prostitution, telling stories about prostitutes; hence, we get the word "pornography," literally the writings of prostitutes or writings about prostitutes. Though many prostitutes in the Greek world were slaves (both male and female), there was also a special high-class courtesan, the heterae, who was trained in the arts of pleasing men. The heterae are usually associated with powerful men.

Other societies and ages have also developed highly trained prostitutes, from the geisha of Japan to the Western courtesan. The 19th century saw a long list of women who could best be described as courtesans. Courtesans were the high-status prostitutes, and below them, historically, were the brothel prostitutes and below them the streetwalkers. There has always been a hierarchy of prostitutes, and often there are many layers in between. The contemporary call girl is a continuation of the courtesan tradition.

There have also been times of greater and lesser toleration of prostitution, although probably the first great period of repression was associated with the outbreak and spread of syphilis in the 16th century. Prostitution soon rebounded from this setback, and though it was often associated with STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), it was not until the last part of the 19th century that there was a concerted movement to abolish legally tolerated prostitution. The movement gained its greatest influence in the United States, which for the most part abolished brothels in the period following World War I and ran a large-scale campaign to equate prostitution with STDs. Though organized brothel prostitution more or less disappeared, except in some rural areas, new forms of prostitution appeared, from call girls to pickups in bars and hotel lobbies, and many forms of organized prostitution masqueraded under the name of escort services, bar girls, body massagers, taxi dancers, and other occupations, although there were also people in these occupations who were not prostitutes. Often, for a business engaged in prostitution to survive, it was necessary to have the unofficial cooperation of law enforcement officials, and the history of prostitution in the United States cannot be studied independently of political and police graft and corruption.

One of the difficulties with studying prostitution is that, until recently, most of the studies and writing about the topic has been done by males. This means that a masculine bias, conscious or unconscious, has dominated the writing, and very rarely has the topic been looked at from the point of view of the woman, or even from the point of view of the male prostitute. Generally also, the records reflect a class bias, since much of the writing about prostitution has been for or by the upper classes.

Looking at female prostitution from a feminist viewpoint emphasizes that women in most societies were regarded as a form of property. If they were not actually owned by a male, they were under male control, whether by fathers, husbands, sons, or brothers. Any damage to women, including the loss of female chastity or rape, was a violation of male property. Often, a woman so "dishonored" had no alternative except prostitution. In contrast, the male suffered no such disabilities about his sexual promiscuity and was much freer to do as he wanted. The result was a double standard that inevitably led to the establishment of a class of women, prostitutes, free from the restrictions of proper women and with whom other men could have sex. In a way, prostitutes were regarded as different from other women—the proper wife, sister, mother, and daughter—who were acculturated to deny an interest in sex.

One of the reasons for this double standard is that the woman who wanted to engage in sex with the same kind of freedom that men had, in the past faced the ever-present possibility of pregnancy. Though contraceptives have been used throughout history, even the best were not very effective, and the woman who had become pregnant outside of marriage in many societies either had to attempt abortion or suffer through the pregnancy and resulting stigma. The men who got them pregnant were more difficult to identify, and though forced marriages existed in many societies, usually it was the woman who bore the onus of violating societal taboos. Even if an unmarried woman did not become pregnant through her sexual activities, her hymen was damaged, and this made her less valuable as a prospective bride.

Moreover, since women in the past have often been confined to the home and limited in the types of occupations they could pursue, prostitution often became the only alternative for those women who were turned down for marriage because they were not virgins, were unable to furnish a dowry, or were for some other reason without homes, husbands, or supporting male relatives. Often, in countries such as China, women were sold into prostitution. Society has tolerated the prostitute rather than face the issues of alternative employment or greater freedom for women. Probably, most women had little to say about prostitution. In a society in which slavery was widespread, many women (and often men as well) were designated as prostitutes. Though women classified as prostitutes were ostracized from the company of proper women, such a woman (or even a man) might achieve status in society if she (or he) became the companion of a powerful man; the position of mistress to a monarch, for example, could give influential position to the family of the woman so chosen. Many well-to-do families were willing to see their daughters become mistresses of kings or powerful princes in order to better the family position or to give them access to the powerful person. They were less willing to have their sons become companions, because this reflected on their own masculinity. This was because in male prostitution, the male who submitted, who was penetrated like a woman, was regarded as a lesser man and stigmatized in many societies. In contrast, the male who penetrated another was and is not today regarded as homosexual at all in many societies. He is simply a machismo male.

Though accurate statistics about prostitution in the past are nonexistent, we do know from the Kinsey and other data that proportionately fewer males in countries like the United States are visiting prostitutes now than in the past and are doing so less frequently. Until the appearance of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), however, male homosexual prostitutes were becoming more numerous. Several reasons account for the decline of female prostitution. One factor is the gradual elimination of the double standard, at least in some of the more advanced industrialized countries. This has been made possible by the development of effective contraceptives and by changing attitudes among women themselves. The percentage of young women engaging in premarital coitus is approaching that of men, although the frequency for most women is less. Even among married women, the ability to have some control over their own body through contraceptives has made them less likely to drive their spouse from the marital bed to avoid getting pregnant. Moreover, the growing recognition of women's right to say no to sexual advances has led to somewhat better communication between the two sexes on the question of intercourse. Opportunities for employment are approaching the same level as those for young men, and women can advance up the corporate or institutional ladder to better paying jobs. Divorce is more frequent, and couples who are sexually incompatible no longer need find sexual relief in prostitution or adultery. Publicized findings of researchers on female sexuality have encouraged women to accept the fact that they are sexual beings, although, as a general rule, women are not as aggressive in seeking sexual partners as men, probably due to the fact that aggression itself is associated with testosterone levels. Societal attitudes are at work as well, since the sexually aggressive woman is still not looked upon in the same light as the sexually aggressive man.

There are undoubtedly many other reasons that could be advanced for the decline of prostitution, but the point to emphasize is that it still exists. There is probably no city or town of any size either in the United States or in the world at large that lacks both female and male prostitutes functioning in some way or another, almost entirely to serve male customers.

Since women have a potential for sexual enjoyment that is at least equal to that of men, we have to wonder why there is so little mention of prostitutes to service a female clientele. Occasionally, such prostitutes are mentioned in the fictional literature, but there is still not enough hard data to describe them in the same way we can describe other prostitutes. Although it is a physiological fact that the need for male tumescence creates problems for multiple incidents of intercourse, the refractory period is relatively short in young males and has not proved to be an impossible barrier to the development of male homosexual prostitution. This means that societal factors are a key in this kind of prostitution, as it is in traditional female prostitution. Though there are a number of male gigolos and kept men, the numbers are insignificant compared to their female counterparts. It may well be that men see sex as a physiological function, and women, while viewing it as such, also want more involvement, touching, feeling, and expression, which no prostitute could provide in the comparatively short time that most males spend with prostitutes. Male prostitutes for women are therefore much more expensive than their female counterparts for men.

Still, traditional prostitution emphasizes just how powerful the dominance of men over women has been. One result of this dominance is that female prostitution can be seen as a symptom of the victimization and subordination of women, or, in the case of the male homosexual prostitutes, the victimization of the surrogates who take the role of women. At the same time, prostitution becomes an outstanding example of the perverse resilience of human beings, since women, including prostitutes, have turned their sexual subordination into a weapon that allows them, in turn, to victimize men. This very successful counterplay has been built on the culturally supported myth that men enjoy, want, and need sex more than women, and each generation of girls in most of Western culture has been socialized to believe this myth. This suggests that the two essential conditions for supporting prostitution in the forms in which it traditionally has existed are a belief in the dominance of males and a shortage of willing female sexual partners. These two conditions have also, to a greater or lesser extent, supported the marriage contract. The fewer restrictions that society has placed on sexual activities for women, the less institutionalized prostitution there has been. Having a positive attitude toward sex, however, is not enough, and many societies that recognized female sexuality had a different standard for the sexual conduct of men than they did for women. In the double-standard societies, women were expected to remain virgins until marriage and were punished in various ways for failure to do so. To the extent that such attitudes continue to exist, female prostitution will also continue to exist.

However, other factors are at work as well to maintain prostitution. One is simply the existence of large concentrations of men in areas with few women. Perhaps the best example of this is the traditional military base. Though the integration of women into the armed forces lessens the sexual disparities inherent at such bases, they have not eliminated them, and since most of the males are young and unattached, they turn to available feminine companions, many of whom serve as companions for money. In some sex-segregated institutions, such as prisons, schools, and even restricted military bases, strict sex segregation encourages more male surrogate sexual partners than would be the case in a population where women were available. Not all the homosexual contact in these settings is prostitution, since some of it is collegial, more so in schools than in prisons, but even in the most collegial atmosphere some kind of barter or exchange system often develops. As long as these concentrations of males exist, prostitution will have a market.

Another source of demand for prostitution is a demand for variety in sexual activity. Men satiated with or not aroused by ordinary sexual activities with their traditional partners tend to look for variety. Sometimes, wives, even if they have the desire to do so, cannot satisfy their spouse's sexual desire, as evidenced by the 19th century taste of many upper-class Englishmen for deflowering young virgins. Brothels specializing in whipping and other sadomasochistic pleasures are well documented, as is the prostitutes' willingness to cater to transvestites and to engage in golden showers and a variety of other sexual activities, such as anal intercourse, which the customer is unwilling to request of his wife or girlfriend. As social clubs that cater to men and women sadomasochists or to organized transvestites spring up, and as such activities come out of the closet, the prostitute alternative becomes less attractive to many. Still, there is a considerable demand for the prostitute who specializes in such customers.

Prostitutes also serve those who are so socially inept that they are unable to communicate effectively with a nonprostitute sexual partner, or who feel so stigmatized that they cannot approach a likely sex partner. Many people have physical disabilities, such as those suffering from multiple sclerosis, quadriplegics, and others with illnesses or handicaps that require assistance in the sex act. Some are developmentally handicapped. Their disabilities do not mean, however, that the sex urge has disappeared, only that it makes having sex more complicated; for such individuals, prostitutes, either female or male, are often an alternative.

Psychological and other factors are involved in seeking out prostitute partners. Stein, for example, who observed the encounters of 1,230 men with call girls, found that the prostitute was completely client centered and that every effort was made to fulfill the needs of the male client. This concern with male performance is satisfying to a number of individuals who do want to engage in reciprocal sex and are fearful of the sexual demands of women who insist on sexual egalitarianism. Edward Glover, an early researcher into the psychology of the male customer, felt that many men were able to enjoy the sex act only with people they did not hold in high esteem, and that these men separated love into sacred and profane; they classified their wives, female friends, mothers, and daughters as worthy only of sacred love, while they equated the prostitute with the profane.

Prostitution, then, is a very complicated topic. It seems clear that laws to outlaw prostitution generally have not been satisfactory, even in extreme totalitarian states. The Soviet Union, for much of its history, denied the existence of prostitution, calling it a capitalist evil, but any visitor to Moscow or Leningrad could find it thriving in spite of harsh penalties. The same was true in Communist China or Communist Cuba.

Pouring more money into law enforcement will not end prostitution, although it will undoubtedly increase the likelihood that the streetwalker will be harassed, and for this reason it might make prostitution less noticeable. Optimistic individuals can hope that the development of a new sex ethic emphasizing mutual enjoyment and emotional as well as physical involvement of male and female partners will lessen the demand for prostitution, but even if this does happen for large numbers of people, there will be those who seek to satisfy their sexual needs through the service of prostitution. Though contemporary societies have come to terms with prostitution in many different ways, each poses different problems.

1. The most extreme procedure has been to try to outlaw prostitution entirely and to throw all the resources into a legal campaign to eliminate prostitution. This policy would take the commitment of an authoritarian state such as the former Soviet Union, and it did not work there. Moreover, such a policy would be much worse than any problem it purports to solve. It would violate privacy, ignore the biological needs or drives of men and women, and try to set aside the economic and social realities of everyday living.

2. Setting up effective governmental control and registration of prostitution, including the requirement of medical inspection, was a favored solution of the 19th century and one still practiced in some areas of Europe. The problem is that medical inspection of prostitution is not particularly effective. Much more effective would be the screening of customers, but no society has ever demanded this. What such governmental control (called reglementation) does is stigmatize the prostitute for life. This occurs even though prostitution is usually a short-term occupation. Most men who go to prostitutes want younger women, and the earning power of prostitutes goes down as they age. Moreover, reglementation implies setting up certain districts in which prostitution is tolerated, and this tends to concentrate crime in those areas and in the long run to drive away customers, who seek partners elsewhere. The result is especially difficult to police. Separated and tolerated districts exist in such areas as rural Nevada where prostitution is legal, and Nevada voters keep it on the books. It is important to emphasize, however, that such officially legal brothel prostitution is not permitted in Las Vegas or Reno, the major cities.

3. A reinterpretation of the laws to concentrate only on certain conducts narrowly defined as prostitution is one approach that many jurisdictions have adopted, often concentrating on solicitation. The real difficulty is determining what constitutes solicitation. Almost every female has been solicited at least sometime in her life, and though female solicitation of males is less blatant and less obvious, most women have to give signals that they would like to know a man better for him to approach her. The whole concept of romantic love is based on the assumption that males and females have some kind of attraction for each other. To get around this problem, courts have sometimes made illegal only overt "solicitation," but what is overt to one person might not be to another. Courts, in wrestling with this problem, have insisted that solicitation specifically be a solicitation to commit a sexual act for money, but this in essence leads to entrapment. Streetwise prostitutes are unwilling to name any fee until the client does so, and most police find trying to use this standard very difficult. If solicitation is regarded as illegal, then should not men who are soliciting a prostitute also be prosecuted? Some jurisdictions have set up police prostitute decoys to arrest men who solicit sex, but this then leads to entrapment. The real difficulty, however, is that only the more obvious prostitutes are arrested, primarily the streetwalkers, and more discreet high-class prostitutes are untouched. The result is a class bias in law enforcement that mocks equal justice under the law.

4. The obvious solution is the decriminalization of sexual activity between consenting adults, whether or not money changes hands. Such a solution would free the vast majority of urban vice squads for other tasks, specifically for crimes involving victims. Prostitutes could be encouraged to be discreet, advertising their services in the so-called underground press, establishing telephone-answering services, recruiting customers in parlors emphasizing erotic massages, soliciting in adult bookstores, being available through special escort services, and encouraging the establishment of erotic clubs to serve individuals with special needs. Those who wanted prostitutes would find them, and those who did not could avoid them. At the same time, the law could protect young girls and boys from being enticed into prostitution, but the laws on statutory rape and age of consent already deal with this. Strong prohibitions against involuntary prostitution should remain on the books. We believe that prostitution is not going to disappear and that it is important that society deal with prostitution as it exists today in the most positive and least harmful way.


Bullough, V. L., and B. Bullough. Women and Prostitution: A Social History. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1987.

Bullough, V. L., B. Elcano, B. Bullough, and M. Deacon. Bibliography of Prostitution. New York: Garland, 1977.

Bullough, V. L., and L. Sentz. Annotated Bibliography of Prostitution: 1970-1992. New York: Garland, 1992.

Stein, M. L. Lovers, Friends, Slaves: Nine Male Sexual Types: Their Psycho-Sexual Transactions with Call Girls. New York: Berkeley, 1974.

Bonnie Bullough
Vern L. Bullough


For much of the 20th century, at least in the United States, psychoanalytic theories were considered almost synonymous with both sex and psychiatry. Although Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the founder of psychoanalysis, concentrated on nonsexual theories and in fact had a strong metapsychological side in which views and speculations on human destiny and the nature of civilization played a part, in the popular mind Freud and sex were the same.

Freud's ideas about sex changed over time, and, by the 1920s, he had developed what he called a structural approach, in which the instinctual drives, sexual instincts, and aggression were grouped together as the id. Sexuality to Freud encompassed not only the erogenous zones, the mouth, the anus, and the sex organs but also included gratification from tactile sensations, pleasure in looking, and sadomasochism (pleasure in hurting or being hurt), although he later distinguished the latter from the former and considered them as derivatives.

He also held that mature heterosexual genital satisfaction was achieved only through a long process of development, and some people never achieved it at all. Individuals went through several stages in which the focus of the sex drive changed, from oral to anal and finally phallic. For a time, from the sixth year to the development of puberty, the sexual drive went into a phase of relative abeyance that he called the latency period. If periods surrounding a particular phase were especially difficult, the individual may remain essentially fixated in that phase.

Freud wrote from a masculine bias. He argued that during the phallic phase the child's libido is centered on the phallus, something girls do not have, and so girls develop penis envy. The sexual urge that little boys find at this time is normally directed at the mother, and this results in the Oedipus complex, in which the father becomes the rival and is bitterly resented, although the father is also loved and respected for his power. Eventually, to overcome this, the male child redirects his sexuality, although in the process this often leads to castration fears and anxieties.

Development of the girl is different, since her interest during this process must be transferred from the clitoris, the poor female substitute for the penis, to the vagina. She feels somehow that her mother has castrated her, and this leads to penis envy. The process of the girl growing up is to go through a transition from hatred of her mother to an identification with her, called the Electra complex.

Homosexuality for Freud resulted from failure to fully progress through the various phases of development, which he labeled oral, anal, latent phase, and finally the mature genital state (i.e., heterosexuality). At the same time, however, Freud made statements that were remarkably sympathetic to homosexuals as individuals. One of the issues, however, that divided the early psychoanalytic community was whether a homosexual or lesbian might be qualified to be an analyst. Freud answered in the affirmative, although certain conditions had to be met. Ernest Jones (1879-1958), his disciple and translator, disagreed, and in the United States, at least, overt homosexuals were refused training.

To carry his message, Freud organized the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1902 and later, in 1910, the International Psychoanalytic Society, which attempted to impose a kind of orthodoxy on the movement. Freudian psychoanalysis, however, was continually marked by apostasies, and some individuals were influenced to leave because of what they believed was Freud's overemphasis on sex. Alfred Adler (1870-1937) left in part over this in 1911, and his theories downplayed the role of sexuality, although he emphasized what might be called gender issues. For example, though he called women "the weaker sex," he felt that they compensated for this by striving for power over men, using their sex as a device. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) broke a few years later, in part again because he felt that sexuality was overly stressed in Freud's theory. The libido for him was not essentially sexual but a sort of general life energy taking many forms. Jung also believed that every person essentially encompassed two genders, the masculine and the feminine, within himself or herself. The male frequently repressed the feminine side of his nature, but it survived in the unconscious as the anima, a receptive, nurturing trend that normally softens the masculine logical, dominant male form. Just the opposite was true of women, and their masculine side appeared in the animus. Homosexuality, he felt, was when the anima came to dominate in the male, and lesbianism occurred when the animus dominated in the female.

Within the traditional Freudian psychoanalytic school, there were also slight modifications. Anna Freud (1895-1982), Freud's daughter, for example, emphasized how the defense mechanisms of the emergent ego could simulate primary id impulses, and that reality for the child was different than reality for the adult. Erik Erikson (1902-), a Freudian, showed how society influenced the adaptation of the child at each stage. He emphasized, however, that talking about the meanings of life, including one's sexual feelings, is often more important to the adolescent than direct sexual activity.

Somewhat different was Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), who, in the post-World War I era, set about to incorporate Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis into a new synthesis. Reich felt there was a crucial interdependence of social and sexual liberation and that any political revolution was doomed to failure unless it was accompanied by abolition of repressive morality. It was this failure that had undermined the Russian Revolution. He also felt that the sexual revolution needed to encompass not only adults but also children and adolescents. The sexual repression of the adolescent in society led to juvenile delinquency, neuroses, perversion, and, of course, political apathy. He devoted numerous pages in his writings to the problem of providing adolescents with the private quarters and contraceptive devices necessary for the fulfillment of their sexual needs. Homosexuality, then, would disappear in the wake of the revolution, as would all other forms of sexual "perversity."

Ultimately, Reich proved a failure in his endeavors to reconcile Marxism and psychoanalysis and was expelled from both the International Psychoanalytic Association and the Communist Party. He ended up, in 1936, in Norway, where he founded the International Institute for Sex-Economy to study the way the human body utilized sexual energy. Motivating this search was his attempt to find the basic physical unit of energy to replace Freud's generalized concept of libido.

In its place, he developed a concept of energy, an actual physical component of humans that could be measured and harnessed, which he spent the rest of his life trying to explain, control, and utilize. In 1939, he came to New York, where he established the Orgone Institute, in Forest Hills; there he attempted to teach others how to use the new kind of energy that could be tapped by body massage, stored in accumulators, and used both to strengthen the body against disease and to increase orgastic potency. The result was the orgone box, a wood and metal enclosure resembling a telephone booth that supposedly collected the orgone energy, transferring it to the patient inside, who could then direct the energy to the genitalia, thereby restoring sexual potency or, in the case of an illness, restoring the individual to a healthy condition. He held that orgastic potency, that is, the capacity of a male or female to achieve orgasm after appropriate sexual stimulation, was the key to psychological health. Orgasm, he held, regulates the emotional energy of the body and relieves sexual tensions that otherwise would be transformed into neurosis.

His claims led not only to his denunciation by the American Medical Association but also to an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration, which enjoined him from distributing orgone accumulators. When Reich defied the ban, he was sentenced to prison, in 1957, where he died of heart disease. Though, obviously, Reich had long since departed from his orthodox psychoanalytic origins and has been regarded by many as being synonymous with "sexual freedom," Reich's great importance to psychoanalytic theory was to emphasize the need to analyze the character structure of the patient. He also opened up the field to include borderline psychotic states, psychopathic personalities, and similar groups of patients early analysts had ignored.

A similar attempt to reconcile psychoanalysis and Marxism was undertaken by Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979), who considered sexual repression one of the most important attributes of the exploitive social order. Under the capitalist order, Marcuse held, sexual love had been stripped of its playfulness and spontaneity and had become a matter of duty and habit carefully circumscribed by the ideology of monogamic fidelity. In fact, the blunting of sensuality was the inevitable by-product of industrial labor, which had resulted in the atrophy and coarsening of the body's organs. Sex repression contributed significantly to maintaining the general order of repression.

However, sexual repression correlated with the performance principle, a key to capitalism, and this had resulted in the desexualization of the pregenital erotogenic zones and reinforced the genitalizations of sexuality. The libido, in short, became concentrated in one part of the body, the genitals, in order to leave the rest of the body free for use as an instrument of labor. Resexualization of the body was the goal of human fulfillment.

Neither Reich's nor Marcuse's sexual theories were accepted within the mainstream of American psychoanalytic thought, which from the 1920s to the 1950s dominated the field of sex studies. Irving Bieber (1908-1991) and his colleagues, for example, described a triangular system to account for the development of male homosexuality. This study suggested that a homosexual was typically the child of an overly intimate, controlling mother and a detached, hostile, rejecting father causing the young man to be effeminate. Bieber and his colleagues based their system on the differences found between a group of homosexual and a group of heterosexual men. Both groups were in therapy, so that the comparisons involved troubled people, that is, biased samples of both homosexuals and heterosexuals. Even so, 38 percent of the homosexuals did not come from a triangular family system, and 32 percent of the heterosexuals reported such a family background. At most, the Bieber research suggests that many people in therapy, regardless of their sexual orientation, either may be the product of a triangular system or else the psychoanalyst was inclined to view the relationships from a preconceived viewpoint. Subsequent research supports a feminine stage in some homosexual boys but it has not supported the triangular family.

Homosexuality, in fact, was a favored field of investigation and theorizing. Edmund Bergler, for example, held that homosexuality involved a pathological elaboration of an unresolved masochistic attachment to the pre-Oedipal mother, Walter Bromberg held that it was a defense against castration anxiety, and Gustav Bychowski believed the homosexual had an immature ego characterized by fetishistic, narcissistic, and oral-sadistic elements. Frank Caprio, Harry Gershman, René Bozarth and Alfred Gross, and Charles Socarides taught that homosexuality was a sign of an underlying pathology.

By the 1950s, the psychoanalytic dominance of the sex field was under attack by researchers such as Alfred Kinsey, on the one hand, and for its therapeutic lack of success, on the other. In the 1950s, H. J Eysenck produced a statistical study demonstrating that patients treated by psycho-analysts recovered no more quickly, in fact they recovered more slowly, than those who received no therapy at all. Inevitably, many of the physiological assumptions of Freud were undermined by new findings, as in the case of his belief in the importance of the vaginal orgasm. Physiological research by William Masters and Virginia Johnson found that the clitoral and vaginal orgasm were physiologically indistinguishable.

Even within the psychiatric movement, there was a strong attack on psychoanalytic assumptions, as evidenced by the removal of homosexuality, in 1974, from the category of mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Not all psychiatrists agreed with this, and the psycho-analyst Irving Bieber, for example, opposed the change, since he said that "all psychoanalytic theories assume that adult homosexuality is psycho-pathologic."

The problem with much of the psychoanalytic theorizing about sex was that the samples were extremely small and almost always were patients of the individual clinician doing the research. Control groups were rarely used, and most of the studies started with a predetermined assumption about what would be found.

As the psychoanalytic theories have come under attack for their lack of objective scientific data, psychoanalysis have fought back, although not so much by offering the scientific data sought by their critics as by arguing, as the neo-Freudian Jacques Lacan has, that psychoanalysis is more a way of viewing life, a poetic or lay philosophy rather than a therapy.

Certainly, it remains strongly entrenched in literary criticism, and Lacan's disciples are closely associated with postmodernism. Within psychiatry, Freudian influence remains important, but increasingly the speculative theories of Freud are being replaced by data-based ones, and psychiatrists such as Judd Marmor, Richard Green, and others operate from many of the same theoretical assumptions as psychologists and others.

Perhaps the greatest importance of psychoanalytic theories is giving sex an important place in the human psyche. Topics, previously ignored, were brought to public attention by psychoanalysis, and, in fact, they dominated much of the nonphysiological research into sex. In the process, they helped to undermine conventional moral certainties about sexuality and to stimulate new thought. Certainly, the challenges of a Wilhelm Reich or a Herbert Marcuse led to a rethinking about the influence of sex in the world at large. Unfortunately, orthodox psychoanalysis did not keep up with the changing research, and, in spite of its valuable insights, many of the assumptions it once operated under are no longer accepted as valid by its critics. Nevertheless, as neo-Freudians such as Lacan demonstrate, its insights remain invaluable.


Alexander, F. G., and S.T. Selesnick. The History of Psychiatry. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.

Bell, A. P., and M.S. Weinberg. Homosexualities: A Study of Diversity Among Men and Women. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978.

Freud, S. Basic Writings. New York: Modern Library, 1962.

Freud, S. Collected Papers. London: Imago, 1924-50.

Freud, S. Three Contributions to Sexual Theory. New York: Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 1910.

Hall, C. S. A Primer of Freudian Psychology. Cleveland: World, 1954.

Reich, W. The Function of the Orgasm. Reprint. New York: World, 1971.

Robinson, P.A. The Freudian Left. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.

Thompson, C. Psychoanalysis: Evolution and Development. New York: Hermitage House, 1950.

Weinberg, M.S., and C. J. Williams. Male Homosexuals: Their Problems and Adaptations. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1974.

Vern L. Bullough


Love and Sexual Arousal
Forms of Love
Psychological Determinants of Sexual Behavior
Sexual Orientation
Extramarital Sex

Psychological theories of sexuality have been few and far between. Outside the psychoanalytic model, there have been few attempts to develop a global theory of sexuality by psychologists. Those theories that have been promulgated to deal specifically with sexuality generally encompass limited topics.

Love and Sexual Arousal

Berscheid and Walster proposed that the experience of love may result from a two-stage process. First, we feel physiological arousal and the responses that accompany it, such as a racing heart and pulse, sweating palms, and heavy breathing. Second, in our desire to understand the source of the arousal, we search for an explanation—a label—for the arousal. They maintain that under some conditions people may experience physiological arousal and conclude that they are feeling love or sexual attraction. If the arousal occurs in the context of sexual intimacy with an appropriate object, this conclusion seems logical. Berscheid and Walster, however, suggested that any source of arousal can, under certain conditions, increase the likelihood that we will label our feelings as love or attraction.

This hypothesis was tested by Dutton and Aron in a somewhat unusual setting—two bridges overlooking the Capilano River in British Columbia, Canada. One of the bridges was 5 feet wide, 450 feet long, and made out of wooden boards attached to wire cables that had a tendency to tilt, sway, and wobble; there was a 230-foot drop to rocks and shallow rapids below the bridge. The "control" bridge was a solid wooden bridge further upriver. This bridge was wider and firmer than the experimental bridge and was only 10 feet above the small, shallow rivulet that ran into the main river.

After walking over either the arousal-inducing bridge or the control bridge, men were approached by either a male or a female interviewer and asked to respond to a short questionnaire, then to write a short story based on a picture of a young woman covering her face with one hand and reaching with the other. Two measures were used to assess the volunteers' sexual arousal. First, the volunteers' stories were examined for sexual content. When the interviewers were female, the stories from the volunteers on the arousing bridge contained significantly more sexual content than those from volunteers on the control bridge. When the interviewer was male, sexual content did not vary according to which bridge the volunteers were on. Second, after the volunteers had completed the questionnaire, they were offered the interviewer's name and telephone number in case they wanted to have the experiment explained in more detail. The researchers hypothesized that volunteers on the arousing bridge would be more likely to call the female interviewer than volunteers on the control bridge. About 50 percent of the males from the arousing bridge did call the female interviewer; this percentage is higher than both the percentage from the control bridge who called the female interviewer and the percentage from either bridge who called the male interviewer.

According to Berscheid and Walster, in general the less able we are to identify the source of our physiological feelings of arousal and the more likely we are to have the chance to interact with the person, the more romantically attracted we will feel toward the person. Strictly speaking, this finding applies only to the romantic attraction of a man to a woman, because these studies of arousal have used only heterosexual males. Although it may seem reasonable to assume that females and homosexuals respond similarly, research with women and with gay people is needed to determine whether these findings generalize beyond heterosexual men. On the basis of experiments examining the influence of arousal on attraction, Berscheid and Walster concluded that under appropriate circumstances, arousal—regardless of its source—will increase the likelihood that one person will be attracted to another. This analysis may help to explain why someone is attracted to another person when to outside observers there seems to be no logical reason for the attraction. According to this model, people can feel attracted to and aroused by others who apparently provide them with more pain than pleasure.


Tennov described infatuation or "love at first sight" as limerence—a love characterized by preoccupation, acute longing, exaggeration of the other's good qualities, seesawing emotion, and aching in the chest. These characteristics can be experienced as either intensely pleasurable or painful, depending on the response of the loved one, or "limerent object." Unlike other forms of love, limerence is an all-or-nothing state that men and women experience in similar ways. On the basis of several hundred descriptions of limerence obtained through personal interviews, Tennov outlined a number of traits that a person in this state may exhibit:

1. Preoccupation with a limerent object. You are unable to think about anything else but the object of your affection. Everything you do is calculated in terms of how the limerent object will respond—whether he or she would like or dislike it. You may feel happy or sad, depending on the degree of attention you get from your limerent object.

2. Intrusive or unintentional thinking about the limerent object. In addition to spending a great deal of time intentionally fantasizing about the limerent object, you find that thoughts about your beloved intrude and interfere with other mental activity in an apparently involuntary way. You may be working on a paper or performing some task at work when the thoughts and fantasies of a love object come to the fore.

3. Desire for exclusivity with limerent object. You crave the limerent object and no one else. You want commitment to ensure exclusivity even when it is premature or inappropriate. This can lead you to smother the object of your affection with attention and pressure rather than allow the relationship to develop gradually.

Tennov proposed that limerence develops in stages, the first being admiration for another person who possesses valued qualities and for whom one feels a basic liking. This state is followed by an awareness of sexual attraction. Once admiration and sexual attraction are present, the next step is to undergo an experience that raises the probability that these feelings might be reciprocated. This experience could be something as simple as observing a look or gesture or being asked to go to dinner or a party.

At this point in the development of limerence, the first "crystallization" occurs: one begins to focus on the good qualities of the limerent object and to disregard his or her bad qualities. After the first crystallization, if the two people develop a mutual attraction, the intensity of the romantic involvement will be relatively mild. Doubt about the limerent object's commitment, however, can evoke extreme, or "crazy," limerence. The interaction between hopefulness and uncertainty leads to the second crystallization, which results in feeling an intense attraction to the other person. With the individual who is not so infatuated, the developmental process just described stops early, and the intensity of full-fledged limerence is never felt. Nonlimerents are generally more practical about their romantic involvements.

Limerence is a tantalizing state that promises great things that can never be fully realized. In the beginning, it can also be devastating, especially if the limerent object is lost abruptly. Tennov outlined three ways in which limerent attraction can end. The first is through the development of a deeper relationship, which evolves as one is able to withstand the major disappointments and emptiness of fading limerence. The second is through abandonment, owing to a lack of reciprocity on the part of the limerent object. The third is through the transfer of attention to another limerent object—a continuation of the limerent state. Tennov maintains that full-blown limerence cannot develop without an element of uncertainty.


Because of the remarkable similarities between human infants and other primate infants, Bowlby theorized that the attachment between infant and care giver forms the basis for later attachments in adulthood. Attachment theory postulates that the original function of this early affectional bonding in humans was to protect infants from predators and other threats to survival. This is accomplished by infants and children constructing mental models of themselves and their caretakers, and these models, as well as behavior patterns influenced by them, affect relationships throughout the life span. There is increasing evidence that supports this theory from infancy through young adulthood. Thus, early attachment between the infant and one or more caretakers appears to play an important part in the development of later affectional relationships.

Forms of Love

Sternberg devised the theoretical framework to account for the various forms that loving can take. He maintained that love could be understood in terms of three components: (1) intimacy, which includes the feelings of closeness and connectedness that one experiences in loving relationships; (2) passion, which refers to the drives that lead to romance, physical attraction, and sexual interaction in a loving relationship; and (3) decision and commitment, which encompass (in the short run) the decision that one loves another and (in the long run) the commitment to maintain the love.

Intimacy, according to Sternberg, is the emotional component of love. It grows steadily in the early phase of a relationship but later tends to level off. It is the major component of most loving relationships that we have with family, friends, and lovers.

Passion is the motivational component of love. Passion develops quickly in relationships but then typically levels off. It involves a high degree of physiological arousal and an intense desire to be united with a loved one. In its most pure form, it may be seen in the "love at first sight" experience.

Decision and commitment are the cognitive components of love. Commitment increases gradually at first and then grows more rapidly as the relationship develops. The love of a parent for a child is often distinguished by a high level of commitment.

Although these three components are all important parts of loving relationships, their strength may differ from one relationship to another and may change over time within the same relationship. The amount of love that one experiences depends on the absolute strengths of these three components, and the kind of love one experiences depends on their relative strengths. When all three components are present in a relationship, there exists what he calls consummate or complete love. According to Sternberg, this is the kind of love that people strive for but find difficult to sustain. It is possible only in very special relationships.

According to Sternberg, friendship occurs when one experiences the intimacy component of love without passion and decision-commitment. It is possible for friendships to evolve into relationships characterized by passion or arousal and long-term commitment, but when this occurs, the friendship goes beyond liking and becomes simply another form of love.

In Sternberg's framework, infatuation involves passion and arousal without the intimacy and decision-commitment components of love. It is essentially the same kind of love that Tennov calls limerence—a love characterized by preoccupation, acute longing, exaggeration of the other's good qualities, and seesawing emotions.

The deeper relationship that may develop out of limerent love or infatuation is characterized by romantic love. Romantic love comprises intimacy as well as passion. It is the "Romeo and Juliet" type of love—liking, with the added excitement of physical attraction and arousal but without commitment.

Sternberg describes empty love as commitment without intimacy or passion. Intimacy and passion have died out and all that remains is commitment. Although North Americans associate this type of love with the final stages of a long-term relationship, in other societies it may be the starting point of a relationship. For example, in cultures in which marriages are arranged, a couple may begin a relationship with little beyond a commitment to try to love each other.

Fatuous love involves passion and commitment but no intimacy. It is the type of love that we associate with whirlwind courtships. This type of love is fatuous or foolish, because commitment is made based on the heady chemistry of passion without the stabilizing effect of intimacy.

Companionate love involves intimacy and commitment but no passion. It is essentially long-term friendship, such as often develops in marriage after a couple's passion has died down.

Psychological Determinants of Sexual Behavior

Byrne and his colleagues have developed a theory concerning the psychological determinants of sexual behavior. The theory proposes that individuals vary in affective responses, informational responses (beliefs and expectancies), and fantasy responses to sexual stimuli. Affective, informational, and fantasy responses to sex are assumed to involve generalized and stable individual differences that function like personality traits. An individual's characteristic feelings, thoughts, and fantasies about sex are thought to determine his or her sexual behavior by mediating the person's response to sexual stimulation. To date, most of the research done on this theory has focused on emotional responses to sexuality. Byrne and his colleagues developed the Sexual Opinion Survey (SOS), where responses can range from primarily negative (erotophobic) to primarily positive (erotophilic). Erotophobic persons' negative feelings about sex appear to mediate avoidance of diverse sexual behaviors, while erotophilic persons' positive feelings about sex seem to mediate approach responses to sex. Erotophobia-erotophilia appears to involve reliable differences and affective responses to sexuality and to determine avoidance or approach responses to a diversity of sexual behaviors.

Sexual Orientation

Storms developed a theory of sexual orientation that used early adolescence as a critical period in the development of a sexual identity as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. His theory takes into account sexual maturation at both the social and the biological levels with the onset of puberty, when masturbation, sexual fantasies, and sexual arousal increase. Most people's sexual fantasies are quite vague at first, gradually becoming more specific and detailed with maturity. Storms maintains that development of sexual identity is closely linked to the development of erotic fantasies. That is, we may use the context of our erotic fantasies to eventually determine our sexual preference.

In this theory, as we begin to mature sexually our environment supplies the material for our erotic fantasies. American children are socially active and form primary friendship bonds with others of the same gender from early childhood through preadolescence. It is during preadolescence that many individuals experience a sharp increase in the desire for interpersonal intimacy, expressed in relationships with "the best friend," gangs, and cliques and in first love. At about age 12 or 13, heterosexual interactions become more common. Early sexual maturation (before the age of 12) occurs among American children in an environment dominated by the same-gender peers and, according to Storms, would be more likely to result in erotic fantasies involving the same gender; the emergence of strong sexual feelings and arousal around 13 years or later occurs in a social world that involves both genders. Sexual maturation at this age, then, would be more likely to lead to heterosexual (and presumably bisexual) fantasies. A major implication of Storms's theory is that homosexual preference develops out of normal, commonplace experiences that happen to nearly everyone during preadolescence. Because of their early sexual maturation, homosexuals tend to eroticize those homosocial experiences, just as heterosexuals do with the heterosocial experiences at a slightly later age, when they begin to develop sexual maturity. Storms's theory is attractive because it attempts to explain sexual orientation, not just homosexuality.

Extramarital Sex

A perceived marital imbalance may lead a husband or wife to feel justified in seeking an extramarital relationship. Walster and colleagues have applied equity theory to try to explain this imbalance. They have distinguished three kinds of imbalance versus balance. First, we may feel overbenefited when our marital rewards are greater than our costs. Second, equity exists when we perceive our rewards as being equal to our investment in the marriage. Third, we may experience deprivation when we perceive our investment as greater than our rewards. It is important to note that rewards and investments can be defined in various ways. People bring diverse contributions to a relationship—financial assets, practical know-how, or physical appeal, for example. Walster, et al., suggested that spouses who perceive themselves to be either overbenefited or in an equitable relationship would be less likely to involve themselves in extramarital affairs than would spouses who saw themselves as deprived. Berscheid, et al., presented evidence from a survey published by Psychology Today to support their contention.

Walster, et al., believed that spouses would see the relationship as inequitable if they perceived themselves as more desirable than their mates. Consequently, they assumed that these people would engage in affairs earlier in their relationship and with more partners than would those who perceive themselves to be in an equitable relationship or overbenefited. Their results supported this assumption. Although the frequency of extramarital relationships did not vary according to gender or length of the primary relationship, it did vary according to perceptions of the equity of the primary relationship.

The theories that have been presented here have attempted to explain various aspects of human sexuality from a psychological perspective. One of the most apparent problems that can be observed is a lack of follow-up on the development of these theories through research. This, of course, is not the only area in the study of sexuality that has this problem. In fact, one could argue that one of the great weaknesses for those people trying to develop models or theories of sexuality is the lack of research guided by some coherent framework. This is undoubtedly due to relatively recent scientific interest in sexuality and the hostile social environment encountered by scientific thinking about sexuality. Thus, many able scholars avoid the study of sexuality because of the possible controversy. This situation is changing, however, so increased research can be anticipated in the near future.


Berscheid, E., and E. Walster. Physical Attractiveness. In L. Berkowitz, ed.. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, New York: Academic Press, 1974.

Berscheid, E., E. Walster, and G. Bohrnstedt. The Body Image Report. Psychology Today, Vol. 7 (1973), pp. 119-31.

Bowlby, J. Attachment and Loss. Vol. 2, Separation, Anxiety, and Anger. New York: Basic Books, 1973.

Byrne, D. Social Psychology and the Study of Sexual Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 1 (1977), pp. 3-30.

Dutton, D. G., and A. P. Aron. Some Evidence for Heightened Sexual Attraction Under Conditions of High Anxiety, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 30 (1974), pp. 510-17.

Feeney, J. A., and P. Woller. Attachment Style as a Predictor of Adult Romantic Relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 58 (1990), pp. 281-91.

Fisher, W. A., D. Byrne, L.A. White, and K. Kelly. Erotophobia—Erotophilia as a Dimension of Personality. Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 25 (1988), pp. 123-51.

Sternberg, R.J. A Triangular Theory of Love. Psychological Review, Vol. 19 (1986), pp. 119-35.

Storms, M.D. A Theory of Erotic Orientation Development. Psychological Review, Vol. 88 (1981), pp. 340-53.

Tennov, D. Love and Limerence. New York: Stein & Day, 1972.

Walster, E., G. W. Walster, and E. Berscheid. Equity: Theory and Research. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1978.

A.R. Allgeier

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