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Prevalence of Sexuality Education in the United States
Content of Sexuality Education
Support for Sexuality Education
Resources for More Information

Sexuality education is the lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values about identity, relationships, and intimacy. School-based sexuality education is more than teaching anatomy and the physiology of reproduction. It includes an understanding of sexuality from sexual development and reproductive health to interpersonal relationships, and affection and intimacy, to body image and gender roles. Parents, partners, friends, peers, schools, religious institutions, and the media all influence how one learns about sexuality at every stage of life.

Prevalence of Sexuality Education in the United States

As of January, 1993, forty-seven states either recommend or mandate sexuality education. Every state recommends or mandates HIV/AIDS education. Sixty-eight percent of large school districts required some instruction in sexuality education, and 80 percent required some instruction about AIDS. Only two percent discouraged or prohibited teaching about these subjects. However, only a few communities offered comprehensive sexuality education programs at all grade levels. Although between two thirds and three quarters of students said they had received some sexuality education by the time they graduated from high school, few had participated in programs from kindergarten through grade 12. It is estimated that less than ten percent of young people participate in a program from kindergarten through high school. Sexuality topics are most likely first introduced in grade 9 or 10 as part of a discussion of another subject, such as health or physical education. The average amount of time spent on these topics during a year is under 12 hours in grade seven and just 18 hours by grade 12.

A review of state-recommended or state-developed curricula illustrates the limitations of existing programs. Although most of the curricula focus on such important issues as family relationships, dating, gender roles, and parenting responsibilities, few address sexual issues directly. Although 65 percent of the state curricula affirm that sexuality is a natural part of life, only eight percent provide information on sexual behavior. Only half have adequate family planning information. Fewer than one out of six state curricula would provide young people with a complete base of information.

HIV/AIDS curricula are even less likely to deal openly and honestly with sexual topics. HIV/AIDS is generally presented as one more negative consequence of sexual behavior. Although all of the state HIV/AIDS curricula include the important topic of abstinence, only eleven states present a balanced picture of safer sex. Only three states place HIV/AIDS information in a context of positive sexuality. And although thirty-seven states mention condoms, only five states tell young people how to use or obtain them.


Sexuality education should be offered as part of an overall comprehensive health education program. Sexuality education can best address the broadest range of issues in the context of health promotion and disease prevention. A comprehensive school-based sexuality education program should have four primary objectives:

1. Information: Young people will have accurate information about human sexuality including growth and development, human reproduction, anatomy, physiology, masturbation, family life, pregnancy, childbirth, parenthood, sexual response, sexual orientation, contraception, abortion, sexual abuse, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases.

2. Attitudes, Values, and Insights: Young people will question, explore, and assess sexual attitudes and feelings in order to develop their own values, increase their self-esteem, develop their insights concerning relationships with members of both genders, and understand their obligations and responsibilities to others.

3. Relationships and Interpersonal Skills: Young people will develop interpersonal skills, including communication, decision-making, assertiveness, peer refusal skills, and the ability to create satisfying relationships. Sexuality education programs should prepare students to understand their sexuality effectively and creatively in adult roles (e.g., as spouse, partner, parent, and community member). This includes helping them to develop their capacities for caring, supportive, noncoercive, and mutually pleasurable intimate sexual relationships in adulthood.

4. Responsibility: Young people will exercise responsibility in their sexual relationships by understanding abstinence and how to resist pressures to become prematurely involved in sexual intercourse, as well as encouraging the use of contraception and other sexual health measures. Sexuality education should be a central component of programs designed to reduce the prevalence of sexually related health problems (e.g., teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection, and sexual abuse).

HIV/AIDS education should take place within the context of comprehensive health and sexuality education. It should not be taught as an isolated program, but rather integrated into an approach that includes the objectives listed above. The HIV/AIDS unit should address five primary objectives:
1. Reducing Misinformation: Eliminate misinformation about HIV infection and transmission and reduce the panic associated with the disease.

2. Delaying Premature Sexual Intercourse: Help young people delay premature sexual intercourse; this includes teaching young people to recognize the implications of their actions and to gain the communication skills with which to confront peer pressure and negotiate resistance.

3. Supporting Safer Sex: Help teenagers who are sexually active to use condoms every time they have intercourse or practice only sexual behaviors that do not place them at risk of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, or HIV infection.

4. Preventing Drug Abuse: Warn children about the dangers of drug use and teach young people the skills with which to confront peer pressure and negotiate resistance.

5. Developing Compassion for People With AIDS: Encourage compassion for people with AIDS and for people who are infected with the HIV virus.

Content of Sexuality Education

Sexuality education programs should address all three learning domains: the cognitive, affective, and behavioral. Sexuality education programs are most effective when young people not only receive information, but have the opportunity to explore their own values and attitudes and develop or strengthen social skills. A wide variety of classroom activities foster learning: lectures, role playing, simulations, individual and group research, field trips, and group exercises.

School-based sexuality education programs must be carefully developed to respect the diversity of values and beliefs represented in each local community. Parents, teachers, administrators, community and religious leaders, and students should all be involved in developing and implementing programs. Local educators need to determine the values, themes, instructional strategies, and classroom activities.

This is not to suggest that there is not a body of information that all young people need to receive. In 1991, the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), convened a national guidelines task force of health, education, and sexuality professionals to develop national guidelines for sexuality education. Task force members included representatives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association, the National School Boards Association, the National Education Association, the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as well as experienced school-based sexuality education teachers.

The task force developed national guidelines for a comprehensive approach to sexuality education for levels from kindergarten through grade 12. Divided into four stages of development—middle childhood, preadolescence, early adolescence, and adolescence—the guidelines are based on the following six key concepts, which represent the highest level of general knowledge of human sexuality and family living.

1. Human development is characterized by the interrelationship between physical, emotional, social, and intellectual growth.

2. Relationships play a central role throughout our lives.

3. Healthy sexuality requires the development and use of specific personal and interpersonal skills.

4. Sexuality is central to being human and individuals express their sexuality in a variety of ways.

5. The promotion of sexual health requires specific information and attitudes to avoid unwanted consequences of sexual behavior.

6. Social and cultural environments shape the way individuals learn about and express their sexuality.

These concepts are further broken down into subconcepts and a topical outline. The National Task Force recommended that 36 topics—each presented with age-appropriate information—be included in a comprehensive program. (See Table I.) Developmental messages are developed for each topic.

Table 1. Key Concepts and Topics to Be Covered in a Curriculum for Kindergarten to Grade 12

Key Concept


Key Concept 1: Human development is characterized by the interrelationships among physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual growth.

· Reproductive anatomy and physiology
· Reproduction
· Puberty
· Body image
· Sexual orientation

Key Concept 2: Relationships play a central role throughout our lives.

· Families
· Friendships
· Love
· Dating
· Marriage and divorce
· Parenthood

Key Concept 3: Healthy sexuality requires the development and use of specific personal and interpersonal skills.

· Values
· Decision making
· Communication
· Assertiveness
· Negotiation
· Finding Help

Key Concept 4: Sexuality is central to being human and individuals express their sexuality in a variety of different ways.

· Sexuality through the life cycle
· Masturbation
· Shared sexual behaviors
· Abstinence
· Human sexual response
· Fantasy
· Sexual dysfunction

Key Concept 5: The promotion of sexual health requires that individuals have information, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to avoid unwanted consequences of their sexual behavior.

· Contraception
· Abortion
· HIV and STD
· Sexual abuse
· Reproductive health

Key Concept 6: Social and cultural environments shape the way individuals learn about, experience, and express their sexuality.

· Gender roles
· Sexuality and the law
· Sexuality and religion
· Sexuality in the arts
· Diversity
· Sexuality and the media

Support for Sexuality Education

The vast support for sexuality education—among both the general public and the professional community—has increased over time. A Gallup poll in 1943 found that 70 percent of adults supported sex education; in 1965, 69 percent of adults did, in 1975, 76 percent of adults, and in 1986, 89 percent of adults were in favor of sexuality education. More than 95 percent of adults want HIV/AIDS education taught to their children. Seventy-seven percent think that courses for 12-year-olds should include information about birth control. Almost two thirds say that courses should include information about homosexuality, abortion, sexual intercourse, and premarital sex.

Support for AIDS education is even higher. Ninety-four percent of parents think public schools should have an HIV/AIDS education program, and only four percent think they should not. More than eight out of ten parents want their children to be taught about safe sex as a way of preventing AIDS. Parents of students show their support for sexuality education in another way: given the option of excusing their children from sexuality education classes, less than one to five percent do so.

Moreover, many national professional organizations have adopted policies that support sexuality education. More than 70 national organizations are members of the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education. These organizations have agreed to work together to ensure that all children and youth receive comprehensive sexuality education by the year 2000. Coalition members include such national organizations as the American Medical Association, the National Education Association, the YWCA of the U.S.A., the American Nurses Association, the Children's Defense Fund, the American School Health Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National Urban League.

Resources for More Information

Numerous resources exist for helping school systems develop sexuality and HIV/AIDS education programs. Some states have developed curricula guidelines for school programs and have resource people in the State Department of Education to assist local communities. SIECUS has developed national guidelines for sexuality education programs and a step-by-step guide for implementing programs in a community. ETR Associates, in Santa Cruz, California, has numerous curriculums and teaching materials available. Several organizations, such as the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists in Chicago; the National Council of Family Relations in Minneapolis; and the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex in Mount Vernon, Iowa, offer continuing education programs for teachers. Local colleges and universities may also offer training courses.


DeMauro, D. Sexuality 1990: A Review of State Sexuality and AIDS Curricula. In SIECUS Report, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Dec. 1989/Jan. 1990), pp. 1-9.

Donovan, P. Risk and Responsibility. New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1989.

Gallup, G. Gallup Pole Public Opinion 1935-1971. New York: Random House, 1972.

Gallup, G. Teens Want Right to Obtain Birth Control Devices. Gallup Youth Survey. (News release, Sept. 27, 1980). Princeton, NJ.

Haffner, D. Sex Education 2000: A Call to Action. New York: SIECUS, 1989.

Gallup, G., and D. DeMauro. Winning the Battle: Developing Support for Sexuality and HIV/AIDS Education. New York: SIECUS, 1991.

Louis Harris and Associates, Inc. American Teens Speak. New York: Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 1986,

National Guidelines Task Force. Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education. New York: SIECUS, 1991.

SIECUS Position Statements. (Dec. 1990). New York.

Debra W. Haffner


Male Ejaculation
Female Ejaculation

Ejaculation is the expulsion of seminal fluid. Many people assume that ejaculation and orgasm are the same, since most males experience the two simultaneously. Even though this is true for 80 to 90 percent of males, it is not true for all men. For instance, in controlled studies some men have been observed to ejaculate but not have orgasm or have orgasm but are unable to ejaculate. And some men, after prostate surgery, have retrograde ejaculate. (This means the ejaculation goes into the bladder and is expelled during urination.) Retrograde ejaculation is a form of birth control in some cultures, and in certain religious groups men do not ejaculate, believing it debilitates them.

Male Ejaculation

Controlling Ejaculation
Premature Ejaculation
Ejaculatory Incompetence

Ejaculation in the male generally occurs with coitus, during masturbation, or during sleep (in what is called a nocturnal emission, or a wet dream). It happens most often when the penis is erect, but can also occur when the penis is flaccid. The ejaculate usually spurts out as the prostate gland and surrounding muscles, as well as those at the base of the penis, contract at orgasm. In young males, the force of the spurt can be strong enough for the ejaculate to hit the upper chest; in older males, it may roll out or go an inch or two up the abdomen.

The ejaculatory content in the male is called semen, and the amount ejaculated varies among men (a healthy male ejaculates about one tea-spoonful). The ejaculatory content contains an average of 200 to 400 million sperm. (When the sperm count is low, conception usually does not occur in the normal fashion.) The seminal vesicles release the sperm, which are developed in the testicles, and at ejaculation there is a thick, milky fluid secreted from the prostate gland and added to the mixture, which is yellow, grey, or whitish. Upon reaching puberty, a boy is able to ejaculate the fluid.

Controlling Ejaculation

Ejaculation can be controlled by (1) using the squeeze technique, (2) keeping the testicles from full elevation, and (3) controlling the pubo-coccygeus (PC) muscle.

In the squeeze technique, strong fingertip pressure is applied to the top and underside of the penis. The pressure must be firm and applied without movement for about 15 seconds, and it must be applied before the point of ejaculatory inevitability. During coitus, either partner may apply the pressure to the base of the penis.

Since ejaculation occurs when the testicles are fully elevated against the perineum, ejaculation can be controlled by applying light pressure to keep the testicles from reaching full elevation.

The PC muscle—the same muscle that starts and stops the flow of urine—can be trained over a two- to three-month period to control ejaculation. Tightening and releasing the muscle 10 to 15 times several times a day will strengthen it. Contracting the muscle and holding the contraction three or four times for 15 seconds will train it to reverse the urge to ejaculate. The 15-second hold must be done before ejaculatory inevitability for ejaculatory control.

Premature Ejaculation

Some men ejaculate as soon as they are aroused, before penetration, or with one or two thrusts in coitus. In addition, because some men never or rarely touch their penis, or allow a partner to touch it, their penis may be so sensitive that any touch is painful or uncomfortable, or produces rapid ejaculation. More touching, stroking, or fondling of the penis in love making often desensitizes the penis enough to enable these men to go longer in intercourse without ejaculating. By masturbating several times a week for 15 or 20 minutes before ejaculating, a man can often reverse the urge to ejaculate rapidly. Erection, ejaculation, or orgasm is not necessary when masturbating for this desensitizing procedure.

Often in premature ejaculation problems, not only is the man reluctant to allow his partner to touch him during foreplay, his partner is also. Both fear he will ejaculate too soon. This reluctance is one of the problems that causes rapid ejaculation in the first place: the penis has not been conditioned to be stimulated for any length of time.

In treatment, the couple do pleasuring nondemand exercises, touching the penis for 15 to 20 minutes. These exercises are performed slowly and with light but total hand pressure over the genitalia without expectations of any kind. If the man comes close to ejaculation, he informs his partner and she can do the squeeze technique for about 15 seconds to reverse his urge to ejaculate. This procedure may occur several times in the 15- to 20-minute period. As the man learns to control the urge to ejaculate, he will be able to go longer without the need to squeeze. But until he learns to identify the point of ejaculatory inevitability, he may need to apply the squeeze as soon as he has an erection. He continues to stimulate the penis further, squeezing every few minutes, until he has gone 15 minutes without ejaculating and trying to come as close as he can to orgasm without having one. Once he has learned to control his climax he can typically go as long as he wishes in intercourse without ejaculating.

The pleasuring nondemand exercises occur only after about an hour of body caressing so that the whole body is relaxed and excited. Although, very often, the man will have an erection during the body caressing stage, stimulation of the genitalia does not proceed until the nondemand pleasuring exercises are over. This allows the man to hold an erection for some time and learn to be comfortable doing so. In this way, both partners can become more secure knowing that the penis can remain erect for a time or realize that if it does subside it will become erect again (since typically erections come and go over a period of time). Men often panic when they begin to lose an erection, not realizing that this is normal and that it will return if they do not become anxious.

Ejaculatory Incompetence

In the research laboratory, men have been observed using unusually heavy pressure on the penis while masturbating, which often results in an inability to ejaculate during intercourse. In therapy, it is suggested that while masturbating they use very light pressure more typical of the pressure they feel in their partner's vagina. However, it may take time for them to develop less need for heavy pressure.

Ejaculatory incompetence can also be a learned behavior. Despite the strong taboos against masturbation or touching the penis, boys often like the feeling it gives them and develop ways to masturbate that are not conducive to ejaculating in intercourse. Some ejaculatory incompetent men pull a sheet, towel, or whatever else they have learned to use between their legs to stimulate themselves to ejaculation. Others may lie on their stomach putting pressure on their penis from the mattress; some cross their legs with the penis between them and rub their legs together. Such masturbatory patterns are not conducive to intercourse even though they may work well in masturbation.

Female Ejaculation

Female ejaculation is the expulsion of fluid, other than urine, from the urethra at orgasm. This topic is debated among experts: some argue that the ejaculate is a mucuous-like secretion coming from the cervical os; others that it is vaginal wall secretions; and others that it is a nonurine expulsion from the urethra.


Allgeier, E.R., and A.R. Allgeier. Sexual Interactions. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath & Co., 1984.

Calderone, M.S., and E.W. Johnson, The Family Book About Sexuality. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

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

Ladas, A., B. Whipple, and J.D. Perry. The G. Spot. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982.

Masters, W.H., V.E. Johnson, and R.C. Kolodny. Human Sexuality. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1982.

Zilbergeld, B. Male Sexuality. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1971.

William E. Hartman
Marilyn A. Fithian


Albert Ellis, (1913- 2007) was a clinical psychologist who received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1947. >From 1949 to 1952, he was chief psychologist at the New Jersey Diagnosis Center of the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies; he was also in private practice (for psychotherapy and marriage and family counseling).

Perhaps Ellis's greatest contribution has been his books and articles, which were not only educational but many—such as his works on masturbation and extramarital sex—were innovative and even shocking when they were written. An extremely prolific writer, Ellis authored or edited more than 50 books and monographs, many discussing his theories on sexuality.

In 1959 Albert Ellis founded the Institute for Rational-Emotive Therapy (R..E.T.) in New York City. R.E.T., a unique psychotherapeutic approach to sexual and non-sexual situations, is designed to help people overcome irrational beliefs and unrealistic expectations by blending behavioral therapy with specific strategies for dealing with emotional stressors. In the 1990s he renamed his psychotherapy and behavior change system Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

As President of his Institute, Ellis conducted individual, couples, and group therapies well into his 90’s. For his 90th birthday in 2003 he received honors and congratulations from many prominet public figures. A prolific writer and tireless worker, he continued write, hold workshops, and see clients. In many of his activities he was assisted by his wife, the Australian psychologist Debbie Joffe.  He died in 2007 after suffering a series of health problems.

Ellis was a founding member of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex (SSSS) and its first president (1960-1962). In 1975 SSSS awarded him its Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award. Ellis has also served prominently in other sexology organizations: American Association of Sex Educators (on the board of directors), American Academy of Psychotherapists (vice president), and American Psychological Association (division president).


Ellis, A. The American Sexual Tragedy. New York: Twayne, 1954.

Ellis, A. The Art and Science of Love. New York: Lyle Strauss. Reprinted. New York: Bantam Books, 1969.

Ellis, A. The Folklore of Sex. New York: Bone, 1951.

Ellis, A. Humanistic Psychotherapy: The Rational Emotive Approach. New York: Julian Press, 1973.

Ellis, A. If This Be Sexual Heresy. New York: Lyle Stuart. Reprinted. New York: Tower Publications, 1966.

Ellis, A. Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1963.

Ellis, A. Sex Without Guilt. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1958.

Ellis, A., and A. Abarbanel, eds. The Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior. New York: Hawthorne, 1961.

Ellis, A.   Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: A Therapist's Guide (2nd Edition), with Catharine MacLaren. Impact Publishers, 2005.

Ellis, A.    How to Make Yourself Happy and Remarkably Less Disturbable. Impact Publishers, 1999.

Ellis, A.    Rational Emotive Behavioral Approaches to Childhood Disorders • Theory, Practice and Research 2nd Edition. With Michael E. Bernard (Eds.). Springer SBM, 2006.

Ellis, A.    Growth Through Reason: Verbatim Cases In Rational-Emotive Therapy Science and Behavior Books. Palo Alto, California. 1971.

Ellis, A.    Theories of Personality: Critical Perspectives, with Mike Abrams, PhD, and Lidia Abrams, PhD. New York: Sage Press, 7/2008 (This was his final work, published posthumously).

Ellis, A.    All Out!. Prometheus Books, 2009.
Leah Cahan Schaefer  (updated by Erwin J. Haeberle 2011)


Havelock Ellis (1859–1939) was an English physician who challenged Victorian ideas about sexuality by suggesting that sex could and should be enjoyable and that lovemaking should be pleasurable. Although Freud is a better known contemporary, Freud only formulated individual sexual doctrines; Ellis made the more extensive and more representative contribution to sexuality as it is known today. The first six volumes of his great work, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, were published between 1897 and 1910, and they established the basic moral categories for nearly all subsequent sexual theorizing.

The first volume of his Studies—Sexual Inversion—introduces Ellis's modernist views. In it, he argues that homosexuals are born to their sexual orientation and backs up theories with detailed case histories. The second volume—Auto-Eroticism—seeks to dispel the Victorian myth that masturbation leads to serious illness as well as insanity Ellis even argues that masturbation can be a legitimate source of mental relaxation.

Ellis was concerned with other important questions of his day, and he had many underlying themes with which to address them. For example, the notions of tumescence and detumescence are important themes that recur throughout his work. (Tumescence is defined as the "accumulation" of sexual energy during arousal, and detumescence, the "discharge" of that energy at the moment of climax) Ellis used these concepts to signify the entire process of sexual arousal and release.

In bringing to light the fact that women have sexual emotions, Ellis was one of the architects of the theory of erogenous zones—the idea that certain parts of the body are more receptive to sexual arousal than others. A pioneer in the field of sexuality in a time when there were many misconceptions, Ellis laid the groundwork for later sexual pioneers to dispel other misconceptions as well as to continue to explain the complexities of human sexuality.


Francoeur, R T "American Sexual Customs." Becoming a Sexual Person. New York: Macmillan. 1991 16

Grosskurth, P. Havelock Ellis: A Biography New York: New York University Press, 1985.

Robinson, P "Havelock Ellis." The Modernization of Sex. New York: Cornell, 1989: 1-40

Hope E Ashby


Gates 1 and 2: Chromosomal (or Genetic and Gonadal) Sex
Gate 3: Hormonal Sex
Gate 4: Internal Sexual Anatomy
Gate 5: External Sexual Anatomy
Gate Six: Sexual Dimorphism in Neural Tendencies
Development of the Mammary Glands
Anomalous Developments of the Sexual and Generative Organs

Embryology is the science that describes and explains the development of an organism before its birth. In humans, the main development of the sexual and reproductive organs occurs between the 4th and 18th weeks of pregnancy. This development is closely associated with development of a pair of temporary kidneys, which are replaced in the third month by the permanent kidneys.

Psychosexual development, of which the anatomical development of the sexual and generative organs is an integral and interactive part, has been compared with an analogy to a road map with six prenatal and six postnatal gates (See Table 1) The sex prenatal gates are the following:

1. Chromosomal (or genetic) sex (established at fertilization);

2. Gonadal sex (established between weeks 6 and 12 of gestation);

3. Hormonal sex (with a critical period extending from the third month to death);

4. and 5 Internal and external sexual anatomy (in the second and third month);

6. Neural template encoding (from the second month to death).

The postnatal gates begin at birth with
7. Gender assignment.
This is followed by
8. Gender scripting;

9. Gender role;

10. Gender identity (which is finalized age three);

11. Gender orientation (which appears to be finalized somewhere between age five and the onset of puberty); and

12. Adult gender identity-role;

This entry covers only the six prenatal gates of psychosexual development.

The timing and limits on the outcome of development at each of these 12 gates vary. The developmental "gates" that involve anatomical development have narrow, specific temporal "windows" (i.e., times during development when primordial, unspecialized tissues can respond to developmental stimuli) At other "gates," especially those involving behavior, the timing of development is less restricted and may even extend over years. The outcome of development at a specific developmental gate may be one dimensional (i e, the outcome of that aspect is either-or, male or female). Development at other gates has a two-dimensional outcome that results from two concurrent processes, one process defeminizing a particular aspect of sexual development by overriding the inherent tendency of some structures to develop in the female path, while a second simultaneous process masculinizes other related structures.

Table 1. The 12 "Gates" of Psychosexual Development

Prenatal Gate

Temporal Window

Dimensional Character

1. Genetic sex

When sperm and egg unite

Either XX female or XY male

2. Gonadal sex

Weeks 6 to 12

Either ovaries or testes

3. Hormonal sex

Second month of pregnancy through death

Two-dimensional combination of masculinizing and feminizing hormones

4. Internal sexual anatomy

Second month of pregnancy through death

Two-dimensional some structures being masculinized while others are feminized

5. External sexual anatomy

Third month of pregnancy

One-dimensional, either a penis and scrotum or clitoris and labia

6. Encoding of neural tendency

Second half of pregnancy through death

Two-dimensional combination of masculine and feminine tendencies and traits, somewhat flexible in some behavioral areas; gender orientation tendencies

7. Gender assignment

Usually occurs at birth; later reassignment possible

One-dimensional: "It's a boy" or "It's a girl "

8. Gender scripting

From birth onward

Multi-dimensional, culturally flexible combination of masculine or feminine scripts

9. Gender

From early infancy throughout life

Multidimensional, flexible combination of masculine or feminine roles and behaviors

10. Gender identity

Believed to be irreversibly set by age 3

One-dimensional, either "I'm a male" or "I'm a female "

11. Gender orientation

Believed to be irreversibly set by age 5, definitely by late childhood

Oriented to persons of the same gender, other gender, or both genders

12. Adult gender identity-role

Usually set by the time of puberty, but elaborated on throughout life

Gender identity set as either male or female, with more or less flexibility in gender role behaviors

In the higher animals (mammals), there exists an inherent or default tendency for the sexual and reproductive organs and brain tissues of all embryos to follow the female path through the 12 gates of psychosexual development. This inherent or default tendency does not depend on any genetic and hormonal stimulus or control, except that two X chromosomes are required for development of fertile ovaries. Development of the male organs and male psyche, on the other hand, is said to be additive or cumulative because they depend on two factors, one genetic and the other hormonal. In the second month of pregnancy, the Testes Determining Factor (TDF) gene carried on the Y chromosome directs development of the testes, which then produce three hormones: testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DOT), and a Müllerian inhibiting hormone (MIH). The critical balance and interaction of these three hormones direct full male development. (See Genetics and Sex.)

Gates 1 and 2: Chromosomal (or Genetic and Gonadal) Sex

Chromosomal (or genetic) sex is determined at fertilization (see Genetics and Sex). Four weeks later, development of the sexual and reproductive system begins with formation of gonadal ridges on the surface of paired intermediate (metanephric) kidneys inside the embryo's thoracic-abdominal cavity and the migration of primordial germ cells from the primitive yolk sac outside the embryo to these ridges. During the sixth week, the sexually undifferentiated gonads may begin developing along a path that will result in testes, which produce a male balance of sex hormones and, after puberty, sperm. If the gonads are not stimulated to become testes in the sixth week, they will wait a few weeks to differentiate into ovaries, capable of producing a female balance of sex hormones and, with puberty, eggs (ova). At this early stage, some cells in the gonads develop to nourish and support development of the eggs and sperm. These are follicular cells in the ovaries and Sterol cells in the testes.

The either/or development of the undifferentiated gonads into ovaries or testes depends on the fetal genetic constitution established at fertilization. If the cells of the embryo's body contain the TDF gene (usually carried on a Y chromosome), the tissues of the gonadal ridges form seminiferous (sperm-producing) tubules and associated ducts during the sixth week. In week seven, some cells sandwiched between the seminiferous tubules develop into the cells of Leydig and begin producing testosterone, a hormone that will stimulate and direct further differentiation of the reproductive and sexual structures.

If the embryo's body cells do not contain the TDF gene, the undifferentiated gonads do not begin developing until week 12 when, by default, the inherent tendency of the embryo to develop as a female is activated. This inherent tendency has been named the Eve Plan. Development of fertile ovaries requires two X chromosomes in the embryo's body cells. By week 16, the primitive female germ cells are incorporated into millions of primary ovarian follicles. Most of these degenerate during pregnancy, leaving only one million or two million primary oocyte (developing eggs) at birth. These primitive eggs begin the two-stage meiosis, or reduction, cell division that will produce an egg with half the normal number of chromosomes in the body cells. But the cell division stops in what geneticists term "prophase arrest " They remain in this arrested state until cell division resumes sometime after puberty. This phenomenon of arrested egg development increases the risk of abnormalities in the number of chromosomes in the egg and thus in an embryo. (See Genetics and Sex for discussion of Turner and Klinefelter syndromes)

As the temporary (mesonephric) kidneys degenerate and are replaced functionally by the developing definitive kidneys, the ovaries or testes shift out of the thoracic-abdominal cavity to assume their final position in the pelvic cavity.

Gate 3: Hormonal Sex

In the third month of gestation, the testes begin producing three hormones: (1) testosterone and its derivative, (2) DHT, and (3) MIH. These hormones direct development of the male sexual and generative anatomy and establish behavioral tendencies in the neural pathways of the brain. As these hormones circulate throughout the fetal body, specific transfer enzymes on selective target cells and organs allow these hormones to enter those cells and organs, including the brain. Testosterone and DHT are androgenic (or masculinizing) hormones; MIH has a defeminizing effect on the embryo, blocking the inherent tendency of the embryo to develop as a female. Estrogens, which are produced by both the ovaries and testes, do not appear to be involved in sexual differentiation until puberty. At that time, estrogens stimulate development of secondary sexual characteristics of the female and have some minor effects on the secondary sexual characteristics of males.

Gate 4: Internal Sexual Anatomy

In both male and female embryos, a pair of ducts drain urine from the two temporary kidneys (mesonephros) and carry it to the cloaca for excretion into the amniotic sac. Parallel with these Wolffian (mesonephric) ducts are two Müllerian (or paramesonephric) ducts. The Müllerian ducts move toward the midline as they approach the cloaca, fusing into a single tube which ends at the cloaca without opening into the urogenital sinus.

By the eleventh week, Sertoli cells in the testes are producing MIH. In the male embryo, MIH "defeminizes" by triggering degeneration of the Müllerian ducts. This prevents the Eve Plan from coming into play; in the Eve Plan, the Müllerian ducts would develop into the vagina, uterus, and Fallopian tubes. MIH may also initiate the testes to descend about the time of birth and produce as yet undetected effects of neural pathways late in pregnancy. After birth, MIH has no known function.

In the developing male embryo, during the third month, the cells of Leydig in the testes produce the hormone testosterone, which causes the Wolffian ducts to develop. The portion of these tubes near the testes becomes highly twisted to form the epididymis The rest becomes the vas deferens, ejaculatory duct, and the seminal vesicles of the male duct system. Tissue surrounding the ejaculatory ducts where they join the urethra forms the prostate gland. The outer urethra and penis develop from the open urogenital sinus as part of the external development described in Gate 5 below. The paired bulbourethral (or Cowper's glands) develop below the prostate from outpocketings of the urethra

In a fetus that lacks the TDF gene and does not develop threshold levels of masculinizing hormones and MIH in the critical period between weeks 6 and 12, development of internal and external sexual organs—and neural templates—follows the Eve Plan. With no testosterone to stimulate their development into male structures, the Wolffian ducts degenerate and disappear. The absence of MIH allows the Müllerian ducts to develop according to their inherent genetic tendencies in the female path. The portion of the Müllerian ducts near the ovaries become the Fallopian (or uterine) tubes. The remaining caudal portion of the Müllerian ducts fuses in the eighth week, with the medial septum disappearing about week 12. This primordial becomes the uterus, cervix, and vagina. The outer muscles of the uterus and vagina develop from surrounding tissue.

Because the internal sexual system (excluding the gonads) originates from parallel primordial ducts for the male (Wolffian) and the female (Müllerian) systems, anomalous development can result. The internal sexual duct system may, for instance, be masculinized by testosterone, but not defeminized due to a lack of MIH. This would leave the fetus with both internal male and female sexual structures (as discussed below). A second variation, androgen insensitivity (or testicular feminization) syndrome, is caused by a single defective gene (see Genetics and Sex). In this condition, the fetus is defeminized by MIH but not masculinized because none of the body cells can recognize the masculinizing message of the testosterone and DHT. It therefore lacks both male and female internal systems

Gate 5: External Sexual Anatomy

The Eve and Adam Plans

Differentiation of the external sexual and reproductive organs begins early in week four with appearance of a genital tubercle in the pelvic floor between the legs. A pair of inner urogenital folds and an outer pair of labioscrotal swellings develop behind the genital tubercle. By week eight, in embryos with the TDF gene, testes, and threshold levels of DHT, the genital tubercle, swellings and folds have begun their masculinized development The tubercle elongates and begins differentiating as a penis In week 11, the folds form the penile urethral groove and then the penile urethra. The penile urethra becomes surrounded by an erectile tissue, the corpus spongiosum. At the distal end of the penis, the corpus spongiosum enlarges into the penile glans. Within the penile shaft, above the corpus spongiosum, a pair of erectile bodies, the corpora cavernosa, develop.

The foreskin of the penis forms in week 12. It separates from the penile glans before birth or in early infancy. A second invagination in the middle of the glans provides an external opening for the heretofore dead-end penile urethra.

In the male fetus, the paired labioscrotal swellings move together and fuse to form the scrotum. A line of fusion (or median raphe) on the underside of the penis and scrotum mark the line of fusion of the folds and swellings.

Between the fourth month and birth, the testes begin migrating from the upper abdominal region. Paired extensions of the pelvic/abdominal cavity push down into the scrotum to provide a path for this migration. Hormones and a ligament attached to each testis facilitate the descent. The testes usually reach the inguinal canal in the sixth month and the scrotum about the time of birth. However, an estimated one in 50 boys goes into puberty with one or both testes undescended, and one in 500 adult men has one or both testes undescended. After the descent of the testes, the connection with the abdominal cavity closes, isolating the scrotal sac.

In the female fetus, the absence of androgens allows the genital tubercle to elongate and become a clitoris in the fourth month. The urogenital folds remain separate and form the minor (or inner) labia. These labia join in the front of the clitoris to form a clitoral hood. In the perineal region, they become the fourchette (or frenulum). The labioscrotal swellings remain separate and become the major (or outer) labia.

It is commonly acknowledged that the clitoris is homologous to (i.e., from the same embryonic origins as) the male penis and that the clitoral glans. is homologous to the penile glans. However, there is considerable confusion about terminology and statements of homologies when anatomists and embryologists discuss the erectile bodies of the penis and their parallels in the clitoris. This confusion can be dealt with by simplifying the traditional overly specific and androcentric labels. This would involve refer-ring to the erectile bodies of the penis as a pair of corpora cavernosa and a single corpus cavernosum urethra. In the female, a simplified labeling would include the clitoral shaft with a pair of corpora cavernosa. Most anatomists refer to the two elongated erectile masses, which run interior to the labia on either side of the vaginal orifice from the clitoral shaft to the rectum, as the "bulb of the vestibule " Sixty years ago, German anatomists and the American physician and sexologist Robert Latou Dickinson considered this paired erectile structure to be part of the clitoris, refer-ring to them as the "clitoral legs or crurae." In recent years, prompted by some feminist health advocates, this early view has gained acceptance. Renaming the bulb of the vestibule and including it in the clitoral structure are supported by its erectile nature, its direct connection with the clitoral shaft, and its function of narrowing the opening of the vagina and squeezing the male penis during vasocongestion and coitus. (See Table 2.)

The Eve and Adam Plans

The inherent Eve Plan, which allows female development to proceed without hormonal controls, and the Adam Plan, which requires the addition of the TDF gene, androgenic hormones, and MIH to direct male development, raise a question of sexually dimorphic, male versus female, development. Maternal hormones circulate throughout the mother's body and some cross the placental barrier into the developing body of the fetus, be it male or female. Mammalian embryos of both sexes develop in milieu of the mother's uterus. The placenta is also a major source of sex-related hormones, many of which feed back and forth between fetus and mother

Table 2. Homologies of the Sexual Organs

Undifferentiated Structures



Paired gonads



Wolffian (mesonephric) Ducts

Regress Skene's glands

Vas deferens prostate, seminal vesicles

Müllerian (paramesonephric) Ducts

Vagina, uterus, and Fallopian tubes


Genital tubercle

clitoris, clitoral glans., erectile tissue of shaft and clitoral legs (or crurae)

Penis, penile glans., erectile tissue of corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum

Genital folds

Minor labia

Penile shaft

Genital swellings

Major labia


Urogenital sinus

Stays open to form vulva

Closes to form penile urethra

How, then, can a fetus successfully negotiate passage through the prenatal gates of psychosexual development along the male path?

Part of the answer is that at least some of the circulating female hormones all fetuses receive across the placental barrier are neutralized by binding them to large molecules. Rendered metabolically inaccessible, these bound estrogens leave the fetus, female or male, free to develop unencumbered by maternal hormones. If the fetus is female, it develops anatomically and neurally as a female because of the inherent tendencies of the Eve Plan. If the fetus is male, the MIH and testosterone produced by the fetal testes can direct sexual development along the male pathway without interference from maternal estrogens.

Gate Six: Sexual Dimorphism in Neural Tendencies

Neutralization of maternal estrogen is most important for sexual dimorphic development of the fetal brain. The limbic system and its hypothalamus have an inherent tendency (or program) for the cyclic production of a hormone that regulates production of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) by the pituitary. (FSH and LH then regulate sperm, egg production, and hormone by the testes and ovaries.) In female fetuses, maternal protein-bound estrogen is too large to enter the fetal brain. Since fetal ovaries do not produce testosterone, no sex steroid reaches the female brain and its inherent cyclic pattern for the limbic system persists. This cyclic pattern results in the monthly cycle of ovulation and menstruation. In male development, the fetal testes produce testosterone, which enters the brain and destroys cyclicity in the limbic system and hypothalamus. However, the testosterone that enters the brain does not function as an androgen. Instead, after entering the brain, testosterone is converted to estrogen Fetal testosterone is a cryptic way of delivering estrogen to the brain and replacing the cyclic encoding of the hypothalamus with an acyclic pattern of continuous sex hormone production that becomes functional at puberty

The effects of sex steroids on other seemingly dimorphic neural tendencies in the cerebral cortex and limbic system, and possibly on gender orientations, are hotly debated.

Development of the Mammary Glands

In the fourth week of pregnancy, a parallel pair of primitive mammary ridges appear, extending from the region of the future arm pit to the crotch. These ridges disappear except at the future site of the two midpectoral nipples and breasts. These two primary mammary buds invade underlying tissues and branch to form mammary glands. The branching cords develop canals in the eighth month with milk-carrying ducts that open into a depression in the skin, which is transformed into a nipple after birth. The mammary glands develop during female puberty. However, maternal lactogenic hormones that cross the placenta can cause the secretion of colostrum, known colloquially as "witch's milk," in a male newborn. Female breast development, gynecomastia, can occur in males as part of Klinefelter and other syndromes and in response to exogenous hormones.

Nondevelopment of the nipple and breast is rare. Extra breasts and nipples are inheritable conditions with extra nipples relatively common in males. Inverted nipples are due to a perinatal failure to evert and may cause problems in nursing.


Structural and functional maturation of the sexual and generative organs and sexuoerotic maturation occurs during puberty when a complex interaction of somatotropin (growth hormone), estrogens, and androgens regulate (1) development of the primary sexual and generative organs, (2) the onset of ovulation, menstruation, and spermatogenesis, (3) the maturation of the female mammary glands; (4) the onset of libido or sex drive; and (5) the development of secondary sexual characteristics.

Anomalous Developments of the Sexual and Generative Organs

Abnormal sexual developments are to be expected, considering the complex of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors that affect the sexual development of the fetus.

In hermaphroditism, there is a discrepancy between gonads and external genitalia. True hermaphrodites have a pair of gonads with both ovarian and testicular tissue, or one ovary and one testis, with male, female, or intersex sexual anatomy. In another type of true hermaphrodite, the gonads do not develop or are undifferentiated. In this case, the individual's chromosomal sex conflicts with its external sexual anatomy and gender identity. Most true hermaphrodites have 46 chromosomes, including two X chromosomes, and are well-adapted when raised as females.

The simultaneous hermaphroditism observed in some invertebrates with functional reproductive sexual systems of both sexes does not occur in mammals. The sequential hermaphrodism, observed in some fish and reptiles that can change their sex, usually from female to male, when stimulated by an appropriate change in their environment, is mimiced by the sex change surgery sought by many transsexuals. The sex change operation, however, does not bring reproductive ability in the new sex.

True hermaphroditism is rare in humans. More common is the condition known as pseudohermaphroditism, in which testes occur with female sex organs, or ovaries with male sex organs. In the male pseudohermaphrodite, a mild insufficiency of androgens from testes may result in a small penis, hypospadia (a urethral opening on the under surface of the penis), and a vulva-like scrotum. MIH deficiency allows the Müllerian ducts to form a vagina and uterus with more or less normal external female anatomy. In a female pseudohermaphrodite, the female fetus is virilized (or masculinized) by male hormones from a fetal adrenal tumor, an adrenal malfunction, or from some androgen given to the mother to prevent miscarriage.

The term "intersex" is usually applied in the case of ambiguous external genitals. In such cases, the sex of the gonadal tissue usually determines the gender of assignment.

A rare congenital anomaly, known as retained Müllerian syndrome, occurs in a male with a deficiency of MIH. In such a male, the internal male anatomy develops normally from the Wolffian ducts under the influence of testosterone. At the same time, however, the absence of MIH allows the Müllerian ducts to persist and develop into female structures, the Fallopian tubes, a uterus, and a vagina. The vagina may connect with the rectum or the urethra In some cases, the uterine tissue may respond to endocrine stimulation, resulting in menstruation through the penile urethra or the rectum

Note: Related sexual anomalies caused by genetic factors are described under the entry Genetics and Sex


Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers. A New View of a Woman's Body. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981.

Francoeur, R .T. Becoming a Sexual Person. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1991.

Gray, H. Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical. T.P. Pick and R. Howden, eds. New York: Bounty Books, 1977.

Money, J., and A.A. Ehrhardt. Man & Woman, Boy and Girl: Differentiation and Dimorphism of Gender Identity From Conception to Maturity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1972.

Money, J., and P. Tucker. Sexual Signatures: On Being a Man or a Woman. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.

Moore, K.L. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1988.

Reinish, J.M., L.A. Rosenblum, and S.A. Sanders. Masculinity/Femininity: Basic Perspectives. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987.

Tortora, G.J., and N.P. Anagnostakos. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. 6th ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.

Robert T Francoeur


The Britannica-Webster Dictionary and Reference Guide defines anything that relates to, or is marked by, sexual love or desire as erotic. Except for severely repressed persons, most humans are capable of being eroticized by many things, people, or experiences in their daily life. The object of the eroticism may not have particular inherent sexual symbolism; it is also possible that it may not lead to sexual behavior, or be genitally arousing, or even shared with or by anyone else known to the person.

Society has permitted certain erotic symbols, such as movie or rock stars, certain clothing, cars, and explicitly sexual material. But to feel eroticized by smelling and sucking sweaty feet, having sex with someone else's partner, or being tied up (as in bondage) is not as widely accepted. Some feel embarrassed or guilty by the variety of things they find erotic. Others repress any awareness of erotic feeling. Still others keep the objects of their eroticism secret. There is no reason for most people to feel guilty about their erotic potential; in fact, by cutting themselves off from their erotic potential they may become sexually dysfunctional.

Occasionally, what a person finds erotic can be harmful or dangerous. This includes asphyxiophilia (self-strangulation without loss of consciousness to enhance sexual arousal and orgasm), autassassinophilia (staging one's own murder to enhance sexual arousal and orgasm), lust murderism, or in some other type of violent or mutilating behaviors. Therapy, medication, hospitalization, or incarceration are indicated in these cases.

Some people, known as paraphiliacs, are eroticized by only one thing. To experience erotic response, they have to experience the object of their eroticism or at least fantasize it. The difficulty for most paraphilias is that they are limited in their erotic potential to one object, experience, or activity. If the objective of their eroticism is harmful or inappropriate, they may need to be imprisoned, medicated, and/or in long-term therapy. Exploring the varieties of erotic potential in one's life can be rewarding and exciting. For example, one can be eroticized by one's self. Being turned on to one's own sexuality and experiencing that eroticism through masturbation can be both pleasurable and healthful. Self-pleasuring and self-love keeps one's sexual response active. It also helps one know what to tell a sexual partner about how he or she likes to be touched and fondled. Self-eroticism can be self-affirming, relaxing, and a helpful release for tension.

One can also be eroticized by other people. If it were societally acceptable, most people could feel erotic toward either sex. Most sex researchers agree that humans are born with a bisexual potential (see Bisexuality), and research seems to clearly indicate that humans are not by nature monogamous. While monogamy may be the chosen lifestyle in some societies, it is natural for people to fantasize about sexual partners other than one's chosen partner. This does not necessarily mean something is wrong with one's primary relationship. In fact, group sex is a common fantasy, although most people probably never act on it. Humans are born sexual and it is natural and normal to feel erotic feelings for other people. One does not have to act on those erotic feelings if it is against society's or one's own value system.

It is not unusual for humans to also have erotic feelings for a special pet or other animal. While most people do not act on these sexual feelings, some do. Generally, it occurs out of experimentation or when no human partner is available, rather than because a person is eroticized only by animals. Most researchers agree that this type of sexual experimentation is not harmful, unless the person is discovered. Then, it is the reaction of the person who discovers the sexual event that can do the most harm psychologically and emotionally, rather than the experience itself.

Most humans can find eroticism in a myriad of other things: the ocean, art, music, candle-light, intimate conversation, particular clothing, a mountain stream, certain smells or tastes, sweat, a vigorous athletic workout. We are limited only by our imagination. Since everything has erotic potential, there is something for everyone, and there is probably nothing that someone does not feel erotic toward.

Finally, a person can be eroticized by whatever is ultimate or a "Thou" in one's life. This may be science, reason, a deity, or any other ultimate that a person accepts for his or her life. For example, throughout religious history representatives of deity have often been linked to sexuality. In the Bible, the passionate book, Song of Songs, is sensual and openly erotic. This is not as evident in Western civilization, with some exceptions. Certainly Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, two medieval Spanish saints of the Roman Catholic tradition, connected eroticism with spirituality. The testimony of many deeply spiritual people is filled with the transcendent dimension being highly sensual or erotic. More recent examples are the astronomer and poet Carl Sagan, who captures this dimension in his writings, and the New Age poets and musicians, who attest to the erotic and transcendent in life Eastern cultures and religions also capture the erotic and spiritual dimension of human experience.

Eroticism is built into the very fiber of human existence and can be experienced in all dimensions of human experience.


Ford, C.S., and F.A. Beach. Patterns of Sexual Behavior. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1951.

Francoeur, R.T. Becoming a Sexual Person. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1991.

Money, J. Lovemaps: Clinical Concepts of Sexual/Erotic Health and Pathology, Paraphilia, and Gender Transposition in Childhood, Adolescence, and Maturity. New York: Irvington Publishers, Inc, 1986.

Stayton, W.R. A Theory of Sexual Orientation: The Universe as a Turn On. Topics in Clinical Nursing. Vol. 1, No. 4 (Jan. 1980), pp. 1-7.

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Weinrich, J.D. Sexual Landscapes: Why We Are What We Are, Why We Love Whom We Love. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1987.

William R Stayton


Ethological Aspects of Sexual Behavior
Proceptive Behavior
Receptive Behavior
Conceptive Behavior

Ethology is the branch of biology that addresses individual behavior. Disciplines for higher levels of organization are sociobiology and behavioral ecology and for lower levels neuroethology, neurophysiology, and neurochemistry. The science of ethology evolved from the naturalistic observations of biologists, the most famous of whom were Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and Karl von Frisch. These three men shared the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1973 for founding ethology and for demonstrating that behavior, like anatomy, evolved by Darwinian natural selection.

Ethologists come from many different formal backgrounds: biology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, political science, law, and medicine. All believe that human behavior evolved in the context of natural selection and that an appreciation of this heritage can contribute significantly to an understanding of the behavior of modern humans. As a scientific discipline, ethology is closest to sociobiology. Ethology is an inductive science: it starts by observing the behavior of individuals and from these direct observations arrives at generalizations that may apply to other individuals within the particular species, genus, family, etc. Sociobiology, in contrast, is largely deductive: it starts from evolutionary theory and makes deductive predictions about the behavior of individuals. Sociobiologists are interested in behaviors that are defined more on the basis of their functional outcome than on their structure; ethologists are more interested in the structure of behavior.

"Behavior" means the movement of voluntary muscles over time and space. It has several levels of organization; at the lowest level is the behavior of simple reflexes, such as the knee jerk, which is of interest to neurophysiologists. The next level of behavior is the "coordinated motor pattern," sometimes called "fixed action pattern," which is of interest to ethologists. An example of a coordinated motor pattern is the submissive behaviors one assumes when threatened by an overpowering opponent. Social smiling, crying, flirting, and copulating all contain coordinated motor patterns. These coordinated motor patterns are the units of inheritance first discovered by Lorenz half a century ago. Next is the level of purposeful strategies; these are of interest to both sociobiologists and behavioral ecologists. Examples of such higher level behaviors include living in monogamous versus polygamous unions, waging war on neighbors, and caring for or abandoning an offspring.

Ethological Aspects of Sexual Behavior

Ethology is particularly well suited to sexology because the behaviors involved in finding a mate, courting, and eventually copulating almost certainly were shaped by natural selection. After all, natural selection means differential reproduction of individuals based on the degree to which the outward expression of their genotypes are adapted to survival in the particular environment. Tinbergen stated that to understand a behavior completely, four aspects of the behavior must be addressed: (1) its phylogeny (i.e., history), (2) its ontogeny (i.e., development), (3) its proximate mechanistic causes, and (4) its function or effect. These four aspects can be applied to the understanding of any aspect of human sexual behavior.

Ethology, sociobiology, and behavioral ecology are all aware that there are nonreproductive sexual behaviors (e.g., masturbation, and homosexual and pedosexual behaviors) as well as non-sexual reproductive behaviors (e.g., parturition and parenting). Nevertheless, all sexual and reproductive behaviors evolved in the context of natural selection. One controversial topic in sociobiology is whether variant sexual behaviors, such as homosexual or pedosexual behavior, were ever selected for by natural selection or whether they are simply byproducts of natural selection for adult heterosexuality.

Romantic (erotic) love, an important component of human reproductive and sexual behavior, has its origins in parenting behavior. In reptiles, there is neither parental care nor an affectionate or affiliative bond between the two parents. Parental care evolved separately in birds and mammals and, as first pointed out by Eibl-Eibelsfeldt, "with parental care love came into the world "

Proceptive Behavior

Proceptive behavior is the behavior of one individual toward another individual when there is no sexual commitment by the second individual toward the first. Proceptive behavior can be thought of as "sex with your clothes on," inasmuch as all preceptive sexual behavior occurs in the clothed state and usually in public. Most preceptive behavior takes place without two individuals even touching each other. It is also in preceptive behavior that one finds the most differences between the two biological sexes (male and female) and within each biological sex. There is a rich phylogeny underlying proceptive sexual behavior and no understanding of the sexuality of contemporary humans can be complete without it.

Isogamy means that the germ cells of males and females are of the same size; heterogamy means that the germ cells of males and females are of different sizes. Based on the most general principle that two complementing specialists are potentially more efficient than two identical generalists, once biological variation started generating different size gametes, heterogametic species simply outbred isogametic species. In heterogamy, the female of the species contributes large, nutritious, and rather immobile eggs and the male of the species contributes small, highly mobile sperm.

Heterogamy at the microscopic level has a parallel in sexual dimorphism at the level of the proceptive behavior of individuals. In most mammals, males search and females display. This is very efficient. As a result, proceptive behavior in males involves searching and proceptive behavior in females involves displaying. Displaying has a distinct advantage over other advertisements of sexual receptivity, such as emitting an airborne pheromone. Humans, as a species, exhibit a high degree of "female choice" over which male impregnates them. Because the courtship signals used in human female proceptive displays are largely coded in behavior, a particular female can selectively direct these signals at one male and not at another.

There are two signals, also called "sign stimuli" or "ethological releasing stimuli," that searching adult heterosexual males seek. One is the shape of the nubile female and the second is the movement comprising feminine mannerisms. Interestingly, most feminine mannerisms are derived from submissive motor patterns. Phylogeny provides an explanation for this. In bony fish and reptiles, male courtship is largely dominance display and female courtship is largely submissive display (Aggressivity is the mood underlying dominance and fear is the mood underlying submission.) In ethology, "mood" means "a specific internal readiness to act." Remnants of this relationship between dominance/aggressivity and male sexuality and submission/fear and female sexuality are still very evident in contemporary human sexual behavior, especially when this behavior is not in the context of love. Examples are the paraphilias of sadomasochism (S&M), bondage and discipline (B&D), biastophilia (rape), and kleptomania (eroticized fear from "shoplifting").

Receptive Behavior

Receptive behavior is the behavior between two individuals who are committed to a sexual relationship with each other. It is the behavior of persons obviously in love. Gone are the flirtatious and coy behaviors. In their place are the behaviors of affiliation and tenderness. Tender embraces, holding hands, reassuring glances and smiling at one another are all in their repertoire. Many argue that "romantic love" lasts five to ten years and that after that the love turns into "companionate love." There are probably differences between the behavior and the physiology of two persons in romantic versus companionate love, but this has not been studied adequately. There are also very little differences in the receptive sexual behaviors, both between the two biological sexes and within each biological sex.

Conceptive Behavior

Conceptive behavior is behavior that could lead to conception under certain conditions. Most conceptive behavior, however, does not lead to actual conception because if one of the partners is a potentially fertile woman, she probably does not have a fertilizable egg in her Fallopian tube when the behavior occurs. Conceptive behavior is associated with physiological sexual arousal and orgasms, which were first studied and the results published by Masters and Johnson (in 1966). The behaviors in the conceptive phase are very similar in males and females. Most conceptive behavior consists of genital rubbing and pelvic thrusting in a posterior-anterior direction. These pelvic "humping" movements contrast with lateral, proceptive-feminine "hip swaying/wiggling" movements, which are more a lateral, "fish-tailing," submissive-fleeing motion. There are some interesting differences in conceptive behaviors between the sexes, however, most of which are physiological. Behaviorally, adult females often emit high-pitched, "yelping" sounds that are almost identical to the sounds that adult women emit during parturition. In addition, the contorted, worrisome, facial effects during conceptive behavior and parturition also are very similar in adult women. Just why natural selection should have configured these sights and sounds of parturition into the human female conceptive repertoire is not known with certainty. Adult females of all mammalian species are most vulnerable during parturition and high-pitched tones are associated with submission more so than lower pitched tones. Parturition-mimicking conceptive behavior in human females may be one more example of the sexual allurement of the average male to submissive displays of the average female. "Average" is italicized to emphasize that there are yet to be fully understood variations within as well as between the two biological sexes in the relationships involving sex, dominance, aggression, submission, and fear. Ethology is in a unique position to contribute toward this understanding.


Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. Human Ethology. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1989.

Feierman, J., ed. Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990.

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Jay R. Feierman


Eugenics derived from Darwin's theory of evolution. It seeks to understand and ultimately to direct the forces that control human inheritance through matings, births, and deaths. Through births, eugenics seeks to improve the average hereditary potential of humans, making it possible for humanity to develop higher intelligence, greater vitality, and more balanced, happier personalities.

According to Osborn, a staunch advocate for eugenics,

[I] t would be a proper national aim to attempt to raise the average level of the nation's people in the direction of its most superior individuals. Eugenics, in asserting the uniqueness of the individual, supplements the American ideal of respect for the individual. Eugenics in a democracy seeks not to breed men to a single type, but to raise the average level of human variations, reducing variations tending toward poor health, low intelligence, and antisocial character, and increasing variations at the highest levels of activity.
Osborn also believed that eugenics and democracy are interrelated. He said:
[T] he eugenics ideal calls for a society so organized that eugenic selection will take place as a natural and largely unconscious process; one in which those persons who make the most effective response to their environment will, in the normal course, have more children than those who respond less effectively. The kind of eugenics would be the only kind possible in a democracy where, except in the case of extreme defect, no one would be given or would assume any right to decide who should or should not have children.
The main idea that runs through the majority of Osborn's works is the fact that with an improvement in the genetic makeup of humans there should be an improvement within the environment in which they live.
The measures envisaged by the eugenist for raising the genetic level are also measures envisaged by the environmentalist for raising the level of the environment in which children are reared. It makes no difference which is the more important, both are taken into account. Each improvement in genetic capacity enables the individual to take better advantage of the improved environment, and the average of developed and measurable intelligence and character is raised accordingly in each generation. (Osborne).
Eugenics was influential in the United States as a social movement between 1890 and 1920. It has been associated with racist political and social programs. The aim of the American Genetic Association was to maintain and improve human populations. The Association had two programs—the positive eugenics program and the negative eugenics program. The positive program provided financial incentives for people to reproduce because they were thought to be in some way superior. The negative program sought to prevent reproduction by parents who were allegedly inferior. For example, in 1907, Indiana introduced negative eugenics into its social policy by adopting a law that required certain people to be sterilized. During World War II, the Nazis also had a negative eugenics program, issuing harsh edicts on sterilization and elimination as well as putting girls to work as breeders. Their ultimate aim was to create a super race. The strong momentum the eugenics movement experienced at the turn of the century was lost after the horrors committed under Hitler became known. Today, eugenics is once again being debated in terms of whether homosexuality is genetic. A 1992 article in Newsweek speculated that if a "gay gene" is found to exist, parents who detect that an in utero fetus has this gene may opt to abort or to genetically switch the gene to ensure the child will be heterosexual. If this practice were to become widespread, the gay population could be extinguished.


Francoeur, R. et al. A Descriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1991.

Gelman, D., and D. Foote Born or Bred? Newsweek (Feb. 24, 1992): pp. 46-53.

Osborn, F. The Future of Human Heredity. New York: Weybright and Talley, 1968.

Osborn, F. Preface to Eugenics. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951.

Packard, V. The People Shapers. Boston: Little, Brown, 1977.

Hope E. Ashby


Sociobiological Explanations
Cross-Cultural Research
Legacy of EMS in Western Society
Contemporary Extramarital Sex

Extramarital sex (EMS) is any sexual activity in which at least one partner is married to someone other than the sexual partner. EMS is a social classification based on marital status (not unique sexual properties), which establishes its social consequences.

Sociobiological Explanations

Evolutionary explanations of the origin of nonmonogamy rely on a reproductive double standard. A female bears relatively few children and is dependent during and after pregnancy. Her inclusive fitness (genetic survival) depends on forming a provisioning bond with her offsprings' father. Since a male's inclusive fitness is increased only by raising his own offspring (and supplemented by seeking promiscuous reproductive opportunities), the female's EMS threatens his inclusive fitness. According to Frayser, females exchange fidelity for provisioning by males; males exchange support for women's confined reproductive potential. In evolutionary terms, so long as provisioning for the mate continues, males' EMS is a peripheral issue.

However, the relationship between coitus and parentage is obscured by the delay between conception and visible pregnancy, coitus with premenarchal and postmenopausal women, difficulty in conceiving, and coitus among sterile partners. If hominids' paternal involvement with their own offspring is motivated by an evolutionary drive, what factor determined which offspring and mates were provided for and which were abandoned? Some factor other than inclusive fitness prioritized their relationships to determine which mates and offspring received continued provisioning.

There is an alternative dynamic. Hominid evolution involved two distinct aspects: at some point hominids' increasing mental capacity supplanted biological with social adaptation Increasing brain capacity allowed sexual pleasure to become intrinsically desirable, thereby reducing reproductive dependency on estrus. As acceptivity to engage in coitus extended beyond estrus, females could exchange sex for food over sustained periods, creating a pleasure bond with males. Further, obscuring an offspring's paternity by mating with numerous males in the troupe increased the possibility of multiple males providing for a female's offspring or at least being less likely to kill them.

The issue is whether emphasis is placed on individuals' inclusive fitness or on species survival, the true province of evolution. Species survival and individuals' inclusive fitness are maximized by two factors: (1) when each child has different parents, the probability that all a parent's children will inherit identical genetic defects is reduced (e.g, Tay-Sachs); and (2) when males support infants through reciprocal altruism, irrespective of parentage.

Cross-Cultural Research

Cross-cultural research demonstrates that the dependency of pregnant women and infants can be met independent of the biological father's involvement. Among the Tiwi of North Australia conception is believed to be caused by water spirits. Women are married at birth to older men (age 40) and form sequential sexual relationships with several husbands and extramarital partners. Each child might have different biological and social fathers. As with the matrilineal Nayar, on the southwestern or Malabar coast of India, it is the marriage system, not the biological father, that provides for the dependent female and her children. Thus, cultural values determine the importance of biological parentage, monogamy, and EMS.

Cultures vary significantly in their responses to EMS. Frayser estimates that 49 percent of societies strongly prohibit EMS for females, while 23 percent strongly prohibit it for males. In contrast, 26 percent of societies allow EMS for females while 52 percent allow it for males (25 percent of societies weakly prohibit EMS for either females or males). Although 49 percent of societies have consistent sexual standards (26 percent allow and 23 percent prohibit EMS for both sexes), when double standards exist, EMS for females is uniformly restricted more than it is for males.

The pervasive restrictions on females' EMS contradict the evolutionary monogamy argument. At its simplest, the necessity of imposing rules indicates that female monogamy is not biologically established. More persuasive are the associations between a culture's social structures and its acceptance of EMS.

Macrosociology identifies patterns of sexual regulation reflecting a society's stage of cultural evolution. According to Gebhard, up to 60 percent of preliterate societies allow women some form. of EMS. Similarly, women's sexual autonomy is greatest in hunting and gathering societies, most restricted in agricultural societies, and according to Sanderson increases again in industrial and postindustrial societies. In agrarian and agricultural societies, property rights ascribe economic status, increasing the importance of inheritance. Patrilineal societies accomplish this by confining women's reproductive potential, whereas matrilineal inheritance minimizes the importance of paternity. Accordingly, Frayser found that 76 percent of patrilineal and nonunilineal versus 14 percent of matrilineal societies strongly restrict females' sexuality. Achieved status typifies hunting and gathering societies as well as industrial and postindustrial ones. The emphasis on personal accomplishment also reduces the importance of paternity, hence the need to confine females' reproductive potential.

Sexually induced pleasure and self-disclosure can lead to intrusions into the marriage and kinship systems that organize social life. Violations of the social boundaries protecting marriage and kinship evoke social concern and personal jealousy. This threat can be addressed through avoidance, segregation, or integration. Avoidance reinforces marital boundaries with sanctions that vary in strength from small fines to death, although it is unclear how consistently sanctions are imposed. One reason for extreme sanctions in avoidance societies is the absence of additional social controls to minimize the effect on kinship systems when extramarital relationships do form.

Segregation establishes social structures to minimize EMS intrusions into the uninvolved partner's life space, just as decentralized polygymous households physically separated co-wives to minimize jealousy and conflict. The norms supporting segregation can impose a variety of restrictions on EMS. They may prescribe potential partners (e.g., a Marshallese female's EMS is limited to her sister's husband, or levirate access to an older brother's wife). Restrictions may also give the woman's husband the right to determine her sexual relationships (e.g., wife-lending which the husband may use to establish social and economic ties with other males or communities). Other restrictions may limit location (e.g., not in her own village), time (e.g., only during ceremonial periods), and eligibility (e.g., men but not women).

With integration, additional partners are added to the relationship and sometimes the household. Mahoney distinguishes between EMS and alternative styles of marriage, which incorporate extra members into the marriage. Distinct from polygamy because there is a single marital dyad, integration still brings the external sexual relationship within the marriage structure and therefore technically is not extramarital.

Segregation and integration provide structural mechanisms to minimize the impact of ongoing EMS on marriage and kinship. Avoidance minimizes the complexity external relationships add to marriage, but it allows no ongoing control over relationships that do develop. In contrast, the social norms establishing segregation and integration provide interpersonal and social controls over EMS relationships.

Legacy of EMS in Western Society

Western sexual values reflect two interrelated legacies: Hebrew culture and the Greco-Roman culture. Beginning in the first century A.D., these legacies were combined by the Christian church and early Christianity's heritage continues to dominate sexual values in the United States.

Several feminist scholars have asserted that matrilineal cultures with goddess religions dominated the Middle East until they were overthrown because the sexual autonomy and temple prostitution allowed all women in the goddess religions threatened Hebrew patrilinity and religious authority. Judaism sanctified patrilinity through its doctrine that a male who died without a son to carry his name lost his chance at immortality. Polygyny, concubinage, and the levirate duty helped ensure male offspring, and the confinement of women's reproductive potential ensured legitimacy. Intercourse between a married Hebrew woman and a man not her husband was adultery for which both men and women could be killed. Males' EMS with non-Hebrews or unmarried Hebrew women (e.g., prostitutes) was not considered adultery because it did not affect another Hebrew male's lineage.

The principle of double monopoly on spouses' sexuality did not exist in ancient Greece, where wives belonged to husbands and husbands belonged to themselves. This is made clear in Demosthenes's court oration, "Mistresses we keep for pleasure, concubines for daily attendance upon our persons, and wives to bear us legitimate children and be our housekeepers." Again, women's marital status determined adultery, and an adulterous wife could be divorced or punished by any means short of homicide by citizens if she went out in public.

Under Roman law, adultery became a state matter. The lex Julia precluded casual sexual relationships for women eligible to be matres familias (matrons of the family). The official penalty for adultery was death, but punishment was the state's prerogative not the father's or husband's, and legal texts identified conditions staying execution. Nor could fathers or husbands conceal women's adultery. If they failed to report it within 60 days, they faced charges of procuring, and a knowledgeable person had four months to report the incident or become an accomplice suffering the same punishment as the adulterers Adulterers' only escape from judgment was through a general pardon given to criminals at public celebrations, after which husbands had the option to reintroduce charges within 30 days..

Brown concludes that pre-Christian Rome's sexual tone had been set by somber and careful persons. The ease of obtaining divorces eliminated structural impediments that might otherwise lead to adultery. Socially, the EMS double standard was not universally accepted. Husbands' EMS conduct was examined if they sought divorce on grounds of adultery, and the principle of symmetry was used to argue that husbands failed to lead the family when they required chastity from their wives that they did not practice themselves.

The early Christians' sexual legacy was a dramatic revision of sexuality. To second-century theologians, Christ's victory over death could free humans from the "present age" if procreation, which fueled the unidirectional progression to death, was halted. In contrast to the pagans and Jewish, who believed sexuality could be made a positive element in society, early Christian theologians made no distinction between licit and illicit sex: all sex reflected humanity's separation from God. Early Christianity eliminated the Roman and Hebrew? double standards by condemning all EMS and blurred the distinction between marital and extramarital sex by identifying as adultery lust toward one's spouse, the marriage of separated persons during their spouses' lifetime, clandestine or illicit marriages, and marriages contracted for wrongful purposes.

In 12th-century southern France, I'amour courtois (courtly love) rebelled against marriages contracted for families' economic and political alliances by praising extramarital romantic love. Initially idealized as a spiritual union not possible in marriage, courtly love eventually linked passionate sexuality with romantic love. It was the emerging middle-class, which could not afford both spouses and lovers, that combined the ideals of romantic love and passionate sex with marriage. The Puritans viewed marital sex as a God-given pleasure, which they supported against adultery by requiring couples to live together peacefully. In challenging the Catholic church, however, other 16th- and 17th-century religious publications recast women's image from licentiousness to purity. Religious and pseudo-medical beliefs desexualized women, denying they had any sexual interests other than reproduction and insisting on protecting them from degeneration stemming from sexual arousal. This ideology restored the traditional double standard rejected by the Catholic church but changed the rationale from restricting women's procreative potential to the moral destructiveness of sex, especially for women.

The Christian rejection of the double standard, courtly love, the romanticization of marriage, and the puritan support of marital sexuality did not eliminate the double standard or sex hostile beliefs. Instead of an evolutionary progression in which new values replaced the old, divergent beliefs introduced competing values which fragmented society.

Contemporary Extramarital Sex

Random samples by different pollsters indicate 40 percent to 47 percent of men and 26 percent to 32 percent of women have experienced EMS at least once. Since 79.3 percent of the population considers EMS to always be wrong, there is reason to suspect that random surveys may underestimate the incidence of EMS. Research showing that initial admissions of EMS by 30 percent of a sample doubled to 60 percent during psychotherapy support for this possibility. Conversely, higher survey results like Cosmopolitan's 69 percent EMS rate for women over age 35 reported by Wolfe, and Playboy's EMS rates for those over age 50 and 70 percent for men and 65 percent for women reported by Peterson, et al., may be biased by readers' self-selection.

Compared with men, women's EMS involvement has increased significantly. The 24-percent rate for EMS involvement by women age 18 to 24 reported by Hunt was three times that reported by Kinsey, results replicated by Tavris and Sadd, and by Blumstein and Schwartz. As this cohort aged, the incidence of EMS among middle-aged women rose to approximate men's. In addition to the cohort effect, by middle-age women often overcome the cultural restrictions on their sexuality; thus, increased EMS might reflect a new, active sexuality directed at fulfilling their own desires.

The impact of EMS vanes. In Atwater's sample of urban women, 93 percent reported increased self-esteem, self-confidence, autonomy, and power from their EMS. Gilmartin found similar levels of marital happiness between spouses with secret affairs and a monogamous control group. Nor must EMS always be secret to avoid problems. Cuber and Harroff reported that many people in intrinsic-vital marriages engaged in extramarital sex with their spouses' knowledge or approval. Among the 40 percent of women with EMS experience who were positive their husbands knew, 42 percent stated it caused no problems. Similarly, Hunt found that nearly half of the divorced people with EMS experience did not believe EMS played a role in their divorces. However, Hunt discounted their opinion and the statements of the "many" still married couples who reported no adverse effects from EMS, stressing instead the 50 percent who were affected and pervasive "unseen emotional decay."

Permissive extramarital attitudes are inversely related to female gender, age, religiosity, marital happiness, and marital sexual satisfaction and are directly related to male gender, education, political liberality, gender equality, shared marital power, autonomous heterosexual interaction, premarital sexual permissiveness, sexual pleasure emphasis, and marital sexual experimentation. These variables form three factors: marital satisfaction, sexual permissiveness, and intellectual flexibility, but the factors can obscure important relationships. First, Bell et al. found that 20 percent of wives who described themselves happily married had had EMS. Second, variables like the emphasis on sexuality, increased equality, and autonomy for women identify positive elements in relationships, which coincidentally have nonmonogamous implications. Women's working outside the home alters family dynamics, equalizing wives' and husbands' marital power, gender equality, and autonomous heterosexual interaction. However, there is also an increase in EMS from 27 percent for full-time homemakers to 47 percent for women working part tune or full time outside the home.

The causes of EMS can also be classified into push or pull factors which, like a sexually distant partner or a new love, drive or attract spouses away from the marriage. Alternatively, the causes can be classified according to individuals' rationales. Ellis identified healthy and disturbed reasons for EMS with the implication that people might avoid EMS for unhealthy reasons.

Constantine and Constantine further challenged the idealization of monogamy by asking, "What is wrong with you and your marriage that drives you to stay monogamous?"

The term "extramarital sex" emerged in the 1960s and 1970s when research on swinging and open marriage forced the recognition of alternative marital structures. Adams found that clandestine affairs involve second-order changes, wherein one partner covertly disrupts the relationship by unilaterally violating the couple's implicit rules. Such transgression of the rules is likely to produce feelings of guilt and remorse not shared by those who flatly reject them. Even to people involved in traditional affairs, alternative sexual lifestyles threaten the stability imposed by the principle of marriage as a double sexual monopoly. Whereas adultery transgresses individuals' accepted monogamous standards, nonmonogamous alternative lifestyles reject the double sexual monopoly. The challenge experienced by participants is to establish first-order changes and first-order structures in their relationships by establishing explicit, individualized rules governing their behavior. Most EMS research focuses on rejection or transgression by examining the development of alternative marital structures to replace those rejected or the social and individual pathology of transgression.

The structure of EMS is determined by whether the spouses' activity is consensual and independent or joint. The most common form of EMS is nonconsensual and typically involves transgressions where permissive behaviors exceed nonpermissive relationship expectations. In nonconsensual activity, a spouse violates expectations unilaterally and both a husband and wife, acting independently, might create two distinct sets of second-order rules. Whether such EMS is love or pleasure centered, enduring or opportunistic, depends on the second-order rules the EMS partner creates.

Consensual agreements allowed either partner to engage in EMS under specified conditions in 15 percent of marriages. A source of tension in independent consensual EMS is the possibility of being displaced by the outsider, although Rubin and Adams found comparable marital stability in both open and sexually exclusive marriages. Creating first-order structures and rules minimizes this threat through segregation, which regulates the time and resources expended, possible partners, emotional involvement, potential disclosure, the need for spousal approval, and similar concerns. Doing this, however, is a major task in comarital EMS or open marriage. This process negotiates rules similar to the social conventions regulating EMS in nonmonogamous cultures.

In contrast, joint consensual activity creates rules that structure emotional involvement either through segregation or integration. Research suggests two to four percent of the population has engaged in swinging. Swinging activity, in which spouses are sexually exchanged or shared, vanes from the emotionally detached "hard core" to emotionally committed forms, such as "interpersonal" or "communal" swinging. Hard-core swinging is strictly physical pleasure centered and minimizes jealousy and the potential for emotional involvements by preventing personal contact except during swinging. The emotional detachment of such swinging is similar to wife-lending in which the husband's interest, not the wife's, determines her extramarital partner. In contrast, interpersonal swinging establishes a stable intimate network of emotional ties and occasionally creates a group marriage by extending the definition of family so that extra partners are incorporated.

The assumption of individual pathology among those who engage in EMS is typified by the public's negative perception of swingers. The perception of swingers as deviants misinterprets the rejection of specific sexual values as a general transgression of social norms. In reality, swingers are very conventional in most respects. Compared with nonswingers, swingers have weaker ties to their parents, neighbors, and religion, but are also middle class, politically conservative, more socially active, and better educated. The key factor distinguishing swingers from nonswingers appears to be swingers' low degree of sexual jealousy. Gilmartin identifies the progression from transgression to rejection among women swingers, noting that, "For most women in swinging relationships it took time and considerable difficulty before they were able to undergo this transformation of meaning from their original concept of adultery to their current one." If, however, they make this transition, they tend to en-joy swinging more than men.


Sexuality is inevitably regulated. When avoidance is used to regulate EMS, there are no social mechanisms to influence the consequences when EMS does occur. The cost of minimizing EMS through avoidance is to maximize the potential for damage when it does occur. Since variables like gender equality, equitable marital power, sexual pleasure, and women's employment are associated with increased EMS, it does not appear that the nonmonogamy reflected in EMS will disappear in the future without dramatic social changes. Reinstating the Roman system of easy divorce combined with strong sanctions against EMS could displace the nonmonogamy of EMS into sequential marital monogamy.


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Stephen L Goettsch

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