Psychology of Sexual Behavior

 I. Sexual Response Cycle

We may not always be aware of it, but our sexual attitudes and behaviors are strongly shaped by our society in general and by the social groups, in particular, to which we belong. The subtle ways in which we learn society’s expectations regarding sexuality often lead us to assume that our behaviors or feelings are biologically innate, or natural. However, an examination of sexuality in other societies (or even in different ethnic, socioeconomic, and age groups within our own society) and in other historical periods reveals a broad range of acceptable behavior.

What we regard as natural is clearly relative.

It is also clear that the biology of sex plays an important role in human sexuality. Therefore, we begin our look at sexuality with the sexual response cycle.

II. The Sexual Response Cycle— Overview
There are a number of common physiological changes that allow us to outline some general patterns of the sexual response cycle.

Masters and Johnson (1966) and Helen Kaplan (1979) have described these patterns.

Kaplan’s Three Stage Model:
A. Kaplan’s model of sexual response contains three stages: desire, excitement, and orgasm.
B. One of the most distinctive is that it includes desire as a distinct stage.
C. Notes that not all sexual expression is preceded by desire.
D. Desire— interpersonal and romantic attraction that is directed toward fulfillment of sexual needs.

Masters and Johnson’s Four-Phase Model:
A. Distinguish four phases in the sexual response patterns of both men and women: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.
B. In addition, they include a refractory period (a recovery stage in which there is a temporary inability to reach orgasm) in the male resolution phase.

1. Biological reactions may follow a relatively predictable course, but there is tremendous variability in individual subjective responses to sexual arousal.
2. The plateau level of sexual arousal involves a powerful surge of sexual tensions that are definitely measurable (e.g., increased heart and breathing rates).

Two fundamental physiological responses to effective sexual stimulation occur in both women and men: vasocongestion and myotonia.

Vasocongestion— the engorgement with blood of body tissues that respond to sexual excitation.
Most obvious examples of vasocongestive response are the erection of the penis in men and lubrication of the vagina in women.

Myotonia— the increased muscle tension that occurs throughout the body during sexual arousal.

A.  Phase 1: Excitement:
A.  The excitement phase is characterized by a number of responses common to men and women, including muscle tension and some increase in the heart rate and blood pressure.
B.  In both sexes, several areas of the sexual anatomy become engorged.
C. sex flush (a pink or red rash on the chest or breasts)
D. The excitement phase may vary in duration from less than a minute to several hours.

B.  Phase 2: Plateau:
A. During the plateau phase, sexual tension continues to mount until it reaches the peak that leads to orgasm.
B.  Both heart rate and blood pressure continue to rise; breathing grows faster; sex flushes and coloration of the genitals become more noticeable.
C. In women, the plateau phase is also distinguished by development of the orgasmic platform, a term used by Masters and Johnson to describe the markedly increased engorgement of the outer third of the vagina.
D.  The plateau phase is often very brief, typically lasting a few seconds to several minutes.

C.  Phase 3: Orgasm
A. As effective stimulation continues, many people move from plateau to orgasm.
B.  In contrast to men, women may obtain plateau levels of arousal without the release of sexual climax.
C.  Orgasm is the shortest phase of the sexual response cycle, typically lasting only a few seconds. Female orgasms often last slightly longer than do male orgasms.

Female Orgasm:

Freud’s Theory:
A.  Freud’s theory of the “vaginal” versus the “clitoral” orgasm has had a great, if misguided, impact on people’s thinking about female sexual response. Freud viewed the vaginal orgasm as more mature than the clitoral orgasm, and thus preferable. The physiological basis for this theory was the assumption that the clitoris is a stunted penis. This led to the conclusion that erotic sensations, arousal, and orgasm resulting from direct stimulation of the clitoris were all expression of ‘masculine’ rather than ‘feminine’ sexuality— and therefore undesirable.

B.  One of the major problems for any theory suggesting vaginal erotic response has been the wide spread belief that the vagina is largely insensitive to sexual stimulation. However, this idea has been challenged by evidence indicating erotic sensitivity within the vagina.

D.  Phase 4: Resolution:
A.  During the final phase of the sexual response cycle, resolution, the sexual systems return to their nonexcited state. If no additional stimulation occurs, the resolution begins immediately after orgasm.
B.  After orgasm, the male typically enters a refractory period— a time when no additional stimulation will result in orgasm.
C.  In contrast to men, women generally experience no comparable refractory period:

III. Aging and the Sexual Response Cycle:

A.  Excitement phase: vaginal lubrication typically begins more slowly in an older women & the amount of lubrication is reduced.
B.  Orgasm Phase: Contractions of the orgasmic platform and the uterus are reduced.
C.  Resolution: Occurs more quickly, —  reduced amount of pelvic vasocongestion during arousal.

A.  Most changes in the sexual response cycle of older men involve alterations in the intensity and duration of response.
B.  Excitement: Takes longer.
C.  Older men do not typically experience as much myotonia (muscle tension) during the plateau phase as when they were younger. As a result, the older man is often able to sustain the plateau phase much longer.
D.  Orgasm phase: Muscle contractions are reduced and so is the force of ejaculation.

Sexual Behavior

I.  Sexual Behavior: Why is it important to study?

1. Increased transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

2. Sexuality in general remains a taboo subject in the medical community.
1.  sexual problems occur frequently (25% lifetime prevalence)

3. Over 1 million Americans are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and at least 40,000 new infections occur annually.

    3 Waves of HIV virus:
        1. Gay male community but has now diminished.
        2. Inner city drug users, their sexual partners, & their infants.
        3. Heterosexual transmission.
            1. Preliminary studies suggest that 2 out of every 1000 college students are infected with HIV.

4. We know from the experience of the gay male community that sexual behavior can be modified.

5. Why is it that among well-educated, young Americans, considerable high-risk sex still occurs?

    1. Sex is not the easiest behavior to regulate— particularly for young men and women with vigorous sexual        appetites.

    2. The mixture of sex and alcohol makes regulation more difficult

    3. Illusion of Unique Vulnerability— believing that bad things happen to others, but not to you.

    4. General attitudes toward sex.

II. Sexual Behavior: Demographics

1. Kinsey reports: first large scale assessment of sexual behavior in the U.S.

1. In these groundbreaking studies, Kinsey reported that:
    1.  20% of women and 73% of men had premarital intercourse by age 20
    2. 20% of women and 37% of men had some homosexual experience
    3. 69% of men had some sexual experience with prostitutes.

2. Kinsey reports had a tremendous impact on the field of sexology

2. Adolescent Sexual Behavior:

1. Age at first sexual intercourse is an important marker of high-risk behavior and sexually transmitted disease.

2.  Early first sexual intercourse has been associated with:
 (a) using drugs;
 (b) not using contraception at first intercourse;
 (c) having more sexual partners;
 (d) having more frequent intercourse;
 (e) lack of consistent condom use;
 (f) less discriminating recruitment of sex partners;
 (g) having serial sexual relationships in a short period of time.

 3. Early age at first intercourse is directly linked to sexually transmitted disease and to cervical cancer.
4. Sexual activity among American adolescents has increased dramatically over the past 20 years.

1. The proportion of females age 15-19 who have had premarital intercourse doubled from about 1/4 in 1970 to ½ in 1988.

2. Black females appear to initiate intercourse earlier than do white females

3. Racial disparity in age at first intercourse among females 15-19 has decreased during the past two decades

4. The proportion of adolescent males who are sexually experienced also increased: from 66% of 17-19 year old males in 1979 to 75% in 1988 and 79% in 1991.

5. Compared to adolescent females, males initiate intercourse at earlier ages and have more sexual partners over a life time.

6. From 15-19 a greater proportion of black males (88%) than of white males (68%) reported being sexually experienced.

7. Multiple, serial sexual relationships, and the vast majority do not consistently use condoms (10-20%).

5. About 10% of adolescents have had intercourse by age 13.
-By 15, about 1/3 of males & 1/4 of females have sex;
-Majority of males have intercourse by 16-17,
-Majority of females have done so by 17-18;
-By age 19, 80-85% of males and 66-75% of females

3. Adult Sexual Behavior: Young Adults

1. Age at first marriage has increased, while age at sexual maturation and age at first intercourse have decreased.

2. Empirical Results:
1. 88% of young adult females were sexually experienced; 1/4 reported having had one male partner in her lifetime, 1/4 report having had more than 5 partners.
2. For men, age 20-24, the median number of sex partners is six; 20% report more than 20.

3. Overall these results suggest that young adults:
 (1) are sexually experienced;
 (2) have intercourse once a week or more;
 (3) have multiple, serial sexual relationships;
 (4) do not always use condoms.

4. Adult Sexual Behavior: Adults Age 25 and Older

1. Sexual activity is generally restricted tot he primary partner and intercourse is less frequent with time.

2. Abstinence among unmarried women.

3. A higher proportion of unmarried adult males are sexually active.

4. Decreasing frequency of intercourse with advancing age

 1. The average number of times that Americans had intercourse in 1989 was 57 and the reported frequency of intercourse was higher for men than for women (67 vs. 50).

III.  Predictors of Sexual Behavior:
Predictors of Premarital Sexual Activity:

1. A person’s values and attitudes are the best predictors of premarital sexual behavior.

2. Family Structure: Females from homes without father, Males during changes in family structure.

IV.  Specific Types of Sexual Behaviors

Changing Beliefs:
1. Orgasm is not necessary for sex to be intensely erotic and meaningful

2. Intercourse any more important than other forms of sexual expression.

1. Masturbation has been a source of social concern

1. procreation was the only legitimate purpose of sexual behavior.
b. Tissot-- the mind- and body-damaging effects of “self abuse.”
c. Graham-- ejaculation reduced precious vital fluids.
d. John Kellogg
5. Freud-- masturbation does not harm physical health, and is normal during childhood.
f. Masturbation is neither harmful nor beneficial.

2. Purposes of Masturbation:
1. People masturbate for a variety of reasons.
1. The most common reason is to relieve sexual tension.
2. Better decisions about relating sexually with other people.
3. Self-exploration.

3. Frequency of Masturbation:
1. 72% of male and 31% females college students report masturbating once a week. 50% of male and 16% of female college students report masturbating 2 or more times per week. 12% of male and 40% of females report never masturbating.

2. Current studies estimate that overall 70-80% of females masturbate regularly and that 80-90% of males masturbate regularly.

3. Females masturbate more frequently after they reach their twenties.

Oral-Genital Stimulation:
1. Mouth and the genitals are primary biological erogenous zones.
1. Cunnilingus is oral stimulation of the vulva— the clitoris, labia minora, vestibule, and vaginal opening
2. Fellatio is oral stimulation of the penis and scrotum.
3. Women were less likely to stimulate their partners orally.
4. Psychological and/or Moral qualms--
1. Sodomy -- sexual behaviors other than coitus.

2. Frequency of Oral-genital Stimulation:
1. 81% of white men and 75% of white women report performing oral sex; 81% of white men and 78% of white women report receiving oral sex.

2. 51% of black men and 34% of black women report performing oral sex; 66% of black men and 49% of black women report receiving oral sex.

3. The greater the level of education, the more likely the person is to have both received and performed oral sex.

1. Frequency of sexual activity is once a week, each episode lasting about half an hour.

1. Males 25% and females 48% preferred the “man on top”
2. Males 45% and females 33% preferred the “female on top”
3. Males 25% and females 15% preferred “doggie style”

Anal Stimulation
1. Male-to-female transmission of HIV was 5 times as likely with anal intercourse as with vaginal intercourse

2. Receptive anal intercourse is practiced by a substantial portion of women.
1. 11-30% of women and 5-11% of men had experienced heterosexual anal intercourse
2. approximately 25% of heterosexuals have had anal intercourse

Attitudes Toward Sexuality
Passionate Attachments

1.    Sex as Demonic
             The Victorian Ethic

2. Sex as Devine 3.  Sex as Casual 4. Sex as a Nuisance: 1. All sexual encounters with the weight of an ultimate significance.

2. The casual outlook verges on emotional prudery

3. Sexual activity can be self-destructive and destructive of others

4. Sex may seem like a burdensome obligation.

5. Double torture: self-disappointment & too heavy a burden for mate

Functions of Sexuality

I.    Sex as Recreation

II.    Sex as a Biological Release

III.    Sex as a Search for Intimacy

IV.    Mr. Right vs Mr. Right Now

V.    Sex as Validation

VI.    Sex as Identity Consolidation:
            physical and psychological maturity

            establishing one’s self-concept

            prove one’s masculinity or femininity

VII.     Sex as Obligation
VIII.    Sex as Power:

IX.       Sex as Domination:

X.        Sex in Love:

XI.      Sex as a Confirmation of Aliveness

XII.     Sex as Procreation

XIII.   Sex as Commodity

XIV.   Sex as Escape

XV.     Sex as Glue:

First Intercourse

Females report:

Males report: Functions in Adolescence
I.  Pleasure

II. Stimulation
III. Increased intimacy
IV. Conquest
V. Seeking intimacy
VI. Security
VII. Attachment
VIII. Social desirability
IX. Status/Acceptance
X. Escape
XI. Commodity

Gender Identity & Roles, Sexual-Orientation

I.  Sex and Gender:
 1. Sex— refers to our biological femaleness or maleness determined by our sex chromosomes and anatomical sex.
 2. Gender— encompasses the special psychosocial meanings added to biological maleness or femaleness.

II.  Gender Identity and Gender Role
 1. Gender identity— refers to each individual’s subjective sense of being male or female.

III.  Development of Gender Identity and Gender Roles:

A.  Gender identity is based on both biology and social learning.

B.       5 mechanisms of socialization for gender roles:

IV.  Several Long-standing Assumptions of Sex:
     1. Women as undersexed, Men as oversexed

Sex Scripts— culture-specific, learned guidelines regarding all aspects of sexual expression— closely related to gender-roles.

Heterosexual Male Sexual Script:

Female sex script: