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Social Sci LibreTexts

20.1G: Social Context and Sexual Behavior

  • Page ID
    8573
  • Social context influences sexual behavior; sexuality is expressed and understood through socialized processes.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Discuss the various ways people can express sexual desire, in both emotional and physical terms

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points    

     

    • Sexual behavior refers to the manner in which humans experience and express their sexuality.
    • Individuals are taught to use social cues to interpret sexual intent. This is most obviously demonstrated in behaviors associated with flirtation.
    • Human sexual activity has sociological elements. Social context is therefore essential when one considers potentially sexual behavior.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • socialization: Socialization is the process of transferring norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors to future group members.
    • context: The surroundings, circumstances, environment, background, or settings that determine, specify, or clarify the meaning of an event or other occurrence.
    • flirtation: Playing at courtship; coquetry.

    Sexual behavior refers to the manner in which humans experience and express their sexuality. People engage in a variety of sexual acts from time to time, and for a wide variety of reasons. Sexual activity normally results in sexual arousal and physiological changes in the aroused person, some of which are pronounced while others are more subtle. Sexual activity also includes conduct and activities which are intended to arouse the sexual interest of another, such as strategies to find or attract partners (mating and display behavior), and personal interactions between individuals, such as flirting and foreplay.

    Human sexual activity has sociological, cognitive, emotional, behavioral and biological elements, including physiological processes such as the reproductive mechanism, the sex drive and pathology; sexual intercourse and sexual behavior in all its forms; and personal bonding and shared emotions during sexual activity.

    Socialization and Sexual Behavior

    Since sexuality is expressed through means learned by socialization, social context is bound to influence sexual behavior. Socialization is the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs, and ideologies and providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within one’s own society. Socialization necessarily implies the inculcation of norms, or behaviors that society marks as valued. Because socialization teaches members of a society how to behave, behaviors that are not specifically taught as normalized and socially acceptable are marked as deviant.

    Understanding Sexual Behavior

    Individuals are taught to use social cues to interpret sexual intent. This is most obviously demonstrated in behaviors associated with flirtation. Flirting is a playful activity involving verbal communication and body language by one person toward another, used to sometimes indicate an interest in a deeper relationship with the other. In some social contexts, a hug could demonstrate platonic friendship, as in the case of two coworkers hugging upon hearing the news that their project was successfully received. In other contexts, the hug could be interpreted as sexual interest. Thus, social context is essential when one considers potentially sexual behavior.

    image

     

    An Embrace: Context Matters: Russian President Boris Yeltsin (right) and President Mintimer Shaimiyev (left) of Tatarstan congratulate each other on a treaty signed between Russia and Tatarstan on the delimitation of powers between them. In a different context, the same gesture could have very different connotations.

    Socialization and Normalized Sexual Behavior

    Because sexual behavior is influenced by socialization, what is deemed “normal” can vary widely across cultures. In some cultures, sexual activity is considered acceptable only within marriage, although premarital and extramarital sex are also common. Some sexual activities are illegal either universally or in some countries, and some are considered against the norms of a society. For example, sexual activity with a person below some age of consent and sexual assault in general are criminal offenses in most jurisdictions.

     

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