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3.1: Module 6 – Gender Through a Human Sexuality Lens

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  • Module 6: Gender Through a Human Sexuality Lens

    Module Overview

    In this module, we will focus on a variety of domains regarding human sexuality. We will first examine the foundational studies of sexology. Then we will learn about sexual orientation and sexual fluidity. We will also learn about what it means to be transgender and the process of transitioning. Finally, we will examine gender and sexual roles including double standards in sexual behavior and “hookup culture.”

    Module Outline

    • 6.1. Sexology
    • 6.2. Sex Education
    • 6.3. Sexual Orientation
    • 6.4. Transgender
    • 6.5. Gender Roles and Rules for Sexual Behavior

    Module Learning Outcomes

    • Understand the origins of the study of sexual behavior.
    • Overview sex education programs in the U.S.
    • Gain foundational understanding of sexual orientation and the complexities of identity, attraction, expression, and anatomical sex.
    • Understand how gender roles impact sexual behaviors.

    6.1. Sexology

    Section Learning Objectives

    • Gain a brief and basic understanding of the beginnings of sexology by Dr. Alfred Kinsey.
    • Understand Masters and Johnsons contribution to our knowledge about the human sexual response cycle
    • Discuss the largest U.S. study of sexual behaviors.

    6.1.1. Alfred C. Kinsey

    Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey was a biology professor that founded the Institute for Sex Research in 1947. The institute is located at Indiana University and is still active. Although originally named the Institute for Sex Research, in 1981 the institute was renamed The Kinsey Institute for Sex research (“Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey,” n.d.).

    Kinsey is often credited for shifting society’s perception and understanding of human sexuality. His research focused on understanding the frequencies and occurrences of sexual behavior and consisted of conducting thousands of face-to-face interviews to obtain sexual histories (“Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey,” n.d.). He felt that face-to-face interviews would be the most likely way to obtain honest answers. However, he recognized that he and his team would have to be carefully trained so as not to react in a judgmental way in order to gain as much trust from their interviewees as possible. He assured interviewees of confidentiality, and to this date, there is no known comprise of the interviewees’ identities.

    In Kinsey’s beginning stages of researching human sexuality, he collected approximately 2,000 individuals’ sexual histories. In his career total, his team gathered 18,000 sexual histories! You can watch one here: . The sexual histories that were gathered were published by Kinsey in two separate works: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, published in 1948, and Sexual Behavior of the Human Female, published in 1953. Collectively, the reports that Kinsey’s team gathered are often referred to as the Kinsey Reports (“Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey,” n.d.).

    Dr. Kinsey also developed the Kinsey Scale (originally known as the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale). I would link the test here, but it is not an actual physical test! Rather, the scale is used by an interviewer from Kinsey’s team to rank an individual based on their sexual history gathered from 0 to 6. The numbers reflect a continuum in which the extreme low score indicates solely heterosexual behaviors and attraction and the highest extreme reflects solely same-sex behavior/attraction. whereas the middle area of the continuum reflects varying attraction and behavior for both sexes. (“The Kinsey Scale,” n.d.).

    6.1.2. Masters and Johnson

    Shortly after Kinsey laid the foundation for sexual research, William Masters and Virginia Johnson began researching human sexual responses. Their work began in the later end of the 1950’s. Although Kinsey had focused on the frequency of various sexual behaviors, Masters and Johnson sought to study the anatomy and physiological responses in the human body during sexual experiences. They began their work in St. Louis at Washington University and later founded the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation which later was known as the Masters and Johnson Institute (“Masters & Johnson Collection,” n.d.). Their work required the direct observation of sexual activity (i.e., manual masturbation or sexual intercourse). Although somewhat scrutinized, their method of participant selection was more heavily scrutinized. Initially, they enlisted prostitutes into their sample until they were able to recruit more participants.

    Masters and Johnson are most known for their sexual response cycle theory. Prior to this, not much information about the actual cycle and process of sexual responses were known. Their theory posited that sexual response occurs in four stages. For both men and women, the sexual response has four phases: Excitement (1), Plateau (2), Orgasm (3), Resolution (4) (Crooks & Baur, 2013).

    1. Excitement Phase – When myotonia (when muscle tension increases throughout the body and both involuntary contractions as well as voluntary muscle contractions) as well as vasocongestion (when tissue fills with blood due to arteries dilating which allows blood to flow to tissue at a rate faster than veins can move the blood out of the tissue, leading to swelling), high heart and breathing rates, and increased blood pressure occurs.
    2. Plateau Phase – This is really the opposite of how it sounds. This is when there is actually a surge of tension that occurs and tension continues to increase in the body. Blood pressure and heart rates surge. This usually lasts anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes. The longer this phase is, typically, the more intense an orgasm is.
    3. Orgasm Phase – The climax period in which blood pressure and heart rates peak and involuntary muscle spasms occur. Typically speaking, this is the shortest phase.
    4. Resolution Phase – When myotonia and vasocongestion dissipates.

    This same cycle, and order, is experienced no matter the sexual stimulation/activity (e.g., masturbation, vaginal intercourse). However, how intense the cycle/phases are and how rapid one moves through them may vary depending on the sexual stimulation/activity. Moreover, men and females experience all of these stages in the same order. However, there are some slight differences within the cycle between men and women. For example, women may more easily experience multiple orgasms than men. Moreover, men experience a refractory period (minimum amount of time that men must wait before the body can actually climax again, following ejaculation)., whereas, women do not (Crooks & Baur, 2013).

    6.1.3. National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior

    Also coming out of Indiana University was the largest sex-focused survey to be conducted in the United States – the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. The survey’s first wave of participants and data was collected in 2009. The study, in total, has over 20,000 participants ranging in ages as young as 14 and as old as 102. The survey data has led to over 30 different research publications/articles. In general, the survey has included items that address and explore a variety of sex-related domains including, but not limited to: condom use, intimate behaviors (e.g., kissing, cuddling) as they relate to sexual arousal and intimacy, sexual behavior patterns in varying sexual orientations, sexual identities, sexually transmitted disease knowledge, and relationships/relationship patterns (“NSSHB,” n.d.).

    From the first wave of data collection, results from the NSSHB revealed that a majority of U.S. youth are not engaging in regular intercourse; condom use was not perceived by adults to reduce sexual pleasure; men are likely to have an orgasm during vaginal intercourse, but women’s experiences of orgasms are more varied (e.g., orgasms may be more likely when various acts occur such as oral sex); although less than 7-8% of participants identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, a much higher percentage reported engaging in same-sex behavior at some point; women are more likely to identify as bisexual rather than lesbian; males perceive that their partners orgasm more often than women report actually orgasming (and male/male sexual occurrences do not account for the discrepancy); older adults continue to report active sex lives, and the lowest rate of condom use is in adults over 40. From more recent waves of data, the following has been found: women tend to be more open and accepting of individuals that identify as bisexual than males are, most people report being in a monogamous relationship, same-gender sexually oriented individuals are less likely than opposite-gender sexually oriented individuals to report monogamy, (“NSSHB,” n.d.).

    6.2. Sex Education

    Section Learning Objectives

    • Gain foundational understanding about varieties of sex education programs
    • Learn about the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education

    6.2.1. Overview

    Sex education is varied in the United States. Before we talk specifics, let’s talk about the variations. Sex education is either abstinence-only (AO) in which abstaining from sexual activity is taught to be the only option to avoid negative outcomes related to sex, abstinence-plus (Aplus) in which abstinence is focused on and stressed, but some information about contraception and condoms is given, and comprehensive sex education (CSE) in which medically-accurate information about sex, reproduction, protection and contraception, gender identity, and sexual orientation is covered. Although about half of the US states require that some form of sex education be provided, only 13 require the material presented to be medically accurate. Moreover, a majority of states require that if sex education is presented, abstinence must be included whereas only a minority require that contraception education be included (Abstinence Education Programs, 2018).

    Abstinence-only was heavily federally funded in the 1980’s and, thus, was a strong incentive to implement AO education in schools. AO programs peaked during the Bush administration and then began dropping in Obama’s administration. In 2017, about 1/3 of funds were provided for AO programming. Proponents of abstinence-based education argue that this type of education delays teens first sexual encounter and reduces teen pregnancy. However, research does not support most of the claims made. In fact, studies reveal that teens that received abstinence-based education are more likely to have unprotected sex when they do have sex. Additionally, although youth with this education provided have more knowledge about STIs, they actually have less knowledge about condoms and how effective condoms are at preventing STIs (Abstinence Education Programs, 2018). Moreover, some statistics show that an emphasis on AO programs may actually be correlated with higher teen pregnancy rates (Stangler-Hall & Hall, 2011), which is consistent with the above statistic revealing that youth that receive AO programming are more likely to have unprotected sex.

    6.2.2. Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE)

    Comprehensive sexual education programs cover sexual education in depth and are not simply limited to concerns of risk reduction. These programs focus on human development, physical anatomy of humans and sexual responses, attraction, gender identity and sexual orientation, and contraception and protection. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that CSE programs contain medically accurate information that is appropriate for the age of the audience. A CSE program may focus on providing not only information about pregnancy and STIs, but also other benefits to delaying intercourse, as well as information about reproduction and contraception (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2016).

    CSE has been shown to reduce sexual activity, risky behaviors, STIs and teen pregnancy in youth. Kohler, Manhart, and Lafferty (2008) compared abstinence-only to CSE programing and found that youth that received CSE programming had less occurrence of teen pregnancy compared to youth that received no programming, but a significant difference in rates was not found between AO and CSE. However, AO had no impact on delaying initial intercourse, whereas CSE had minor impacts on lowering the likelihood of intercourse (Kohler, Manhart, and Lafferty, 2008).

    A meta-analysis comparing AO and CSE showed that AO does not delay initial intercourse and less than half of programs had a positive impact on sexual behavior; however, 60% of CSE programs showed positive impacts including delayed initial intercourse and increased use of condoms/contraception (Kirby, 2008). Individuals receiving CSE were also 50% less likely to become pregnant as a minor compared to youth that received AO programming. Youth receiving CSE programming are less likely to have sex compared to youth that receive AO programming, but are more likely to delay their first sexual encounter, have less sexual partners, and engage in more protected sex (Abstinence Education Programs, 2018).

    6.3. Sexual Orientation

    Section Learning Objectives

    • Understand the Genderbread Person and how it helps conceptualize sexual orientation and identity.
    • Review various sexual orientations.

    Definition. A part of one’s identity that involves attraction to another person, may that be in a sexual, emotional, physical, or romantic way. Broadly speaking, orientation has been defined as binary: either heterosexual (opposite-sex/gender attraction) or homosexual (same-sex/gender attraction). However, sexuality research and awareness efforts have led to discussions regarding orientation to take place more on a continuum, and including a variety of orientations, which we will discuss.

    6.3.1. Genderbread Person

    Before we go into detail with some of the broader orientations, let’s first discuss the genderbread person (Killerman, 2017). This is important because it helps us understand orientation, on a continuum, as it relates to various aspects such as birth sex, anatomical sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual attraction, and romantic attraction. We are all born with a biological sex. However, one’s current anatomical sex may or may not align with one’s birth sex, particularly if a transsexual individual has undergone sexual reassignment surgery (we will discuss this more later on). This deals more with our cognitions and thoughts about ourselves. This is how we identify. We may be, biologically speaking, female, but identify as a male. We may be male and identify as male. We may have some continuum of identification as well. Identity is not determined by either anatomical sex, gender expression, or sexual or romantic attractions. One may be female, and identify as male, but dress and express themselves as a female, be attracted sexually to males, and be attracted romantically to females – or any combination or variation. expression. Gender expression is how one acts, dresses, and portrays themselves in regard to gender norms. One may present themselves as extremely masculine or feminine. One may present as androgynous, meaning gender-neutral or equally masculine and feminine. Gender expression can also change, not only from day to day, but moment to moment. For example, a female getting ready for a date with her husband may dress up and express very feminine gender norms; however, that same female may have expressed very masculine norms and behaviors an hour earlier when playing in her rec dodgeball league. When discussing attraction, there is sexual attraction and romantic attraction. Remember, just like everything else we have discussed, one does not determine the other. For example, one may be romantically attracted to men, but sexually attracted to females. One may have romantic attraction to either or both men and women, but not be sexually attracted to either, etc. Sexual attraction refers to who you are aroused by and desire to be sexually intimate with. Romantic attraction refers to who you seek and desire in an emotional way.

    A link to the Genderbread Person that visually illustrates all of these concepts on a continuum (and is shown in Figure 10.1) can be found here:

    Figure 1. Genderbread Person (direct source: Sam Killerman –

    6.3.2. Asexuality

    Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by the lack of sexual attraction to another individual – it is not a sexual disorder. Asexuality is one of the most understudied orientations, and there is some debate on if asexuality is the lack of orientation or an orientation itself. Only about .5- 1% of the population identifies asexual, but it is thought that this is potentially a slight underestimate.. Individuals that identify as asexual are predominately white (Deutsch, 2017).

    Despite misconception, being asexual does not mean that an individual does not engage in sexual behavior or intercourse. It is also not defined by virginity, having a low sex drive, or masturbation. Individuals that are asexual may experience physical, sexual arousal. Although some may be disturbed or disgusted by their own arousal, others may simply not feel connected to individuals or their arousal which is known as autocrissexualism (Deutsch, 2017).

    Asexuality exists in various forms – we will cover some, but not all. For example, gray asexuality is an orientation in which an individual experiences low levels of attraction, whereas demisexuality is an orientation in which an individual only experiences sexual attraction when a close bond is formed. Keep in mind, an individual that identifies as asexual may still have romantic attractions toward any gender (Deutsch, 2017).

    6.3.3. Heterosexual

    Heterosexual is defined as being attracted to the opposite gender. A majority of the population identifies as heterosexual, and much of our cultural assumptions and biases are due to this. Historically, heterosexuality has been considered ‘normative,’ and thus, anything other than heterosexualism was ‘abnormal.’ Fortunately, there has been significant efforts to shift this mindset, but the lasting impacts of this are still present today.

    6.3.4. Same-Gender Sexuality

    Although rates vary depending on which study and statistic is cited, approximately 3.5% of the U.S. population identifies as being sexually attracted to the same-gender (same-gender sexuality, homosexuality; Gates, 2011). Specifically, about 2-4% of males and 1-2% of females identify as being homosexual. However, women are actually 3 times more likely to report having engaged in some same-gender sexual behavior at some point in life compared to men. Moreover, although less than 5% identify as homosexual, about 11% of individuals report being attracted, to some degree, to same-gender individuals and 8.2% reported same-gender sexual behavior (Gates, 2011).

    Same-gender attraction can be exclusive, meaning that the individual is only attracted to same-gendered individuals, and individuals may use labels such as gay (males) or lesbian (females) to define/describe their orientation. However, some individuals may be attracted to both same- and opposite-gendered individuals, which is often defined/described as bisexual. Females are more likely to identify as bisexual than males (Copen, Chandra, and Febo-Vazquez, 2016). Women are more accepting of bisexual individuals then men. Moreover, in general, female bisexual individuals are more accepted than male bisexual individuals (Dodge et al., 2016).

    6.3.5. Sexual Fluidity

    Sexual fluidity is a concept in which we move away from thinking in binary ways (heterosexual or homosexual) and move into a more fluid understanding – essentially the entire premise behind the Genderbread Person. An individual that is bisexual, may be considered to have sexual fluidity; however, pansexual individuals likely align with sexual fluidity a bit more. Pansexual is a word used to identify individuals that are attracted to all genders either in sexual, romantic, or spiritual ways (Rice, 2015). How are pansexual and bisexual different? Well, bisexual (in the name) indicates a binary requirement (male or female) whereas pansexual indicates an individual is attracted to a spectrum of genders (and does not consider gender to be binary; Rice, 2105).

    6.4. Transgender

    Section Learning Objectives

    • Define the term transgender.
    • Provide psychoeducation on terminology and appropriate verbiage.
    • Understand, at a basic level, the process of transitioning.

    6.4.1. Defining Transgender

    Transgender and transsexual do not refer to a sexual orientation. These terms define an individual’s gender identity and/or anatomical sex. Transgender is a term used to define an individual that identifies with a gender that does not align with their biological sex. For example, an individual that is born a female, but identifies as male, may label themselves as transgender. Transsexual is an older term that is used less often today. This term was used to specifically identify individuals that identify with a gender inconsistent with their biological birth sex and sought medical interventions (such as hormone therapies, surgical reassignment) to change their hormonal and/or anatomical makeup to more closely align with their self-identified gender. Although some transgender individuals may wish to seek medical interventions, one should not assume that someone that is transgender has a desire to pursue interventions. Also, sexual orientation varies in transgender individuals, just as it does in cisgender (when a person’s gender identity and birth sex align) individuals.

    Male-to-female (MtF) and female-to-male (FtM) are terminology often used to help individuals communicate and understand their identity. Specifically, MtF indicates an individual who was born with male genitalia and chromosomal/hormonal makeup and that has transitioned to female genitalia and/or hormonal therapy or they may perhaps even change legal documents or how they dress to more closely align with their gender identity if they don’t desire medical interventions. When referring to a transgender person’s gender, one should use the pronouns the individual uses for themselves, which often is related to their stage of transitioning. For example, if a FtM individual is transitioned and refers to himself as male, one should also use male pronouns and not female pronouns.

    Approximately .3% of adults identify as transgender. About 27% to MtF individuals are attracted to men, 35% to women, and 38% to both men and women. About 10% to FtM individuals are attracted to men, 55% to women, and 5% to both men and women (Gates, 2011; Copen, Chandra, & Febo-Vazquez, 2016).

    6.4.2. Gender Dysphoria

    Transgender is not a disorder. However, the DSM-5 includes a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which is generally defined as when a person has significant internal distress due to feeling that their biological sex is incongruent with their gender identity. Many transgender individuals experience gender dysphoria. In fact, gender dysphoria in children persists to adulthood in anywhere between 12 to 27 percent of individuals (Coleman, et al., 2012). However, heterosexual and homosexual individuals may experience gender dysphoria alike, as gender identity is independent form sexual orientation.

    6.4.3. Transitioning

    Transitioning is the process of moving from living one’s life as the gender that aligns to their birth sex, to the gender the individual identifies as. Transitioning can involve a variety of things, including changing one’s name on legal documents, dressing in a way that aligns with one’s gender identity, utilizing noninvasive procedures (hair removal, makeup tattooing), hormone therapies, and sex reassignment surgeries. MtF. Surgery may consist of facial feminization in which plastic surgeries are conducted to feminize one’s face, breast augmentations, either the enhancement/reduction of the buttock, vaginoplasty (conversion of male scrotum and penis to a vagina with a clitoris and labia), and thyroid cartilage removal (to reduce the appearance of an Adams Apple). Nonsurgical options might include hormone therapy, voice training, hair removal, and other minor procedures such as Botox (The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery, n.d.). FtM. Surgery may consist of chest masculinization (removal of the female breasts), phalloplasty/metoidioplasty (either constructing a penis and scrotum or releasing the clitoris to create a micropenis), buttock reduction, etc. Nonsurgical options include hormone therapy and voice training (The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery, n.d.).

    Before surgery options can occur, various prerequisites must be met by an individual, typically including (1) the individual is experiencing true gender dysphoria., (2) at least one, but often two, mental health providers that specialize in gender identity concerns recommending the individual for surgery (must specialize in gender identity), (3) has received hormone treatment for at least one year, (4) has been living as the gender they identify as for at least one year, (5) is considered emotionally stable, and (6) is medically healthy. (The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery, n.d.).

    Hormone therapy involves taking a prescribed amount of hormones to produce secondary sex characteristics in the gender one identifies with. Hormone therapies appears relatively safe for transgender men (FtM), but for women (MtF), there is a 12% risk for a negative medical event such as thromboembolic or cardiovascular occurrence (Wierckx, 2012).

    6.5. Gender Roles and Rules for Sexual Behavior

    6.5.1. Scripts for Sexual Behavior

    Sexual script theory posits that we engage in particular sexual behaviors due to learned interactions and patterns. We learn this “script” from our environment, culture, etc. We adjust our behaviors to fit the script so as to align with general expectations. Scripts are often influenced, largely, by culture and are frequently heteronormative. We learn scripts from people in our life, and those same people, as well as society and media, reinforce those scripts. Scripts are also influenced by our interpersonal experiences (experiences with others) and intrapersonal experiences (internalization of scripts). What our culture teaches us about scripts, then plays out in interpersonal experiences. How we interact with our partner may be largely based on engaging in behaviors that align with culturally congruent scripts. This often leads to patterned script behavior within partners. For example, if the male in a relationship is the one that initiates sex in the beginning (largely based on sexual script), then over time, the female may continually wait for the male to initiate sea, rather than initiate it herself. This is now an interpersonally-based script that started from a broader, culturally-based script. This may then become internalized and repeated in other relationships for the female (intrapersonal influence on scripts). There may also be very negative feelings if one contradicts a generally accepted sexual script (e.g., guilt for not acting like other females, etc.; intrapersonal experience).

    The heterosexual script is the most prominent in the US, and it consists largely of three specific components including a doubles standard (e.g., men are supposed to desire sex where as women should resist it), courtship roles (e.g., men are responsible for initiating things such as sex and dates whereas women are to wait and response), and desire for commitment (women desire committed relationships and male avoid it; Helgeson, 2012). Women are often scripted to be timid, hesitant, and passive in sexual encounters and interactions, whereas men are scripted to be aggressive, dominant, and in control. There is a double standard within sexual scripts, often in which women are expected not to engage in sex outside of a relationship, whereas men are expected, and often praised, for doing so. Women are scripted to desire committed relationships whereas men desire sex with minimal emotional investment (Seabrook, et al., 2016). Men are scripted to initiate sex and to be more sexually advanced and experienced than women, desire sex in uncommitted contexts, and have more sexual partners than women. Women are scripted to be desired, have lower sex drives than men, to wait for a male to initiate sex and then resist it, and be less sexually experienced than men. Whereas women are scripted to desire intimacy, trust, and committed relationships, men are not (Masters, Casey, Wells, & Morrison, 2013).

    Why do we adhere to scripts? Well, not adhering to them has a risk involved. For example, if you are interested in someone that holds the beliefs of traditional sexual scripts, and you engage in a way that is inconsistent with the script, they may no longer be interested in you. Essentially, you risk losing the interest of someone you are interested in. You also risk being judged negatively and experiencing direct or indirect ‘punishment’ or negative consequences (as just discussed). Let’s take an example. It is a common expectation in sexual scripts that a male will pay for dinner on a date. What if he doesn’t and the female follows traditional scripts? Will she go on another date with him? What if a female makes the first move towards a kiss, and a male subscribes to traditional scripts? Will he want to go on another date with her? (Garcia, 2010).

    6.5.2. The Double Standard

    The double standard in sexual behavior began to be researched in the 1960’s by Ira Reiss. Reiss was one of the first to study the double standard in the context that society prohibited women to engage in premarital sexual behavior, but allowed men to (as cited by Mihausen & Herold, 1999). The double standard impacts a variety of sexual factors such as age of first intercourse (men having a younger age), number of sexual partners (men having a more), etc. Regarding sexual behavior, males, even in adolescence, are often praised for sexual conduct and promiscuity whereas girls are often shamed. Boys are more accepted by their peers as sexual partner counts increase whereas girls are less accepted by their peers (Kraeger & Staff, 2009). Kraeger (2016) also found that a girl having a sexual history (e.g., reported having sex), led to a gradual decline in peer acceptance, whereas males with the same history experienced an increase in peer acceptance. Interestingly, although much of the above information is related to the double standard related to sex, may that be intercourse, oral sex, etc., there appears to be a slightly different story with kissing or “making out.” Girls are more accepted by their peers, whereas boys are less accepted, when it comes to making out (Kraeger, 2016). Reflections of the double standard may not be just in perceptions and attitudes, but in actual sexual encounters. In general, in hookups, males reach orgasm more often than females (Garcia et al., 2010).

    Milhausen and Herold (1999) found that although women believe there is still a sexual double standard, they denied that they held the double standard themselves. Moreover, participants believed other women, more than men, held the double standard belief. Conversely, data shows that men tend to hold double standard beliefs. Overall, on average, the double standard still is present. Although young men and women are challenging it, in general, the double standard persists. For example, ¾ of individuals reject the double standard when considering hooking up, but at least ½ of individuals hold some amount of a double standard belief (Sprecher, Treger, & Sakaluk, 2013; Allison and Risman, 2013).

    6.5.3. Hookup Culture

    A ‘hookup’ is defined as an event in which two individuals that are not committed to each other, or dating, engage in sexual behavior, which can include intercourse but may also include oral sex, digital penetration, kissing, etc. Typically speaking, there is no expectation of forming a romantic relationship or connection with each other (Garcia, Reiber, Massey, & Merriwether, 2013). ‘Hooking up’ is becoming more socially acceptable and a common experience for young adults in the US. But what has led to this? In the 1920’s, sexual promiscuity and casual sex became more open and accepted. As time progressed, and medicine advanced (e.g., birth control), the acceptance of openly discussing sex and the frequency of casual sex, or sexual behavior that broke previous, traditional and/or moral/religious boundaries (e.g., only having sex in marriage) became more common. Today, the media often focuses on sexuality and may overly portray sexuality (e.g., over 75% of tv programming has sexual content; as cited by Garcia, 2010). This may lead to a misunderstanding of actual sexual behavior for youth. For example, college students tend to significantly overestimate how promiscuous their peers are (Chia & Gunther, 2006; Reiber & Garcia, 2010). Recent data suggest that anywhere between 60-80% of young adults in the US have had a hookup. Even in adolescents, 60-70% of youth that are currently sexually active reported having at least one hook up (as cited by Garcia et al., 2013). Friends with benefits (FWB) is a relationship in which two people contract to have purely sexual intimacy but do not date, emotionally-bond, etc. Sixty percent of college students report having a FWB relationship at some point.

    There are some gender differences in frequency and feelings after hooking up. Women are more conservative than men regarding causal sex attitudes. In general, both males and females report varied feelings. About half of men report feeling positive after hooking up, about 25% report feeling negative, and the remaining 25% report mixed feelings. For women, things are slightly reversed – about 25% feel positive, 50% feel negative, and 25% report mixed feelings. Although data is mixed, statistics often show that around ¾ of people, in general, report feeling regret after a hookup. Two factors that seem to lead to regret is a hookup with someone that the individual just met (known less than 24 hours) and someone that they hookup with only once. Men may be more regretful because they feel they used someone whereas women may feel regret because they felt used. In general, women have the most negatively affective impacts from hookups (Garcia et al., 2013).

    A majority of college students did not fear contracting an STI following a hookup and less than half used condoms during a hookup. Factors leading to hooking ups vary. Substance use is highly comorbid with hooking up, especially alcohol. This often leads to unintended hookups. Feeling depressed, isolated, or lonely is a common factor leading to hookups. In general, individuals who usually have lower self-esteem tend to participate in hooking up. (Garcia et al., 2013). The impact of hookups vary as well. If an individual experienced high levels of depression and loneliness, they sometimes report actually experiencing a reduction in this following a hookup. However, if an individual did not have depressive symptoms prior to a hookup, they actually may be more at risk for developing depressive symptoms afterward (Garcia et al., 2013).

    Module Recap

    In this module, we first focused on understanding the beginning stages of researching human sexuality. We then examined and learned about various sexual orientations. Additionally, we discussed transgender and the process one goes through to transition. Finally, we examined gender and sexual roles including double standards in sexual behavior and “hookup culture.”

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