Discovering Human Sexuality 4e Chapter 7 Summary

  • People enter into sexual relationships for a variety of reasons: sexual attraction and love; the desire for status, security, or profit; the desire to conform or to rebel; and the desire to have children.
  • People tend to judge the morality of sexual behavior by its context, being more approving of sex in committed relationships than of casual or extramarital sex. Beliefs about the morality of sex are tied to beliefs about its purpose. Americans can be grouped into several clusters with characteristic attitudes on sexual matters; to a considerable degree, a particular person’s beliefs can be predicted by demographic characteristics such as age, sex, religion, and educational level. Americans have become far more accepting of sex between unmarried individuals and homosexual sex over the past several decades, but disapproval of extramarital and teen sex remains high.
  • Casual sex is more appealing to men than to women. In the college environment, “hooking up” (uncommitted sex between acquaintances) is an increasingly common practice. But the prevalence of casual sex in the college environment is lower than most students believe. Alcohol is an important factor in facilitating hookups. Some participants in hookups—women more than men—later regret them and possibly suffer mental health consequences, but many others enjoy hookups and have no regrets. Casual sex is more accepted and more prevalent in the gay male community than among heterosexuals or lesbians.
  • Flirting behaviors of both sexes are quite stereotyped across cultures, but flirting styles vary with personality. Largely unconscious signals, such as prolonged eye contact, communicate a person’s desire to escalate an encounter or, conversely, to terminate it.
  • Committed but non-cohabiting relationships (traditionally called dating relationships) tend to be fluid and short-lived, leading either to a live-in relationship or to separation. Those relationships that include sex very early tend to be shorter than those in which sex is postponed, but this is probably a selection effect, not an effect of the sex itself.
  • Romantic love exists in most or all cultures. Mutual liking, physical attraction, and other factors promote falling in love. Romantic love appears to be mediated by specific hormones and neurotransmitters and by activity patterns within regions of the brain that process pleasurable sensations.
  • Sternberg’s theory of love proposes that love consists of three elements—passion, intimacy, and commitment—whose relative contributions may be represented by a triangle. The shape of a person’s “love triangle” changes over the course of a relationship. A couple are most likely to be satisfied with their relationship when their triangles match.
  • Unrequited love is painful to both suitors and rejectors: to suitors because it denies them their love object and diminishes their self-esteem, and to rejectors because it causes them guilt.
  • According to attachment theory, young children’s relationships with their parents establish patterns that are repeated in romantic relationships during adulthood.
  • Partners in relationships tend to resemble each other in a variety of respects. This homogamy contributes to satisfaction in relationships.
  • A couple’s communication style predicts their satisfaction with their relationship and its durability. Couples may have difficulty communicating about sexual matters for a variety of reasons, such as a culture of sexual shame. Some premarital counseling programs teach communication skills.
  • The ways couples deal with conflict are strongly predictive of how long the relationships will last. Optimal strategies involve not avoiding anger, but rather solving the problems that cause anger and developing numerous positive interactions. Couples do best when hostile interactions are followed with positive “repair” conversations. Couples therapy may focus on altering behavior or on unearthing hidden emotional problems.
  • Jealousy, though a painful experience, has a positive function in protecting relationships against infidelity and in testing the strength of love bonds. Sex differences in jealousy—sexual jealousy in men and emotional jealousy in women—may reflect the different reproductive interests that men and women have had over the course of human evolution. Some forms of jealousy are damaging and merit treatment, but well-grounded jealousy can spur constructive efforts to improve the relationship, if those involved have learned to respond effectively to problematic situations.
  • Many circumstantial factors influence whether people in long-term partnerships engage in sexual relationships outside those partnerships. National surveys suggest that most married Americans are in fact monogamous for most or the entirety of their marriage.