Sexuality in the United States

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Sexuality in the United States has had an assorted approach, depending on both the region in the country and the specific time period.



The United States during the early modern period has a reputation for sexual impermissiveness, partly due to influence from the Puritans. During the Victorian era, romance was increasingly viewed as a key component of sexuality. [1] One study of the interwar period suggests that prudish attitudes were more pronounced among women than among men, with 47% in a poll describing premarital sex as wicked while only 28% of men said the same. [2] The 1960s are often viewed as the period wherein the United States underwent a substantial change in perception of sexual norms, with a substantial increase in extramarital sex. [3]

The early modern period of modern history follows the late Middle Ages of the post-classical era. Although the chronological limits of the period are open to debate, the timeframe spans the period after the late portion of the post-classical age, known as the Middle Ages, through the beginning of the Age of Revolutions and is variously demarcated by historians as beginning with the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, with the Renaissance period in Europe, the Muslim conquests in the Indian subcontinent, and with the Age of Discovery, and ending around the French Revolution in 1789.

Puritans Subclass of English Reformed Protestants

The Puritans were English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and needed to become more Protestant. Puritanism played a significant role in English history, especially during the Protectorate.

Victorian era Period of British history encompassing Queen Victorias reign

In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The era followed the Georgian period and preceded the Edwardian period, and its later half overlaps with the first part of the Belle Époque era of Continental Europe. In terms of moral sensibilities and political reforms, this period began with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodist, and the Evangelical wing of the established Church of England. Britain's relations with the other Great Powers were driven by the colonial antagonism of the Great Game with Russia, climaxing during the Crimean War; a Pax Britannica of international free trade was maintained by the country's naval and industrial supremacy. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made the British Empire the largest empire in history. National self-confidence peaked.


Some scholars argue that American media is the most sexually suggestive in the world. [4] According to this view, the sexual messages contained in film, television, and music are becoming more explicit in dialog, lyrics, and behavior. In addition, these messages may contain unrealistic, inaccurate, and misleading information. Some scholars argue that still developing teens may be particularly vulnerable to media effects. [5] A 2001 report found that teens rank the media second only to school sex education programs as a leading source of information about sex, [6] but a 2004 report found that "the media far outranked parents or schools as the source of information about birth control." [4]

Media often portray emotional side-effects of sexuality such as guilt, and disappointment, but less often physical risks such as pregnancy or STDs. [7] One media analysis found that sex was usually between unmarried couples and examples of using condoms or other contraception were "extremely rare." [8] Many of programs or films do not depict consequence for sexual behavior. For example, only 10% programs that contain sexual scenes include any warnings to the potential risks or responsibilities of having sex such as sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy. [9] In television programing aimed at teens, more than 90% of episodes had at least one sexual reference in it with an average of 7.9 references per hour. [10]

However, government statistics suggest that since 1991, both teen sex and teen pregnancy have declined dramatically despite the media generally becoming increasingly sexually explicit. [11] Some analysts have said that this points to an inclination among latter millennials and Generation Z to have hyposexual and desexualized tendencies. [12]

Adolescent sexuality in the United States American law regarding sexuality of adolescents

The sexuality of US adolescents includes both their feelings, behaviors and development, and the place adolescent sexuality has in American society, including the response of the government, educators, parents, and other interested groups.

Teenage pregnancy in the United States

Teenage pregnancy in the United States relates to girls under the age of 20 who become pregnant. 89% of these births take place out-of-wedlock. In the 2010s, teen pregnancy has declined almost continuously.

The American film and television industries have been heavily criticized for their extremely harsh censorship of anything sexual. For example, saying the word "fuck" to mean sex just once in a film will automatically earn it an R rating with no exceptions. Words like "testicles" and "boobs" are also frequently removed from imported children's programs such as Total Drama Island. The USA generally has a much stricter and more traditional view of sex than Europe or Canada[ citation needed ]

<i>Total Drama Island</i> television series

Total Drama Island is a Canadian animated television series which premiered in Canada on Teletoon on July 8, 2007. This is the first season of the Total Drama series and has 26 episodes, each 22 minutes in duration with a special 44 minute episode at the end. The season is mostly a parody of the series Survivor, and features 22 campers in an elimination-based competition. On Cartoon Network, airing in the United States, some content has been removed from the episodes by censors in order to keep the rating open to a younger audience; for example, putting in words instead of long bleeps, and censoring of sensitive body parts, for the episodes "That's Off the Chain" and "Trial by Tri-Armed Triathlon". The fourth season, Total Drama: Revenge of the Island, takes place on the same island as this season, but with an all-new cast. Total Drama Island was created by Tom McGillis and Jennifer Pertsch with their production studio, Fresh TV, which also created their previous animated series, 6teen.


In 2016, roughly 4.1% of American adults identified themselves as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. [13] Roughly 99% of the adult U.S. population is allosexual (experiences sexual desires) while 1% is asexual (experiences no sexual desires). [14] One study has shown that there is no correlation between sexlessness and unhappiness, with sexually active and sexually inactive adult Americans showing roughly equal amounts of happiness. [15] Vicenarian women are slightly more likely to engage in infidelity than vicenarian men at 11 to 10 per cent respectively. [16]


Sexual relations are mostly legal in the United States if there is no direct or unmediated exchange of money, if it is consensual, teleiophilic (between adults) and non-consanguineous i.e. between people who are not related familially or by kinship. [17] There are however exceptions, with for instance adult incestual relations being legal in states such as New Jersey and Rhode Island as of 2017. [18] Prostitution laws in the USA are by far the strictest in the developed world [ citation needed ], but the state of Nevada licenses several of its counties to operate brothels and permits prostitutes/sex workers to sell sex, and janes and johns to purchase sex. [19] There may also be exceptions to age of consent laws in age gap laws, with some states permitting an ephebophilic relationship if the two persons are close in age. [20]


The 21st century saw increasingly permissive attitudes towards homosexuality, [21] however many laws continued to be heteronormative. [22] One survey has found that millennials, on average, have sex less frequently than previous generations. [23] This has led to some analysts ruminating on a moral panic wherein young adults of the 2010s decade are uninterested in sex. [24] According to OKCupid, Portland, Oregon is the most promiscuous city in the United States. [25] Some studies have shown that Americans in general have more prudistic and coitophobic attitudes to sex than Europeans. [26]

Related Research Articles

Sex education instruction on issues relating to human sexuality

Sex education is the instruction of issues relating to human sexuality, including emotional relations and responsibilities, human sexual anatomy, sexual activity, sexual reproduction, age of consent, reproductive health, reproductive rights, safe sex, birth control and sexual abstinence. Sex education that covers all of these aspects is known as comprehensive sex education. Common avenues for sex education are parents or caregivers, formal school programs, and public health campaigns.

Virginity state of a person who has never engaged in sexual intercourse

Virginity is the state of a person who has never engaged in sexual intercourse. There are cultural and religious traditions that place special value and significance on this state, predominantly towards unmarried females, associated with notions of personal purity, honor and worth.

Virginity pledges are commitments made by teenagers and young adults to refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage. They are most common in the United States among Catholic and Evangelical Christian denominations.

Premarital sex is sexual activity practiced by people before they are married. Historically, premarital sex was considered a moral issue which was taboo in many cultures and considered a sin by a number of religions, but since about the 1960s, it has become more widely accepted, especially in Western countries. A 2014 Pew study on global morality found that premarital sex was considered particularly unacceptable in "predominantly Muslim nations", such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, and Egypt, each having over 90% disapproval, while people in Western European countries were the most accepting, with Spain, Germany, and France expressing less than 10% disapproval.

Abstinence-only sex education form of sex education that teaches not having sex outside of marriage

Abstinence-only sex education is a form of sex education that teaches not having sex outside of marriage. It often excludes other types of sexual and reproductive health education, such as birth control and safe sex. Comprehensive sex education, by contrast, covers the use of birth control and sexual abstinence.

In media discourse, sexual content is material depicting sexual behavior. The sexual behavior involved may be explicit, implicit sexual behavior such as flirting, or include sexual language and euphemisms.

Comprehensive sex education (CSE) is a sex education instruction method based on-curriculum that aims to give students the knowledge, attitudes, skills and values to make appropriate and healthy choices in their sexual lives. The intention is that this understanding will prevent students from contracting sexually transmitted infections in the future, including HIV and HPV. CSE is also designed with the intention of reducing teenage and unwanted pregnancies, as well as lowering rates of domestic and sexual violence, thus contributing to a healthier society, both physically and mentally.

Situational sexual behavior differs from that which the person normally exhibits, due to a social environment that in some way permits, encourages, or compels the behavior in question. This can also include situations where a person's usual sexual behavior may not be possible, so rather than not engaging in sexual activity at all, they may engage in different sexual behaviors.

Ira Reiss American sexologist

Ira Leonard Reiss is a sociologist with primary interests in studying the way society impacts our sexual attitudes and behaviors and how people respond to those pressures. He also has interests in the study of gender and family, particularly as they relate to sexuality. He attended Syracuse University for his B.S. degree and the Pennsylvania State University for his M. A. and Ph. D. degrees. His major area in graduate school was sociology and his minor areas were cultural anthropology and philosophy. His doctoral course work in sociology and philosophy was done at Columbia University and his French and German language study was taken at Yale University.

Sexting act of sending sexually explicit messages between mobile phones

Sexting is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images, primarily between mobile phones, of oneself to others. It may also include the use of a computer or any digital device. The term was first popularized early in the 21st century and is a portmanteau of sex and texting, where the latter is meant in the wide sense of sending a text possibly with images. In August 2012, the word sexting was listed for the first time in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

Sex education in the United States is taught in two main forms: comprehensive sex education and abstinence-only. Comprehensive sex education is also called abstinence-based, abstinence-plus, abstinence-plus-risk-reduction, and sexual risk reduction sex education. This approach covers abstinence as a choice option, but also informs adolescents about human sexuality, age of consent and the availability of contraception and techniques to avoid contraction of sexually transmitted infections.

Sexuality in the Philippines encompasses sexual behavior, sexual practices, and sexual activities exhibited by men and women of the Philippines past and the present. It covers courtship strategies for attracting partners for physical and emotional intimacy, sexual contact, sexual reproduction, building a family, and other forms of individual interactions or interpersonal relationships, as set and dictated by their culture and tradition, religion, beliefs, values and moral convictions, psychology, foreign influences, and other related factors.

The media and American adolescent sexuality relates to the effect the media has on the sexuality of American adolescents, and the portrayal thereof.

Erotic plasticity is the degree to which one's sex drive can be changed by cultural or social factors. Someone has "high erotic plasticity" when their sex drives can be affected by situational, social and cultural influences, whereas someone with “low erotic plasticity” has a sex drive that is relatively rigid and unsusceptible to change. Since social psychologist Roy Baumeister coined the term in 2000, only two studies directly assessing erotic plasticity have been completed as of 2010.

Adolescent sexuality in Canada is not as well documented as adolescent sexuality in the United States; despite the proximity of the two nations, Canada has its own unique culture and generalizations about Canadian adolescent sexuality based on American research can be misleading. Because of this, several surveys and studies have been conducted which acquired information on Canadian adolescent sexuality. Surveys which provide this information include the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), the National Population Health Survey (NPHS) and the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY). According to information drawn from the Canadian Community Health Survey and the National Population Health Survey, in 2005 43% of teens aged 15 to 19 reported that they had had sexual intercourse at least once.

Jean Marie Twenge is an American psychologist researching generational differences, including work values, life goals, and speed of development. She is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, author, consultant, and public speaker. She has examined generational differences in work attitudes, life goals, developmental speed, sexual behavior, and religious commitment.


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