Sexuality in perspective - a summary of chapter 1 of Understanding human sexuality by Hyde and DeLamater

Chapter 1
Sexuality in perspective

Sex and gender

Gender: being male, female, or some other gender such as trans.
Sexual behaviour: behaviour that produces arousal and increases the chance of orgasm.

The history of understanding sexuality: religion and science


Throughout most of recorded history, religion provided most of the information that people has about sexuality.
These religions have profound impact.


The scientific study of sex began in the 19th century, although religious notions continue to influence our ideas about sexuality.
Freud gave a great contribution to the understanding of sex.

Havelock Ellis (1896)
Believed that women, like men, are sexual creatures
He believed that sexual deviations from the norm are often harmless, and he urged society to accept them.

Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902)
Was interested in ‘pathological’ sexuality.
His work was neither objective nor tolerant, but had a long-lasting effect.
He coined the concepts of sadism, masochism, and paedophilia, and the terms heterosexuality and homosexuality.

Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935)
Founded the first sex research institute and journal devoted to the study of sex.
Established a marriage counselling service and gave advice on contraception and sex problems.

The study of sex tends to be interdisciplinary.

The media

The mass media in America today may play the same role that religion did in previous centuries.
Media can have three types of influence

  • Cultivation
    The view that exposure to the mass media makes people think that what they see there represents the mainstream of what happens in our culture
  • Agenda setting
    The idea that the media define what is important and what is not by which stories they cover
  • Social learning
    The idea that the media provide role models whom we imitate, perhaps even without realizing it

The internet has a powerful mass media influence.
It has potential for both positive and negative effects on sexual health.

Cross-cultural perspectives on sexuality

Cultural learning accumulates over time.
Culture: traditional ideas and values passed on from generation to generation within a group and transmitted to members of the group by symbols.

Ethnocentrism tends to influence our understanding of human sexual behaviour.
Ethnocentrism: the tendency to regard one’s own ethnic group and culture as superior to others and to believe that it customs and way of life are standards by which other cultures should be judged.
There are wide variations from one culture to the next.

All societies regulate sexual behaviour in some way, though the exact regulations vary greatly from one culture to the next.
No society has seen fit to leave sexuality totally unregulated, perhaps fearful that social disruption would result.

  • Incest taboos are nearly universal.
    Incest taboo: a societal regulation prohibiting sexual interaction between blood relatives.
  • Most societies condemn forced sexual relations as rape.

Regulations vary greatly from one society to the next, and sexual behaviour and attitudes vary correspondingly.

Variations in sexual techniques

  • There are few societies in which kissing is unknown.
    There are also some variation in techniques of kissing.
  • Cunnilingus: mouth stimulation of the female genitals
    Fairly common in our society and occurs in other societies as well.
  • Inflicting pain on the partner is part of the sexual technique in some societies.
  • The frequency of intercourse for married couple varies considerably form one culture to the next
  • Very few societies encourage people to engage in sexual intercourse at particular times
    Instead, most groups have restrictions that forbid intercourse at certain times or certain situations


Masturbation: self-stimulation of the genitals to produce sexual arousal.
Varies widely across cultures.
Almost all human societies express some disapproval of adult masturbation, ranging form mild ridicule to severe punishment.
But al least some adults in all societies appear to practice it.

Female masturbation occurs in other societies.

Premarital and extramarital sex

Societies differ in their rules regarding premarital sex.
Extramarital sex is complex and conflicted from most cultures.
Extramarital sex ranks second only to incest as the most prohibited type of sexual contact.
Even when extramarital sex is permitted, it is subjected to regulations.

Sex with same-gender partners

A wide range of attitudes toward same-gender sexual expression exists in various cultures.
When there is wide variation in attitudes toward homosexuality and same-gender behaviour, two general rules seem to emerge

  • No matter how a particular society treats homosexuality, the behaviour always occurs in at least some individuals
  • Same-gender sexual behaviour is never the predominant form of sexual behaviour for adults in any of the societies studied

Sexual identity as an unvarying, lifelong characteristic of the self is unknown or rare in some cultures.

Standards of attractiveness

In all human societies physical characteristics are important in determining whom one chooses as a sex partner.
What is considered as attractive varies considerably.
One standard does seem to be a general rule: a poor complexion is considered unattractive in the majority of human societies.

Social-class and ethnic-group variations in the United states

There are large variations in sexual behaviour within the American culture.

Social class and sex

The more educated women are, the more likely they are to use the pill for contraception.
Social class and sexuality may exert a mutual influence.
College students are more likely to marry after with the first partner with which they live together.

Ethnicity and sexuality in the United states

The U.S population is composed of many ethnic groups, and there are some variations among these groups in sexual behaviour.
The groups are not totally different.
The sexuality of any particular group can be understood only by understanding the cultural heritage of that group as well as its current social and economic conditions.

Racial microaggressions: subtle insults directed at people of colour and often done unconsciously.

The significance of cross-cultural studies

  • They give us notion of the enormous variation that exists in human sexual behaviour, and they help us put our own standards and behaviour in perspective
  • These studies provide impressive evidence concerning the importance of culture and learning in the shaping of our sexual behaviour.
    Human sexual behaviour is not completely determined by biology or drives or instincts

Cross-species perspectives on sexuality

All animal species display sexual behaviour.


Humans are not the only species that masturbate.
It is found among many species of mammals, particularly the primates.
Female masturbation as well.

Same-gender sexual behaviour

Same-gender behaviour is found in many species besides our own.

Sexual signalling

Female primates engage in sexual signalling to males, in effect, flirting.

Human uniqueness

In general trend, as we move from lower species such as fish to higher ones like primates, is for sexual behaviour to be more hormonally controlled by the lower species and to be controlled more by the brain in the higher species.
Thus, environmental influences are much more important in shaping primate sexual behaviour than they are in shaping sexual behaviour in other species.

There is little in human sexuality that is completely unique to humans, except for elaborate, complex cultural influences.
In other respects, we are on a continuum with other species.

The nonsexual uses of sexual behaviour

Commonly such behaviour signals the end of a fight.
It can also symbolize an animal’s rank in a dominance hierarchy.

Humans use sex for a variety of nonsexual purposes.

The sexual health perspective

Sexual health: a state of physical emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality.
Sexual rights: basic, inalienable rights regarding sexuality, both positive and negative.
Negative rights are freedoms from, for example, sexual violence.
Positive rights are freedoms to, for example, express one’s sexuality.

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Understanding human sexuality by Hyde and DeLamater - a summary

Understanding human sexuality by Hyde and DeLamater - a summary


This is a summary of the book Understanding human sexuality by Hyde and DeLamater. The book is about topics ranging from sex is different cultures to sexual disfunctions. The book is used in the course 'Sexology' at the university of Amsterdam. Because of this only the chapters needed for this course will be uploaded.

The first two chapters of this summary are for free, but to support worldsupporter and Joho, you have to become a Joho-member to read the other chapters. This is five euro a year, and you then can read all Joho-member content