The Relationships among Selected Demographics and Conventional and Unconventional Sexual Behaviors among Black and White Heterosexual Men

Article excerpt

Many authors have asserted that differences in sexual attitudes and behaviors among racial or ethnic groups can be explained by variations in social class and religiosity more than by any racial or ethnic difference. Similarly, variations in sexual attitudes and behaviors in Black and White populations have been linked to religiosity. Respondents who report high degrees of religiosity are more likely to hold conservative sexual attitudes. However some authors have reported that high religiosity is more highly related to the sexual attitudes of White men than of Black men. Other researchers have argued that the functions of religiosity were not clearly defined and religiosity was not adequately measured. These conflicting viewpoints with regard to the sexual attitudes and behaviors of Black men raise questions about the generally held assumptions regarding social class and religiosity as predictors of sexual attitudes and behaviors in this population. The purpose of the current research was to examine these assumptions. If sexual attitudes and behavior are significantly different between Black and White groups that are comparable on Socioeconomic Status (SES) and religiosity, then better explanatory models need to be developed.

Religiosity, Socioeconomic Status, and Race

Devoutly religious people are more likely to be conservative in their attitudes toward sex and to engage in fewer varieties of sexual behaviors than are those who are less devout (Clayton, 1972; Hunt, 1974; Reiss, 1967; Rohrbaugh & Jessor, 1975). However, some researchers have suggested that religiosity plays a lesser role in determining the sexual attitudes and behaviors of Black people than of White people. These researchers also suggested that Black people are more sexually permissive than are White people (Belcastro, 1985; Christensen & Johnson, 1978; Staples, 1972, 1981, 1982). In an investigation of Reiss's proposition that liberal or conservative attitudes differentially affect groups who are traditionally high or low on premarital sexual permissiveness, Staples (1972) confirmed that liberalism along with certain social forces was more highly related to the permissiveness level of Whites than of Blacks. The social forces included religiosity, romantic love beliefs, frequency of falling in love, and age. Staples found that the relationships among these social forces and premarital permissiveness were significant only for Whites.

Black men are socialized very early into heterosexual relations by their culture and extended family system Staples, 1982). The less stringent age and gender-role orientation that is evident in the Black community exposes them at an early age to a more permissive sexual ethos. Further some constraints on Euro-American sexuality did not exist in the same degree among Afro-Americans: "The puritanical exhortations of organized religion served to effectively check much of the EuroAmerican's sexuality, while the Black church functioned more as a tension-reducing institution and eschewed monitoring the moral standards of its parishioners" (Staples, 1982, p. 77). Thus, according to Staples, Black men are the most liberal of the gender-race groups. Black men start dating earlier are more likely to have a romantic involvement in high school, have the most liberal sexual attitudes, and are most inclined to have nonmarital sex without commitment.

The general assumption that religiosity is a better predictor of sexual attitudes and behavior than is ethnicity is vulnerable to criticism. The majority of researchers have relied on a single item, frequency of church attendance, to establish the religiosity of respondents. Church attendance may provide an adequate measure of the ritual component of religiosity, but it is inadequate as a measure if religiosity is conceptualized as multidimensional. Rohrbaugh and Jessor (1975), responding to this criticism, conceptualized religiosity as an "attribute of personality referring to cognitive orientations about a transcendent reality and about one's relation to it, orientations which are directly implicated by the impact they have on daily secular life, and by participation in ritual practices" (p. …