Alternative Approaches to the Study of Sexual Behavior

By Donn Byrne; Kathryn Kelley | Go to book overview
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Human Sexuality In Cross-
Cultural Perspective

Edgar Gregersen Queens College, CUNY

People everywhere are brought up to regard their own culture as best and their own society as somehow divinely sanctioned, in conformity with the laws of nature, or otherwise cosmically secure.

To believe so is to guarantee ignorance about human nature and the nature of culture. Such an approach is perhaps nowhere as misleading as in speculating about human sexuality because of an additional factor, the confusion of what anthropologists call ideal culture with real culture. Ideal culture refers to what members of a culture believe their culture should be, as opposed to real culture, which is what the culture is factually and objectively.

Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin ( 1948) and Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, and Gebhard ( 1953) brought out the difference quite clearly--and shockingly, to a great many people. In a society where talking about sex was fundamentally tabu, the statistics these studies offered about condemned behavior (such as adultery, homosexual acts, and even sexual contacts between human beings and animals) constituted a major scandal. Kinsey et al. ( 1948) and Kinsey et al. ( 1953) pointed out a significant social problem because of the confusion between the ideal and the real: Because laws were written in conformity with the ideal, the great majority of Americans could be imprisoned if the laws were enforced.

The Kinsey reports also indicated the existence of social class differences with regard to sexual expectations and performance. One could, in fact, talk of the sexual cultures of the college-educated and the noncollege-educated. At the time Kinsey was writing, these cultures differed in areas as diverse as the incidence of nocturnal emissions (college-educated men experienced them earlier and more frequently); premarital intercourse (the noncollege-educated had it more often); masturbation, oral sex, experimentation with copulatory positions, sex in the


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