Academic journal article Adolescence

Understanding Gender Differences in Adolescent Sexuality

Academic journal article Adolescence

Understanding Gender Differences in Adolescent Sexuality

Article excerpt

Social biologists have long noted the existence of gender differences in human sexual behavior. The differences include not only physiological functions, but behavioral, social, and cognitive elements. These include behaviors ranging from copulation to maternal care (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1989). Miller (1986), in her book, Toward a New Psychology of Women, identifies psychological differences between men and women. Chodorow (1978) believes that, at least in our society, gender differences are learned soon after infancy as a result of the child's intimate relationship with the mother. During infancy it is the mother who is at the child's side, providing love, comfort, and security. Other research supports the belief that there are meaningful and significant psychological differences between the sexes (Belenky, Clenchy, Goldberger, & Tarule 1986; Bernard, 1981; Chodorow, 1978; Jensen, McGhie & Jensen 1991; Jensen & Towle 1991; Noddings, 1984; Offen, 1988; Rossi, 1977; Stimpson, Jensen, & Neff 1992; Stimpson, Neff, & Jensen 1991). These psychological differences have direct implications for sexual attitudes, values, motivation, and behavior.

Hill and Lynch (1983) have proposed the "gender intensification hypothesis" in which opposite-sex role behavior which was tolerable during childhood is no longer acceptable during adolescence. During adolescence appropriate gender behavior is required and would apply to sexual motivation and behavior. For adolescents, sex-appropriate behavior for both males and females is imposed as one is socialized. A series of events occur which change the course of development for females--courtship, pregnancy, childbirth, and nurturing.

Some research on sexuality has focused on similarities between the sexes. For example, Masters and Johnson argued for similarity in motivation and behavior, and the current political climate emphasizes the equalities and similarities of men and women regarding sex. Irvine (1990), however, believes that these similarities have been overstated and have to do with sexual response style.

Motivation is one aspect of sexuality which has been viewed as different for males and females. Whitley (1988) concludes that women are generally sexually motivated as an expression of love, while men are motivated by sex as a source of pleasure. Similarly, Carroll, Volk, and Hyde (1985) found that women were less able to experience sexual intercourse as a physical relationship without an emotional involvement. Carroll et al. (1985) reported that "95% of their sample of college women, as compared to 40% of men, stated that emotional involvement was `always' or `most of the time' a prerequisite for having sex." On the other hand, when asked, "what would be your primary reason for refusing to have sexual intercourse with someone?" the most frequent response given by women was "not enough love/commitment," while the men's most frequent response was "never given the opportunity."

Likewise, Lords (1991) reported that more females than males reported abstaining from sexual activity for the following reasons: religious beliefs, sex not a very smart thing to do, fear of unwanted pregnancy, not feeling comfortable doing it, feeling that it is morally wrong, feeling of unreadiness, fear of disappointing parents, and fear of being taken advantage of. On the other hand, men's responses regarding reasons for not having sex exceeded those of women in only one area--lack of opportunity.

There is a general consensus in the research that males are more sexually active in contemporary society and hold more permissive sexual attitudes, but little has been noted regarding the possible causes or implications of this finding. One possibility can be found in the recent writings of feminists who emphasize that women live in a different world (Bernard, 1981; Gilligan, 1982; Miller, 1986; Noddings, 1988) and that women perceive the world in terms of relationships and closeness, whereas men attach more importance to individuality and are more impersonal. …

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