Contemporary Sexual Ethics





J.J. Sylvia IV





















College English


Mrs. French


February 16, 2001




Thesis: Contemporary sexual ethics drastically oppose norms that have established since the foundation of our country.


I.             Research contributes to the understanding of human sexuality

            A.  Society controls

                  1. Formation

                  2. Exceptions

            B. Beliefs affect sexuality

II.             Changing sex customs

            A. B. Moral beliefs

B. Sexual disorders

III.             Changing sex roles of men

            A. Traditional roles

            B. New roles

                 1. Affect on men

                 2. Affect on women

IV.       Sexual Education

            A. Benefits

            B. Problems





Contemporary Sexual Ethics



A study by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center concludes that most sexual impulses are not instinctive and unvarying among all humans. Alternatively, the study suggests that society dictates to a person what to do, with whom to do it, what to think about, and even what to find arousing. “For example, when males listen to the story of a woman entering a room, removing her clothes, a man entering and various activities occurring, they will often be aroused if told the man is her boyfriend. But this same script will not arouse them if told the man is her doctor” (Schrof 74). The society a person lives in, or the environmental conditioning, teaches him how to behave sexually. Surprisingly, men engage in more unwanted sex than women, perhaps because society expects greater desire from men.

Environmental conditioning does have limits that are capable of being overcome. As each year of marriage passes, wives initiate more sexual encounters, possibly acting more upon actual sexual desires rather than scripts picked up at a young age from society. Even though the action is considered taboo, 41% of men and 16% of women still buy erotica each year. Social conditioning still plays an important part even in breaking the rules; people prefer conventional sex over the unconventional erotica available.

Research also shows that many people do not understand their own sexuality. Therapists treat many patients who want help for their sexual problems, but these people are actually quite normal and just do not realize it. The confusion rampant in our country is obvious if one looks at the diversity of opinion about sexual behavior. One-third of Americans say religion should guide sexual behavior, allowing only marital, heterogeneous sex. Half of Americans believe that sex should be between people who are in love. Another one-fourth of Americans believe love and sex are not related at all. In light of all the confusion, research shows that people are drawn to others that share similar traits. In marriages 93% of people are the same race, 78% are within five years of age, 82% share similar education, and 72% are the same religion.

Much of this confusion can be linked to the fact that sexual customs in the United States are changing rapidly and often differ greatly from the established norms that have been in place since the foundation of our country. The decline in religious influence is evidenced by religions guidance of only one-third of the country’s sexual beliefs. Champions of Constitutional rights are fervently challenging traditional sexual customs around the country. Prostitution and homosexuality are two of the major sexual customs currently undergoing change.

No one is quite sure why the original law against prostitution was passed, although the leading theory states that it is immoral to sell one’s body. In recent times, states have repealed moral laws such as those prohibiting sodomy and oral copulation, so long as no coercion is involved. Supporters of prostitution argue along the same lines:

Prostitution is the same issue for feminists (and others) as abortion. It is the right to choice. The right for a woman to control her own sexuality: whom she will have sex with and under what circumstances… The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land and the Constitution protects the individuals right to own, use and enjoy his/her body in any manner that he/she deems appropriate, as long as he/she does not violate the rights of others. Everyone has a right to moral decisions for his/her life and property (including his/her body) that others may find disagreeable, disgusting, or immoral. (Almodovar 227)

Gay marriages are also illegal in many parts of the country. Some cities such as New York, Seattle, and San Francisco have begun to provide some legal rights to homosexuals. Numbers do show that there may be need for further changes because “an estimated ten percent of the population – about 25 million Americans – is exclusively and predominantly homosexual in orientation” (Hartinger 236).

Homosexuals are pushing for changes in traditional customs because of the legal implications. Household income is shared by 78% of same sex couples that live together. Many benefits are currently denied to homosexuals who are not allowed to be legally married: employee benefit programs including health insurance, parental leave, and bereavement leave; tax breaks; and social security plans that would distribute extra money.

Sexual customs regarding mental disorders are also changing. For some people sex is quite simply miserable. Problems controlling the timing of ejaculation or arousal of desire cause many problems. Twenty years ago people suffering from these symptoms would have been considered mentally ill. Now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme: every problem is considered to have a medical solution. Through continued research, society is discovering that these problems are actually a combination of both mental and physical illnesses.

As traditional sex customs are changed, men find that their traditional sexual roles are also changed. Most male mammals are philanderers that leave the mother to raise the children. Humans differ from all other mammals in the practice of staying with their family. Traditionally, American males have worked to support the family while the female raised the children. Feminism has fought to change this family unit, pushing both parents into the workplace. Women contend that men should help with the practice of rearing children.

Communication between the two sexes has dramatically decreased. Both sides present important issues regarding the roles of men in the rearing of children, but neither side is willing to listen to the other. Women’s movements are not working to correct problems, only to devalue men. Men and women alike are being harmed by the lack of communication in this time of changing roles. “If we can’t go back to the old heroic model of masculinity and the old domestic ideal of femininity, then how do we weave a new social fabric out of the broken strands of worn-out sexual stereotypes?” (Kipnis 71).

Men openly admit to being baffled by the current environment in which they live. They feel that their courting behavior is often misunderstood. Almost every man feels he is thrust into a double bind: he will be labeled as an aggressive jerk if he comes on too strong, but he will be rejected as a wimp if he does not. Women are faced with a similar bind. Men want them to try and look attractive, but if they do try to be attractive and then reject a man, women are considered a tease. Clearly, both sexes feel threatened by changing sex roles.

Considering all of the muddy water surrounding sexual ethics, there should be no surprise that a large amount of controversy surrounds the sexual education of children. In one survey 86% of teachers believed that teaching contraceptives makes kids more likely to use them, and 93% of teachers favor covering contraceptives. Half of these teachers believe that this education should start in the seventh grade; yet, one-fourth of teachers are told not to teach contraceptives at all. Supporters of teaching contraceptives point to the fact that abstinence was responsible for only one-fourth of the drop in the teenage pregnancy rate. Contraceptive education provided the remaining 75% of the drop.

Opponents believe only abstinence should be taught. If contraceptives are taught alongside abstinence, they refer to this as the “Abstinence, But” model. The teaching of contraceptives is said to give a green light for sexual activity. Abstinence proponents argue that from 1971 to 1981 government spending for contraceptive education increased 4000%, but teen pregnancy increased 20% and abortions doubled. “This hybrid model, still found in many public and private schools, seems to many like a ‘realistic’ compromise. But closer examination reveals fundamental problems in the ‘Abstinence, But’ model” (Lickona 344).

Clearly, sexual ethics are not very well established in our current culture. Great controversy surrounds almost every issue of sexual ethics, even in a society that dictates sexuality to its people. Research is just beginning to comprehend and understand human sexuality. In order for sexual ethics to be more clearly defined, humans must first learn to more clearly understand their own human sexuality.


Works Cited

“Abstinence – Only Sex Education Is Not Enough.” USA Today. Jan. 2001: 7.

Almodovar, Norma Jean. “Prostitution and the Criminal Justice System.” Clashing Views

on Controversial Issues in Human Sexuality. Ed. Francoeur, Robert. Guilford:

Dushkin, 1994: 222-228.

Hartinger, Brent. “A Case for Gay Marriage: In Support of Loving and Monogamous

Relationships.” Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Human Sexuality. Ed.

Francoeur, Robert. Guilford: Dushkin, 1994: 236-241.

Kipnis, Aaron and Elizabeth Hingston. “Ending the Battle Between the Sexes.” Utne

Reader. Jan. – Feb. 1993: 69-76.

Lickona, Thomas. “Where Sex Education Went Wrong.” Clashing Views on

Controversial Issues in Childhood and Society. Ed. DelCampo, Robert and Diana DelCampo. Guildford: Dushkin, 1995: 342-346.

Sachs, Aaron. “Men, Sex, and Parenthood in an Overpopulating World.” World Watch.

Mar. – Apr. 1994: 12-19.

Schrof, Joannie. “Sex in America.” U.S. News & World Report. 17 Oct. 1994: 74+.