Sexual Behavior

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In recent years a major public health effort has been directed at slowing the rise of teen pregnancy and halting the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. The appearance of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) on the sexual scene has added new urgency to these programs since there is currently no vaccine or cure. Behavioral change is the only way to limit the spread of AIDS. Abstinence and using condoms if sexually active can reduce the spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and can also effectively reduce the transmission of other sexually transmitted diseases and prevent pregnancy. Have public health education efforts resulted in a reduction of risky sexual behavior in heterosexuals? • Current statistics indicate that heterosexuals may not be altering their behavior to the extent necessary to prevent the spread of AIDS in that population. Current data on the first 500,000 AIDS cases from CDC indicates that during 1993 to 1995 heterosexuals accounted for a larger proportion of AIDS cases than ever before. The proportion of AIDS cases due to heterosexual transmission increased from 2.5% during the 1981 to 1987 time period to 6.1% of diagnosed AIDS cases during the 1988-1992 time period to a new high of 10.1% of diagnosed AIDS cases during the 1993-1995 time period. During the 1993-1995 time period 20 to 29 year olds accounted for almost 17% of diagnosed AIDS cases, 30 to 39 year olds accounted for 45% of AIDS cases and 40 to 49 year olds accounted for about 26% of diagnosed AIDS cases. Given the long period between HIV exposure to development of symptoms, most people were probably exposed to HIV during adolescence or young adulthood. • Sexually transmitted diseases would also be an indicator of risky behavior. In 1995 in the United States, there were over 150 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 population and almost 200 cases of Chlamydia per 100,000 ( PLUTO III State Profile). • Teen pregnancy would also be an indicator of risky sexual behavior. In 1995, almost four teens out of 100 teens aged 15 to 17 gave birth (PLUTO III State Profile). • In a study conducted with Texas college students (Hursey, Diletto, et al, 1991), over half of the sample (n = 500) had been sexually active with the last person they dated. Less than 20% of those sexually active individuals reported using a latex condom all of the time during sexual activity. It seems from these data that a sizable portion of young people are engaging in behaviors that place them at risk for sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS. We need a theory based approach to understanding nonmarital sexual behavior. This will allow us to understand the major factors that affect whether or not people engage in sex in new relationships and may allow the development of interventions designed to reduce risky behavior.

The Origin of the Sexuality Standard Concept

In 1960, Ira Reiss identified four standards for premarital sexual behavior: • Abstinence--sexual relations are acceptable only after marriage; • Permissiveness with affection--sexual relations are acceptable in the context of a stable, loving relationship; • Permissiveness without affection--sexual relations are acceptable based on physical attraction alone; and • the Double Standard--nonmarital sexual relations are acceptable for males but not for females. In the 1960's the double standard was the predominant standard for sexual behavior in our society (Reiss, 1967). Today, it is commonly accepted that permissiveness with affection is becoming the predominant standard for both males and females (DeLamater & MacCorquodale, 1979; Robinson and Jedlicka, 1982).

The Developmental Origins of Sexuality Standards

If we agree that sexual arousal is an inherently enjoyable state, then socialization from significant others regarding sexual behavior must be how we learn to place restrictions on our sexuality (Abramson, 1983; Fisher, Byrne, & White, 1983, Reiss, 1960; Reiss...
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