Sociology of Sexualities

Sociology of Sexualities
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Sociology of Sexualities


Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE publishes more than 1000 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. Our growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence.

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Sociology of Sexualities


KANDICE L. GROSSMAN Columbia College

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Washington DC Melbourne


Copyright © 2018 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Fitzgerald, Kathleen J., 1965– author. | Grossman, Kandice, 1976– author.

Title: Sociology of sexualities / Kathleen J. Fitzgerald, Kandice Grossman.

Description: First Edition. | Thousand Oaks : SAGE Publications, [2017] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016040645 | ISBN 9781506304014 (pbk. : alk. paper)

Subjects: LCSH: Sex—Social aspects. | Gender identity. | Sex customs.

Classification: LCC HQ21 .F6845 2017 | DDC 306.7—dc23 LC record available at

Printed in the United States of America

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Acquisitions Editor: Jeff Lasser

Editorial Assistant: Adeline Wilson

Production Editor: Andrew Olson

Copy Editor: Ellen Howard

Typesetter: Hurix Systems Pvt. Ltd.

Proofreader: Jennifer Grubba

Indexer: Wendy Allex

Cover Designer: Scott Van Atta

Marketing Manager: Kara Kindstrom

Brief Contents Acknowledgments Preface

Chapter 1 The Social Construction of Sexuality Chapter 2 The Science of Sexuality Chapter 3 Gender and Sexuality Chapter 4 Sexuality, Inequality, and Privilege Chapter 5 LGBTQ Mobilization and Activism Chapter 6 Media, Sport, and Sexuality Chapter 7 Sexuality, Schools, and the Workplace Chapter 8 Religion, Family, and Sexuality Chapter 9 Sexuality and Reproduction Chapter 10 Sexual Health Chapter 11 Commodification of Sex Chapter 12 Sexual Violence

References Index About the Authors


Detailed Contents Acknowledgments Preface

Chapter 1 The Social Construction of Sexuality The Sociology of Sexualities Terminology Evidence of the Social Construction of Sexuality

Nature versus Nurture Sexual Binaries The Invention of Heterosexuality and Homosexuality

Heteronormativity Compulsory Heterosexuality The Invention of Homosexuality

The Gendered Construction of Sexuality Sexual Socialization

Sexual Revolutions Box 1.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: The Sexual Revolution in Russia Sexual Relationships: Beyond Monogamy Sexual Invisibility Sexual Pleasure Sexuality Across the Life Course

Childhood Sexuality Adolescent Sexuality

LGBTQ Adolescent Sexuality Not My Child: Parental Views on Adolescent Sexuality

Sexuality and the Aged Sexualizing Racial/Ethnic Minorities Sexual Minorities Beyond LGBTQ Conclusion

Chapter 2 The Science of Sexuality Understanding Sexuality Through Science

The Early Years: Sex, Morality, and Medicine Science of Sex: Sexology Psychoanalytical Theory: Sigmund Freud

Box 2.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality:


Sexology in Imperial Japan Evolutionary Theory: Charles Darwin The Kinsey Reports: Alfred Kinsey Sexual Physiology Research: Masters and Johnson

Sociology and Social Constructionism Sex in America Survey Feminist Contributions to Sexuality Studies

Intersectionality Post-Structuralism: Michel Foucault Queer Theory

The Science of Homosexuality Homosexuality as Mental Illness Sociology of Homosexuality

Sexuality Studies in Academia Researching Sex: Ethical and Methodological Concerns

Ethical Issues in Sex Research Methodological Issues in Sex Research Stigma and Sexuality Research

Conclusion Chapter 3 Gender and Sexuality

Social Construction of Gender: Femininity and Masculinity Challenging the Gender Binary: Gender in Non- Western Cultures Gender Identity

Box 3.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: The Guevedoces in the Dominican Republic

Doing Gender Gender Roles Gender, Inequality, and Stereotypes Gender and Social Institutions

Intersection of Gender and Sexuality Masculinity and Sexuality

Masculinity and Race/Ethnicity Femininity and Sexuality

Femininity and Feminism Femininity and Race/Ethnicity

Transgender Cross-Dressers, Drag Kings, and Queens

Intersex Conclusion


Chapter 4 Sexuality, Inequality, and Privilege The Sociology of Inequality Legal Discrimination

Marriage Equality LGBTQ Adoption Sexuality-Related Discrimination in the Military

Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in the Military

Workplace Discrimination Pregnancy Discrimination

Housing Discrimination Sexuality and Social Control

Criminalization of Sexual Behaviors Medicalization of Sexual Behaviors

Box 4.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: Paragraph 175 and the Criminalization of Homosexuality During the Nazi Regime

Homophobia and Hate Crimes Transgender Discrimination and Inequality Heterosexual and Cisgender Privilege Conclusion

Chapter 5 LGBTQ Mobilization and Activism The Sociology of Social Movements

Social and Cultural Contexts The Influence of World War II on Gay Rights Urbanization and the Emergence of Gay Enclaves The Emergence of a Gay Press The Role of the Kinsey Studies The Influence of Right-Wing Opposition Movements

Identity-based Social Movements Before Stonewall: The Homophile Movement Box 5.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: Gay Rights in Russia After Stonewall: The Modern Gay Rights Movement

Emergence of Lesbian Feminism AIDS Activism Queer Nation Undocumented Queer Youth Activism The Road to Marriage Equality


Transgender Activism and Rights Bisexual Activism Conclusion

Chapter 6 Media, Sport, and Sexuality Media and Sexuality

Sexualized Language in Media Sexualized Imagery in Media

Hypersexualization: Magazines and Music Videos Sexual Objectification: Advertising Intersectionality: Race, Class, and Ethnic Imagery

Children, Sexualization, and the Media LGBTQ Representations in Television and Film

From Invisibility to Stereotypical Images: Lesbians and Gays on Television Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Images in Hollywood Cinema Transgender Images and Issues in Media

Sexuality and Sport Sport Media Masculinity and Sport

Sports, Masculinity, and Sexual Assault Sexuality, Femininity, and Sport

Title IX Coming Out of the Athletic Closet

Gay Games Creating Space for Intersex and Transgender Athletes

Trans Inclusion in the Gay Games Box 6.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: South African Sprinter Caster Semenya and Sex Testing in International Sports Conclusion

Chapter 7 Sexuality, Schools, and the Workplace Schools, Sexuality, and Social Control

Coming Out in School LGBTQ Students’ Experiences of Harassment in Schools

Impact of Harassment Transgender Students’ Experiences of Harassment in Schools


Creating Safe Schools Gay-Friendly Schools Queering the Curriculum Gay Student Organizations Policies and Programs Challenging Institutionalized Heterosexuality College and University Campuses Inclusion of Transgender Students at Women’s Colleges

History and Experiences of LGBTQ Teachers College Campuses: From “In Loco Parentis” to the “Hook-Up” Culture

Sex Education Box 7.1 Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: American Sex Education Goes Global Sexuality and the Workplace

Heterosexual Relationships in the Workplace Sexual Harassment LGBTQ Employment Experiences

Homophobia in the Workplace Coming Out at Work Challenges of a Gay-Friendly Workplace

Conclusion Chapter 8 Religion, Family, and Sexuality

Religion and Sexuality Christianity

Christianity, Sex, and Gender Christian Views on Homosexuality Impact of Religious Condemnation on LGBTQ People LGBTQ Christians Same-Sex Marriage and the Church Transgender and Christianity

Judaism Judaism, Sex, and Gender Jewish Views on Homosexuality and Bisexuality Transgender and Judaism

Islam Islam, Sex, and Gender Islam and Homosexuality


Transgender and Islam LGBTQ Families

The Changing Family Defining Gay Families

Exiles from Kinship Marriage Equality LGBTQ Parenting

Box 8.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: Marriage Equality Across the Globe Intimate Partner Violence Conclusion

Chapter 9 Sexuality and Reproduction Compulsory Reproduction The Body as a Social Construction

Menstruation as Biological Reality Menstruation as Social Construction

Pregnancy and Childbirth Access to Maternity Care Commodification of Birth Technocratic Model of Birth

Box 9.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: Giving Birth in Afghanistan Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding as Taboo Costs of Breastfeeding

Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Pregnancy Teen Pregnancy and Birth Birth Control

History of Birth Control Gendered Contraception Forced Sterilization and Eugenics

Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Choice Women of Color and Reproductive Justice Disability Rights and Reproductive Rights Institutional Sexism, Racism, and Reproductive Rights

Politics Religion Corporations

Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) ARTs, Infertility, and Gender


ARTs and Income Disparities ARTs and Older Mothers

Conclusion Chapter 10 Sexual Health

Understanding Sexual Health Male Sexual Dysfunction Female Sexual Dysfunction

Sexuality and Disability Sexuality and People With Physical Disabilities Sexuality and People With Intellectual Disabilities Disability and Sex Work

Sex Assistants and Sex Surrogates Disability Pornography

Disability, Sexuality, and Homophobia Sexually Transmitted Infections

Common STIs STIs and Stigma HIV/AIDS

The Origins of an Epidemic Moral Panics Surrounding HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS Today Global Pandemic

Box 10.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: The Consequences of HIV/AIDS on Africa

Current Social Consequences of the HIV/AIDS Crisis Conclusion

Chapter 11 Commodification of Sex Pornography

Technology and Rise of Amateur Porn Legalities and Debates Violence and Pornography Gender, Race, Class, and Sexuality Impact of Pornography on Young People Child Pornography Youth Sexting

Prostitution Johns and Pimps Male and Transgender Prostitutes Debates Over Legalities

Globalization and Sexuality


Sex Trafficking Box 11.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: Natural Disaster and Child Sex Trafficking in Nepal

Feminist Response Mail-Order or Internet Brides

Sex Tourism Female Sex Tourism: “The Caribbean Beach Boys” Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in Sex Tourism

Sexuality and Militarism Conclusion

Chapter 12 Sexual Violence Understanding Sexual Violence

Rape Consent Rape Survivors, Double Victimization, and Victimization Language Campus Rape Sexual Violence in Conflict: Wartime Rape

Box 12.1: Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality: Sexual Violence and Femicide in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Feminist Perspectives on Rape Child Sexual Abuse

Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation? Child Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church

Racialized Homophobic and Transphobic Violence Sexual Assault of LGBTQ People Criminalization of LGBTQ People

Carceral Sexuality LGBTQ Prisoners Prison Rape

Rape, Homophobia, and Correctional Staff Consensual Sexual Relations

Sexuality and Male Prisoners Sexuality and Female Prisoners

Conclusion References Index About the Authors



It is impossible to acknowledge all the people who have influenced my understanding of the sociology of sexualities, and inequalities more broadly, over the years; but they are reflected in these pages. During my years at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville when I was working on my master’s degree, I was exposed to a committed group of sociologists who were just as interested in teaching as they were in research. Many of them wrote textbooks that were innovative and market leaders at the time, which likely subtly influenced me to try my hand at textbook writing. I am still grateful for the influence of my former graduate professors at the University of Missouri, particularly Mary Jo Neitz, Peter Hall, Ibitola Pearce, Ted Vaughan, and the late Barbara Bank, for their profound influence on my intellectual development. I am thankful for the thoughtful conversations with my graduate colleagues then, and over the years, especially Diane Rodgers, Yngve Digernes, Karen Bradley, and Latanya Skiffer. My late friend and former colleague Pamela McClure still speaks to me in my head about these issues. And thank you to my wonderful new colleagues at Tulane University not just for the intellectual stimulation but for making me feel welcome.

Textbooks are written for a particular audience, of course: students. And so, I would like to dedicate this textbook to the many hundreds of students I have had the pleasure of teaching over the years. It is an undeniable privilege to teach college students, and I know I have been very lucky in my career in that I have encountered so many amazing people.

To the sociologists working in the field of sexuality studies: thank you. It has been a pleasure diving deeply into this scholarship—so many smart people are doing such great work! We wanted this textbook to reflect the best of the field. We hope we succeeded at doing that. Thanks to Jeff Lasser and the folks at SAGE for their enthusiasm and assistance with this project.

And a giant thank-you to Kandice Grossman for enthusiastically jumping on board when I casually mentioned the idea of coauthoring a sociology of sexualities textbook with her. It has been an incredible pleasure to work with her on this project. I knew I could count on her! Finally, my ultimate


love and thanks go to my partner, husband, friend, and fellow sociologist, Tony Ladd. His constant love and support has been invaluable. His brilliant mind keeps me sharp, and his big heart make me a better person every day. During the writing of this book, he offered the perfect balance of support and space that was needed. So, this book is dedicated to him.

Kathleen J. Fitzgerald

July 2016

I would like to express heartfelt gratitude to my daughters, Isadora and Madelynn Grossman, for their patience and support throughout this project. They are the light of my life. I would like to thank my two greatest academic influences: Dr. Kathleen Fitzgerald and Dr. Anthony Alioto. For over twenty years, they have both consistently believed in me. It was their teachings twenty years ago that taught me to challenge social ideas and critically evaluate history. It was their encouragement that motivated me throughout this entire writing process. With a most sincere heart, I thank them both for their guidance. And to Kathleen specifically, writing a book with her has been a huge learning experience and pleasure. She is an inspiration and role model in so many ways. I cannot thank her enough for her mentorship.

I want to acknowledge the profound influence I received in my upbringing from my mother, Ginger Mistler, and my grandmother, Bettie Lasley. My gram bore seven children prior to 1960, before there was accessible birth control for women. She was very outspoken about her beliefs in women’s rights to reproductive control, choices, and health; this message was imprinted on my mind from an early age. It was her narrative, her story, and her feminist outlook that brought me to the writing of this book. My mother, too, taught me the importance of higher education. This book is a product of their combined efforts at shaping who I am today. Thank you to my sister, Tara Looney, for graciously editing citations and for continued support. Many thanks to Jeff Lasser at SAGE for his enthusiasm for this project.

Kandice L. Grossman

July 2016


Publisher’s Acknowledgments SAGE gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

Sarah A. N. Akers, Washington State University Lanier Basenberg, Georgia State University Marni Brown, Georgia Gwinnett College Angel M. Butts, Rutgers University Moon Charania, Spelman College Amanda Czerniawski, Temple University Barbara Jones Denison, Shippensburg University Andrea Fitzroy, Georgia State University Alison Hatch, Armstrong State University Nicole LaMarre, SUNY Albany Lisa M. Lepard, Kennesaw State University Adina Nack, California Lutheran University Michaela A. Nowell, University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac Kathleen O’Reilly, University of Connecticut Meg Panichelli, Portland State University Todd Penner, Austin College Antonia Randolph, Christopher Newport University Teresa Roach, Florida State University, Appalachain State University Maura Ryan, Georgia State University Eryn Grucza Viscarra, Georgia College and State University Laurie M. Wagner, Kent State University Kassia Wosick, New Mexico State University Marik Xavier-Brier, Georgia State University



This textbook takes a sociological approach to the study of sexualities and is designed to be a core text for “Sociology of Sexuality,” “Human Sexuality,” and similar courses. Taking a sociological approach to the study of sexualities requires an exploration of sexuality as a social construction; the emergence of sexual and gender identities; a focus on intersectionality; historical and current inequalities and discrimination faced by sexual and gender minorities; heterosexual and cisgender privilege; activism/mobilization to challenge such discrimination; and the ways sexuality operates in and through various institutions, such as media, schools, family, religion, sport, and the workplace. Additionally, this text includes chapters on the science of sexuality, from early sexologists to queer theory; coverage of issues facing transgender people; an exploration of sexual health, disability and sexuality, and sexually transmitted infections; and on reproduction. There are chapters on social problems associated with sexuality such as the commodification of sexuality, including pornography, human trafficking, and prostitution; prison sex; and sexual violence. Finally, every chapter includes a boxed insert that explores a global, transnational perspective related to the specific chapter topic.

This text includes the most up-to-date social scientific research on sexuality, as well as coverage of the latest political developments surrounding the issues. It is designed for students to learn the fundamental concepts of a sociological approach to understanding sexualities, but also to integrate such knowledge into their broader understanding of society. An intersectional approach that considers multiple grounds of identity and the ways various modes of oppression intersect and work together in society is consistently woven throughout this book. No sexuality textbook on the market takes such a comprehensive sociological approach to the study of sexualities.

Key Features of the Text Sexuality, Inequality, and Discrimination—This topic is absent from most of the sexuality readers and textbooks, yet this is where students


“see” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) issues in their daily lives. What is less visible to students is the extent of inequalities LGBTQ individuals historically faced and continue to face, and other forms of discrimination related to sexuality, such as discrimination against pregnant women. Certainly throughout the lifetimes of traditional-aged college students, the issue of marriage equality has been front and center; and, thus, it can appear that the fight for LGBTQ rights has been won. Yet, inequalities remain. Additionally, heterosexual and cisgender privilege remains invisible. When sociologists explore status hierarchies, we look at not only the groups that are disadvantaged but those that reap advantages as well. Activism/Mobilization to Challenge Such Discrimination—This textbook explores not only inequalities sexual minorities face and heterosexual privilege, but the organized opposition to such discrimination. It is important for students to shake the misconception that progress is “inevitable” and, instead, is the result of decades of organized activism. This text explores LGBTQ activism, from the Compton Cafeteria riots, known as the first transgender riots, to the Stonewall riots, the fight for marriage equality, AIDS activism, and Queer Nation. This book weaves feminist and queer theoretical insights throughout to reveal how challenges to inequality in the streets are reflected and translated in academia, and vice versa. Sexuality and Societal Institutions—This is the only sexuality textbook on the market that explores the ways sexuality operates in and through institutions such as sports, media, schools, workplaces, family, and religion. By exploring institutions, students again find a way to “see” the inequalities attached to sexuality in their daily lives. For instance, many traditional-aged college students witnessed or participated in battles to allow LGBTQ student organizations (or Gay-Straight Alliances) on their middle-school or high-school campuses. Their generation came of age during significant cultural battles over sex education versus abstinence education. Some of them may work in environments that discriminate against sexual minorities. Some of them come from gay families. They are also the first generation of Americans to come of age as the first gay professional athletes chose to come out of the closet during their athletic careers. This generation of students has also been exposed to a proliferation of gay images in the media, yet simply having gay images does not necessarily mean stereotypes are not being perpetrated.


Focus on Transgender People and Issues—Each chapter of this textbook includes the latest research on transgender people and issues; from the incorporation of intersex and transgender athletes into a gender segregated sports world to discrimination against transgender individuals in the workplace, and epidemic levels of violence directed at transgender people, overwhelmingly transgender people of color. Sexual Identities—The invention of heterosexuality and homosexuality involved the emergence of sexual identities—for the first time, people’s sexual behaviors defined a “kind of person.” While this resulted in new forms of discrimination against sexual minorities, it also contributed to the mobilization of LGBTQ individuals to combat their inequality. As just one aspect of how we see ourselves, sexual identities are also understood to intersect with other identities, such as gender, race, and class, informing how individuals see themselves. Much sociological research addresses the ways individuals construct and negotiate multiple identities. Sexual Health—This text takes a sociological approach to understanding sexual health, including a critical discussion of the emergence of female sexual dysfunction, to an exploration of disability and sexuality, and a discussion of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS, from a sociological perspective. Finally, we explore reproduction, from compulsory reproduction to the commodification of birth, transgender men and childbirth, and the increasing availability of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), and what these have meant for LGBTQ families. Social Problems Associated With Sexuality—This is the arena where sociologists have long contributed to sexuality studies, including research on sexual assault, rape, pornography, sex trafficking, child sexual abuse, and prison sex—with feminist sociologists placing questions of power at the center of such analyses. Additionally, we explore sexual violence targeting the LGBTQ community, intimate partner violence within same-sex relationships, and sexuality and militarism. Global/Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality—Each chapter includes a boxed insert highlighting a global illustration of one of the issues explored in the chapter. This helps students understand sexuality as a social construction that changes across time and place.


“Sociology of Sexuality,” “Sociology of Sexualities,” “Human Sexuality,” and “Sexuality and Society” courses are increasingly being offered by sociology departments across the nation, often at the behest of students. Sexuality courses tend to be 200 (sophomore) or 300 (junior) level courses, generally with a large population of students who are not sociology majors; thus, having a textbook that takes a sociological perspective is essential. Until now, no textbook on the market took a sociological approach to the subject matter. This text is ideal for courses in sociology of sexualities, gender and sexuality studies, LBGTQ studies, and deviance courses that focus on sexual deviance.

Instructors, sign in at for the following instructor resources:

A Microsoft® Word test bank is available containing multiple choice, true/false, short answer, and essay questions for each chapter. The test bank provides you with a diverse range of pre- written options as well as the opportunity for editing any question and/or inserting your own personalized questions to effectively assess students’ progress and understanding. Links to exceptional teaching resources from A.S.A.’s TRAILS (Teaching Resources and Innovation Library for Sociology).


1 The Social Construction of Sexuality

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this chapter, students will be able to …

Explain the sociological approach to the study of sexuality Understand what it means to say that sexuality is socially constructed Identify key characteristics of a sexual revolution Understand sexuality across the life course Explain the sexualization of racial/ethnic minorities Discuss sexual minorities beyond lesbian and gay

For many, it was an unforgettable image: Michael Sam, an openly gay, African American, male football player, kissing his white male partner on national television, in celebration of being chosen by the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 NFL draft. Upon being drafted, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player in the NFL. Several NFL players openly expressed their unhappiness with Sam’s actions, while others cheered the action as evidence of both societal progress and institutional change within the NFL. Former NFL football player Derrick Ward tweeted his discomfort with the image, stating, “I’m sorry, but that Michael Sam is no bueno for doing that on national T.V.” Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones tweeted “OMG” and “horrible” after the kissing aired on national television (Yan and Alsup 2014). The Miami Dolphins organization reacted to Jones’s comments by fining him and requiring him to attend diversity training.

Despite the controversy surrounding this event, certainly the image of two men kissing passionately on national television represents progress for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) equality, and the fact that this occurred at the NFL draft is also remarkable. Historically, masculinity has been strongly linked with heterosexuality. Football is one of the most masculine sports. Gay male athletes have historically found the sports world an intolerant and hostile place, and maybe the most hostile place is on the football field (see Chapter 6). While Michael Sam did not make the final roster cut as a member of an NFL team, the fact that an openly gay male athlete was drafted by an NFL team was history making in itself.


When Michael Sam was drafted in 2014, he became the first openly gay NFL player.

Source: AP Images. Photo/Jordan Strauss.

And yet, this story also provides evidence of how far we still have to go. After the football season ended, Sam commented to Oprah Winfrey that a number of gay NFL players reached out to him personally and commended him for being brave enough to come out, something they were still unwilling to risk.


You are taking this class during a period of unprecedented change for LGBTQ individuals. All state prohibitions on same-sex marriage were overturned in June 2015 with the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, making marriage equality the law of the land. Prior to that, in 2013, the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act, which was the federal prohibition on same-sex marriage. High-profile gay, lesbian, and bisexual athletes are coming out of the closet regularly. School policies nationwide are being challenged by the needs and demands of transgender students. And finally, LGBTQ actors and characters are more prolific in the media than ever, including the first transgender character played by a transgender actor, Laverne Cox, on the hit series Orange Is the New Black. Daily headlines highlight the ongoing cultural changes surrounding sexuality-related issues, and yet, sexuality is still highly regulated. Prostitution is illegal in all 50 states, for instance (the state of Nevada does allow for prostitution in some of its counties, but it is not legal in the entire state). While the Republican Party remains officially opposed to gay marriage and other rights for sexual minorities, polls show that among younger voters of both parties, gay rights are a given. Despite the significant progress made, LGBTQ individuals still face discrimination and inequality both in the United States and across the globe. These include violence; harassment; legal discrimination in numerous institutions, from the residential sphere to the workplace; and the burden of stereotypical images in popular culture.

Evidence of the undeniable progress, yet the remaining inequalities faced by LGBTQ individuals, includes, but is not limited to:

In a 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated, National Basketball Association player Jason Collins became the first male member of a major American sports team to publicly announce he was gay during his playing career. As sexual assaults on college campuses gained increasing national attention, in July 2014, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) announced the results of a national survey that found more than 40 percent of colleges had not conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the past five years—and that is not because there were no charges of sexual assault at those institutions (Vendituolie 2014). In July 2014, President Obama signed legislation providing protection for gay, lesbian, and transgender federal workers and their contractors, a move that ultimately affects one-fifth of the U.S. workforce (Pickles 2014). The Boy Scouts of America voted to end the ban on participation by openly gay adults in 2015, despite warnings that such a move would result in the demise of the organization; one year later, the Boy Scouts


of America are stronger than ever, with a stabilized membership after years of decline (Crary and Mccombs 2016). In July 2016, Sarah McBride became the first transgender person to speak at a major political party convention when she gave her invited address at the Democratic National Convention. Violence against transgender people, particularly transgender people of color, reached an all-time high in 2015, with 22 murders, nineteen of whom were people of color. As of July 26, 2016, 16 transgender people have been murdered in the United States, and 13 of them were transgender women of color (Fitzgerald 2017).

The Sociology of Sexualities In this textbook, we explore sexuality through a sociological lens. This means we approach an otherwise familiar topic from an often unfamiliar angle. Most of us are socialized to think of sexuality as fixed and innate. If asked, most people easily identify their own sexual orientation. However, sociologists view sexuality as more complicated. What defines us sexually? Is it our behaviors, the people we choose to have sex with, or the sexual acts we engage in? Or is it about identity—how we define ourselves along sexual lines? What about our sexual desires and sexual fantasies? Are these the “true” gauges of sexuality? Is there a genetic determinant to human sexuality? Sociologists point to instances where sexual identities, desires, and behaviors are in conflict with one another, rather than the instances where they are consistent, as evidence of how complicated defining sexuality really is.


Jessica Taylor and Charlotte Jones married in the summer 2016, something that was not legal in their state prior to the Supreme Court decision in June 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Source: Photo courtesy of Jessica Taylor and Charlotte Jones; Bron Moyi, photographer.

What does it mean when individuals identify as heterosexual, yet engage in sexual relations with members of their own sex? It might mean that, due to a larger homophobic culture, they are hesitant to accept a gay or lesbian


identity despite their actions. It also might mean that they do not have the opportunity to have sex with members of the opposite sex; a situation incarcerated people find themselves in. Researchers identify a sexual practice among black men that is referred to as being on the “down low”; black men who identify as heterosexual, often have wives or girlfriends, yet who engage in sex with other men (Boykin 2005; Collins 2005; King 2004; Snorton 2014). Latino men engaging in similar behaviors are categorized as MSMs, or “men who have sex with men” (Diaz 1997; Gonzalez 2007).

Sociologist Jane Ward (2015) examines patterns of and meanings behind the sexual contact between straight white men who are not gay. Some scholars use the term heteroflexibility to describe a broad range of same- sex sexual encounters experienced by heterosexuals in which the actions are understood as meaningless and unlikely to fundamentally challenge a person’s presumably fixed sexual identity (Ward 2015). An example of heteroflexibility includes girl-on-girl kissing, whether at fraternity parties or among celebrities, which is generally done for male sexual arousal. Ultimately, identities, desires, and behaviors are not always consistent, thus a simplistic understanding of “sexuality,” as based on only one of these criteria, is problematic.

A sociological approach to understanding sexuality requires we understand it as cultural rather than as strictly personal. It is not inaccurate to understand sexuality through an individualistic lens; but that is not the only way to understand it. Sexuality is very much a product of and a reflection of society. While we have learned to view our own sexual desires as quite personal, they are very much a reflection of cultural assumptions surrounding what is natural or unnatural, acceptable or unacceptable, sexually. We understand our sexual desires and behaviors through our social contexts and preexisting cultural scripts. Thus, sexuality is both personal and social. Even further, sexuality is political, as recent political contestation over sexuality-related issues and feminists and LGBTQ activists have repeatedly brought to our attention. Finally, because sexuality is culturally informed, it is important to note that this text will approach the sociology of sexualities primarily through a U.S. lens, with some historical and cross-cultural analyses and comparisons— particularly in the boxed inserts focused on “Global and Transnational Perspectives on Sexuality” found in each chapter.


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