Numerous studies show that men and women enjoy sex most in a meaningful relationship, typically long-term committed ones. These studies indicate that the pleasure is more meaningful and enjoyable in long-term committed relationships. Those who abstain from all sexual activity are in the lower left corner with no intimacy and no pleasure. Those who solo masturbate (by themselves) derive pleasure without intimacy. Those who purchase prostitution services derive pleasure, yet have very little intimacy. Finally, those who have one-time sexual encounters in a “one-night stand” also derive pleasure with little intimacy over time.
For married or cohabiting couples, sexual intercourse includes both pleasure and intimacy. Newlyweds typically have their honeymoon night, and sex becomes a rite of passage that marks the beginning of their full emersion into the marital relationship. Sometimes one spouse has sex to meet the needs or wants of their partners. At other times sex is a healthy and fun stress relief. Sometimes sex is a convenient way to be affectionate as a giver and a receiver. In relationships, sexual intercourse has many functions including reinforcing commitment and loyalty with one another. To give and receive is pleasurable and bonding during sexual intercourse.
Some couples seeking parenthood will have sex to pleasure themselves while getting pregnant. Many report enhancements of intimacy with less focus on pleasure at moments such as these. Others get distracted because sex becomes goal-oriented rather than simply expressive while trying to make a baby. For long-term relationships that have endured challenges such as hardship, betrayals, offenses, anger, arguments and ultimately forgiveness, sexual intercourse takes on a profoundness of its own. Those who have short- term relationships miss out on the intimacy payoff that sex provides to those in long-term relationships. Sex becomes a unique way of enhancing trust and closeness while sometimes providing sexual healing to wounded egos and feelings.
Extramarital affairs are intimate relationships with a person other than one’s spouse that may be sexual or nonsexual. Most U.S. extramarital affairs are sexual and non-consented to by one’s spouse. In spite of a variety of estimates on how many married people were ever unfaithful to their spouse, all scientific studies have found that men were more likely than women to have an extramarital affair and that most men and women do NOT ever have an affair.
Marital infidelity has been and continues to be disapproved of by the general public. Many in the U.S. who disapprove of affairs, simultaneously understand the frailties of the human experience and sympathize to some degree with those who make this “mistake.” Such was found to be true with politicians, movie and TV stars, and sports celebrities (you can pick any one from the online list available on the Internet when you search “celebrity affairs”). Affairs don’t always lead to marital or relational dissolution, but in most cases it is better if the offending spouse or partner confesses the infidelity rather than simply gets caught.
Sexual Identity and Orientation
Human beings are socialized into their adult roles and learn their sexual identities along with their gender roles, work roles, and family roles. Sexual orientation is the sexual preference one has for their partner: male, female, both, or neither. There are a few common sexual orientations that can be seen at the societal and personal level. Heterosexuality is the sexual attraction between a male and a female. Homosexuality is a sexual attraction between a male to another male or a female to another female. Bisexuality is a sexual attraction to both male and female sexual partners.
There is a difference in these three dimensions of sexuality: sexual orientation, sexual desire, and sexual behaviors. Sexual desire is the attractions we have for sexual partners and experience that exist independent of our behaviors. Sexual behaviors are our actual sexual actions and interactions. It is important to note that orientations, desires, and behaviors are not always the same thing. They do overlap at times. For example, a heterosexual male may have had a homosexual experience in the past, or not. He may at times desire males and females regardless of his actual sexual activities. A lesbian female may have had a short-term heterosexual relationship, yet define herself as a lesbian.
Edward O. Laumann et al. wrote the largest sociological study of U.S. sexuality ever published. In this book he wrote about the prevalence of self-identified sexual orientations. Laumann and the other researchers surveyed about 3,400 respondents. By far, most members of U.S. society are heterosexual. Laumann avoided the use of the words “heterosexual” or “homosexual.” He found that 7.1% of males and 3.8% of females have had sex with a partner of the same sex. Laumann also reported that over 96% of males and 98% of females identified themselves as heterosexual. Only two percent of males and 0.9% of females identified themselves as homosexual, while 0.8% of males and 0.5% of females reported bisexuality.
The Janus Report also reported their findings on sexual behaviors and sexual orientation. Their sample reported 22% of men and 17% of women said yes to the question, “Have you had a homosexual experience?” Janus also reported that 91% of men and 95% of women claimed to be heterosexual; four percent of men and two percent of women claimed to be homosexual; and five percent of men and three percent of women claimed to be bisexual. Heterosexuality is by far the most common identification in studies where respondents are asked to identify their sexual orientation. Yet, heterosexuals may have had a variety of sexual experiences in a variety of context and still consider themselves to be heterosexual in spite of dimensional discontinuity or continuity. Generally speaking Janus and Laumann found that the U.S. is a very sexual nation. They reported that very few men and women reported never having had vaginal sexual intercourse (less than five percent). They reported that men typically have sex sooner than women and that most had sex by age 20. Janus specifically reported that only nine percent of men and 17% of women had NO sexual experience before marriage.
Sexuality and Politics
Sexual orientation, desires, and behaviors have become extremely politicized. The largest sexual political action committee is the Human Rights Campaign, which emerged in the 1980s as a Gay Community Rights organization. LGBT and LGBTQ have replaced Gay Community as the collective acronym. LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (occasionally Queer is added by some interest groups). The Human Rights Campaign has become the central political action organization for LGBTQ interest groups. Marriage between same-sex couples became an emotionally charged political issue during the California Proposition 8 referendum and constitutional amendment that Passed November 2008.
Because it passed, the California Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights to the State Constitution read, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” This set a strong national precedence against rights to same-sex couples to have legally recognized marriage on par with heterosexual married couples. Estimates are that over $80 million was spent on this proposition alone on both the for and against efforts.
The Prop 8 initiative originated from a political action committee called ProtectMarriage.com. It self-describes as a “...broad-based coalition of California families, community leaders, religious leaders, pro-family organizations and individuals...to restore the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.” Proposition 8 was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by a federal court in 2010, although the court decision did not go into effect until June 26, 2013, following the conclusion of proponents' appeals.
In the past same-sex marriage in the United States was established on a state-by-state basis, expanding from 1 state in 2004 to 36 states in 2015, when, on June 26, 2015, same-sex marriage was established in all 50 states as a result of the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in the landmark civil rights case Obergefell v. Hodges, in which it was held that the right of same-sex couples to marry on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples, with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities, was guaranteed by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.