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Human sexual behavior or human sexual practices or human sexual activities refers to the manner in which humans experience and express their sexuality. It encompasses a wide range of activities, such as strategies to find or attract partners (mating and display behavior), interactions between individuals, physical or emotional intimacy, and sexual contact.

The term sexual activity can refer both to acts involving two or more people, as in sexual intercourse or oral sex, and to masturbation.

In some cultures sexual activity is considered acceptable only within marriage, although extramarital sex still takes place within such cultures. Some sexual activities are illegal either universally or in some countries, and some are considered against the norms of a society. For example, sexual activity with a minor is a criminal offense in many jurisdictions, as is sexual abuse of individuals in general.

Aspects of human sexual behavior

Sexual pleasure

Sexual pleasure is the pleasure a person derives from any kind of sexual activity, most commonly through orgasm. The most common pleasurable sexual activities are masturbation and sexual intercourse (including foreplay). Some people derive sexual pleasure from fetishism and/or BDSM.

Cultural aspects

As with other behaviors, human intelligence and complex societies have produced among the most complicated sexual behaviors of any animal. Most people experiment with a range of sexual activities during their lives, though they tend to engage in only a few of these regularly. Most people enjoy some sexual activities. However, most societies have defined some sexual activities as inappropriate (wrong person, wrong activity, wrong place, etc.) Some people enjoy many different sexual activities, while others avoid sexual activities altogether for religious or other reasons (see chastity, sexual abstinence). Some societies and religions view sex as appropriate only within marriage.


Social norms and rules

Human sexual behavior, like many other kinds of activity engaged in by human beings, is generally governed by social rules that are culturally specific and vary widely. These social rules are referred to as sexual morality (what can and can not be done by society's rules) and sexual norms (what is and is not expected). In the United States, attitudes towards premarital sex and the use of contraceptives correlate to religious beliefs and political affiliation.

Sexual ethics, morals, and norms relate to issues including deception/honesty, legality, fidelity and consent. Some activities, known as sex crimes in some locations, are illegal in some jurisdictions, including those conducted between (or among) consenting and competent adults (examples include sodomy law and adult-adult incest).

Some people who are in a relationship but want to hide homosexual or heterosexual activity from their partner, may solicit consensual sexual activity with others through personal contacts, online chat rooms, or, advertising in select media.

Some people engage in various sexual activities as a business transaction. When this involves having sex with, or performing certain actual sexual acts for another person in exchange for money or something of value, it is called prostitution. Other aspects of the adult industry include (for example) telephone sex operators, strip clubs, pornography and the like.

Nearly all developed societies consider it a serious crime to force someone to engage in sexual behavior or to engage in sexual behavior with someone who does not consent. This is called sexual assault, and if sexual penetration occurs it is called rape, the most serious kind of sexual assault. The details of this distinction may vary among different legal jurisdictions. Also, precisely what constitutes effective consent to have sex varies from culture to culture and is frequently debated. Laws regulating the minimum age at which a person can consent to have sex (age of consent) are frequently the subject of political and moral debate , as is adolescent sexual behavior in general. Additionally, many societies have forced marriage, so consent does not really figure in to the equation of a sex crime.

Frequency of sexual activity

The frequency of sexual intercourse might range from zero (sexual abstinence) to 15 or 20 times a week. In America, the average frequency of sexual intercourse for married couples is 2 to 3 times a week. It is generally recognized that postmenopausal women experience declines in frequency of sexual intercourse and that average frequency of intercourse declines with age. According to the Kinsey Institute, average frequency of sexual intercourse in USA is 112 times per year (age 18-29), 86 times per year (age 30-39), and 69 times per year (age 40-49).

Sympathy sex

Sympathy sex (also called pity sex) is sexual intercourse provided based solely on feelings of sympathy or pity that at least one partner feels for the other. 26% of men and 36% of women have had "pity sex" with someone they felt sorry for.

Hate sex

Hate sex is consensual sexual intercourse that occurs between two people who strongly dislike or annoy each other. It is related to the idea that opposition between two people can heighten sexual tension, attraction and interest.

Safety and ancillary issues

There are three main areas of physical risk in sexual activity:

These risks are increased by any condition (temporary or permanent) which impairs one's judgment, such as excess alcohol or other drugs, or emotional states such as loneliness, depression or euphoria. Careful consideration can greatly reduce all of these issues.

Sexual behaviors that involve contact with the bodily fluids of another person entail risk of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Safe sex practices try to avoid this. These techniques are often seen as less necessary for those in committed relationships with persons known to be free of disease; see fluid bonding.

Due to health concerns arising from HIV/AIDS, chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, HPV and other sexually transmitted infections, some people require potential sex partners to be tested for STDs before engaging in sex.

Sexual behaviors that involve the contact of semen with the vagina or vulva may result in pregnancy. To prevent pregnancy, many people employ a variety of birth control measures. The most popular methods of prevention are condoms, spermicides, hormonal contraception, and sterilization..

Legal issues related to sexual behavior

Same sex laws

Various forms of same-sex sexual activity have been prohibited under law in many areas at different times in history. In 2003, the Lawrence v. Texas United States Supreme Court decision overturned all such laws in the US.

Usually, though not always, such laws are termed sodomy laws, but also include issues such as age of consent laws, decency laws, and so forth. Laws prohibiting same-sex sexuality have varied widely throughout history, varying by culture, religious and social taboos and customs, etc. Often such laws are targeted or applied differently based on sex as well. For example, laws against same-sex sexual behavior in the United Kingdommarker during the reign of Queen Victoria, sodomy or "buggery" laws were aimed specifically at male same-sex sexual activity and did not target or even address female homosexuality.

Child sexuality

Children are naturally curious about their bodies and sexual functions — they wonder where babies come from, they notice anatomical differences between males and females, and many engage in genital play (often mistaken for masturbation). Child sex play includes exhibiting or inspecting the genitals. Many children take part in some sex play, typically with siblings or friends. In the past, children were often assumed to be sexually "pure", having no sexuality until later development. Sigmund Freud was one of the first researchers to take child sexuality seriously. While his ideas, such as psychosexual development and the Oedipus conflict, have been rejected or labeled obsolete, acknowledging the existence of child sexuality was a milestone. Alfred Kinsey also examined child sexuality in his Kinsey Reports.Sex play with others usually decreases as children go through their elementary school years, yet they still may possess romantic interest in their peers. Curiosity levels remain high during these years, but it is not until adolescence that the main surge in sexual interest occurs..

Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse in which a child is abused for the sexual gratification of an adult or older adolescent. In addition to direct sexual contact, child sexual abuse also occurs when an adult indecently exposes their genitalia to a child, asks or pressures a child to engage in sexual activities, displays pornography to a child, or uses a child to produce child pornography.

Effects of child sexual abuse include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, propensity to re-victimization in adulthood, and physical injury to the child, among other problems. Sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest, and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.

Approximately 15% to 25% of women and 5% to 15% of men were sexually abused when they were children. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims; approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often fathers, uncles or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances such as friends of the family, babysitters, or neighbors; strangers are the offenders in approximately 10% of child sexual abuse cases. Most child sexual abuse is committed by men; women commit approximately 14% of offenses reported against boys and 6% of offenses reported against girls. Most offenders who abuse pre-pubescent children are pedophiles, however a small percentage do not meet the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia.

Sexuality in late adulthood

Changes in sexual behavior occur with age and while humans in late adulthood may be impaired by infirmity, relationship needs such as closeness and sensuality remain. Aging produces changes in sexual performance. Men are more likely to experience these changes than women. For men, orgasms become less frequent and usually need more direct stimulation to produce an erection. One out of four men, ages 65 to 80, had severe problems getting or keeping erections and this percentage increased with men over 80 years of age. Yet, the use of drugs to treat erectile dysfunction increases the expectations of older adults to have sex. Despite medical complications and opinions that people in late adulthood should be asexual, many older adults continue to engage in sexual intercourse. The results of a recent interview study involving 3,000 adults 57 to 85 years of age have shown that health plays a role in the level of older adults' sexual activity. The percentage of sexually active older adults is higher for those that are in good health than those in poor health. Older women may be less sexually active due to outliving their partners or men's tendency to marry younger women. While older adults engage in sexual activity, intimacy and companionship tend to be more important than sex..

See also



Footnotes

  1. Sex and Relationships - Sex - 4Health from Channel 4
  2. Improve your orgasm: you may have thought your sexual pleasure was the one thing that couldn't get any better. Think again - Sexual Fitness - physiology | Men's Fitness | Find Articles at BNET.com
  3. Margaret Talbot, Red Sex, Blue Sex, from The New Yorker, November 3, 2008
  4. Sexual health: An interview with a Mayo Clinic specialist
  5. Lawrence V. Texas
  6. Santrock, J.W. (2008). A Topical Approach to Life-Span Development (4thed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
  7. Martin, J., Anderson, J., Romans, S., et al. (1993). Asking about child sexual abuse: methodological implications of a two-stage survey, Child Abuse and Neglect, 17, 383-392.
  8. sexual abuse definition from the NSPCC
  9. Roosa M.W., Reinholtz C., Angelini P.J. (1999). "The relation of child sexual abuse and depression in young women: comparisons across four ethnic groups," Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology27(1):65-76.
  10. Widom C.S. (1999). stress disorder in abused and neglected children grown up,"American Journal of Psychiatry; 156(8):1223-1229.
  11. Levitan, R. D., N. A. Rector, Sheldon, T., & Goering, P. (2003). " Childhood adversities associated with major depression and/or anxiety disorders in a community sample of Ontario: Issues of co-morbidity and specificity," Depression & Anxiety; 17, 34-42.
  12. Terri L. Messman-Moore & Patricia J. Long, " Child Sexual Abuse and Revictimization in the Form of Adult Sexual Abuse, Adult Physical Abuse, and Adult Psychological Maltreatment," 15 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 489 (2000).
  13. Dinwiddie S, Heath AC, Dunne MP, et al. (2000). " Early sexual abuse and lifetime psychopathology: a co-twin-control study." Psychological Medicine, 30:41–52
  14. Crimes against Children Research Center
  15. Family Research Laboratory
  16. Ames, A. & Houston, D. A. (1990). Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 19(4), 333-342.


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