Sexuality in the United States

Sexuality in the United States has had an assorted approach, depending on both the region in the country and the specific time period.


The United States during the early modern period has a reputation for sexual impermissiveness, partly due to influence from the Puritans. During the Victorian era, romance was increasingly viewed as a key component of sexuality.[1] One study of the interwar period suggests that prudish attitudes were more pronounced among women than among men, with 47% in a poll describing premarital sex as wicked while only 28% of men said the same.[2] The 1960s are often viewed as the period wherein the United States underwent a substantial change in perception of sexual norms, with a substantial increase in extramarital sex.[3]


Some scholars argue that American media is the most sexually suggestive in the world.[4] According to this view, the sexual messages contained in film, television, and music are becoming more explicit in dialog, lyrics, and behavior. In addition, these messages may contain unrealistic, inaccurate, and misleading information. Some scholars argue that still developing teens may be particularly vulnerable to media effects.[5] A 2001 report found that teens rank the media second only to school sex education programs as a leading source of information about sex,[6] but a 2004 report found that "the media far outranked parents or schools as the source of information about birth control."[4]

Media often portray emotional side-effects of sexuality such as guilt, and disappointment, but less often physical risks such as pregnancy or STDs.[7] One media analysis found that sex was usually between unmarried couples and examples of using condoms or other contraception were "extremely rare."[8] Many of programs or films do not depict consequence for sexual behavior. For example, only 10% programs that contain sexual scenes include any warnings to the potential risks or responsibilities of having sex such as sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.[9] In television programing aimed at teens, more than 90% of episodes had at least one sexual reference in it with an average of 7.9 references per hour.[10]

However, government statistics suggest that since 1991, both teen sex and teen pregnancy have declined dramatically despite the media generally becoming increasingly sexually explicit.[11] Some analysts have said that this points to an inclination among latter millennials and Generation Z to have hyposexual and desexualized tendencies.[12]

The American film and television industries have been heavily criticized for their extremely harsh censorship of anything sexual. For example, saying the word "fuck" to mean sex just once in a film will automatically earn it an R rating with no exceptions. Words like "testicles" and "boobs" are also frequently removed from imported children's programs such as Total Drama Island. The USA generally has a much stricter and more traditional view of sex than Europe or Canada


In 2016, roughly 4.1% of American adults identified themselves as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.[13] Roughly 99% of the adult U.S. population is allosexual (experiences sexual desires) while 1% is asexual (experiences no sexual desires).[14] One study has shown that there is no correlation between sexlessness and unhappiness, with sexually active and sexually inactive adult Americans showing roughly equal amounts of happiness.[15] Vicenarian women are slightly more likely to engage in infidelity than vicenarian men at 11 to 10 per cent respectively.[16]


Sexual relations are mostly legal in the United States if there is no direct or unmediated exchange of money, if it is consensual, teleiophilic (between adults) and non-consanguineous i.e. between people who are not related familially or by kinship.[17] There are however exceptions, with for instance adult incestual relations being legal in states such as New Jersey and Rhode Island as of 2017.[18] Prostitution laws in the USA are by far the strictest in the developed world, but the state of Nevada licenses several of its counties to operate brothels and permits prostitutes/sex workers to sell sex, and janes and johns to purchase sex.[19] There may also be exceptions to age of consent laws in age gap laws, with some states permitting an ephebophilic relationship if the two persons are close in age.[20]


The 21st century saw increasingly permissive attitudes towards homosexuality,[21] however many laws continued to be heteronormative.[22] One survey has found that millennials, on average, have sex less frequently than previous generations.[23] This has led to some analysts ruminating on a moral panic wherein young adults of the 2010s decade are uninterested in sex.[24] According to OKCupid, Portland, Oregon is the most promiscuous city in the United States.[25] Some studies have shown that Americans in general have more prudistic and coitophobic attitudes to sex than Europeans.[26]


  1. ^ "The Puritans really loved having sex". 21 October 2016.
  2. ^ Bowman, Karlyn (2018). "Is Premarital Sex Wicked? Changing Attitudes About Morality".
  3. ^ Spielvogel, Jackson (2016). Western Civilization: Volume II: Since 1500. p. 897.
  4. ^ a b Victor C. Strasburger, MD (2005). "Adolescents, Sex, and the Media: Ooooo, Baby, Baby – a Q & A". Adolesc Med. 16 (2): 269–288.
  5. ^ Gruber, Enid; Grube, Joel (March 2000). "Adolescent Sexuality and the Media". Western Journal of Medicine. 3. 172: 210–214. doi:10.1136/ewjm.172.3.210. PMC 1070813.
  6. ^ American Academy Of Pediatrics. Committee On Public Education, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (January 2001). "Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media". Pediatrics. 107 (1): 191–1994
  7. ^ Roberts; Henriksen & Foehr (2009). "Adolescence, adolescents, and media". Handbook of Adolescent Sexuality (3rd ed.). 2: 314–344. doi:10.1002/9780470479193.adlpsy002010.
  8. ^ Jones, Sam (22 March 2006). "Media 'influence' adolescent sex". the Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  9. ^ "Teen Health and the Media". Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  10. ^ Jennifer Stevens Aubrey (2004). "Sex and Punishment: An Examination of Sexual Consequences and the Sexual Double Standard in Teen Programming". Sex Roles. 50 (7–8): 505–514
  11. ^ " - America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017 - Sexual Activity". Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  12. ^ Twenge, Jean M., Ryne A. Sherman, and Brooke E. Wells. "Declines in sexual frequency among American adults, 1989–2014." Archives of sexual behavior 46.8 (2017): 2389-2401.
  13. ^ In US, More Adults Identifying as LGBT. Gallup (Report). 11 January 2017.
  14. ^ Yule, Morag A., Lori A. Brotto, and Boris B. Gorzalka. "Sexual fantasy and masturbation among asexual individuals: An in-depth exploration." Archives of sexual behavior 46.1 (2017): 311-328.
  15. ^ Kim, Jean H; Tam, Wilson S; Muennig, Peter (2017). "Sociodemographic Correlates of Sexlessness Among American Adults and Associations with Self-Reported Happiness Levels: Evidence from the U.S. General Social Survey". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 46 (8): 2403–2415. doi:10.1007/s10508-017-0968-7. PMID 28275930.
  16. ^ Lusinski, Natalia. "Young Women Are Cheating More Than Young Men Today & Here's The Reason Why". Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  17. ^ Pullman, Lesleigh E., et al. "Differences between biological and sociolegal incest offenders: A meta-analysis." Aggression and violent behavior 34 (2017): 228-237.
  18. ^ Yates, Peter. "Sibling sexual abuse: why don't we talk about it?." Journal of clinical nursing 26.15-16 (2017): 2482-2494
  19. ^ Benoit, Cecilia, et al. "Prostitution Stigma and Its Effect on the Working Conditions, Personal Lives, and Health of Sex Workers." The Journal of Sex Research (2017): 1-15.
  20. ^ Parra, Diana Carave. Prosecutorial Discretion and Punishment Motives in Ambiguous Juvenile Sex Offense Cases. Diss. Arizona State University, 2017.
  21. ^ Powell, David (2009). 21st-Century Gay Culture. p. 54.
  22. ^ Paredes, Audrey Darlene. "US Central Americans: reconstructing memories, struggles, and communities of resistance." InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies 14.1 (2018).
  23. ^ Post, Tara Bahrampour The Washington. "Americans are having less sex than they once did".
  24. ^ Twenge, Jean M; Sherman, Ryne A; Wells, Brooke E (2016). "Sexual Inactivity During Young Adulthood is More Common Among U.S. Millennials and iGen: Age, Period, and Cohort Effects on Having No Sexual Partners After Age 18". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 46 (2): 433–440. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0798-z. PMID 27480753.
  25. ^ "Top 10 most promiscuous cities in the U.S." 6 December 2011.
  26. ^ Hatfield, Elaine, and Richard L. Rapson. "Historical and cross-cultural perspectives on passionate love and sexual desire." Annual Review of Sex Research 4.1 (1993):"Do American states with more religious or conservative populations search more for sexual content on Google?." Archives of Sexual Behavior 44.1 (2015): 137-147
Adolescent sexuality in the United States

The sexuality of US adolescents includes both their feelings, behaviors and development, and the place adolescent sexuality has in American society, including the response of the government, educators, parents, and other interested groups.

Teenage pregnancy is four times as prevalent in the US as in the European Union, but has been steadily declining since 1991, reaching a record low in 2012, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and continuing to decline through 2017. The CDC said in 2007, 35% of US high school students were currently sexually active and 47.8% of US high school students reported having had sexual intercourse. In 2017, the percentage sexually active was down to 28,7%, and the percentage who had ever had intercourse was 39.5%. According to a 1994 study, every year an estimated one in four sexually active teens contracts a sexually transmitted infection (STI).In 1999, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 95% of public secondary schools offered sex education programs. More than half of the schools in the study followed a comprehensive approach that included information about both abstinence and contraception, while approximately one third of schools provided students with abstinence-only sex education. In 2002, most Americans favored the comprehensive approach. A 2000 study found that almost all schools included information about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in their curricula. There have been efforts among social conservatives in the US government to limit sex education in public schools to abstinence-only sex education curricula. The effectiveness of abstinence-only programs has been an issue of controversy.

Ages of consent in the United States

In the United States, age of consent laws regarding sexual activity are made at the state level. There are several federal statutes related to protecting minors from sexual predators, but laws regarding specific age requirements for sexual consent are left to individual states, District of Columbia, and territories. Depending on the jurisdiction, the legal age of consent ranges from age 16 to age 18. In some places, civil and criminal laws within the same state conflict with each other.

American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists

The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) is a professional organization for sexuality educators, sexuality counselors and sex therapists.


Babeland, until 2005 known as Toys in Babeland, is a sex toy boutique offering erotic toys, books and pornographic films. Babeland has an online store and four retail stores (in Seattle, Brooklyn, and two in Manhattan).

Birth control in the United States

Birth control in the United States is a complicated issue with a long history.

Eaux d'Artifice

Eaux d'artifice (1953) is a short experimental film by Kenneth Anger. The film was shot in the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, Italy. The film consists entirely of a woman dressed in eighteenth-century clothes who wanders amidst the garden fountains of the Villa d'Este ("a Hide and Seek in a night-time labyrinth") to the sounds of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons", until she steps into a fountain and momentarily disappears. The actress, Carmilla Salvatorelli (not "Carmello"), was "a little midget" Anger had met through Federico Fellini. Anger used a short actress to suggest a different sense of scale, whereby the monuments seemed bigger (a technique he said was inspired by etchings of the gardens in the Villa d'Este by Giovanni Battista Piranesi).The title, a play on words, is meant to suggest Feux d'artifice (Fireworks), in obvious reference to Anger's earlier 1947 work. Film critic Scott MacDonald has suggested that Fireworks was a film about the repression of (the filmmaker's) gay sexuality in the United States, whereas Eaux d'Artifice "suggests an explosion of pleasure and freedom."In 1993, this short film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Making Chastity Sexy

Making Chastity Sexy: The Rhetoric of Evangelical Abstinence Campaigns is a 2011 book by Christine Gardner, a professor at Wheaton College. In it, Gardner states that sexual abstinence teachings by evangelicals are currently "using sex to sell abstinence" by promising more satisfying sexual activity within marriage for those who abstain from premarital sex; she argues that this rhetoric reinforces selfish desires for gratification, sets people up for divorce and dissatisfaction with marriage, and simply adapts "secular forms for religious ends".The book investigates three evangelical organizations that advocate sexual abstinence: Silver Ring Thing, True Love Waits, and Pure Freedom. In addition to these United States-based sexual abstinence organizations, the book studies one Africa-based sexual abstinence organization. The image on the book cover depicts a female human abdomen exposed by a crop top and low-rise jeans; a navel piercing is encircled by a tattoo of the words "True Love Waits" in cursive. In preparation for writing the book, Gardner spent five years doing research at chastity events in various locations in both the United States and sub-Saharan Africa.Frank Schaeffer called the book "important and perceptive in a profound way". In 2012, Making Chastity Sexy won the Stephen E. Lucas Debut Publication Award for a scholarly monograph or book in the field of communication studies.

Media and American adolescent sexuality

The media and American adolescent sexuality relates to the effect the media has on the sexuality of American adolescents, and the portrayal thereof.

According to Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media's Influence on Adolescent Sexuality, adolescence can be divided into three different stages; early (ages 8–13 years), middle(ages 13–16 for girls, 14-17 for boys) and late (16 and older for girls, 17 and older for boys). Each stage focuses on different aspects of cognitive, physical, social and psychological development. Although not all teens develop through adolescence at the same rate the stages usually follow a specific pattern. For a teen in the early stages of adolescence they are in the beginning stages of puberty. In this stage of adolescence, relationships begin to become important as well as their physical appearance. Middle adolescence is characterized by independence from their family and increased activity with their peers. This is the stage where sexual activity may begin to occur. The last stage of adolescence the teenager begins to feel more secure in their bodies and their sexual behavior. With these aspects of adolescence in mind, media can play an important role in how teen shape their views about sexuality.Researchers remain divided on the role of sexuality in the media on adolescent sexual health. The American Academy of Pediatrics has argued that media representations of sexuality may influence teen sexual behavior. However some scholars have argued that such claims have been premature. Despite increasing amounts of sexual media US Government statistic state that teens have delayed the onset of sexual intercourse in recent years. According to journalism professor and media critic Jane Brown, the media is piquing teen interest in sex at ages younger than previous. Dr. Brown argues that research has "found a direct relationship between the amount of sexual content children see and their level of sexual activity or their intentions to have sex in the future." However, the direction (and mechanism) of causality remains unclear.

Midwest Teen Sex Show

Midwest Teen Sex Show was a comedic, semi-educational video podcast featured monthly at their now defunct website with host Nikol Hasler, featuring comedian Britney Barber and produced and directed by Guy Clark.

National Coalition for Sexual Freedom

The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) is an American sex-positive advocacy and educational organization founded in 1997. It claims to represent 50 coalition partners and over 100 supporting organizations. NSCF advocates on behalf of adults involved in alternative lifestyles with respect to sexuality and relationship composition, specifically for tolerance and non-discrimination of those so identified, as well as education for adults involved in such lifestyles. The organization's main office is in Baltimore, Maryland.

Peggy McIntosh

Peggy McIntosh (born November 7, 1934) is an American feminist, anti-racism activist, scholar, speaker, and Senior Research Associate of the Wellesley Centers for Women. She is the founder of the National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity). She and Emily Style co-directed SEED for its first twenty-five years. She has written on curricular revision, feelings of fraudulence, and professional development of teachers.

In 1988, she published the article "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies". This analysis, and its shorter version, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" (1989), pioneered putting the dimension of privilege into discussions of power, gender, race, class and sexuality in the United States. Both papers rely on personal examples of unearned advantage that McIntosh says she experienced in her lifetime, especially from 1970 to 1988. McIntosh encourages individuals to reflect on and recognize their own unearned advantages and disadvantages as parts of immense and overlapping systems of power.

She has been criticized for concealing her considerable, personal class privilege and displacing it onto the collective category of race.

Sex in the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, sexual behavior and attitudes, like many other aspects of life, were affected by the conflict. The advent of photography and easier media distribution, for example, allowed for greater access to sexual material for the common soldier.

Sexual revolution in 1960s United States

The 1960s in the United States are often perceived today as a period of profound societal change, one in which a great many politically minded individuals, who on the whole were young and educated, sought to influence the status quo.

Attitudes to a variety of issues changed, sometimes radically, throughout the decade. The urge to 'find oneself', the activism of the 1960s, and the quest for autonomy were characterized by changes towards sexual attitudes at the time. These changes to sexual attitudes and behavior during the period are often today referred to generally under the blanket metaphor of 'sexual revolution'.Most of the empirical data pertinent to the area only dates back to 1962, somewhat muddying the waters. Despite this, there were changes in sexual attitudes and practices, particularly among the young. Like much of the radicalism from the 1960s, the sexual revolution was often seen to have been centered on the university campus and students.

With its roots in the first perceived sexual revolution in the 1920s, this 'revolution' in 1960s America encompassed many groups who are now synonymous with the era. Feminists, gay rights campaigners, hippies and many other political movements were all important components and facilitators of change.

Spur Posse

The Spur Posse was a group of high school boys from Lakewood, California, who used a point system to keep track of and compare their sexual attacks and statutory rapes, some with girls as young as ten.

The founder of the group chose the name "Spur Posse" when a favorite basketball player of theirs, David Robinson, signed with the San Antonio Spurs.

The group came to national attention on March 18, 1993, when the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department arrested a number of the members for various sexual crimes. Prosecutors later dropped all but one of the charges after being unable to prove most of the encounters were nonconsensual, although many were with underage girls, some as young as ten.

One girl who was later interrogated by police said she had been in bed late one night when a teenager appeared at her window and demanded sex from her. She complied because of rumors that the Spurs would harm women who resisted.Police had the opportunity to prosecute the considerably older boys for statutory rape, but declined to do so.Members of the Spur Posse proceeded to make the rounds on the tabloid-TV talk-show circuit.

St. James Infirmary Clinic

The St. James Infirmary, (abbreviated SJI), was founded by members of the sex worker activist community in 1999 and is a peer-based, full spectrum medical and social service organization serving current and former sex workers of all genders and their families. Located in the Tenderloin district in San Francisco, California, the St. James Infirmary is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Its services are free and confidential. Named after the sex worker rights activist and founder of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), Margo St. James, the St. James Infirmary is the first occupational safety and health clinic for sex workers run by sex workers in the United States.

Teenage pregnancy in the United States

Teenage pregnancy in the United States relates to girls under the age of 20 who become pregnant. 89% of these births take place out-of-wedlock. In the 2010s, teen pregnancy has declined almost continuously.

The Rape of the A*P*E*

The Rape of the A*P*E* is a book by Allan Sherman, published in July 1973 by Playboy Press, regarding sex and its historical repression and resurgence in the United States. The "A.P.E." on the title is a play on the words "ape" and the "American Puritan Ethic".

The book was the subject of much publicity, when it appeared, due to both its subject and author. Despite his ill health at the time, Sherman went on a two-week media tour to promote The Rape and appeared on many radio shows. He died on November 20, 1973, just four months after the book was published.

Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance

The Woodhull Freedom Foundation, also known as the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, is an American non-profit organization founded in 2003 that advocates for sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. The organization is based in Washington, D.C., United States. Named after an influential member of the American woman's suffrage movement, Victoria Woodhull, its focus includes analyzing groups and individuals that seek to perpetuate a culture of sexual repression.

Sexual Freedom Day, officially recognized in 2011 in Washington, DC, celebrates the birthday of Victoria Woodhull. The WSFA has held the Sexual Freedom Summit annually since 2010. Organization members have included LGBT activist Jeffrey Montgomery, former chairwoman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights Mary Frances Berry, writer Eric Rofes, lawyer Lawrence G. Walters, and activist Dan Massey.

In the furtherance of activities relating to its goals, the organization has allied itself with groups including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University, National Coalition Against Censorship, the Heartland Institute, National Association of Scholars, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Accuracy in Academia, and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. An academic paper in the Journal of Homosexuality characterized the organization as one "that addresses both international and national sexual freedom issues as well as a host of other health and human rights issues."

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