Abstinence: Why? Where? And, when it started (in Handbook of Sexualities)

The full article appears in the SAGE Handbook of Global Sexualities (available now).

Abstinence, whether temporary or lifelong, is a fascinating subject to most people because its practice has both detractors and admirers. The Catholic religion has elevated abstinence as a path to men’s and women’s higher, more spiritual nature. Traditionally, lust – or raw appetite not connected to procreative intentions – has been seen as sinful. Clergy must forego the pleasures of the flesh as part of their devotion to God. Purity of spirit is directly related to purity of body. In both Christianity and Islam, mainstream voices associate women’s social value with their ‘chaste’ character. Women’s virginity is often a requirement for marriage in Muslim societies; some communities even require ‘virginity tests’ at time of marriage to verify the woman’s premarital abstinence (Ahmadzai and Sadeghzadeh, 2017). Abstinence can also be valued for pragmatic reasons; certain countries in Africa endorse abstinence as a prophylactic measure to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission.

Critics of abstinence promotion consider abstinence an unnatural act. Judaism considers sexual intercourse a ‘mitzvah’ (a gift and fortunate deed). Many psychologists, medical professionals, and people in the natural sciences consider abstinence unnatural, even bizarre, since sexual intercourse is necessary for the species to replicate and usually necessary for personal and relationship satisfaction.

Whether one considers abstinence unnatural or not, dialogues on abstinence’s purpose and its presence throughout history hold interest for sexologists who seek to understand why it exists, who practices it, what it tells us about social control, and how it affects the lives of men, women, and society.

Topics in this article include:

  • Gender and virginity
    • Virginity tests
    • Who is abstinence designed for and why?
  • The roots of abstinence in the pre-modern world:
    • The early East and abstinence
    • The early West and abstinence
    • Europe in the early Modern Period
    • The New World (abstinence in the Early Americas)
  • Abstinence in 20th and 21st Century America
    • Early movements
    • The politics of unwed motherhood
    • Contraceptives and eugenics
    • The rise of the Religious Right
  • The push and pull with secular culture
    • The rebranding of modern abstinence movements
      • purity as self-control
      • sex-positivity (in marriage)
      • virginity as a spiritual trait
      • youth events
      • sexual education
  • Psychosocial impacts of abstinence

See full article here.

The (still) mysterious roots of female sexual desire

In a commentary piece for the Archives of Sexual Behavior, my co-author, Dr. Pepper Schwartz, and I debate the merits of the newly proposed Relational and Bodily Experiences Theory of female sexual desire.

Is sexual desire determined by how a woman was raised to value her sexuality? Alternatively, perhaps desire is biological in nature, having more to do with hormonal changes than oppressive or supportive childhood experiences.  Or maybe it’s all about her current relationship satisfaction, and when she is happiest she feels more interested in sex. These are all issues we take on in our newly published commentary.

Continue to full article.

The Changing Nature of Intimacy

Although we know that intimacy changes with age, researchers are still struggling to understand why these changes occur and what they mean to the older adults in relationships experiencing them. That means men and women are often left in the dark when it comes to their sexual and emotional health later in life.

Perhaps even more troubling, our culture still has deep-seeded stigmas regarding older people having and (dare I say) enjoying sex. These stigmas deteriorate the quality of treatment that older men and women receive from their family, friends, and even the medical professionals who are charged with overseeing them.

In this chapter for the Journal of Aging Life Care, Dr. Pepper Schwartz and I explore the barriers to fulfilling intimacy that older men and women experience, including various medical conditions that inhibit sexual activity as well as the social prejudices found within the healthcare industry.

To go to our chapter, click here.

Gender And Sexuality In Aging

Humans are living to unprecedented ages and soon Baby Boomers will be the largest demographic in the USA. Not only will they be the biggest aging generation in American history, but they will also be the most liberalespecially when it comes to sex.

Consider this: a mere sixty years ago women were considered matronly and societally spent after turning 40, yet now it’s common to hear phrases like “50 is the new 30” and stars like Jane Fonda (80) and Cher (72) continue to have thriving careers in an industry obsessed with youth.

And it’s not just attitudes that have changed, men and women over-50 are behaving very differently in the bedroom than the generations before them. Many Boomers maintain high sexual satisfaction and high sexual frequencies well into the later portions of their lives.

In this chapter for the Handbook of the Sociology of Gender, sociologist Pepper Schwartz and I review the redefinition of lifelong sexuality among older (and soon-to-be older) adults. We give readers a deeper understanding of what is behind these cultural changes, how society is (and isn’t) adapting to them, and what it means for the future of sex as we know it.

To go to our chapter, click here.