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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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. 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 (3): 210–214. doi:10.1136/ewjm.172.3.210. PMC 1070813. PMID 10734819.
  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. ISBN 9780470479193.
  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. PMC 5889124. 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 (2017). "Sibling sexual abuse: Why don't we talk about it?". Journal of Clinical Nursing. 26 (15–16): 2482–2494. doi:10.1111/jocn.13531.
  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

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