Overall Patterning of Sexual Attitudes and Practices

Folk wisdom leads us to expect a certain consistency regarding how an individual culture will manage human sexuality. This intuition is only moderately borne out by the evidence. Certain aspects of sexual belief and behavior do tend to be predictably related within and across societies. But some sexual attitudes and practices also tend to be independent of others.

Cultures across the world do appear to be consistent with regard to some aspects of premarital and extramarital sexual behavior. Thus a society that is permissive regarding premarital sex for boys will also have permissive norms for girls. The same society is also likely to have high incidences of both premarital and extramarital sex for males and females. Similarly, a society that restricts premarital sex for boys will also do so for girls, and both premarital and extramarital sex will be uncommon (Broude, 1976).

Interestingly, extramarital sex norms are not related to these attitudes or behaviors. Neither are premarital and extramarital sex norms and behavior predictably related to another cluster of behaviors related to sex. In particular, male concerns about or incidence of impotence, male boasting about sexual exploits, and incidence of homosexuality are all unrelated to the patterning of premarital and extramarital sex. However, these three aspects of human sexuality are related to each other, so that in societies where male impotence is a theme, males boast about their sexual exploits and homosexuality is absent, while, by contrast, where male impotence is not an issue, homosexuality is present and boasting is absent (Broude, 1976).

Thus there seem to be three independent clusters of sexual attitudes and practices: one concerned with premarital sexual norms and behavior and with extramarital sexual activity, a second concerned with attitudes toward extramarital sex, and a third concerned with male sexuality.

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