Sociological Explanation of Sexual Initiation and Negotiation
Part of the desire to initiate and negotiate sex stems from the sociological desire to couple or be partnered with another human being. Many people grow up with fantasies and notions of finding Mr. Of Mrs. Right, hoping that at some point in their life they will fall into love and have "an affair of the heart" (Michael, et. al, 1994: 67). The reality of existence however is that most meetings that result in long-term relationships can be mundane. Choice of long-term partners and sexual partners can sometimes differ. In general however, most people seek out people that they think are similar in nature and personality to themselves, even without having intimate knowledge of the social context in which the potential partner lives and exists (Michael, et. al, 1994: 69).
The initiation and negotiation of sex often stems from familiarity. Most people fantasize about wild abandon and reckless behavior. A proliferation of sex ads and the "emergence of erotic e-mail" would have people believe that sexual negotiation and initiation can be explained simply from an impulse perspective (Michael, et. al, 1994: 69). However, studies typically have shown again and again that the selection of a sexual partner often is often governed by the same sociologically principles that govern how an individual "chooses a college, job or car" (Michael, et. al, 1994: 69).
As with any life decision, selection of a sexual partner and the decision to initiate sex often come after consultation with friends, families and advisers, indicating that "our personal social networks" are critical in determining how people choose sexual partners (Michael, et. al, 1994: 69). A study conducted of 1,743 sexual relationships showed that a majority of couples were introduced by families or friends, typically at a social gathering such as a party given by "a mutual friend" or introduced at some similar gathering (Michael, et. al, 1994: 70). This study suggests that sexual initiation often results when people are comfortable with one another. Comfort level and trust generally increase when two people have in common a mutual friend or partnership that plays a part in their own union. People tend to pursue interests and people within the frame of their own personal social network.
In another study of how social networks play into selection and negotiation of sexual relationships, findings revealed that as many as 50-60% of couples in partnerships met via the following social networks: school, work, private parties or church (Michael, et. al, 1994: 72). Partnerships examined included married couples, cohabitating individuals, non-cohabitating couples together one month or more and one month or less.
From a sociological perspective, environment and setting can also play a critical role in sex initiation and negotiation. Familiar environments are much more conducive to relaxation and pleasure. Therefore men and women alike are more likely to seek out sexual friendly environments in the process of negotiating sex with a potential or well established partner.
Sociological factors can also influence the negotiation of sexual activity. Many people feel pressure to be sexually adventurous, and thus often feign actual sexual desire, perhaps in an attempt to conform to society's expectations. Studies have shown that men and women are equally likely to feign sexual desire and experience unwanted or nonconsensual sexual activity (O'Sullivan, L.F. & Allgeier, E.R., 1998: 234). In a study of 160 female and male participants, 33% admitted to consenting to sexual activity despite the lack of desire to do so (O'Sullivan, L.F. & Allgeier, E.R., 1998: 234). The reasons and motivations given for consent were as follows: desire to satisfy partners needs, promotion of intimacy and avoidance of relationship tension (O'Sullivan, L.F., & Allgeier, E.R., 1998: 234). This indicates that a critical aspect of sexual negotiation involves satisfying ones mate and promotion of a mutual sense of satisfaction.
People have a natural inclination to want to satisfy their partners and sustain a relationship. There is much outside pressure for young and old couples alike to maintain intimacy. There also seems a somewhat sociologically acceptable premise that it is sometimes appropriate to sacrifice one's own desires/wants/needs in an effort to promote longevity and happiness within a relationship. These ideas are evidenced in the study above, which indicates that sexual partnering is sometimes a mental game of maintaining harmony and balance within a relationship.
Key Processes Involved in the Initiation and Negotiation of Sex
Women use "a wide variety of strategies to promote sexual contact with a desired man" (Clements-Schreiber, et. al, 1998: 197) and men do the same. Men have often in fact reported that they are actually on the receiving end a great deal of time, and often feel "pressured to have sex when they did not want to" (Clements-Schreiber, et. al, 1998: 197). What exactly, are the strategies utilized by women in pursuit of a male counterpart? Women and men in fact, have historically been proven to use similar processes and strategies to influence a sexual partner. These strategies include eye contact, touching and directly asking a member of the opposite gender to engage in sexual activity (Clements-Schreiber, et. al, 1998: 197).
Women can be more high pressure strategists than men (Clements-Schreiber, et. al, 1998: 197). Women reportedly have used the following strategies:
-"attempting to arouse partner" (79.2%)
-"saying things they did not mean" (24.5%)
-"pressuring him with verbal arguments" (11.3%)
-initiating sex while drunk or stoned (52.4%)
Source: Clements-Schreiber, et. al, 1998: 197)
This study reveals an alarming number of women utilize intoxicants to persuade a potential partner to engage in sexual activity. Men are just as guilty of such pressuring tactics. One may conclude from these statistics that a key component of initiating and negotiating sex is putting the person to be persuaded at ease. Typical use of intoxicants causes a person to loosen their inhibitions, and such activity can cause one to be more open and willing to engage in sexual activity without fear of being self-conscious or too aware of one's perceived deficiencies.
At the top of this list also is the notion that the most critical process involved in initiating sex is the ability to arouse the opposite party. This can be accomplished through a variety of tactics.
Courtship is also a critical factor that often begins the process of sexual intimacy and initiation. Courtship has been described as beginning when "one person approaches or moves next to the potential partner" (Perper, 1985: 77). Typically after being noticed, the person approached can either respond positively and welcomingly or ignore the person attempting to initiate an encounter (Perper, 1985: 77). There is some sense of banality that often accompanies the beginning stages of a sexual encounter. Couples tend to talk about mundane topics such as the weather, again in an attempt to establish some type of rapport and sense of ease with the person they are interested in engaging in sexual activity with (Perper, 1985: 77).
Intimacy further develops when people gradually begin to face each other, initiate touching and more intense eye contact (Perper, 1985, 78). The process is continued and people begin to actually synchronize their actions; for example they may lean forward, both "reach for drinks, lift them, sip, place the glasses back on the table" all at the same time (Perper, 1985: 78). This is indication that a level of comfort is being established. Synchronization develops throughout the sexual negotiation process as well, and full body synchronization is not uncommon as two people's movements tend to mimic each other even during the actual act of sex (Perper, 1985: 78).
The process of sexual negotiation continues mentally as well during engagement. From a mental and emotional perspective, two people engaging in sexual activity will escalate the level of intimacy, and response to such escalation will follow (Perper, 1985: 87). The level of intimacy and negotiation can change during courtship based on the level of escalation and response (Perper, 1985: 87). Escalation may be defined as "an overture made by one person that would raise the level of intimacy between them" (Perper, 1985: 87). If the other person accepts the overture, then intimacy increases as does sexual response (Perper, 1985, 87). An escalated overture can't simply be "emotionally acceptable" to the other party however, it requires a physical and behavioral response, otherwise "chemistry" is said to come to a halt (Perper, 1985: 88).
Sex Behavior as a Product of Pre-Existing Social Scripts
Social scripts and stereotypes can largely influence how men and women behave when engaging in or initiating sexual activity. Sexual behavior can in fact be analyzed in response to gender specific responses to social scripts. Pre-existing social scripts and stereotypes dictate that men typically "pursue sex" and women "resist" sex (Clements-Schreiber, et. al, 1998: 197). A study conducted in 1979 actually concluded that social scripts dictated that "having sex was a male goal and avoiding sex was a female goal" (Clements-Schreiber, et. al, 1998: 197). One must understand however, that these pre-conceived notions are scripts and stereotypes only, and do not govern true sexual…