Graded structure in sexual definitions: categorizations of having “had sex” and virginity loss among homosexual and heterosexual men and women

Horowitz, Ava D. and Bedford, Edward (2017) Graded structure in sexual definitions: categorizations of having “had sex” and virginity loss among homosexual and heterosexual men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior . ISSN 0004-0002

Full content URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0905-1

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Abstract

Definitions of sexual behavior display a robust hierarchy of agreement regarding whether or not acts should be classed as, for example, sex or virginity loss. The current research offers a theoretical explanation for this hierarchy, proposing that sexual definitions display graded categorical structure, arising from goodness of membership judgments. Moderation of this graded structure is also predicted, with the focus here on how sexual orientation identity affects sexual definitions. A total of 300 18- to 30-year-old participants completed an online survey, rating 18 behaviors for how far each constitutes having “had sex” and virginity loss. Participants fell into one of four groups: heterosexual male or female, gay male or lesbian. The predicted ratings hierarchy emerged, in which bidirectional genital acts were rated significantly higher than unidirectional or nonpenetrative contact, which was in turn rated significantly higher than acts involving no genital contact. Moderation of graded structure was also in line with predictions. Compared to the other groups, the lesbian group significantly upgraded ratings of genital contact that was either unidirectional or nonpenetrative. There was also evidence of upgrading by the gay male sample of anal intercourse ratings. These effects are theorized to reflect group-level variation in experience, contextual perspective, and identity-management. The implications of the findings in relation to previous research are discussed. It is suggested that a graded structure approach can greatly benefit future research into sexual definitions, by permitting variable definitions to be predicted and explained, rather than merely identified.

Keywords:Definitions of sex, Definitions of virginity loss, Sexual behavior, Graded structure, Sexual orientation
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C841 Health Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C880 Social Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C810 Applied Psychology
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Psychology
ID Code:25356
Deposited On:09 Dec 2016 10:47

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