Across the globe, behaviors that can be considered sexual activity lie on a massive spectrum. This spectrum exists as a result of some societies tendencies to promote and incorporate sexuality into their culture while others tend to suppress it. Before exploring different types of sexuality through various cultures, it is critical to be able to identify what a culture is. Culture is repeated pattern and repetition of language, food, and arts, but some definitions it may vary. There is a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices across many cultures. It is imperative to respect other cultures and their beliefs although they may seem completely taboo. Cultures also tend to dictate the general beliefs a society has about sexual activity. Since there such a vast array of experiences that people identifying with a particular culture encounter, the differences in.1 There is a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices across many cultures. It is imperative to respect other cultures and their beliefs although they may seem completely taboo. Cultures also tend to dictate the general beliefs a society has about sexual activity. Since there such a vast array of experiences that people identifying with a particular culture encounter, the differences in sexuality among cultures discussed in this article do not define all experiences within each culture. For example, the Hindu people of India tend to avoid kissing because they believe that it symbolically contaminates the act of coitus, but that does not mean that all Hindu people share those same beliefs. Sexual activity is comprised of a plethora of subjects, such as kissing, oral sex, masturbation, and foreplay. Culture intersects with sexual activity under all of the subjects discussed in this article.
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Although kissing on the mouth is one of the most basic sources of sexual arousal in Western society, it is uncommon or completely absent in many other cultures. Kissing is described as contact created by the mouth, which can be a sign of greeting, love, friendship, passion, or romance. Mouth-to-mouth kissing is seen as very common in Western and European cultures while some cultures, like the Thonga Tribe of South Africa, view kissing very negatively. In a recent study, researchers tested the presence of romantic kissing across 168 cultures and found that only 77 of these cultures (46%) practiced romantic kissing. Some people may think that kissing is commonplace, but it is statistically more common to avoid romantic kissing in a culture than it is to engage in. For example, in some states in India, people have gathered to protest by kissing in public as a way of going against the cultural stigma that surrounds the act.3Some cultures have other means of affection that can be compared to kissing such as an “Eskimo kiss,” which requires partners to rub their noses together. Among the cultures that kiss, many people simply choose to kiss on the cheek as a greeting to friends and family, while other cultures such as the Greek, greet each other with non-romantic mouth-to-mouth kissing. 4 Among the cultures that kiss, many people simply choose to kiss on the cheek as a greeting to friends and family, while other cultures such as the Greek, greet each other with non-romantic mouth-to-mouth kissing. 2 Some people may think that kissing is commonplace, but it is statistically more common to avoid romantic kissing in a culture than it is to engage in. For example, in some states in India, people have gathered to protest by kissing in public as a way of going against the cultural stigma that surrounds the act. Some cultures have other means of affection that can be compared to kissing such as an “Eskimo kiss,” which requires partners to rub their noses together.4 Among the cultures that kiss, many people simply choose to kiss on the cheek as a greeting to friends and family, while other cultures such as the Greek, greet each other with non-romantic mouth-to-mouth kissing.3 Some cultures have other means of affection that can be compared to kissing such as an “Eskimo kiss,” which requires partners to rub their noses together. Among the cultures that kiss, many people simply choose to kiss on the cheek as a greeting to friends and family, while other cultures such as the Greek, greet each other with non-romantic mouth-to-mouth kissing. 4 Among the cultures that kiss, many people simply choose to kiss on the cheek as a greeting to friends and family, while other cultures such as the Greek, greet each other with non-romantic mouth-to-mouth kissing.
Foreplay is typically categorized as the physical and emotional sexual interactions between partners that lead up to sex. Similarly to kissing, foreplay lies on a spectrum that may include and is not limited to romantic kissing, fondling, sensual touching, and oral sex. Foreplay can comprise of anything that creates sexual arousal. Typically, in Western cultures, foreplay is short and tends always lead up to intercourse. Many Eastern societies engage in foreplay for extended periods of time, as they strive to prolong sexual arousal. At the same time, many cultures (including ones found within Western and Eastern societies) engage in limited amounts of foreplay, or foreplay is completely absent. In Western cultures, varied patterns of foreplay can be found, but these all tend to be short in duration and to be seen as something that leads up to the “main event” of intercourse. Furthermore, some cultures have a completely different definition of foreplay than most cultures. For example, partners from the Trobrian Islanders of Melanesia typically exchange saliva and bite each other’s lips until blood comes out as a way of increasing sexual arousal. 5 Foreplay is variable in how it is defined and can have a wide discrepancy in amount.
Some cultures are very accepting of oral sex while others deem the act to be taboo or morally wrong. Oral sex is when one person provides oral stimulation to a partner’s genitals. In much of the Western world in industrialized parts of Asia and in many island societies of the South Pacific, oral sex is quite common and may even be seen as a natural part of sexual arousal and foreplay. Conversely, some cultures in parts of Africa view oral sex to be highly unnatural, and many religions across the world view oral sex as sinful. Oral sex can be a very erotic form of foreplay that leads to sex or it can be a “main event” that brings sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and possibly even orgasms.
When one stimulates his or her genitals, it is referred to as male and female masturbation. Many cultures disapprove of masturbation on religious grounds while others suggest that masturbation is relatively harmless and may even be beneficial. Studies conducted by researchers such as Alfred Kinsey or Masters and Johnson have concluded that masturbation is something completely natural phenomenon that does not lead to any negative health effects.6 Many religions do not approve of masturbation under the claim that masturbation is a sin and that one should reduce desire. Other negative side effects of masturbation claimed by religious figures include digestive pains, spine damage, reproductive damage, mental disorders, and insanity.7 None of these side effects are medically proven by research, but this example provides insight into the wide range of beliefs on masturbation.
People have very different opinions on what abstinence is, but it is usually described as refraining from all sexual acts. More often than not, abstinence includes refraining from sex but many people still engage in cuddling, kissing, or holding hands. Completely opposite to the religious thought process for masturbation, religious experts relate abstinence to purity because it highlights one’s commitment to God. Some Catholic sects believe that sex is solely for procreation and should not be taken advantage of for pleasure, so virginity pledges are taken until one is married. Not all cultures share the same belief that abstinence is effective; the Dutch have a very liberal society that does not emphasize abstinence. They do highlight the importance of teaching communication among partners so that sex is comfortable for all involved.8 Abstinence can be viewed very differently by various cultures.
Homosexuality and Same-Sex Relationships
Same-sex love has been a controversial topic in recent years but acceptance for it has increased due to support LGBTQ rights groups across the world. Homosexuality refers to one’s physical or emotional preference for a partner of the same biological sex. In ancient Japan, it was not uncommon during the time of the samurai for males to have male partners that were required to be loyal until their deaths.9 On September 30th, 2013, the Pope, who is the leader of the Catholic Church, stated that God does not condemn homosexuals. The Pope’s message was a very powerful statement as 1.2 billion of the earth’s population is Catholic, so the influence of the Pope’s change in position from that of condemnation to acceptance spurred a cultural movement, which likely had an influence in the legalization of gay marriage in 2015.10
Western culture typically views marriage as a legally binding communion between two partners, but there are other cultures, such as some districts in India, that still practice polygamy and polyandry. Some Muslim residents in Malaysia and the Philippines allow and practice polygamy for Muslims while having more than one partner in Western culture is seen as taboo. Another aspect of marriage that intersects with cultural norms is tolerance for monogamy. Monogamy is defined as having an agreement with one’s partner about an exclusive relationship. In Thailand, it is common to cheat on partners, while in Ireland, the Catholic community would deem cheating as immoral. Gender and sex play a key role in marriage. Some cultures approve of homosexuality while others condemn it.
An arranged marriage is when partners are chosen for each other by other family members or guardians, usually without any input from the soon-to-be-married individuals. Arranged marriages typically occur in situations where families agree to terms for items, monetary value, or power. Arranged marriages are typically not very common in Western cultures whereas, in countries like Afghanistan, it is common for a female under 16 years of age to be strategically married off. Marriage takes many forms across different cultures as is on a vast spectrum-shaped by cultural traditions and values.
Removal of the foreskin of the penis is typically referred to as circumcision while female genitalia alteration is called female genital mutilation (FGM). Male circumcision is typically ritualistic as it is discussed in biblical texts. There is some scientific evidence that supports male circumcisions; the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States cites studies that claim men who are circumcised are much more protected against HIV infections as well as other sexually transmitted infections. On the contrary, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation as alteration or removal of.11 On the contrary, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation as alteration or removal of female genitals for non-medical reasons. Nearly 200 million females have been victims of FGM across the world.13 Not all cultures perform genital-altering procedures but the cultures that do, typically do it so a ritualistic basis. 12 Nearly 200 million females have been victims of FGM across the world. Not all cultures perform genital-altering procedures but the cultures that do, typically do it so a ritualistic basis. 13
The hymen is a thin piece of skin that covers the vaginal opening and protects the vagina. The cultural significance of the hymen is much more complicated than its role in the body. Many traditional cultures and religions see the hymen as a symbol of purity and virginity. A lot of cultural stigmas resides around the hymen because virginity is prized in patriarchal societies that require women to be sexually restrictive, while men can do whatever they please. A surgical process called a hymenoplasty is used to repair females’ hymens so that they seem like virgins again, but this process is mainly used in cultures where virginity is highly prized, such as in China.14 Although there are ideological extremes regarding the hymen, there are other cultures that do not regard the hymen as important at all.
While some people do not consider jails and prisons to have their own culture, those that have experienced this confinement may believe that when people are together in a small area such as jail, they start to develop relationships in prison that are often same-sex relationships. Just because some prisoners have same-sex relationships, it does not mean that they only engage in this type of sexual behavior or that they are homosexual; instead, these prisoners often just consider this behavior to be situation homosexuality that allows them to release their sexual frustrations. Many prisoners serve long prison terms, so their situations lead them to have same-sex relationships with other inmates. Prison rape has been a problem for years in the United States, so the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed in 2012 to train prison workers on how to deal with prison rape and sexual abuse. 14 Jail culture is very complex and cannot be characterized by a few cases. Jails across the world have drastically different sexual behaviors within their respective populations.
The range of beliefs on topics such as kissing and the hymen tend to differ drastically from location to location, but respecting a culture’s beliefs is critical. Scenarios where cultural sexual activity can be seen as immoral include situations where human rights violations are made, such as with the injustices females face in countries that do not enforce laws against female genital mutilation. Cultures are heavily influenced by religion in all areas of sexuality. Often, religion is restrictive but some religions actually promote open sexuality. Throughout different cultures and societies, sexual activity is either promoted or it is also suppressed, but the global trend seems to be tilting towards more open societies that are accepting of sexual activity.
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Last Updated: 25 May 2017.