Chapter 16: Sex, Friendship, and Love


Part One: Sexual Behavior

Part Two: Sex Disorders and Sex Therapy

Part Three: Different Sorts of Relationships

Part Four: The Art of Loving


Overview of Chapter 16: Sex, Friendship, and Love

Sexuality, friendship, and love are intense human social relationships that have tremendous impact on individual lives. Psychologists are interested in such things from several angles: Descriptive: Researchers gather data and try to get an accurate picture of the way things are, in the group they are studying. Explanatory: Psychologists try to explain why things happen the way they do, what variables are relevant, what psychological factors lead to important types of thought, emotion, or action. Prescriptive: Research suggests the basis upon which successful relationships can be established or problems addressed. Proscriptive: Undesirable patterns like childhood sexual abuse, "date rape," male jealousy, and marital discord can be combated more easily by analyzing their causes or simply identifying them as common problems.

Sex, friendship, and love relate also to the ongoing theme of this book: the creative brain. As Freud pointed out, the positive energies of human personality (what he called eros) are found in constructive activities of all types: the creativity of the artist, the investigations of the scientist, and the formation of rewarding friendships, love relationships, marriages, and families. What they all have in common is perpetuation of life, carrying the spark forward despite the hardships and setbacks, restoring hope and faith in the goodness of humankind.

How this chapter is organized

We start out by examining sexual development during the life of the human being, starting with sexual differentiation in the womb and briefly discussing childhood sexuality and adult sexuality from adulthood through old age. Next we discuss homosexuality, finding some similarities but mostly differences between male (gay) and female (lesbian) patterns of development, thinking, and behavior.

The next section concerns sexual disorders such as gender confusion, paraphilias (unusual sexual attractions including transvestitism), and common sexual disorders. We discuss some of the effective treatments for sexual disorders that became popular in the 1970s, and we talk about why sex therapy became more difficult for most therapists in the decades after the 1970s.

The heading "Different Sorts of Relationships" gives us an opportunity to examine both the good and the bad. We look at factors leading to friendship, the distinctive infatuation phase of early love, and destructive relationships such as dating violence and acquaintance rape.

We conclude with an in-depth look at the complex but fascinating subject of mature love between adults. Love is important in the psychological world of adults. "Marital happiness contributes far more to overall ratings of happiness than any other variable, including work and friendship..." (Adler, 1993). We will examine Fromm's theory of love from The Art of Loving as well as research aimed at discovering what makes good marriages work over the long term.

Related topics in other chapters

Chapter 2 (The Human Nervous System) discusses some of the brain areas, hormones, and transmitter substances related to sexual behavior. The application of concepts from classical conditioning to sexual arousal and paraphilias are mentioned in Chapter 5 (Conditioning). Socialization of gender-characteristic behavior is discussed in Chapter 10 (Development). Freud's theory of psychosexual stages is described in Chapter 11 (Personality Theories). Some of the factors influencing impression formation in social relationships are discussed in Chapter 14 (Social Psychology).


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