Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 841–861 | Cite as

Changing Discourse, Learning Sex, and Non-coital Heterosexuality

Original Paper


Young people learn what sex is, how to perform it, and what status it has largely through discourse. Sexual discourse has changed since the mid-twentieth century, but coitus still dominates heterosexual sex talk, and both change and continuity are reflected in adolescent sexual attitudes and behavior. Acceptance of non-coital sexuality among LGBTQ people and heterosexuals has increased, but these behaviors often have a different status when performed by members of each of these groups. Non-coital acts may be legitimately sexual when performed by non-heterosexuals, but coitus remains the paradigmatic heterosexual activity even though young heterosexuals often engage in non-coital behaviors. Young heterosexuals often differentiate real coital sex from quasi-sexual non-coital behaviors, and sexuality researchers, clinicians, and educators frequently reinforce this distinction and threaten the sexual status and self-esteem of young heterosexuals who do not like or cannot perform coitus. Many sexuality professionals urge young heterosexuals to recognize non-coital acts as sexual because of their risks of sexually transmitted infections, but sometimes also undermine this message by describing these acts as preliminaries to or substitutes for coitus. These professionals use an objective language of sexuality which presumably should supplant the mistaken usages of young people, but they overlook their own dependence on culturally constructed sexual discourse, and can impose needless problems on young people.


Sexual discourse Sexual learning Culture change Non-coital heterosexuality 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Te KauwhataNew Zealand

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