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Sexual Norm

Updated: APRIL 17, 2017

A sexual norm is a pattern of behavior concerning sexuality which is seen to be expected or normal by society. Sexual norms vary from culture to culture. What is seen in as a sexual norm in one place may not be the sexual norm in another.

The term norm derives from the Latin word norma, which means “rule.” Despite this etymology , sexual norms are not formalized as rules or laws.


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Sexual norms persist in most social groups. For example, in some parts of the world, it is the sexual norm for heterosexual couples to engage in sexual intercourse once they marry. In some cultures, it is the sexual norm for couples to only have sexual relations if they want to have a baby together.

Countries in the Western world tend to have the most relaxed sexual norms. In many of these nations, any act which is not viewed as sexually perverse is within the sexual norm. The definition of sexual perversion has also relaxed. Acts that might have seemed perverse in the past, such as satisfying a consensual paraphilia, have become more acceptable. Similarly, while homosexual sex was once outlawed in many countries it is now permissible.

Often the sexual behaviors of people within a society do not fit within sexual norms. Despite this, some people say sexual norms give us guidelines of desirable or appropriate sexual behavior. Others believe sexual norms can breed hypocrisy. For example, in some societies where sexual activity is fiercely regulated, such as Pakistan and the Philippines, high levels of child sexual abuse have been documented. It’s thought this may occur because people are rebelling against expected sexual norms.

Some suggest that sexual norms matter little, and people should be more concerned with their own tastes and preferences rather than societal expectations. To this end, it may be most important to enjoy one’s own sexuality, so long as it does not harm anyone else, rather than attempt to live within sexual norms.

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