How does our ethnic group and our race affect our sexuality? First, ethnicity and sexuality join together to form a barrier, a “sexualized perimeter,” which helps us decide who we let in and who we keep out (Nagel, 2003). Ethnicity can also affect which sexual behaviors we engage in, the frequency of these behaviors, our sexual attitudes, and our ability to communicate about sex (Quadagno et al., 1998).
For example, white and Hispanic women are more likely than African-American women to engage in sexual acts besides sexual intercourse, and white women are more likely to give or receive oral sex than are African-American or Hispanic women (Laumann et al., 1994). Heterosexual Hispanic women are more likely to engage in anal sex than are white or African-American women (Van Oss Marin & Gomez, 1994). When it comes to numbers of partners, African-American men and women have the most (Eisenberg, 2001), whereas Hispanic women have been found to have the least (Dolcini et al., 1993).
Ethnicity also affects our sexual attitudes. For example, the sexual attitudes of Mexican-American men and women and African-American women are more traditional, whereas the attitudes of whites are less traditional, and those of African-American men are the least traditional of all (Mahay et al., 2001). In addition, Asian students have been found to be significantly more conservative than non-Asian students in their sexual behavior (Okazaki, 2002). We discuss Asian-American sexual behavior more in Human Sexuality in a Diverse World, “Asian-American Sexuality,” on page 306.
Finally, ethnicity has also been found to affect our communication patterns about sex. For example, in cultures that are based on male dominance in relationships, women are less likely to bring up the topic of sex or have knowledge about sexual topics. Hispanic women are expected to learn about sex from their husbands, and a Hispanic woman who knows about sex may be viewed as “sexually permissive” (Forrest et al., 1993). We will continue to explore the impact of ethnicity and sexuality throughout this chapter.