Sexual Controversies in Society: Differing Viewpoints

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wind Goodfriend

Wind has her PhD in Social Psychology and Master's in Social Psychology from Purdue University.

Views of sexuality differ by person and by culture, which can cause difference in opinion on many sexual controversies. This lesson covers several of those debates, including teen pregnancy, birth control, pornography, and prostitution. Updated: 10/31/2020

Sexual Controversies

Several of the lessons in this class talk about how different cultures view sexuality and sexual topics in different ways. For example, some cultures are more conservative or liberal about things, like sex outside of legal marriage, and cultures differ on how much they accept minority sexual orientations. However, even within one culture, it's also true that different people have different opinions about these issues. These different opinions cause many debates, with people arguing on each side of the issue. Social scientists typically try to study both sides of a social debate and remain as objective and unbiased as possible.

This lesson is going to briefly cover four sexual controversies that are studied by social scientists. Those controversies are teen pregnancy, birth control, pornography, and prostitution. For each debate, we'll talk about two opposing sides to the issue. However, keep in mind that for every social issue, opinions aren't simple categories like 'yes' and 'no' or 'agree' and 'disagree.' Opinions about complicated issues like these are complex, with opinions varying widely on a continuum. You might agree with one part of an issue but disagree with another part. As we go through each issue, think about your own opinion and what you think would be the best for the most people.

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  • 0:05 Sexual Controversies
  • 1:28 Teen Pregnancy
  • 3:31 Birth Control
  • 6:11 Pornography
  • 8:45 Prostitution
  • 11:08 Lesson Summary
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Teen Pregnancy

The first controversy in this lesson is teen pregnancy. Some people and cultures believe that women should not become pregnant or have children while they are still in their teen years. The main argument on this side of the issue is that most teenagers have not reached a level of emotional maturity needed to take the responsibility needed to be a good parent. Another argument is that teenagers usually don't have financial stability or independence, and it is expensive to raise a child. Interestingly, social scientists have shown that when a young girl has weaker family connections and is from a low-income background, she is more likely to become pregnant as a teenager, instead of less.

The teen pregnancy rate has dropped in the U.S., partly due to more career opportunities for women.
Careers Reduce Pregnancy

National trends in the United States show that the rate of pregnancy in teenagers is significantly lower than it was half a century ago in 1950. However, this statistic might be because women are typically waiting until they are older to get married and have children, due to the desire to establish a career. Women's career opportunities are much greater now than they were in 1950, so this pattern makes sense. Even in the United States, though, we can see different patterns of teen pregnancy by geography; the basic pattern is that the more south you travel, the more teen pregnancies you'll see. In other words, there are more teenaged mothers per capita in Southern states like California, Texas, Georgia, and Florida, compared to Northern states like Montana, Minnesota, or Vermont.

However, across the world, there are many cultures that encourage teenagers to marry and have children. On this side of the debate, younger women are more likely to be healthy and have the energy needed to raise children. As women age, birth defects are more and more likely to be seen in children, so there are biological advantages to children born from young mothers. Another advantage is that if a culture encourages teenagers to marry early, resulting pregnancies are considered more socially acceptable than teenagers who become pregnant without being married. So, these cultures allow for teens to be sexually active with less stigma.

Birth Control

Another very important sexual controversy is whether societies should provide birth control to people, and if so, what form it should take. There are a huge range of ways different cultures can influence whether two people who have sex with each other can choose whether they want to attempt pregnancy or not.

In many industrialized, Western cultures, such as the United States or most countries in Europe, birth control is essentially left up to the individual. You can go to a store to buy condoms if you want, or you can go to a doctor to access a huge range of birth control options, including everything from a woman taking daily pills to a man having surgery to prevent the ability to father a child. Some of these methods are even funded by the government or private insurance companies, to make the methods cheaper for people who want to use them.

Even though these countries have many options regarding birth control to prevent pregnancy, many people still debate whether abortion should be used as a method of birth control. The abortion controversy is a very emotional political issue for many people. Some argue that abortion should be illegal because it ends a life, while others argue that abortion should be allowed because taking away this option removes a woman's control over her own body.

Other parts of the world try to influence birth control in other ways. For example, China was famous for what was called the one-child policy. Though no longer in effect, this national law in China stated that under most circumstances, couples were only allowed to have one child and no more. The major purpose of this law was population control. However, there were exceptions to the one-child policy. For example, if a couple lived on a farm, the government allowed them to have more children to help work the land. Another example was that people from ethnic minorities were allowed more than one child, to ensure that minorities didn't eventually disappear.

The one-child policy was very controversial for a couple of reasons. First, many couples wanted to have bigger families, but the law prevented this. Second, many parts of Chinese culture are patriarchal and value sons more than daughters. Because of this, couples who had a daughter might abort the fetus or give up the child for adoption so they could have a son instead. These tendencies have caused a large shortage of girls and women throughout the country.

Controversies over birth control may be very emotional to people, probably because people don't like laws controlling something so personal in their lives, such as sexual choices and what kind of family they prefer. Do you think it's okay for a government to tell you how and when to have children?


The third issue in this lesson is pornography. Let's start by defining what pornography is. Pornography is objects, images, or materials designed specifically to cause sexual arousal. Many people use pornography in many different ways. Some people look at pornography when they are alone, as an aid toward masturbation. Other people look at pornography during sexual encounters, as a way to increase the arousal of the people before or during sexual intercourse. There are two mini-debates regarding pornography.

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