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Reiss’s Sociological Theory of Sexuality

Ira L. Reiss, who developed the Sociological Theory of Sexuality, is a sociologist specializing in the study of human sexuality.

Reiss was born in New York City on 8th December 1925. Having served in the Second World War, he then chose to pursue his tertiary studies at the Pennsylvania State University from where he earned his PhD in 1953. Dr Reiss taught at Bowdoin College, William and Mary College, Bard College and the University of Iowa. In 1969, he continued his academic career with the University of Minnesota where he worked at the Sociology Department until his retirement in 1996. It is worth mentioning that, whilst at the latter educational institution, Dr Reiss also served as the Director of the University’s Family Study Center.Furthermore, Dr Reiss is the author of 14 books and four monographs published from 1960 to 2006, including such titles as:

  • An Insider’s View of Sexual Science Since Kinsey
  • Premarital Sexual Standards in America
  • The Social Context of Premarital Sexual Permissiveness
  • Journey Into Sexuality: An Exploratory Voyage; and
  • Solving America’s Sexual Crisis


Reiss’s Definition for Sexuality

Ira Reiss defined sexuality as erotic and genital responses produced by the cultural scripts of a society. One cross-cultural universal is that all societies believe that sexuality is important.

Reiss’s explanation for the importance of sexuality has two components:

(a) Sexuality is associated with great physical pleasure; and
(b) Sexual interactions are associated with great personal self-disclosure, not only of one’s body but in intimate interaction, of one’s thoughts and feelings as well.

Sexuality is linked to the structures of any society in three areas:

  1. The kinship system,
  2. The power structure and
  3. The ideology of society.

As sexuality is the source of reproduction, it is always linked to kinship. Therefore, all societies seek to maintain social order through stable kinship systems. It explains jealousy, which is a way of setting boundaries on a relationship that is considered very important, important enough so that it should not be breached.

Dr Reiss points out that no society will be able to eliminate jealousy because jealousy is a statement of the value or importance kinship groups and individuals attach to particular relationships such as marriage. Furthermore, sexuality is linked to the power structure of a society. Power being the ability to influence others and to achieve one’s objectives even if there is opposition from the other person. It is worth mentioning that powerful groups in any society generally seek to control the sexuality of the less powerful. Sexuality is closely linked to the ideologies of the culture.

As a matter of fact, ideology refers to the fundamental assumptions about human nature. Societies define carefully what sexual practices are normal or abnormal and which are right or wrong.

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