The Complexity of Sex in a Complex Culture
Sex is a universal irony. Modern society is bombarded by sexual images yet the definition of sex is much more hidden. The words "sex," "love making, and "sexual relations" may be perceived differently from one person to the next. Sex is an abstract word, difficult to define because of a taboo in America against publicly discussing the issue. Thus, because the topic of sex is discussed among friends privately more often than publicly, a certain personal language evolves among individuals when discussing sex. When sexual language is used publicly ambiguities are developed. Culture also plays a key role in how specific individuals define sex. Political, anthropological, and social debates occur because of ambiguous terms and cultural differences regarding sex, as well as because social taboos do not always dictate behavior.
Margaret Mead, in her anthropology essay Sex in Samoa, claims that the Samoan adolescent girls experienced sexual freedom and love-making. Differences, in the Samoan and American cultures regarding sex, caused the debate over the credibility of Mead's findings. Today, imprecise and unfamiliar terminology used in the Clinton Sex Scandal creates political debates. Analyzing adolescents in today's culture demonstrates that American culture, like the Samoans is very complex, and that this complexity can create debates regarding defining sex in society.
Today, Americans use the word "sex" as an abbreviation for the term "sexual intercourse." In this way, the word "sex" can almost be considered slang. The Dictionary of English Slang and Unconventional English states "sex, by 1975, has been used to distinguish between sexual intercourse and other available services" (Partridge 1038). Even the slang dictionaries are unwilling to use familiar language when describing sexual activities. Instead of being forward when speaking or writing publicly, formal language such as the term "other available services," replaces the word "foreplay," a more common phrase. This demonstrates the taboo against discussing sex publicly. When it does occur, such as in the Mead and Clinton debates, the result is public confusion over language. These debates coined phrases with no specific definitions, such as "sexual freedom," "sexual relations" and "love-making."
Margaret Mead used the term "love-making" in an ambiguous manner and thus set the stage for debate regarding her conclusions in Samoa. The term "love-making" is a euphemism for either sexual intercourse or for other sexual activities. Even the Oxford Essential Dictionary creates confusion by stating love-making is either "intercourse or courtship" (355). Derek Freeman believes Mead used the word to describe sexual intercourse and thus claims that she contradicts herself in two main areas. A contradiction arises from Mead's claim that adolescent girls freely...