Vern Bullough (1928-2006) was a sexologist who focused his work on the study of alternative sexual behaviors. Bullough began publishing his work in 1964 and continued to do so through 2002. He took a societal approach, as he examined the effects of society on women and women’s sexuality. This approach was expanded upon in many different areas of his research to show how society can act in a constraining manner, but also how this constraint can be challenged. Bullough differed from Kinsey in that he did not perform interviews and did not focus on individual behaviors or motivation, but rather focused on women as a whole. This brought a new perspective to sexology, which helped to expand the area of women’s sexuality.
One issue that Bullough studied involved looking at how women were challenging the ways that society viewed them (Bullough, 1996). He discussed this in terms of the feminist feelings which came across American women. This feminist wave focused on negating the idea that women have a specific role within society and that they all have a lack of sexuality. Men and women alike challenged these ideas during the 20th century (Bullough, 1996).
One of the main factors that brought about these challenges was the increase in educated middle-class women (Bullough, 1973). Having been educated, these women desired to have careers instead of solely playing the role of housewife and mother. However, because society held the view that the only role of women was to be a responsible and caring mother and wife, these women had to work towards expanding this role to also include a career. This was met with a high level of resistance because, at this time, society believed that motherhood was a calling that demanded high amounts of time, thus not allowing time for participation in another occupation (Bullough, 1973).
Bullough also discussed the issue of society’s denial of women’s sexuality which was present at this time. Society held a patriarchal view in which they believed that men had control over sex. Control over sex also allowed men to control women’s sexuality. Along with this, society believed that the increased stresses and pressures which people were facing made sex for any reason other than procreation an activity that required too much energy and could result in a nervous breakdown (Bullough, 1985). This belief stemmed in part from the idea that women should be devoting all of their time and energy to their family and household duties. The development of technology helped to counter this belief as women were able to rely less heavily on their own physical energy, and turn instead to the use of machines and technology (Bullough, 1980). In being able to use technology and machines for completing household chores, women were able to conserve their energy and be able to use this energy to engage in sexual activities.
Bullough’s research within the field of women’s sexuality, along with the feminist movement, helped to progress the idea that women are sexual beings who are able to fulfill many different roles within society. This was helpful in empowering women and providing them with a sense that they were capable of determining their role in society. It also provided women with a sense that they were responsible for their own sexuality and sexual expression. Deciding upon their roles in society and their sexuality serves to allow women more personal freedom and a higher degree of life satisfaction.
By Larisa Kerrigan
Bullough, V.L. (1973). The Subordinate Sex. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Bullough, V.L. (1980). Technology and female sexuality and physiology: Some implications.The Journal of Sex Research, 16 (1), 59-71.
Bullough, V.L. (1985). Problems of research on a delicate topic: A personal view. The Journal of Sex Research, 21 (4), 375-386
Bullough, V.L. (1996). Presidential plenary: Our feminist foremothers. Journal of Sex Research, 33 (2), 91-98.
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