Sexual values are often shaped by economic need. For example, so many French citizens died in World War II that the government needed to rebuild the population. It encouraged large families by lowering a family’s taxes each time a child was born. Families with eight children paid no taxes.

When motherhood and large families became economically important in the ancient world, contraception and abortion became illegal. These and other sexual values that are shaped by economics become part of a culture’s traditions. Often a tradition survives long after its economic roots are forgotten. As a result, contraception and abortion may remain illegal long after the economic need for large families has passed. This is one reason that women without children are traditionally stigmatized in many cultures.

Ever since the earliest agricultural times, women were expected to fulfill key roles in the economy. They were to provide labor and give birth to laborers or legitimate heirs for their families’ fortunes. Traditions that developed from these economic conditions placed a higher value on the sexual freedom of men than it did on that of women.

This double standard continues today. Social judgments about women’s sexual behavior continue to be more severe than judgments about the same behavior in men. For example, a man who has many sex partners may be admired as a “stud.” A woman who has as many may be considered a “slut.”

The double standard is the basis of sexism. Sexism is a bias held against a certain gender. Historically, most societies have favored men and boys and have been biased against women and girls. Women and girls have been given fewer privileges and opportunities than men and boys. In many cultures, they are not allowed to be educated or own property.

Sexist values are being challenged by women and men around the world. The idea that women and men have equal social, economic, sexual, and political rights is called feminism.


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