Introduction to Sociology/Sexuality
Human sexuality is how people experience the erotic and express themselves as sexual beings. Human sexuality has many aspects. Biologically, sexuality refers to the reproductive mechanism as well as the basic biological drive that exists in all species and can encompass sexual intercourse and sexual contact in all its forms. There are also emotional or physical aspect of sexuality, which refers to the bond that exists between individuals, which may be expressed through profound feelings or emotions, and which may be manifested in physical or medical concerns about the physiological or even psychological aspects of sexual behaviour. Sociologically it can cover the cultural, political, and legal aspects; and philosophically, it can span the moral, ethical, theological, spiritual or religious aspects.
Recent studies on human sexuality have highlighted that sexual aspects are of major importance in building up personal identity and to social evolution of individuals:
“Human sexuality is not simply imposed by instinct or stereotypical conducts, as it happens in animals, but it is influenced both by superior mental activity and by social, cultural, educational and normative characteristics of those places where the subjects grow up and their personality develops. Consequently, the analysis of sexual sphere must be based on the convergence of several lines of development such as affectivity, emotions and relations”.
In many historical eras, recovered art and artefacts help to portray human sexuality of the time period.
Factors Influencing Human Sexuality[edit | edit source]
Human sexuality can be influenced by hormonal changes in the development of the fetus during pregnancy. Some claim its manner of expression is largely due to genetic predisposition. Others say it is due to one's own personal experimentation in early life, and thus the establishment of preferences. A less divisive approach recognizes that both factors may have a mutual role to play. A primary criticism of the idea that homosexuality is at least in part genetically determined is the fact that homosexual men are less likely to procreate, which means any genes that contribute to their sexual identity will not be passed on to offspring, suggesting the genes that contribute to their homosexual identity will die with them. However, recent research has found that homosexuality may follow a "kin selection" evolutionary model. The basic idea of kin selection is that some individuals may not procreate, but they will work to facilitate the procreation of their relatives and the survival of their relatives' offspring. By facilitating the success of their siblings' offspring, they are, indirectly, insuring the reproduction of their genes. In one study examining this idea, the fa'afafine of Samoa, gay men who are considered a distinct gender category apart from either men or women, were found to in fact be more involved in the lives of their nieces and nephews than were heterosexual aunts and uncles. This research supports the kin selection model of sexual identity and helps explain why there is a genetic component to homosexuality even though homosexuals are less likely than heterosexuals to procreate.
Human sexuality can also be understood as part of the social life of humans, governed by implied rules of behaviour and the status quo. Thus, it is claimed, sexuality influences social norms and society in turn influences the manner in which sexuality can be expressed. Since the invention of the mass media, sexuality has further moulded the environments in which we live; it comes to be distilled (often into stereotypes) and then repeatedly expressed in commercialized forms such as print, audio and film.
Human sexuality is distinguished from gender identity. Gender identity is a more expansive set of roles than sexual identity. Gender can usually be moulded by the social environment to which one is exposed as a child, e.g. an authority figure giving a little boy a toy truck to play with, and a girl a doll. Human physiology and gender moulding thus makes certain forms of sexual expression possible or even likely, but it does not predict that future sexual behaviour will be regarded as 'gender appropriate'.
Human sexual choices are usually made using current cultural norms. For example; some may choose to abstain from sex before marriage because their religion forbids such actions. In some cultures it may be acceptable for a man to have many wives, while in others bigamy or polygamy is frowned upon. Those who wish to express a dissident sexuality often form sub-cultures, within the main culture.
Theories of Human Sexuality[edit | edit source]
Sociobiology[edit | edit source]
One study supporting sociobiological understandings of human sexuality found evidence for this in the responses of heterosexual men to "cheating" by their female partners. If their female partners cheated with a man, they are less likely to continue dating her, than if she cheated with a woman. This suggests that the bigger issue with cheating - for men - is not the sexual or emotional intimacy but the threat to paternity; men do not want to be cuckolded into raising another man's child.
Sexuality and the Life Course[edit | edit source]
Childhood[edit | edit source]
Adolescence[edit | edit source]
Recent research has found that there is a genetic predisposition in 20 to 30 percent of Caucasian women for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD; commonly referred to as PMS). While the research was conducted on mice, mice and humans share the same gene. Basically, mice with this particular gene are more irritable and insecure during certain phases of their estrous cycle (the equivalent of the human menstrual cycle). Their memory is also impaired. These findings suggest that this may be part of the cause of PMDD in women with this gene variant.
Some groups have expressed concern over the effect of vaccinating young women against the Human papillomavirus, believing that it may increase their sexual activity as they may not be worried about contracting HPV. Recent research suggests vaccinating young women against HPV did not effect sexual activity. Adolescent females who had been vaccinated against HPV were no more or less likely to engage in sexual activity than were young women who were not vaccinated.
Adulthood[edit | edit source]
New parents (i.e., coparents of a newborn child) tend to experience a decline in sexual activity. While for some women, pain following childbirth may reduce sexual interest, for many people, the decline in sexual activity as new parents is primarily due to the stresses associated with caring for a newborn, including lack of sleep and the many other tasks that must be addressed with childcare.
Elderly[edit | edit source]
Differences in Sexuality Between Men and Women[edit | edit source]
One notable difference between men and women when it comes to sexuality is men's greater interest in casual sex. Men are far more interested in casual sex than are women. Along with their greater interest in casual sex, men are less discriminating in their sexual partners than are women. Women are more likely to engage in casual sex when their potential male partner is extremely attractive, but substantially less so when their partner is even moderately attractive.
As is the case with many other aspects of social life, women are also mistreated when it comes to sex. One study found that young women and teenage girls often face efforts by male partners to sabotage birth control (including damaging condoms). This is referred to as "reproductive coercion" and is often associated with physical or sexual violence. Approximately 1 in 5 young women have experienced reproductive coercion and over 50% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. The motivation of such violence and coercion is typically power and control.
Another difference that exists between men and women is an advantage some men gain by combining three traits (a.k.a. "the dark triad"): narcisissism, thrill-seeking, and deceit. While the men who exhibit these traits are not particularly prevalent in society, those men who do exhibit these traits do, in fact, have more success in short-term mating than do men who do not exhibit these traits. In other words, it is at least somewhat true that "bad guys do get the most girls."
Cultural Variations in Sexuality[edit | edit source]
Recent research has found that most parents in the US have a hard time believing that their children are interested in sex. However, they do believe that most other kids are interested in sex. Of course, most parents are wrong, but this leads them to believe that their children are innocent and that their entrance into sexual activity is the result of persuasion by others and not because their children want to engage in sex.
American parents also depict sex among teenagers as something to be feared and they often forbid it. However, Dutch parents take a completely different approach, talking to their kids about sex and even encouraging them to have sex when they are ready. Dutch parents go so far as to encourage their children to have sex in the parents' home when they are ready to ensure it is a safe and pleasant experience. In fact, nine out of ten Dutch parents are okay with their teenage children having sex in their home, while nine out of ten parents in the US are opposed to it. These differences in sexual attitudes result in much lower rates of birth control use in the US (26%) than in Holland (63%) and much higher rates of regret (63% of boys and 69% of girls in the US wish they had waited while just 5% and 20% of boys and girls in the Netherlands wish they had). Another consequence of the attitudes about sexuality in the US is three times higher teenage pregnancy rates than in Holland.
Having Sex[edit | edit source]
Having sex is associated with better health and people who are in better health have more sex. In one study, 38.9% of men and 16.8% of women between 75 and 85 were sexually active, and this was closely tied to health, with healthier individuals reporting greater interest in and greater frequency of sex. In that same study the authors found that the sexually active life expectancy of 30 year-olds also varied by sex, for men it was 34.7 years and for women it was 30.7 years. Men also express greater interest in sex and have more sex than do women. Individuals who have sex more frequently also receive a work benefit from their active sex lives, as they tend to be more focused and happier at work the day after they have had sex.
Research published in 2017 suggests that Americans are having less sex than they did in the early 2000s and in the 1990s. While the precise reasons for declining frequency of sex is not known, one contributing factor is less consistent sexual partners. Another factor is differences in sexual activity by age, with 65 year-olds having sex roughly 20 times per year while people in their 20s having sex more than 80 times per year.
Some forms of contraceptive have been shown to reduce sexual pleasure. Women who use both condoms and hormonal birth control measures report the highest levels of sexual satisfaction while women who use condoms alone reported the lowest levels of sexual enjoyment. While there are side effects to various forms of contraception, one side effect that is oft-repeated - weight gain associated with the birth control pill - has recently been shown to be unlikely. In fact, the opposite may be true - using the birth control pill appears to increase the basal metabolic rate (in monkeys), which can lead to weight loss.
Some women (research is lacking on men) suffer from what is called "postcoital dysphoria," or negative feelings following what is otherwise satisfactory intercourse. The reasons why some women experience postcoital dysphoria are not entirely clear, but in one study it was about 10% of women who reported this feeling some or most of the time after sex (about 1/3 reported it at least occasionally).
Sex Work[edit | edit source]
There are many forms of sex work, ranging from the adult film industry to prostitution.
A popular perception of prostitution is that it is an "unqualified evil" and is oppressive to women. While that perception is true for some prostitutes, it is not true for the majority of prostitutes and is not at all descriptive of prostitutes in locations where prostitution is legal. Those who believe the "oppressive model" of prostitution is true, generally believe that most prostitutes were sexually abused as children, they were forced into prostitution, usually as young adolescents, they are controlled by pimps, they are drug addicts, they are treated violently, their working conditions are awful, and that legalization would make the situation worse. Seen from another perspective, those sex workers who did experience sexual trauma in childhood may view transactional sex as a way in which they can regain a sense of power, because they ultimately are the ones who have the right to refuse a transaction if it does not meet their standards. Much of the "oppressive model" perceptions are based on sensational media portrayals of extreme instances and the attention is almost exclusively given to street prostitution, which differs dramatically from indoor prostitution solicited through channels other than by walking on the street. Street prostitutes are engaged in a dangerous profession: 27% have been assaulted, 37% have been robbed, and 22% have been raped. However, very few were forced into this by a pimp, and rarely did they start in early adolescence (less than 20% started prior to age 16). Some are addicted to drugs and use prostitution to support their habit; those who are using intravenous drugs are more likely to have HIV/AIDS, but those who are not are unlikely to be HIV positive. Also, there is very little evidence to suggest street prostitutes were more likely to have been sexually assaulted as children (although the statistics for women - prostitutes and otherwise - having experienced some form of sexual brutalization before the end of puberty is disturbingly high). But only 20% of prostitutes in the U.S. are street prostitutes., the rest performing transactions with clients in private and meeting through online or magazine/newspaper classifieds or through escort services.
What are the working conditions like for the remaining 80% of prostitutes? Indoor prostitutes are working in a much safer profession: 1% have been assaulted, 2% raped, and 10% robbed. In terms of physical health, indoor prostitutes are just as healthy in terms of physical health, self-esteem, mental health, and the quality of their social networks as are non-prostitute women. In fact, some prostitutes feel empowered by their occupation. And where prostitution is legal, prostitutes are even healthier, safer, and more satisfied with their work.
Interestingly, almost 50% of Americans favor legalizing prostitution. It is clear that in localities that legalize or decriminalize prostitution, sex workers become willing participants in investigations of witnessed crimes, something they are unlikely to do when fearing they might be prosecuted themselves. While likely understating the actual number, about 17% of men in the U.S. have paid a prostitute for some form of sexual activity at least once.
Sexual Orientation or Identity[edit | edit source]
Sexual orientation is a pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, both genders, neither gender, or another gender. According to the American Psychological Association sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of "personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviours expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them." Sexual orientation is usually classified according to the sex or gender of the people who are found sexually attractive. Though people may use other labels, or none at all, sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. These orientations exist along a heterosexual-homosexual continuum that ranges from exclusive heterosexual to exclusive homosexual, including various forms of bisexuality in-between. The continuum between heterosexual and homosexual does not suit everyone, however, as some people identify as asexual. Sexologists see this linear scale as an oversimplification of a more nuanced notion of sexual identity.
Most definitions of sexual orientation include a psychological component, such as the direction of an individual's erotic desire, or a behavioural component, which focuses on the sex of the individual's sexual partner/s. Some definitions include both components. Some people prefer simply to follow an individual's self-definition or identity.
Some scholars of sexology, anthropology and history have argued that social categories such as heterosexual and homosexual are not universal. Different societies may consider other criteria to be more significant than sex, including the age disparity in sexual relationships of the partners, whether partners assume an active or a passive sexual role, and their social status.
Sexual identity and sexual behaviour are closely related to sexual orientation, but they are distinguished, with identity referring to an individual's conception of themselves, behaviour referring to actual sexual acts performed by the individual, and orientation referring to "fantasies, attachments and longings." Individuals may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviours. People who have a homosexual sexual orientation that does not align with their sexual identity are sometimes referred to as closeted.
Sexual identity may also be used to describe a person's perception of his or her own sex, rather than sexual orientation. The term sexual preference has a similar meaning to sexual orientation, but is more commonly used outside of scientific circles by people who believe that sexual orientation is, in whole or part, a matter of choice.
Sexual orientation is a concept that evolved in the industrialized West and there is a controversy as to the universality of its application in other societies/ cultures.  As Michel Foucault put it, "'Sexuality' is an invention of the modern state, the industrial revolution, and capitalism."
Sexual minorities (i.e., homosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals) are about twice as likely as heterosexuals to seek mental health help or substance abuse treatment. In one study, 48.5% of lesbian/gay/bisexual individuals reported receiving treatment in the past year as compared to 22.5% of heterosexuals. In another study of LGBT youth, 30% met the criteria for a mental health disorder, but 70% did not. Nearly 10% met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 15% met the criteria for major depression. Additionally, 1/3 had attempted suicide at some point in their life. While these rates are higher than for youths in national samples, they are comparable to youths in urban, racial, and ethnic minority samples. The primary reason why it's believed sexual minorities are more likely to suffer mental health disorders and seek help at greater rates is due to the greater levels of stress they face resulting from discrimination they experience as a result of their sexual orientation. Acceptance of homosexuality has increased among Americans over the last 40 years to the point that the majority of Americans want some form of marital or civil union rights for homosexuals.
Close to 25% of lesbian and gay teens and about 15% of bisexual teens are homeless, compared with just 3% of heterosexual teens. Additionally, homeless LGB teens are more likely than heterosexual teens to be on their own rather than with a parent or guardian.
In California, partnership rates for lesbians are nearly the same as those for heterosexual women, but lower among gay men than among heterosexual men. Homosexuals who are partnered tend to be older, are more likely to be white, and are better educated than are non-partnered gay men and lesbians.
There is no evidence to date that attempts to change someone's sexual orientation are successful. What's more, there is some evidence to suggest that attempting to change sexual orientation can actually be quite harmful, increasing the risks for depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.
Sex and Politics[edit | edit source]
Sex and Religion[edit | edit source]
Sexual Abuse[edit | edit source]
One form of sexual abuse, rape, is far more pervasive than many people realize. A report prepared by researchers working for the United Nations looking at rape in Asia and the Pacific found that rape rates varied by country. In Papua New Guinea, just under 60% of men had forced a woman to have sex, while just under 10% of men had done the same in Cambodia. Overall, close to 1 in 4 men had forced a woman to have sex against her will. Globally, 1 in 10 girls under the age of 20 are raped or sexually assaulted.
Research in the US indicates that, while sexual abuse does occur with disturbing frequency on college campuses, young people who do not attend college are at higher risk for sexual abuse. Women who have attended little or no college are at 2.5 times greater risk of experiencing sexual abuse or forced intercourse and men who have attended little or no college are about 4 times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse or forced intecourse.
A factor shown to contribute to sexual abuse is the sexual objectification of individuals, which is when people are perceived primarily in a sexual fashion rather than as an individual. Recent research has found that it is very common for women to be sexually objectified. At least on college campuses it is true that women often experience others looking at their breasts rather than looking them in the eyes. This is even more likely for women with larger breasts. However, there is a surprising twist to this research: while men were likely to gaze at women's breasts, so, too, were women, though probably for different reasons. Men were likely thinking about the women in a sexual fashion while women were probably making comparisons to themselves, which suggests that women can contribute, albeit indirectly, to their own sexual objectification by thinking of themselves as sexual objects.
One of the factors that increases the risk of sexual abuse in men is having experienced childhood physical or sexual abuse. Men who have experienced childhood physical or sexual abuse are 4 1/2 times more likely to engage in sexually coercive behavior than are men who were not abused as children. However, more than half of the men who engage in coercive sexual behavior have no history of childhood sexual abuse.
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