Human sexuality

Human sexuality

Generally speaking, human sexuality is how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. [Harv|Rathus|Nevid|Fichner-Rathus|Herold|McKenzie|2005|pp=2] The study of human sexuality encompasses an array of social activities and an abundance of behaviors, actions, and societal topics. Biologically, sexuality can encompass sexual intercourse and sexual contact in all its forms, as well as 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.

In many historical eras, recovered art and artifacts help to portray human sexuality of the time period. [Harv|Rathus|Nevid|Fichner-Rathus|Herold|McKenzie|2005|pp=11]

Biological aspects

The biology of human sexuality examines the influence of biological factors, such as organic and neurological response,Ellen Ross, Rayna Rapp " [ Sex and Society: A Research Note from Social History and Anthropology] " Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Jan., 1981), pp. 51-72] heredity, hormones, and sexual dysfunction; [Harv|Rathus|Nevid|Fichner-Rathus|Herold|McKenzie|2005|pp=18] it examines the basic functions of reproduction and the physical means to carry it out. The biological perspective helps to analyze the factors, and ultimately aids in understanding them and using them to deal with sexual problems.

Sexual behavior can be a disease vector. Safe sex is a relevant harm reduction philosophy. [cite web
title = STI Epi Update: Oral Contraceptive and Condom Use
url =
publisher = "Public Health Agency of Canada"
date = 1998-04-23
accessdate = 2007-07-11

Sex as exercise can produce some health benefits.

Sociocultural aspects

Human sexuality can also be understood as part of the social life of humans, governed by implied rules of behavior and the status quo. This focus narrows the view to groups within a society. [Harv|Rathus|Nevid|Fichner-Rathus|Herold|McKenzie|2005|pp=22] The sociocultural aspect examines influences on and from social norms, including media such as politics and the mass media. These sorts of media can help to bring about massive changes in the social norm — examples include the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism.

The link between constructed sex meanings and racial ideologies has been studied. Sexual meanings are constructed to maintain racial-ethnic-national boundaries, by denigration of "others" and regulation of sexual behavior within the group. "Both adherence to and deviation from such approved behaviors, define and reinforce racial, ethnic, and nationalist regimes." [cite journal | author=Joane Nagel | title=ETHNICITY AND SEXUALITY | journal=Annual Review of Sociology | volume=26 | pages=107–133 | date=August 2000 |doi=10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.107] [cite journal | author=Joane Nagel | title=Racial, Ethnic, and National Boundaries: Sexual Intersections and Symbolic Interactions | journal=Symbolic Interaction | doi=10.1525/si.2001.24.2.123 | year=2001 | volume=24 | issue=2 | pages=123–139]

Sex education

Sex education is the introduction of sexual topics within an educational context. Almost all western countries have some form of sex education, but the nature varies widely. In some countries (such as Australia and much of Europe) "age-appropriate" sex education often begins in pre-school, whereas other countries leave sex education to the pre-teenage and teenage years.Fact|date=September 2008 Sex education covers a range of topics, including the physical, mental, and social aspects of sexual behavior.

Psychological aspects

The psychological study of sexuality focuses on psychological influences that affect sexual behavior and experiences.Harv|Rathus|Nevid|Fichner-Rathus|Herold|McKenzie|2005|pp=21] Early psychological analyses were carried out by Sigmund Freud, who believed in a psychoanalytic point of view. He also conjectured the concepts of erogenous zones, psychosexual development, and the Oedipus complex, among others.

Behavior theorists such as John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner examine the actions and consequences and their ramifications. These theorists would, for example, study a child who is punished for sexual exploration and see if they grow up to associate negative feelings with sex in general. Social-learning theorists use similar concepts, but focus on cognitive activity and modeling.

Gender identity is a person's own sense of identification as female, male, both, neither, or somewhere in between. The social construction of gender has been discussed by a wide variety of scholars, Judith Butler notable among them.

Sexual behavior

Human sexual behavior encompasses the search for a partner or partners, interactions between individuals, physical, emotional intimacy, and sexual contact. Some cultures discriminate against sexual contact outside of marriage; however, extramarital sexual activity is pervasive. Unprotected sex may result unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. In some areas, sexual abuse of individuals is prohibited by law and considered against the norms of society.

Sexual activity and lifestyles


Heterosexuality involves individuals of opposite sexes.

Different-sex sexual practices are limited by laws in many places. In some countries, mostly those where religion has a strong influence on social policy, marriage laws serve the purpose of encouraging people to only have sex within marriage. Sodomy laws were seen as discouraging same-sex sexual practices, but may affect opposite-sex sexual practices. Laws also ban adults from committing sexual abuse, committing sexual acts with anyone under an age of consent, performing sexual activities in public, and engaging in sexual activities for money (prostitution). Though these laws cover both same-sex and opposite-sex sexual activities, they may differ with regards to punishment, and may be more frequently (or exclusively) enforced on those who engage in same-sex sexual activities.

Courtship, or dating, is the process through which some people choose potential sexual partners.Among heterosexual adolescents in the mid-20th century in America, "dating" was something one could do with multiple people before choosing to enter a committed relationship.

Different-sex sexual practices may be monogamous, serially monogamous, or polyamorous, and, depending on the definition of sexual practice, abstinent or autoerotic (including masturbation).

Different religious and political movements have tried to influence or control changes in sexual practices including courting and marriage, though in most countries changes occur at a slow rate.


Same-sex sexuality involves individuals of the same sex. It is possible for a person whose sexual identity is mainly heterosexual to engage in sexual acts with people of the same sex. For example, mutual masturbation in the context of what may be considered normal teen development. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who pretend to be heterosexual are often referred to as being closeted, hiding their sexuality in "the closet". "Closet case" is a derogatory term used to refer to people who hide their sexuality, and "coming out" or "outing" refer to making that orientation (semi-) public voluntarily, or by others against their wishes, respectively. Among some communities (called "men on the DL" or "down-low"), same-sex sexual behavior is sometimes viewed as solely for physical pleasure. Men on the "down-low" may engage in sex acts with other men while continuing sexual and romantic relationships with women.

The definition of homosexuality is a preference to members of one's own sex, though people who engage exclusively in same-sex sexual practices may not identify themselves as bisexual, gay or lesbian. In sex-segregated environments, individuals may seek relationships with others of their own gender (known as situational homosexuality). In other cases, some people may experiment or explore their sexuality with same (and/or different) sex sexual activity before defining their sexual identity. Despite stereotypes and common misconceptions, there are no forms of sexual activity exclusive to same-sex sexual behavior that can not also be found in opposite-sex sexual behavior, save those involving contact of the same sex genitalia such as tribadism and frot.

Auto-erotic sexuality

Autoeroticism is sexual activity that does not involve another person as partner. It can involve masturbation, though several paraphilias do not require a partner.

Though many autoerotic practices are relatively physically safe, some can be dangerous. These include autoerotic asphyxiation and self-bondage. The potential for injury or even death that exists while engaging in the partnered versions of these fetishes (choking and bondage, respectively) becomes drastically increased due to the isolation and lack of assistance in the event of a problem.

Coercive and abusive sexuality

Sexual activity can also encompass sexual abuse - that is, coercive or abusive use of sexuality. Examples include: rape, lust murder, child sexual abuse, and zoosadism (animal abuse which may be sexual in nature), as well as (in many countries) certain non-consensual paraphilias such as frotteurism, telephone scatophilia (indecent phonecalls), and non-consensual exhibitionism and voyeurism (known as "indecent exposure" and "peeping tom" respectively).

exual pleasure

Sexual pleasure is pleasure derived from any kind of sexual activity. Though orgasm is generally known, sexual pleasure includes erotic pleasure during foreplay, and pleasure due to fetish or BDSM. [ [ Sex and Relationships - Sex - 4Health from Channel 4 ] ] [ [ Improve your orgasm: you may have thought your sexual pleasure was the one thing that couldn't get any better. Think again - Sexual Fitness - physiology | Men's Fitness | Find Articles at ] ]

Study of sexuality

In contemporary academia, sexuality is studied in the fields of sexology and gender and sexuality studies, among many other fields.


Michel Foucault wrote in "The History of Sexuality", the concept of what activities and sensations are "sexual" is historically (as well as regionally and culturally) determined, and it is therefore part of a changing "discourse".Foucault, M. (1976) "The History of Sexuality", "Vol I: The Will to Knowledge"] [MARY WEISMANTEL " [ Moche Sex Pots: Reproduction and Temporality in Ancient South America] " American Anthropologist September 2004, Vol. 106, No. 3, pp. 495-505 ] The sexual meanings (meanings of the erotic dimension of human sexual experience), are social and cultural constructs, they are made subjective only after cultural and social mediation.Parker, Richard G. " [Bodies and Pleasures: On the Construction of Erotic Meanings in Contemporary Brazil] " Anthropology & Humanism Quarterly. June 1989, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 58-64] Being the main force conditioning human relationship, sex is essentially political. In any social context, the construction of a "sexual universe" is fundamentally linked to the structures of power. [Gayle Rubin (1984) "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality"] [Toward a Conversation about Sex in Feminism: A Modest Proposal [ Vance, Carole S.] " [Pleasure and danger: Toward a politics of sexuality] "] The construction of sexual meanings, is an instrument by which social institutions (religion, marketing, the educational system, psychiatry, etc.) control and shape human relationships.cite book |author=Weeks, Jeffrey |title=Sexuality and its Discontents; Meanings, Myths, and Modern Sexualities |publisher=Routledge |location=New York |year= |pages= |isbn=0-415-04503-7 |oclc= |doi=|url= pp.176-8]

According to Foucault, sexuality began to be regarded as a concept part of human nature since the 19th century; so sexuality began to be used as a mean to define normality and its boundaries, and to conceive everything outside those boundaries in the realm of psychopathology. In the 20th century, with the theories of Sigmund Freud and of sexology, the "not-normal" was seen more as a "discontent of civilization" Cáceres "The production of knowledge on sexuality in the AIDS era."in cite book |author=Aggleton, Peter; Parker, Richard Bordeaux; Barbosa, Regina Maria |title=Framing the sexual subject: the politics of gender, sexuality, and power |publisher=University of California Press |location=Berkeley |year=2000 |pages= |isbn=0-520-21838-8 |oclc= |doi= pp.242-3] In a well known passage of his work, Foucault noted that the development of the notion of sexuality organized sex as a "fictitious unity" of "disparate parts, functions, behaviours, and feelings with no natural or necessary relation among them"; therefore the conception of what is "natural" is a social construct.Strozier, Robert M. (2002) " [ Foucault, Subjectivity, and Identity: : Historical Constructions of Subject and Self] " pp.101-2, 108, 118-120] [Foucault 1976, p.154-5] To escape this cultural "sexuality" Foucault suggest to focus on "bodies and pleasures". [Foucault 1976, p.157]

ee also

* List of human sexuality topics



last1 = Rathus | first1 = Spencer A.
last2 = Nevid | first2 = Jeffrey S.
last3 = Fichner-Rathus | first3 = Lois
last4 = Herold | first4 = Edward S.
last5 = McKenzie | first5 = Sue Wicks
title = Human sexuality in a world of diversity
publisher = Pearson Education
year = 2005
location = New Jersey, USA
pages = 206
edition = second
id = ISBN 1-205-46013-5

External links

* [ International Encyclopedia of Sexuality] [ full text]
* [ National Sexuality Resource Center]
* [ American Sexuality Magazine]
* Janssen, D. F., [ "Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas"] [full text]
* [ History of Surveys of Sexual Behavior] from [ Encyclopedia of Behavioral Statistics]
* [ The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality]
* [ The Sexuality and Rights Institute]
* [ POPLINE] is a searchable database of the world's reproductive health literature.
* [ The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality at the Kinsey Institute]

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