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Social Definition of Sexuality
Human sexuality is a social construct expressed primarily through behaviors, attitudes, experiences, and beliefs. An individual’s sexuality defines the person’s personality in terms of sexual behaviors or attitudes (Sprecher, 1998, p. 118). As such, all individuals are sexual beings regardless of their sexual orientation. As Sprecher puts it, “sexuality is not necessarily defined by one’s sexual orientation or feelings but includes beliefs, activities and attitudes that shape the cultural notions about sexuality” (1998, p. 119). This implies that the individual perceptions regarding the social environment influences the attitudes or believes with regard to sexuality.
Similarly, the descriptions or attributes of gender (masculinity or femininity) vary from one society to another. These are reflected in a society’s values or attitudes with regard to sexuality. In most cases, masculinity and femininity is an issue of social consensus. Consequently, perversion is regarded negatively and unacceptable in most societies. In general, sexuality encompasses the gender roles and gender identities, sexual pleasure and eroticism, sexual orientation and reproduction. It is experienced through fantasies, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, relationships, social roles and values and is a function of cultural and social factors. The social and cultural influences on sexuality are reflected through gender roles, stereotypes and sexual behaviors and attitudes.
Sexuality and the Society
Sexuality and gender are weighty issues in the society as they influence social participation and development. Its repercussions relate to poverty and economic marginalization of especially women. One way that sexuality influences society is through gender. Gender entails the society’s expectations of male or female in terms of role or identity (Sprecher, 1998, p. 124). From this perspective, the society expects men and women to conform to the roles or identity of either gender not transgender. In this context, sex outside marriage, open expression of sexual desires and same-sex sexuality are considered pervasive and subject to social stigma or sometimes violence. Thus, sexuality defines the gender stereotypes with no transgender or other sexual expressions.
Sexuality also influences the roles of women in society. Ideologies surrounding sexuality normally aim at controlling women and girls with regard to education and socio-economic participation. According to Hyde and DeLamater (2006, p. 147), socio-cultural norms pertaining to sexuality restrict women’s mobility and dictate actions over their bodies. In particular, female genital mutilation and early marriages deny women or girls education, which limit their economic participation. In addition, women campaigning for gender equality sometimes face stigma by being labeled promiscuous or lesbians (Hyde, & DeLamater, 2006, p. 149). Such actions, which are based on gender stereotypes, curb women social and political participation.
Sexuality is also a cause of poverty in many societies. It can lead to poverty because of both health and social reasons. With regard to health, inadequate reproductive health services can result to ill health for both men and women. This by extension may limit inheritance, which subjects them to poverty and social exclusion. In addition, the failure to marry, especially for women, denies women land ownership, inheritance of property and social networks (Sprecher, 1998, p. 125). Even in marriage, unequal resource distribution subjects women to poverty or economic disadvantage compared to men. Sexual orientations including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) are subjected to discrimination in the workplace and education, which denies them of equal opportunities and subjects them to poverty.
Poor sexuality is associated with practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), HIV/AIDS, and maternal ill health. Maternal complications during childbirth or unsafe abortions are often fatal (Hyde, & DeLamater, 2006, p. 154). FGM has adverse health consequences for women. The physical and psychological complications associated with FGM can sometimes cause death. Pervasive behaviors such as fornication attract severe punishment for women in many societies. In some countries, the victims, mostly poor women, face imprisonment or stoning to death (Buss, 1998, p.21). In addition, in most societies, LGBT face persecution, which endangers their survival in the society.
Trends in Sexuality over time
Over time, sexuality has kept on evolving in many societies especially with regard to choices about sexuality expression. In the past, gender stereotypes defined gender identity, roles, and sexuality expression (Hoffert, 1990, p. 127). However, in the recent times, adults and adolescents in cities and towns can make different choices regarding sexual expression. One may choose to remain single or unmarried throughout one’s life without the fear of discrimination or social exclusion. Casual relationships and premarital sex are common especially among teens while in the past expression of sexual behavior took place within the context of marriage.
The changing trend in attitudes towards premarital intercourse in western societies is a product of two factors. First, age of first sexual encounter has declined over the years. Currently, in the US, it stands at 12.7 years for Whites and 12.5years for African American teens (Hoffert, 1990, p. 128). Second, the average age of marriage has been increasing steadily over the years with most men marrying at the age of 22.8 years and women at 20.3 years.
These factors contributed to increased tendencies towards premarital sex among teenagers. Risman and Schwartz (2002) emphasize that, sexual activity among teens has been steadily rising (p. 19). In particular, they note that, at age 17, girls are more sexually active than boys are. In the past, because of gender stereotypes, boys were likely to exhibit sexual activity at a younger age than girls were. Risman and Schwarz explain that, changes in cultural norms regarding female sexuality contribute to this pattern of sexual behavior among girls (2002, p. 22).
Recent trends indicate a shift in cultural norms regarding female sexuality. Premarital sex for boys and girls is equally acceptable in most societies. Risman and Schwarz argue that, in the American society, premarital sex involving both genders is acceptable in the context of relationships and unacceptable outside relationships (2002, p. 23). Other aspects of sexuality that have changed over the years include changes in gender roles, position of women in the society, and increased tolerance to LGBT sexual orientation. All these changes are attributed to education and efforts to enhance gender equality.
Modern technologies particularly the internet has transformed sexuality in many ways. Modern technologies mediate sexual communication by creating a new form of sexual practice; that is, cybersex. The internet allows people to start and maintain extra-marital relationships through the online dating services (Hyde, & DeLamater, 2006, p. 152). Additionally, the recent increased computer use and the internet has increased access and use of pornographic content in the society. Messages from other media sources such as television and radio programs, films, and movies influence social attitudes towards various aspects of sexuality.
Sex education and improved reproductive health services can help tremendously in creating sexuality awareness amongst women, in most societies. Sex education regarding the health effects of cultural practices such as FGM and gender roles can improve sexual attitudes, and remove intolerance towards perverse sexual expressions. Secondly, improved sexual reproductive health will reduce maternal deaths during childbirth. In addition, reproductive health can enhance sexual health for both genders.
Buss, M. (1998). Sexual Strategies Theory: Historical Origins and Current Status. Journal Of Sex Research, 35(1), 19-31. Web.
Hoffert, S. (1990). Trends In Adolescent Sexual Activity, Contraception, and Pregnancy In The United States. New York: Oxford University Press. Web.
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Hyde, J., & Delamater, J. (2006). Understanding Human Sexuality. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. Web.
Risman, B., & Schwartz, P. (2002). After The Sexual Revolution: Gender Politics In Teen Dating. Contexts, 1(1), 16-24. Web.
Sprecher, S. (1998). Social Exchange Theories And Sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 35(1), 118-124. Web.