Chapter 10: Sexuality
Sociology: A Canadian Perspective
Until recently, sociologists did not focus on sexuality as a separate topic.
Typically, ‘sex’ refers to biological facts associated with being born male or female, i.e. anatomical facts, hormonal facts,
etc. The WHO also defines ‘sex’ as the biological characteristics defining humans as female or male, and while these
categories are not mutually exclusive, we nonetheless differentiate humans as either male or female.
Intersexed bodies (used to be known as hermaphrodites) have hormonal, anatomical, and genetic configurations that do
not fit our traditional discourses of sexual difference. The difference lies in how societies treat these ‘exceptions’- making
sexuality a political and social issue rather than a biological fact or exception.
We have continued to dichotomize sex into male and female based on the presence of a vagina or penis, as well sexuality,
sexual identity, and sexual orientation into heterosexual or homosexual when in fact sexuality is far more complex.
Heteronormativity is the assumption that heterosexuality is a universal norm, homosexuality is invisible or abnormal.
Sexuality is defined as a central aspect of being human while encompasses sex, gender identities, and roles, sexual
orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction. It is experienced in thoughts, values, roles, relationships, etc.
It is influenced by interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, religious, historical, legal, etc. factors.
Jeffrey Weeks states that the definitions we give to sexuality are socially organized, and that the languages of sex are then
embedded in moral treatises, laws, educational practices, etc. Sexuality, therefore, has to do with who we are and what
place we are allowed to take within society.
Sexuality is then under subject to sexism, homophobia, etc.
Sexuality Over the Centuries
Sex and Spirituality: Examples of Cross-Cultural Diversity and Social Change
Sex and spirituality have been closely linked among some cultures and beliefs.
Examples (including India, China, and various religions) of cross-cultural diversity in relation to sexuality are on pp.228-230
The Scientific Study of Sex
Until recently, the scientific processes connected to procreation remained a mystery. Some scientific work shifted focus
toward ‘sexual deviance’, where included any acts that did not have reproduction as a possibility or goal.
‘Sexual deviance’ was seen as a mental illness and to be treated by medical interventions. Sigmund Freud stated that the
development of a healthy personality depended on the successful navigation through various stages of psychosocial and
psychosexual development, each involving the careful management of various aspects of the sexual instinct.
Historically, sexuality has been seen as an ‘innate force’ that required regulation and direction toward acceptable channels. Social Survey Approach
Alfred Kinsey challenged the norms of his time, and criticized the assumption that heterosexual responses are part of an
animal’s innate or instinctive equipment, as well as their treatment of non-reproductive sexual activity as perversion of
Kinsey is known for his Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale.
He proposed that males are not merely just homosexual or just heterosexual, but there was a continuity of the gradations
between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual.
An individual may be assigned a different position on the scale at a different time of his life.
William Masters and Virgina Johnson are also known sex researchers.
They researched data, based on observation, on the anatomy and physiology of human sexual response. They developed a
clinical approach –sex therapy- to the treatment of ‘sexual dysfunction’ (premature ejaculation, impotence, etc.). They also
observed the sexual responsiveness of older and elderly men and women and that they are perfectly cpaabl of excitmenet
and orgasm in their 70s.
Margaret Mead contributed research that challenged the view of sex and sexuality as biological (fixed, innate) facts. In
Coming of Age in Samoa, Mead shocked her readers that young Samoan women deferred marriage to enjoy casual
premarital sex before marrying.
Clellan ford and Frank Beach produced anthropological evidence of striking diversity in sexual practices and norms.
Sociology of Sex: Theoretical and Methodological Approaches
Sociologists frequently stress the social and cultural relativity of norms surrounding sexual behaviour and the socio-
historical construction of sexual identities and roles.
Janice Irvine notes that from a sociological perspective, sexuality is a broad social domain involving many fields of power,
diverse systems of knowledge, and sets of institutional and political discourses. She also identified 5 broad themes in the
1. The denaturalization of sexuality (a shift from biological explanation)
2. The historicization of sexuality
3. The analytical shift from the study of ‘sexual deviants’ to the study of ‘sexual deviance, thus challenging the
categories of sexuality and blurring the status of insider/outsider
4. The destabilization of sexual categories and identities, with new emphasis on the diverse meanings of sex and
5. The theorizing of sexuality (and gender) as performance
Structural functionists made liberal use of biological models and metaphors, but did not embrace the simple biological
explanations of social reality. Kingsley Davis viewed sexual intercourse as more than a biological exchange or a simple response to natural urges; he saw
it as a social exchange, often involving the employment of sex for non-sexual ends within a competitive-authoritarian
Davis noted that if the family is strong, there tends to be a well-defined system of prostitution.
Family is an institution of status that limits the variety, amount, and nature of a person’s satisfaction. Through prostitution,
a man is paying for the privilege of demanding