Page 1-21, 20 pages Page 1 of4
Chapter 1: Sexuality in Perspective
SEX & GENDER
• Sex is the biological characteristics that define humans as female or male, while gender refers to the
collection of psychological traits that differ between male or female (a state of being).
• Sexuality is the feelings, behaviours, and identities associated with sex – expression as attitudes,
relationships, thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, values, etc. Sexual expression is influenced by many
• Sexual behaviour is defined as behaviour that produces arousal and increases the chance of orgasm
– not limited by reproduction or specific acts. We will study the biological, psychological, and social
forces that influence it.
INFLUENCES ON SEXUALITY
• Religion is a source of values and ethics, and thus a powerful influence on sexual attitudes and
• Ancient Greeks: Acknowledged hetero- and homosexuality, explained by myth of double creatures split
• 15 century Christians: Malleus Maleficarum deemed nocturnal emissions, sexual dysfunction and lust
as caused by witchcraft
• Islam: Sexuality regarded primarily as source of pleasure and secondarily as means of reproduction
• Scientific study of sex began in 19 century, with biological groundwork laid by physicians and
biologists such as van Leeuwenhoek who discovered sperm, and Hertwig who observed fertilization in
• Background of Victorian rigid and oppressive norms about sexuality, while actual sexual behaviour
often violated these norms – survey of women experiencing desire and orgasm (by Dr. Mosher),
acceptance of “secret” affairs
• Case Study Method: Careful and in-depth descriptions of individual conditions
• Dr. Havelock Ellis compiled objective collection of medical and anthropological information on variety
of sexuality, in typical behaviour, published as Studies in the Psychology of Sex in 1896. He was a
reformer who believed deviations from the norm were harmless and that one should be accepting instead
• von Kraft-Ebing was a psychiatrist who compiled case histories of pathological sexuality, which
although not objective or tolerant introduced many terms such as sadism and pedophilia. Suggested
perversions were result of degeneration of the nervous system caused by genes or traumatic
• Hirschfeld found the first sex research institute and research journal, administered the first large-scale
sex survey to 10,000 subjects, and was a pioneer sex researcher
• Kinsey undertook a massive survey of human sexual behaviour in the 1940s, and Masters &
Johnson’s investigations of sexual disorders and physiology changed how people thought about sex
and its public discussion
• Study of sexuality is interdisciplinary, effort between biologists, psychologists, sociologists, and
physicians Page 1-21, 20 pages Page 2 of4
• Mass media has potent influence on perspectives about sexuality; 3 main types of influence:
o Cultivation: View that exposure to media make people think that what they see is representative of
the mainstream of what really occurs.
o Agenda-Setting: Idea that media defines what is important and what is not by which stories they
cover, telling us the agenda to which we should pay attention.
o Social Learning: Idea that media provides role models whom we imitate, even unconsciously.
CROSS-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES ON SEXUALITY
• Culture is the traditional ideas and values passed down through generations within a group, and
transmitted via symbols such as language. This serves as the basis for patterns of behaviour.
• Ethnocentrism is the tendency to regard one’s own ethnic group and culture as superior, and to
believe its customs are the standards by which other cultures should be judged. In fact, there are wide
variations in sexual behaviour and attitudes between cultures to provide perspective.
• Sexuality is regulated in some way across all cultures, e.g. incest taboos prohibiting sexual interaction
between close blood relatives.
VARIATIONS IN SEXUAL TECHNIQUES
• There are huge variations in sexual techniques across culture, such as different practices of kissing, the
role of pain infliction, to the frequency of intercourse for married couples.
• Masturbation is the self-stimulation of genitals to produce sexual arousal.
• Tolerance of this act differs widely – some tolerate or encourage masturbation during adolescence,
while others condemn the practice, especially of adults and women.
Premarital & Extramarital Sex
• Some cultures may encourage a wide range of sexual experiences before and throughout puberty
(Mangaia of South Pacific, Marquesans of Polynesia) whereas in other cultures premarital intercourse is
seen to be shameful, especially for girls.
• Extramarital sex tends to be strictly prohibited, or if permitted is often regulated – typically restricted to
only husbands but not wives
Sex with Same-Sex Partners
• Some societies strongly disapprove for people of any age, while others tolerate the behaviour for
children and may even encourage it in conjunction with puberty rituals.
• 1) No matter how a society views homosexuality, same-sex sexuality is found universally in all societies
• 2) Males are more likely to engage in same-sex sexual activity than females
• 3) Same-sex sexual activity is never the predominant form of sexual behaviour for adults
• Concept of sexual identity as an unvarying, lifelong characteristic is rare in some cultures where a
person’s behaviour is seen as more a product of the situation than personality traits
Standards of Attractiveness
• Physical characteristics used to determine attractiveness differ con