The term sexuality, is described by The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology (Abercrombie et al. 2000:313) as ‘the mode by which sexual interests and sexual preferences are expressed’. Sexuality is described by biologist David Buss, (Myers 2001) as the instinctive and innate behavioural tendencies that increase the likelyhood of sending ones genes into future offspring. Sexuality is not ones sex, which is simply ones physiological and anatomical characteristics of maleness or femaleness (Marieb 2001). Also, sexuality is not ones gender, which is the socially learned characteristics or roles of maleness or femaleness (Poole & Jureidini 2000).
These such terms, sex and gender, imply the differences between men and women physiologically and characteristically. Sexuality is not sex or gender, although sexuality is somewhat entertwined with the two. Sexuality is sexual behaviour. The ‘behaviour related to copulation and similar activities’(Oakley, 1985 p.99: as cited in Zajdow 2002:63). Sexuality is the whole area of actions and thoughts surrounding ‘achieving and having sexual relations’(Pinker 1997). The behaviours one exhibits when attracting a partner, the interactions with other humans in a sexual manner, and actual sexual activities, are all components of sexuality (Vida 1996).
Theorists attempt to answer what causes sexual behaviour, which factors have the power to influence ones sexual behaviour and what factors control or limit sexual behaviour.
Traditional explanations of sexuality or sexual behaviour have been derived and coloured by evolutionary biological sciences. As noted earlier these such theories have been criticised by sociology as being flawed by essentialism. This term, essentialism, refers to the way theorists, such as sociobiologists have reduced the complexity of sexuality right down to a single essence (Abercrombie et al. 2000: 122). The essence, in this case, explains sexual behaviour as being exclusively controlled by ones biological make up. This essentialist explanation for sexuality emphasises a simplistic approach, placing sole responsibility for sexual behaviour upon ones genes (Zajdow 2002). Such theories rely on evolutionary imperatives such as the theory of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin (1809-82).
The Darwinian theory was proposed in 1859 and was evidenced by fossil records and studies conducted on comparative anatomy and embryology of humans and animals (Minidictionary of Biology, 1988:102). The theory was later supported in 1920’s through studies known as ‘classical genetics’ by a man named Mendel, who updated the theory to Neo-Darwinism (Minidictionary of Biology,1988:185). The theories explain that natural selection by the natural environment has shaped humans universal behavioural tendencies and characteristics. Only the beings who carried optimal characteristics for survival and adapted most well to their natural environment, avoided death, and went on to breed and thus pass on their genes to their offspring. Therefore, these optimal behavioural tendencies and characteristics were inherited and passed along the generations over millions of years (Marieb 2001). The notion is, that the sexual characteristics and sexual behavioural tendencies present in humans today, have been selectively inherited genetically, as they have optimal capacity to ensure offspring and therefor species survival. These genes encompass drives for instinctive and innate behaviours, finely tuned or concentrated through the generations. (Marieb 2001)..
The theory likens human sexuality to that of primate animal sexuality, which is where the research has been documented (Vida 1996). This essentialist sociobiological approach insists that sexuality can not be contolled by an individual, as it is a primal urge, and that any observable change in human sexual behavioural tendencies could only come through a slow evolutionary process (Zajdow 2002).
The Darwinian theory, has been widely accepted in westernised culture for well over a century. Affirmations of biological concepts by the medical association, give support to and encourage acceptance of essentialist explanations for human behaviour (Jureidini & Poole 2000) . The recent development of the Human Genome project, evidencing links between some genes and characteristics (Zajdow 2002) has has also strengthened these theories.
The assumption that sexual behaviour is an innate biological process is visibly reflected in sexuality among western cultures. Whether the sexual behaviour actually is innate, or whether the essentialist behaviour theories have become so socially accepted, that it is now ingrained as a social norm, is still to be proven. Either way, documentation of sexuality over the the past century shows a definite link to the Darwinian theory (Pinker 1997).
Essentialist theorists believed traditional sexuality saw that men had strong primal urges, as do many primate animals. Men were expected to be overt in their sexuality and initiate sex and marriage (Vida 1996). In the 19th and 20th centuries, the division of labour (Durkhiem 1964: cited in Jureidini & Poole 2000:35) saw men became stereotyped and expected to be bread winners and women were stereotyped as incubators and child carers. Patriarchy within the family was accepted as the norm as men were believed to be naturally aggressive (according to sociobiology)and have a need to dominate the family, women were believed to be naturally passive, nurturing and even to have a need to be dominated (Jureidini & Poole 2001).
Sociobiologists ascertain that men have an innate attraction to fertile women. Implying that men will look for a healthily loyal women of a childbearing nature. They also suggest that men have a need to be paternal, so they will inevitably display jealousy and rage when this paternity is threatended, perhaps from advances by other men towards his partner, or infidelity by his partner. Women on the other hand are instinctively attracted to a male that can provide for her and the children she will have, wealth and physical ability are attractive characteristics (Zajdow 2002).
The sociobiological theory suggests that sexual behaviour is for pro-creation purposes. As with animals, men are understood to have an innate urge to ‘sow their seed’ as far and as wide as possible in the name of ensuring species survival, which causes men to exhibit promiscuous sexuality (Myers 2001). Some even regarded men as sexual predators and to be harbouring the sexual instincts of caveman ancestors (Wilson 1975; as cited in Zajdow 2002:64). Thus rape and prostitution become nessicary in order to satisfy the male desire to constantly procreate(Vida 1996).
A female would not have a desire to be promiscuous, theoretically women don’t harbour such innate urges in their genes. Women are theorised as having little, or no sexuality, as sociobiology suggests species survival requires them to need only be the recipient of sperm and childbearers. Maternal instincts are theorised to cause women to naturally desire this course of action, as a instinctive desire to facilitate species survival (Myers 2001).
Social attitudes of the Darwinian theory are reflected in Western culture. A ‘double standard’ on men’s and women’s sexuality has arisen by the social disapproval of the women’s sexuality, a social expectation of men’s sexuality. Taken from Llewellyn-Jones’ (1982:52) book titled ‘Everywoman’ an excerpt on ‘cultural myths about sex’ describes some consequences of Darwinism on social attitudes of sexuality.
Llewellyn-Jones writes, ‘nice girls don’t have sex’,also that ‘she is unfeminine unless she marries and becomes a mother’ and ‘sex is a mans responsibility. . . women should make themselves available to their husbands when he requires a release of sexual tension’. Yet social expectations of men’s sexuality are different, men are encouraged to “get lucky, score, pick up and are inclined to compete with peers about sexual conquests’ (Llewellyn-Jones 1982:54). Such socially constructed norms correlate with the essentialist theories and demonstrate how an inequality between men and women’s sexuality has emerged.
In the 1960’s, dissatisfaction with patriarchy, subordination of women, gender role stereotyping, social norms and expectations about sexuality led to the Women’s Movement, the rise of Feminism and other sociologists to examine these issues (Poole & Jureidini 2001). Sexuality, was examined by sociologists objectively, as a socially constructed phenomena. Looking at sexual behaviour from a Social Constructionist perspective shed a new light on sexuality . By addressing some of the problems that have arisen from the essentialist sociobiological theories, sociology considers that there are social and cultural influences on sexual behaviour that need to be recognised and that sexuality not be solely a biological mechanism (Zajdow 2002).
Although sociology accepts that biology and evolution does play a role in sexual behaviour in humans, it argues that social and cultural influences also play a large role, and that sexuality may be socially constructed, by social rules norms and expectations. Sociology insists that sexuality is a complex social behaviour, not a simple innate behaviour as proposed by biology. Sociology emphasises that sexuality, entwined with sex and gender are intricately laced into every day social life (Jureidini & Poole 2002).
In contrast to biological ideas, that sexuality is simply a precondition of the actual act of copulation, sociology explains that sexual overtones affects every human interaction and behaviour privately and publicly (Zajdow 2002). The complexity of sexuality , as social interactionist theorists state, becomes apparent just by observing normal human interaction. Basic human interaction between the sexes, sexual humour, media depiction of sex and sexuality , body language, styles of appearance and language all influence and construct ones sexuality. Everything one sees and everything one does is influencing and constructing ones sexual behaviours (Jureidini & Poole 2002).
Symbolic interactionist theorists emphasise that as men and women interact and negotiate their daily lives , they are influenced by the sexual meanings they learn, from society (Jureidini & Poole 2002). The notion that sexuality is learnt is a key difference to the sociobiology view. An example would relate to the way that the sociobiological theory of sexuality by Darwin was embraced by western cultures, and that this has actally influenced the actual formation of individual attitudes about sexuality. Much of western society’s understanding about sexuality is based on the institutionalised rules, meanings and understandings drawn from the Darwinian theory, one looks to these socially constructed norms to create a reality about sexuality (Pinker 1997).
Sociologists do have notable evidence to suggest that sexuality is learned. Sociobiologists have maintained all sexuality is innate and instinctive, but sociology suggests otherwise. Studies among animal primates show that by isolating young apes from observing sexual behaviour, they then fail to exhibit normal sexual behaviour, if followed by remedial socialisation (being able to observe other apes sexuality)the previously isolated ape will then develop his/her sexuality and sexual behaviour to an almost normal level(Jureidini & Poole 2001: 367).
Studies of other cultures too, have demonstrated that there is an element of sexualitylearning from cultural norms. Some cultures, such as the ‘Mehinaku’ of the Amazon Basin, the ‘men are actually fearful of sex, engaging in it as little as possible’. In Trobriand Islands, ‘adolescent girls are expected to be sexually aggressive andmen quite timid’. In Sorino society, ‘very fat women are considered to be sexually satisfying and thin women are said to be repulsive’. Some cultures, such as Pacific societies ‘young men are expected to have sexual relations with older men as an initiation’. (Jureidini and Poole 2001:368). The list goes on, however the point is that sociology has pointed out a very valid fact; Learning from others, cultural norms and social expectations are all very powerful influences that do define and effect expression of sexuality.
Sociologists have found what is considered attractive also differs from those suggested by the sociobiological theory, across cultures (Jureidini and Poole 2002). Even modern Western culture seems to have diverged from the Darwinian theory that says men will instinctively be attracted to healthy women of a childbearing nature. Modern media representation of women currently depict extremely thin, and quite underdeveloped and unhealthy body types as attractive (Vida 1996). Sociological data has suggested that the type of partner one is most likely to chose and come to desire sexually is one with a matched status, economic class, race, ethnicity, religion, background, education and generally within an age bracket no more and no less that five years of their own age (Micheal et al.1994).
Sociological theorists Gagnon & Simon (1974, p. 76-7: cited in Zajdow 2002) have supported the notion that individuals do have control over their sexuality and that they actually cognitively develop ‘sexual scripts’. A clearly defined cognitive plan of action and directive behaviour guidelines for choosing whom one will choose to interact with sexually and what sort of behaviour one plans to exhibit when having sexual interactions with that person. Gagnon and Simon (1974) state that without these organised planned sexual scripts than it would be unlikely that any sexual behaviour would occur at all. Contradictable to the Darwinian theory, sociology suggests sexuality is a planned and organised behaviour, not an impulsive urge or animalistic reaction.
As theorists from differing disciplines combine their ideas and research findings, the factors and influences responsible for human sexual behaviour become evident. In a tireless pursuit to understand the mysteries of sexuality, it is important to gain insights from many perspectives. In the endeavour to understand the true foundations of sexuality or sexual behaviour we become aware of the power of evolution, the complexity of social constructions and the influences of ones environment. As Science and Sociology research, acknowledge and debate knowledge, the realm of understanding sexuality is slowly unravelled. As hypotheses are tested and re-tested, and theories are continuously debated refuted and accepted, knowledge about sexuality becomes finely tuned. Although disciplines may emerge with distinctly different theories about sexuality, a lot can be learned through the studies of science and sociology. Sexual behaviour, a complex and intricate web of innate desires, and learnt behaviours is an important part of every individuals lives. A source of reproduction, pleasure and self expression for men and women of every culture and every epoch.