Sexuality as a Social Issue: Definition and Trends

Importance of Sexuality

Human sexuality is a social construct expressed primarily through behaviors, attitudes, experiences, and beliefs that change constantly with time. Sexuality defines one’s personality in terms of sexual behaviors or attitudes. Thus, everyone is a sexual being regardless of his/her sexual orientation. According to Sprecher (1198), sexual orientation does not satisfactorily define sexuality because feelings, activities, beliefs, and attitudes are cultural factors that shape sexuality (p.119).

Thus, it implies that societal or cultural factors significantly influence the perception of sexuality in various social environments. Given that societal or cultural factors influence perception of sexuality, different cultures use sexuality to discriminate against other people socially, politically, and economically. This phenomenon makes gender descriptions, in terms of masculinity and femininity, to vary from one society to another. Moreover, the emergence of aberrant sexual orientations, such as homosexuals and bisexuals, changes the definition of sexuality and elicits a new form of discrimination. Therefore, since sexuality is a social issue that changes significantly with time, this essay defines societal definition of sexuality and explores trends of sexual perception with the view of giving recommendations that need evaluation via sociological methods.

Society and Sexuality

The society defines sexuality in terms of gender. Sexuality and gender are critical issues in society as they influence how people participate in collective, financial and opinionated activities of development. Consequences of sexuality relate to social, political and economic discrimination or marginalization of women because society depicts them as a weaker gender relative to men. One way that sexuality influences society is through gender. Sprecher (1998) argues that, gender entails societal expectations of male or female in terms of identity and role (p.124). From this perspective, the society expects men and women to conform to their respective gendered roles or identities as either male or female. Concerning identities, society depicts male as having strong personality and women as a having weak personality; thus, women do not have any influence on matters that relate to marriage, sexual expression, and relationships.

The society also defines sexuality in terms of roles, for it influences roles that women play in society. Ideologies surrounding sexuality normally aim at controlling women and girls with regard to their participation in social, political and economic activities. According to Hyde and DeLamater (2006), socio-cultural norms pertaining to sexuality restrict women’s mobility and dictate actions over their bodies (p.147). In particular, female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriages deny women or girls education, which limit their economic participation. Hyde and DeLamater (2006) add that, women who are advocating for gender equity sometimes face stigma because society labels them as promiscuous or lesbians (p.149). Therefore, societal perception of sexuality discriminates against women for they cannot participate fully in social, economic, and political spheres of society.

Sexuality also determines the distribution of wealth in society because it defines what constitutes marriage and inheritance of property from one generation to another. Society defines marriage as union of a man and a woman to form a family, which is a basic unit of society. Hence, the society recognizes man as the head of the family having the capacity to own, inherit and dispose property. In some societies, women have no capacity to own, inherit, or even dispose any property that belongs to the family; thus, society discriminates against them. According to Sprecher (1998), if women do not marry, they will not obtain privileges of owning land, inheriting property, and interacting effectively in various social networks of society (p.125).

Additionally, even though women marry, unequal resource distribution subjects women to poverty or economic disadvantage compared to men. Since society does not recognize the existence of same-sex marriage due to aberrant sexual orientations, it subjects lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals (LGBT) to discrimination in terms of property ownership and inheritance. Moreover, LGBT experiences discrimination in social, political, and economic spheres, which denies them equal opportunities of participation and subjects them to poverty, for society perceives them as perverts who do not deserve any recognition, but condemnation.

Society also perceives sexuality from the health point of view. Poor sexuality is associated with reproductive health problems such as FGM, HIV/AIDS, and maternal ill health. Hyde and Delamater (2006) assert that, maternal complications that occur during pregnancy and childbirth or unsafe abortions are serious issues of health that women grapple with in society (p.154). FGM has adverse health consequences because it causes physical and psychological complications, which aggravate maternal complications and predispose women to death. Moreover, pervasive sexual behaviors such as fornication attract severe punishment to women in many societies. Likewise, since society depicts LGBT as perverts, they experience discrimination and persecution that threaten their existence in society.

For a long period, societal perception of sexuality has been changing gradually since women have changed their sexual identities, their gendered roles and become active participants in social, economic and political spheres of society. Hoffert (1990) argues that, in the past, gender stereotypes significantly determined gender identity, roles, and sexuality expression (p.127). However, in the recent times, adults and adolescents in cities and towns have overcome stereotypes by making different choices regarding sexual expression. Currently, one can choose to remain single 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. Moreover, due to gender stereotypes, boys were likely to exhibit sexual activity at a younger age than girls were, but change in cultural norms regarding female sexuality has made girls more sexually active than boys at the age of 17.

In the past, women had limited roles in the society since their responsibilities only lied within the context of family. Society had gendered roles that restricted women from playing roles that do not lie within their arena. For instance, during 19th century, women did not have any right to join political parties and vote because society perceived that political and economic leaderships befit men only. However, during 20th century many women achieved education, which empowered them to advocate for their rights, thus expanding their roles into social, political and economic aspects of society. Siegel (1997) admits that, transition of economy from agricultural to commercial, corporate and industrial economies significantly changed roles of women in society during 20th century (p.10). Thus, women roles have gradually changed from family roles into national roles that lie in areas such as social, political and economic aspects.

Moreover, the perception of marriage has significantly changed in modern society due to influence of technology and transformation of cultures. Modern society is more tolerant to LGBT, unlike ancient society that depicted them as sexual perverts and outcast them. Moreover, modern society is also formulating legislations that recognize same-sex marriages as heterosexual marriages. Currently, the society also recognizes existence of aberrant sexual orientations and advocates for acceptance of LGBT as a minority group that needs protection from mainstream society. Hence, recognition and acceptance of GBT as a minority group through legislation has significantly changed perception and definition of marriage in modern society.

Recommendations and Evaluation

Since the perception of sexuality depends on societal factors, the first recommendation is that sex education regarding gender, reproduction and existence of aberrant sexual orientations is imperative to enable modern society to embrace sexuality in a positive manner. If modern society embraces gender equity, becomes concerned about reproductive health and recognizes the rights of LBGT, then, discrimination or marginalization based on sexuality will not occur. Sex education will increase awareness of sexuality among members of society and dispel attitudes, beliefs and norms that lead to discrimination against women and LGBT.

The second recommendation is a creation of social groups and networks where discriminated groups like women and LGBT can interact effectively through internet given that mainstream society seems to exclude them from participating in social, economic, and political arenas. Use of information technology in creating social groups and networks will provide a platform for women or LGBT to interact as they influence society by advocating for their rights. Thus, internet is powerful social tool that can transform perception of sexuality in modern society.

To evaluate the impact of sex education on perception of sexuality by society, appropriate methodology for sociological research is participant observation. Researchers need to interact with members of society of various ages at various social environments. After conducting a comprehensive education, researchers should establish if societal members have changed their perception on sexuality, in terms of gender roles, identity, and acceptance of LGBT with a view of assessing levels of discrimination.

In the evaluation of how social groups and networks created via the Internet have enabled women and LGBT to interact effectively, conducting the survey by use of questionnaires is appropriate because it targets women and LGBT, for societal perception of sexuality influences them negatively. Questionnaires will gather relevant data that is essential in analyzing the importance of social groups and networks in enhancing socialization among women and LGBT.

References

Hoffert, S. (1990). Trends in Adolescent Sexual Activity, Contraception, and Pregnancy In The United States. New York: Oxford University Press. Web.

Hyde, J., & Delamater, J. (2006). Understanding Human Sexuality. Boston, MA: Mcgraw-Hill. Web.

Siegel, J. (1997). The Changing Roles of Women in the United States. U.S. Society In addition, Values, 2(2), 1-36. Web.

Sprecher, S. (1998). Social Exchange Theories and Sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 35(1), 118-124. Web.