The main premise of different theories regarding sexuality is connected to the source of it and the factors that can affect sexuality. The idea that sexuality is socially constructed refers to a concept that a person defines their sexuality based on the perception formed by society, which is formed as an individual grows up. The notion of social construction itself refers to a phenomenon created through cultural and social practices (Christiansen and Fischer). Seidman states that the central premise of this theory is that humans learn the behaviors associated with their sexuality as they grow up, and therefore, the society in which they grow up, learn and develop, has an impact on shaping their sexuality.
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Transgender people have challenged the way sexuality is perceived in modern society. Their example can be used as proof that sexuality is connected to society, and as it changes, the perception of sexuality changes as well.
The example of Week’s work and the scholar’s life journey provides some understanding of how society affects the view of sexuality since “by the late nineteenth century there was a distinctive categorization, set of identities, ways of life, and political responses.” However, as urbanization developed, people had more freedom and intimacy, allowing them to express themselves differently from the standard norms.
As new ways of communication developed, the transmission of ideas became more accessible. Thus people were able to explore concepts beyond the well-established and standard norms of sex, identity, and sexuality (Week). This allowed challenging these traditional views as something that has a historical context but does not have to be enforced in modern society, which is an example of an approach that challenges the view of biological essentialism.
Comparison to Other Approaches
As opposed to viewing sexuality as a social construct, an essentialist approach, where heterosexual relationships are the key, should be examined. The biological approach suggests that sexuality is an innate characteristic. As opposed to this, Seidman argues that society affects the way these biological differences between men and women are manifested. The society and different groups within it create meanings for varied feelings a person may have and make distinctions between the sexualities (Seidman). The dualistic thinking suggests that sexuality is something a person is born with, or natural. Thus, sexuality cannot be changed as it was formed based on genetic and physiological factors.
This view of sexuality is well established in modern society. However, there is evidence suggesting that a social approach to viewing it is more accurate. An example is the term “same-sex sexuality,” examined by Rupp, as it described the historical context of such interactions globally and argued that same-sex sexual interactions existed even in ancient Athens. This, however, challenges the biological perception of sexuality as something connected to human reproduction and addresses the issue of society’s impact on the development and establishment of the traditional view.
Difficulties with Perceiving Sexuality as Socially Constructed
The idea of sexuality is supported by society and its various structures. For instance, Katz states that in religion, Adam and Eve are the representation of a heterosexual couple and distinct features associated with such relationships. Despite the changes that occurred with the perception of sexuality, Ryan argues that the contemporary political and media entities do not allow for an adequate representation of various communities, for example, transgender people, by only focusing on clear examples associated with transgender, for instance by highlighting the journey of Caitlyn Jenner. However, this does approach is not inclusive and does not allow for an adequate conversation regarding sex and sexual identity in a contemporary world.
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Laudman states that the public policies fail to recognize a variety of sexualities and sexual behaviors adopted by people in the United States, which is dangerous because it leads to improper policies, for example, those connected to education on sexual behavior.
Notably, the concept of sexuality’s social construction is difficult to grasp for some people because of the long history of scientists from different fields arguing for the biological premises of sexuality and the benefits it brought to political and governmental structures. Seidman argues that this is connected to the establishment of sexology and the development of its core concepts. Sexology uses the biological approach to viewing sexuality, meaning that it is considered to be an innate characteristic of an individual. Since sexology has become widely popular in the nineteenth century, it is possible that the difficulties associated with accepting a new perspective of viewing sexuality as a socially constructed are connected to this established idea of biological connection.
Psychology has also contributed to the establishment of a single view on sexuality, most notably, Freud’s ideas had an impact on the development of the different perspectives on sexuality. As opposed to sexologists, who considered relationships other than heterosexual as abnormal, Freud adhered to an opinion that a wide variety of sexual expressions, apart from the traditional heterosexual approach, the objective of which is to the reproduction, is acceptable (Seidman).
Other notable factors that affected the perception of sexuality and which obstruct the view of it as a social construct are Marxist ideas and feminist movements, which challenged the former’s emphasis on the biological premises of sex (Seidman). In general, for many years, the idea of sexuality was used for a variety of scientific and ideological purposes, resulting in a well-established view of the general public regarding what sexually is what it is not.
Christiansen, Lars, and Nancy Fischer. “Chapter 1: Working in the (Social) Construction Zone.” Introducing the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Nancy Fisher and Steven Seidman, Routledge, 2018, pp. 3-11.
Hill-Collins, Patricia. “Chapter 3: Black Sexual Politics Revisited.” Introducing the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Nancy Fisher and Steven Seidman, Routledge, 2018, pp. 3-11.
Katz, Johathan. “The Invention of Heterosexuality.” Socialist Review, vol. 20, 1990, pp. 7-34.
Laudman, Edward. “Chapter 6: Surveying sex.” Introducing the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Nancy Fisher and Steven Seidman, Routledge, 2018, pp. 50-51.
Ryan, Joelle. “Chapter 15: From Transgender to Trans.” Introducing the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Nancy Fisher and Steven Seidman, Routledge, 2018, pp. 124-125.
Rupp, Leila. “Towards a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality.” Journal of History of Sexuality, vol. 10, no. 2, 2001, pp. 287-301.
Seidman, Steven. “Chapter 2: Theoretical Perspectives.” Introducing the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Nancy Fisher and Steven Seidman, Routledge, 2018, pp. 12-23.
Weeks, Jeffrey. “Chapter 5: The Social Construction of Sexuality.” Introducing the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Nancy Fisher and Steven Seidman, Routledge, 2018, pp. 43-48.