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Gender, Sex, and Sexuality in the U.S.

Relationships Between Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in the American Society

Although sex, gender, and sexuality are different phenomena, they are closely interrelated. Sex is seen as a biological category defined by one’s genitals, hormones, and chromosome set, while gender includes social behaviors and traits essential for biological sex. The concept of sexuality refers to a person’s identity concerning sexual desires. Sex, gender, and sexuality cannot exist separately as all these aspects of human personality are influenced by the other two.

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According to Touches, gender is “defined by behaviors and traits that are considered normal for each sex” (135). When a person’s genitals or such physical manifestations of sex as breasts or facial hair are not visible, one can see only their gender-related behavior or the way of dressing. Sex and sexuality are also connected as they imply the use of sex-defined body parts in sexual acts. It is believed that gender is defined by sex, but the examples of intersex people show that the opposite connection is also possible. Those people who had their sex surgically altered prove that this notion can be socially constructed under the influence of gender.

The most distinctive feature of the U.S. society concerning sex, gender, and sexuality is that they are understood through the dualistic approach. Thus, the only possible sexes are female and male, with feminine or masculine gender appropriate to each of the sexes. Despite years of campaigns, sexual orientations are still viewed as either homosexual or heterosexual. As Touches claims, sexes in the U.S. are seen as mutually exclusive.

This seems reasonable for most of the population who have gender privilege to be born with distinctive features of one sex. However, the idea is discriminating against those whose genitalia are intersex. Moreover, the binary perception of these categories implies “a certain idea of a normal order of sex, gender, and sexuality” (Tauches 134). It is assumed that feminine gender is typical social behavior for a female who is as a rule heterosexual.

As there is no longer a primacy of religion in the West, ‘abnormal’ or socially unacceptable behaviors are considered as a sign of sickness rather than moral corruption. Thus, “modern sexology… became highly biological and scientific studying physical measurements such as hormonal levels and neurological patterns in connection with sexual behaviors and identities” (Roberts 61). The common term ‘disorders of sex development’ includes all deviations from a normal variant that are subject to medical treatment.

However, these norms are determined by a binary attitude to sex, gender, and sexuality. For example, individuals born with intersex genitalia are assumed to be abnormal, and they are surgically transferred to either male or female sex, based on doctors’ decision. Such actions are often motivated by the idea that these people would not be accepted in society, so a person is changed instead of social norms.

The Problems of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality Construction

The fundamental problem of the social attitude to sexuality, gender, and sex are binary expectations that discriminate against the individuals unable to correspond to the accepted pattern. Such a point of view results in conflicts as with the South African runner Caster Semenya who was banned from competition because the Olympic Committee could not define whether she was male or a female (Preves 118). However, Fausto-Sterling claims that the problem of sex has more than two answers, stating that “there is no either/or. Rather, there are shades of difference” (7). This duality concerning sex, as well as sexuality, often leads to oversimplification. The same issue occurs with the category of sexuality, as it is considered to be either hetero- or homosexual, while multidimensional sexuality is rarely discussed.

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Another problem lies in the false perceptions that some aspects of personality are real, and others are constructed. Sex is often viewed as real due to its biological manifestation, while sexuality and gender are believed to be developed (Fausto-Sterling 21).

Gender, as a social category, is often regarded as a matter of choice, while sex is innate. However, there are cases, as with Caster Semenya, when the biological sex is not explicit, so it is defined by gender which an individual feels to be appropriate. Often, socially imposed perceptions of gender norms can lead to harmful consequences. Burke discusses the cases when cross-dressing is seen as unacceptable behavior that is a sign of prehomosexuality (201). The belief that there was a connection between children’s cross-dressing and homosexuality, combined with the idea of the latter as a disorder led to the traumatic treatment of the children.

Examples of Intersexuality, Transsexuality, and Transgender

Intersexuality is a condition when a baby is born with genitalia that is neither explicitly male nor female. According to Preves and Roberts, such cases were always responded with surgical decisions (119, 61). The child has been ‘sexed’ either as a boy or a girl based on the anatomic features of genitalia. The problem is that the real gender and sexual orientation are impossible to know in the age when the surgery is completed. Moreover, this approach excludes other variations of sex except for binary framework, while those people do not generally have health complications connected to being intersex.

Transgendering is a collective concept that refers to all the individuals who change their gender, sex, or engage in cross-dressing. Transgender individuals are mostly believed to have a wrong gender that does not correspond with their biological sex. However, transgendering may occur as the result of surgical ‘treatment’ of intersex individuals who were placed into the wrong sex. Thus, it proves that both sex and gender can be real or constructed. Moreover, there are cases when the features of two genders can exist within one individual in different proportions, undermining the binary framework. Transgender individuals also question the traditional perception of sexuality, suggesting that people can be attracted to genders, not to sexes.

Works Cited

Burke, Phyllis. “Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male and Female.” Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: The New Basics, edited by Abby L. Ferber et al., Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 199-208.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Dueling Dualisms.” Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: The New Basics, edited by Abby L. Ferber et al., Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 6-21.

Preves, Sharon E. “Unruly Bodies: Intersex Variations of Sex Development.” Introducing the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Nancy L. Fischer and Steven Seidman, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2016, pp. 115-121.

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Roberts, Celia. “Medicine and the Making of a Sexual Body.” Introducing the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Nancy L. Fischer and Steven Seidman, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2016, pp. 59-67.

Tauches, Kimberly. “Transgendering: Challenging the ‘Normal.’” Introducing the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Nancy L. Fischer and Steven Seidman, 3rd ed., Routledge, 2016, pp. 134-139.

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