Gender and Sexuality
Is Sexuality Learned, or is it Biological?
Different human behaviors are either inborn or learned through socialization. There has always been a debate regarding whether sexuality is a learned behavior or innate. Learning (sociology) and biology play some significant roles in sexual development. However, the likely effects on sexuality and the learning process are not in most cases included in the debates on the differences in sexual behavior and the separation of psychosexual function (Sheppard and Mayo 260). The research will start with a review of the studies supporting the debate. It will be followed by a discussion of the side with more robust evidence, and a conclusion and reflection on the topic will follow. As such, it is imperative to review research on sexuality based on those who suggest that sexuality is learned and those that lean towards the biological side to establish the side with more substantial evidence.
There is much diversity in perspectives on sexuality, sexual behaviors, and practices. Societies have their social standards and prohibitions, which differ on this topic. Sexuality is usually symbolic and permeated with cultural, social, and personal meaning. The history of sexuality has permanently changed. Christianity initially influenced western attitudes to sexuality. However, in the 19th century, there was a medicalization of sexuality, changing sinful behaviors related to sexuality to unhealthy behaviors. During the Victorian age, there were sexual double standards that allowed males to keep mistresses or use prostitutes, while women remained honorable by maintaining themselves pure for marriage (Sheppard and Mayo 260). In the western world, the past four decades have witnessed considerable transformations in attitudes towards sexuality, sex, sex morals, marriage, divorce, abortion, and adult pornography. However, the understanding of healthy sexuality remains deeply rooted in social affiliations.
Among the commonly discussed topic in sexuality is the basis of human sexuality. In this case, it is a learned behavior considering the age at which an individual starts showing sexual preference. Sexual experience and the actual practices begin later in life and not when an individual is a child. When a person starts revealing a particular sexual preference, he or she might have experienced other sexual behaviors (Sheppard and Mayo 261). The sexual double standard still operates today. Additionally, the fact that there is a higher degree of tolerance for different sexual behaviors explains some of the evident behaviors in the current society. For instance, prostitution is generally viewed currently as a form of sex occupation, which is the idea of exchanging sexual pleasures for financial benefits.
Homosexuality is categorized into four different kinds in the contemporary culture of the West. These groups are casual homosexuality, personalized homosexuality, situated homosexuality, and homosexuality as a way of life. The aspect of homosexuality entails being openly homosexual within a society of other individuals related to a ‘gay’ lifestyle (Ghisleni, Jordan, and Fioccoprile 766). On the other hand, lesbianism has not been given much attention since it might be only a sexual orientation that has been related to some feminist movements trying to create female solidarity as well as a culture and lifestyle which are woman-centered. While some progress has been made in the West by gay and lesbian movements, in other parts of the world, this sexual behavior is still abhorred.
Some researchers have shown that there are innate toy preferences for children (Sheppard and Mayo 261). With the increase in research, it is becoming decreasingly possible that “gender socialization” is the basis for the differences in toy preference between girls and boys. The idea, in this case, is that boys use different toys and dress differently from girls, not because they are born like this but because they learn from their society.
Few men practiced homosexuality in a society where it was generally believed that all men and women had children. The act of labeling individuals as homosexual was a very recent development. The male-to-male sexuality was not an activity that was only practiced in Greece but was a common practice worldwide. There were no religious or political connotations (Sheppard and Mayo 261). The universe was not bound by regulation of sexuality, which was public, and people would not be ashamed or feel guilty about it. The dichotomous definition of one’s sexuality was not evident, while everyone was a friend of one another. However, in Greek, this friendship was mainly found among men.
Besides sexuality as a learned behavior, some authors appear to support the view that sexuality is an inborn behavior and one that humans cannot control. Some sociologists have suggested that there are sex differences that are innate (Falomir, Juan, and Hegarty 732). In all societies, male and female children prefer to use different toys in playing. Male children tend to have toys such as trucks and cars, while female children use play items such as dolls. A conventional explanation is that the male and the female child are socialized differently and encouraged to use different play items by their parents, other children, and society in general. However, developing scientific evidence suggests that the choice of toys and other kinds of play for male and female children might have a biological explanation.
Research on the biological differences between homosexual and heterosexual individuals has been carried out to prove that sexuality is innate. Research suggests that the brain of a homosexual male and female is similar to that of a straight individual of the opposite sex. A Swedish researcher, in “the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal,” compared the size of the brain’s halves in 90 grown-ups. It emerged that homosexual males and straight females have halves of the brain the same size, with the right side of the brain being bigger in lesbian females and straight males (Falomir, Juan, and Hegarty 738). Essentially, this is argued to be sufficient proof that sexual preference is biological and not learned.
Therefore, it is becoming possible that there are hormonal, genetic, and other biological explanations for the evident sex differences in the preference for toys. Indeed, differing levels of hormonal actions influence male and female humans. Unlike women, men develop as aggressive individuals (Falomir, Juan, and Hegarty 738). Men are focused on infrastructure-type and abstract issues. On the other hand, women develop to be highly nurturing, more emotional, and more focused on paying attention to a person’s well-being. Just as these differences exist and are not out of an individual’s choice or learned behavior, sexuality has been suggested to be innate and not learned.
Another experiment revealed that there were other considerable differences in a specific part of their brain, which is the amygdala. There were more nerve “connections” in straight males and gay females in the right part of the brain than in the left (Falomir, Juan, and Hegarty 740). In homosexual males and straight females, there was the reverse, with the left side of the amygdala having more neutral connections. These differences are biological and cannot be explained from a learned behavior point of view. A biological mechanism sets them before an individual is born.
Researchers have also shown that gay individuals of both sexes had disparities in some cognitive capabilities. From this perspective, scholars tend to suggest that there are differences in the structures of their brains. For the first time, scientists have also used brain scanners to locate the source of the differences (Shoma, Toshihiro, and Takaomi 2). The Karolinska Institute scientists scanned a sample of 90 healthy homosexual and straight adults who were both males and females. The scanning was done to measure the volume of the two sides or hemispheres of the brain.
Following the gathering of the findings, it was revealed that lesbian females and straight males have a common specific “asymmetry” in the size of their hemispheres. On the other hand, females who were straight and homosexual males did not have any difference in the size of the two hemispheres of the brain (Falomir, Juan, and Hegarty 740). In this case, it implies that structurally, homosexual males were more similar to straight females, and homosexual females were more similar to straight males.
Regardless of the evidence supporting the idea that sexuality might be innate, much of the research appreciates the role of dichotomy in defining one’s sexuality. In this case, the dichotomy is a sort of labeling, generally a language creation. Human nature requires language for them to communicate and construct categories that are important for the cultivation of their existence (Johnston 668). Language is used to come up with labels that are important in identifying objects and bringing the feeling of mutual understanding between people.
Apart from the use of labels to describe the identity or experience of individuals, it is also used as a social identifier, which in itself is a means to comprehend and get used to the expected standards and norms of society. Hence, it implies that social identities or labels are critical in fostering the collaboration and promotion of mutual learning and consciousness. Language can limit the capacity to promote the acquisition of new knowledge and the engagement of critical dialogue. In essence, language can create dichotomous categories. Thus it ceases to provide an accurate depiction of the reality of a person.
The dichotomy has created policies that put individuals into two distinct extremities. Such policies measure who is of value in society, which has resulted in isolating those considered otherwise. As such, it has also divided people into the poor and the rich, male and female, black and white, and so forth. Therefore, the dichotomy gives birth to race, religion, and ethnicity. Under those premises, the literature confirms the aspect of the dichotomization of race, religion, ethnicity, sex, and gender discourse (Johnston 668). There is not much concern over the dichotomy between sex and gender.
The definition of dichotomy, which is too simple, has resulted in feelings of insignificance, stigmatization, and discrimination against people that do not identify as either male or female (bisexuals). The people who do not fit within the dichotomy feel discriminated against regarding love, desire, and sexual attraction, including homosexuals. It is worth noting that the two terms heterosexuality and homosexuality were created recently; hence, they are not words that existed during creation. In a true sense, same-sex attraction was a common occurrence in ancient years. A case in point is the pederasty practice in early Greece, where the aged men would involve themselves in sexual intercourse with youthful males.
It is interesting to learn from the research that sexuality is a learned behavior as opposed to its being innate. As such, the dichotomy argument disqualifies any dispute that sexuality is biological. The idea that homosexuality is an abhorred behavior in society using the dichotomy argument has led to some people changing their views to socially acceptable norms. From the discussion, it is evident that sexuality is an integral part of society since human beings are sexual beings, and they ought to celebrate how sexuality benefits humans physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Generally, healthy sexuality is positive and enriching to human lives. It is a way of communicating; through which people can connect as they give and receive emotions and pleasures. Healthy sexuality has a wide range of opportunities for sharing feelings, fun, thoughts, warm hugs, and touches to physical intimacy. The same applies whether sexuality is learned or innate.
As evident from the discussion, sociologists have drawn a division between sex, physiological, anatomical differences, and gender, social, and cultural psychological differences between males and females. Humans learn behavior through the process of gender socialization. The kind of behavior learned is considered gender appropriate by society. Some procreative technologies like genetic engineering, contraception, abortion, and the medicalization of childbirth have shaped people’s lives. They have also led to changes in sexual relations. There are aspects of society that interact such that social order is formed. In this case, these concepts include labor, power, and personal/sexual relationships. In essence, while gender might have some innate aspects, sexuality is learned.
Falomir-Pichastor, Juan M., and Hegarty Peter. “Maintaining Distinctions Under Threat: Heterosexual Men Endorse The Biological Theory Of Sexuality When Equality Is The Norm.” British Journal of Social Psychology vol. 53 no. 4, 2014, pp. 731-751.
Ghisleni, Lara, Alexis Jordan, and Emily Fioccoprile. “Introduction to ‘Binary Binds’: Deconstructing Sex And Gender Dichotomies In Archaeological Practice.” Journal of Archaeological Method & Theory, vol. 23 no.3, 2016, pp.765-787.
Johnston, Lynda. “Gender And Sexuality I.” Progress in Human Geography, vol. 40, no. 5, 2016, pp. 668-678
Sheppard, Maia, and J. B. Mayo. “The Social Construction Of Gender And Sexuality: Learning From Two Spirit Traditions.” Social Studies, vol. 104, no. 6, 2013, pp. 259-270.
Shoma, Sato, Kitamoto Toshihiro, and Sakai Takaomi. “Modulation of Innate and Learned Sexual Behaviors By The TRP Channel Painless Expressed In The Fruit Fly Brain: Behavioral Genetic Analysis And Its Implications.” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, vol. 8, 2014, pp. 1-6