Last Updated 10 Apr 2020

Psychology of Sexuality

Category Psychology
Essay type Research
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Since the dawn of mankind, sexuality has played an enormous role in the complex social behaviors exhibited by our incredibly unique species. Sex contributes not only to reproduction, but also to relationships between people, cultural norms, and mental health. There are many important factors that contribute to sexuality; one of the most important factors is sex differentiation.

We can take this even further and look at reproductive anatomy and the differences between the male and female reproductive systems. Thus, this paper discusses the history of sex, male and female reproductive anatomy and physiology, and finally human sex differentiation. The history of sex is interesting especially because of the controversy over the length of the time p from whence it was recorded. John Gagnon argues that it was really the turn of the 19th century when sex research emerged.

While many (if not all) of Sigmund Freud’s theories have been disproved by this point in time, he did hit on many major ideas about sexuality and was one of the first people to really think and talk publicly about it, as well as Havelock Ellis. Freudian theories were extremely influential in shaping future theories and research, even throughout the late 20th century. Another important player was Alfred Kinsey, who built upon previous researchers and made note of the social changes around the 1950s, in turn affecting policy, general attitudes towards sex, and future research.

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Winston Ehrmann agreed that the history of sexuality is quite a short field in his work “Some Knowns and Unknowns in Research into Human Sex Behavior,” arguing that and while there has been documentation about sexual behavior throughout history, a more scientific approach to sex only really begun since the late 19th Century. However, I would contest that it’s a distinction based more on a social construct of what constitutes a scientific study in Western society.

For example, ancient Indian literature of the Kama Sutra can be said to have treated sex as a science, giving practical advice about sex as well as showing the various positions in detailed paintings. There is also detailed historical evidence of homosexual behavior among men in Ancient Greece. While Ehrmann may not have considered these sources scientific, I would argue that for their respective time periods, they were as scientific as could be expected. In fact, we can’t really judge whether something was “scientific” since what we consider scientific in a modern Western sense may be completely different from their nderstanding of scientific back in the days of Ancient India or Greece. For a perspective of the history of sexuality from around the globe, we go back further in time and look at eighteenth century England, as well as ancient African Bushmen. Hera Cook writes an article “Sexuality and Contraception in Modern England: Doing the History of Reproductive Sexuality” in which she argues that historians have ignored reproduction as a factor relevant to and influencing sexual mores and change. Pregnancy, and the resulting child, is not only a physical demand and economic cost, but a health risk.

Effective contraception was not available and alternative sexual practices were not acceptable substitutes for vaginal intercourse. While I agree with most of her arguments, I would contest her claim that many historians dismiss reproduction as a factor of changes in sexuality. In fact, the next article “The Century of Sex: Gender, Bodies, and Sexuality in the Long Eighteenth Century” by Karen Harvey discusses sexuality in England during the 1700s and does consider the effects of reproduction.

Harvey argues that prior to the Eighteenth century, men and women were “placed on a vertical, hierarchical axis, in which their bodies were seen as two comparable variants of one kind” in a sort of “one-sex model” based on the four humors of different qualities – cold and moist, which dominated women, and hot and dry, which dominated men (Harvey, 2002, p. 901). Furthermore, they thought of sex organs as simply the reverse of one another; a vagina was like an inside-out penis, the labia corresponded to the foreskin, etc.

However, towards the eighteenth century, there was a shift in the understanding of bodies towards a two-sex model. Anatomical differences were stressed and their bodies were regarded as qualitatively distinct. While previously the female orgasm was previously thought to have importance for conception, it was ultimately deemed unnecessary. Women were reimagined from “lascivious and lustful creatures” to having no sexual needs whatsoever (Harvey, 2002, p. 903). Homosexuality was highly frowned upon and considered perverse and sodomy.

On the other hand, a certain ancient African Bushmen tribe had a much more egalitarian view on sexual behavior and gender differences. Marc Epprecht discusses the history of the zvidoma, the orginal inhabitants of Zimbabwe in his book “Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa. ” Epprecht notes that these ancient Bushmen were hunters and gatherers using Stone Age weapons and tools comprising a classless communitarian society with no concept of individual ownership or property. Decisions were made by group consensus, and this included females; uncommon for that time.

While there was a clear gender division of labour, the zvidoma were closer to egalitarian than any other culture in ancient African history. Not only did they traditionally marry monogamously, but women could divorce relatively easily and retain rights to sexual autonomy. Depictions of women’s genitals in cave paintings suggest “a source of vital, mystical energy at least on par with men’s” (Epprecht, 2004, p. 25). Because of their limited geographical area as well as their method of hunting and gathering, they had to be careful to avoid overpopulation.

During times of hunger, they practiced sexual restraint and possibly infanticide. Furthermore, there is a rock painting at least 2000 years old depicting three males engaged in anal intercourse as well as two male couples, one embracing face to face and the other also engaging in anal sex with an overly large emphasized erect penis. There are not many paintings depicting sexual practice, but the relative scarcity of ones depicting homosexual practices as well as paintings with heterosexual sex suggest they were equally commonplace.

While the history of sexuality gives us a good basis on which to study the psychology of sexuality, some would argue this basis is biased toward differentiation. Merry Wiesner-Hanks argues that women’s and gender history over the last few decades has spent too much time on divergence, making more and more complex categories of difference over sexual orientation, marital status, able-bodiedness, gender relations, etc. However, I argue that it is necessary to study these differences in order to properly ascertain similarities and relations between the sexes.

First and foremost we will discuss the biological and anatomical differences between the genders, then later human sex differentiation in a broader, more psychological and social construct. Historically, fixing sexual types became popular in the eighteenth century, according to Londa Schiebinger in “The anatomy of difference: race and sex in eighteenth-century science. ” It was a great age of classification. Just as natural historians flooded Europe with new strange flora and fauna from the New World, new cultures were being discovered in America.

Thus they sought new and simple principles that would hold universally, and tried to define the genders. This set the stage for genders to be divided in an evolutionary context. Judith Lipton and David Barash posit in “Gender Gap: The Biology of Male-Female Differences,” that biological differences between men and women have a strong and direct correlation with evolution. They argue that we can look to other species to learn more about ourselves. Just as scientists look at E. Coli to study the replication of DNA, we can look at other living creatures and see our sex differences mirrored there within.

However, Katarina Hamberg challenges that argument. She thinks that using sex differences seen in biological experiments on animals to explain gender differences in humans is ridiculous. I agree with her that this is completely unscientific. Gender differences as well as gender itself varies greatly between species. In fact, in many species the female is bigger than the male. Furthermore, she is often stronger and will sometimes consume the male after sex in order to give strength to her developing babies, as with many arachnids and some insects.

Therefore we can hardly compare studies on animals to human sex differences, though we can certainly look at the differences and ponder the implications. Hamberg also argues that throughout history, biological arguments have been used in order to legitimize a social gender order characterized by male supremacy. This is more problematic, for while men are physically stronger and bigger than women, they are certainly not more intelligent nor are they naturally more disposed to leadership. In fact, some studies have shown that women possess more of the skills necessary to lead well and do better academically.

The male and female orgasms are an important biological distinction in a reproductive, evolutionary, and social context. In “Why Women Have Orgasms: An Evolutionary Analysis” by David Puts, Khytam Dawood and Lisa Welling, the evolutionary adaptation of the female orgasm and its purpose is discussed. There are two possible likely hypotheses; firstly the mate-choice hypothesis which holds that female orgasm has “evolved to function in mate selection” and secondly the byproduct hypothesis which asserts that the female orgasm in fact has no evolutionary purpose and rather exists because women and men share early ontogeny with men.

They found the first hypothesis to be more likely, which seems the case to me as well. Another article “Women Who Prefer Longer Penises Are More Likely to Have Vaginal Orgasms (but Not Clitoral Orgasms)” discussed vaginal versus clitoral orgasms and the evolutionary implications. Their method was to have over three hundred women report in an online survey; however, people may not always be truthful in surveys, especially those discussing sensitive matters like sex, therein lies a possible problem with their study.

They were able to find a positive association between likelihood of orgasm with a longer penis and vaginal orgasm frequency. Finally “Human Sperm Competition” discussed the concept of sperm competition, the competitive process between spermatozoa of two or more different males to fertilize an egg of a lone female. They were looking into the claim that sperm competition has an effect on mate selection in humans. This study also involved the use of a survey with approximately 400 men and women. The results of the survey showed that sperm competition was most likely not a huge factor in mate selection.

On the other hand, perhaps this is something that evolved recently since nowadays there are many options for couples who have trouble conceiving such as adoption, artificial insemination, use of surrogates, etc. thus the ability to conceive a child naturally is not as important in mate selection now as it may have been earlier in human evolution. Contributing to sex differences such as these is different concentrations of steroids and hormones delivered to the fetus, which can have lasting effects throughout a person’s life.

After looking at sex differentiation in a biological context, we must consider how and why females and males differ in behavior, psychology, genetics, and pathology? Certainly, it has long been posited that there is a divide in spatial abilities. Patricia Gilmartin and Jeffrey Patton assess this in “Comparing the Sexes on Spatial Abilities: Map-Use Skills. ” They suggest that males are more proficient than females in many types of spatial tasks. Furthermore, they found these differences were greater in childhood, especially in relation to maps, geography, and navigation based tasks.

Among college students, these differences in map-use and navigation were negligible. I would have liked to see them look into the concept of men preferring not to ask for directions or use a GPS to navigate – a long standing gender joke, but possibly true. Certainly this has proved true in my experience driving with my male family members and friends. However, I would posit that it varies culturally, for example in respect to Japanese people who don’t have this social construct of men not asking for directions. Another dimension on which genders vary is leadership.

Cheryl de la Rey argues in “Gender, Women and Leadership” that the question is not only whether genders vary in leadership ability and skills, but whether they vary in leadership styles as well. These differences in leadership style, she posits, are not reducible to biological differences, nor can they be adequately explained by socialization and sex roles. Rather, it’s about how gendered behaviors become more dominant within organizational contexts that are masculinized. This leads to the hindrance of women’s access to leadership positions via discrimination and stereotyping.

Part of the problem is that people need mentors to move up in the business world, but since most of the people in high ranking positions are men, and close relationships between men and women in the workplace may be frowned up, it can be hard for a woman to find a mentor. Sebastian Schuh notes that women are still underrepresented in leadership roles, but he has different ideas about why. He thinks it’s because women consistently report lower power motivation than men. While this may be a piece of the puzzle, I don’t think he addresses the full picture very well.

In addition to differences in leadership, men and women vary on the axis of sexuality and attitudes towards sex. Jennifer Petersen and Janet Hyde’s meta-analysis on research of gender differences revealed that although men indicated somewhat more sexual experience and permissive attitudes, there were exceedingly minimal gender differences in sexual attitudes and behaviors. Furthermore, these differences decreased with age. However, I think he glosses over many of differences. There are subtleties to it that must be considered.

In “The Orthodox View of Brain Sexual Differentiation” Marc Breedlove, Bradley Cooke, and Cynthia Jordan discuss how the standard view of sexual differentiation of the brain, which is chiefly resulting from work with mammals, oversimplifies a vastly complex process of mechanisms derived through natural selection. The spinal nucleus of the bulbocavernosus (SNB) plays an important role in all this with a complex system. It was interesting to see how social factors could take an effect and how plastic and ever-evolving this system could be.

One thing is clear from this reading; this SNB system is more multifaceted than previously thought and may be changing well into adulthood. As far as gender differences in aggression, I was not surprised to learn that men are more likely to be engaged in violence than women. Both from personal experience and cultural norms, that seems to fit the model. However, it was interesting to learn that the primary reason for male aggression is mate competition. From a personal standpoint, I don’t find a violent man liable to get into fights more attractive.

I’ve certainly seen the type more than once at a bar, or on the streets, and my first instinct is to remove myself from his company and immediate area. On the contrary, that would be a shortcoming. However, from an evolutionary perspective it makes more sense as to protection and fighting for territory. Though there has been much study on the history of sex, biological and anatomical sex differences and social, sexual, and psychological implications of gender differences, psychology of sexuality is a field that is ever-growing and expanding as studies become more daring and social constructs allow for more experimentation and study.

Hopefully in the next century, we will see new research leading to greater understanding of gender and sex. References Ainsworth, S. E. , & Maner, J. K. (2012). Sex begets violence: Mating motives, social dominance, and physical aggression in men. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(5), 819-829. Barash, D. P. , & Lipton, J. E. (2002). Gender gap: the biology of male-female differences. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. Breedlove, M. , Cooke, B. M. , & Jordan, C. L. (1999). The orthodox view of brain sexual differentiation. Brain, Behavior, and Evolution, 54, 8-14. Cook, H. 2007). Sexuality and Contraception in Modern England: Doing the History of Reproductive Sexuality. Journal of Social History, 40(4), 915-932. Costa, R. M. , Miller, G. F. , & Brody, S. (2012). Women who prefer longer penises are more likely to have vaginal orgasms (but not clitoral orgasms): Implications for an evolutionary theory of vaginal orgasm. International Society for Sexual Medicine, 9, 3079-3088. La Rey, C. D. (2005). Gender, women, and leadership. Agenda, 65, 4-11. Ehrmann, W. (1957). Some knowns and unknowns in research into human sex behavior. Marriage and Family Living, 1, 16-24.

Epprecht, M. (2004). 1. Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa (pp. 25-49). Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. Gagnon, J. H. (1975). Sex research and social change. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 4(2), 111-141. Gilmartin, P. P. , ; Patton, J. C. (1984). Comparing the sexes on spatial abilities: map-use skills. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 74(4), 605-619. Hamberg, K. (2005). Biology, Gender and Behaviour. A Critical Discussion of the Biological Models used for Explaining Cognitive and Behavioural Gender Differences .

Psychology of Gender Identity (pp. 127-144). Social Science: Nova Publishers. Harvey, K. (2002). The century of sex? Gender, bodies, and sexuality in the long eighteenth century. The Historical Journal, 45(4), 899-916. Petersen, J. L. , ; Hyde, J. S. (2010). A meta-analytic review of research on gender differences in sexuality. Psychological Bulletin, 136(1), 21-38. Puts, D. A. , Dawood, K. , ; Welling, L. L. (2012). Why women have orgasms: an evolutionary analysis. Arch Sex Behavior, 41, 1127-1143. Schiebinger, L. (1990).

The anatomy of difference: race and sex in eighteenth-century science. Eighteenth-Century Studies, 23(4), 387-405. Schuh, S. (2013). Gender differences in leadership role occupancy : The mediating role of power motivation. Journal of Business Ethics, 112(517), 34-78. Simmons, L. W. , Firman, R. C. , Rhones, G. , ; Peters, M. (2004). Human sperm competition: testis size, sperm production and rates of extrapair copulations. Animal Behavior, 68, 297-302. Wiesner-Hanks, M. (2007). World history and the history of women, gender, and sexuality. Journal of World History, 18(1), 53-67.

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