The Components Of Sexuality

It has been proposed that several components or strands make up normal adult sexuality. The first might be called physiological – the need to satisfy the sexual urge at periodic intervals. According to surveys such as that of the American zoologist and sexologist A.C. Kinsey (1894-1956) this urge is present in both sexes, but for men, the need to discharge tension sexually occurs with greater frequency than in women. Sometimes novels or theological works have held this up as a selfish aspect of sexuality, but if one accepts the surveys, it is a fact of life.

The second strand is love. In past eras the concepts of courtly love, or chivalrous love, or platonic love, have separated love and sex; but poets and knights aside, sex and love are intricately interwoven in mature sexuality. Hence the confusion that surrounds the terms love and sex in popular thought. A ‘love affair’ tends to mean a sexual liaison in which the feelings of the partners for each other are affectionate and loving, whereas ‘making love’ can imply sexual intercourse without the need for much true love and affection.

The third strand is marriage, or its cultural equivalent. Here sexuality merges with culture and social behaviour, although like most other mammals the basic urge seems to be the need to pair off. This is obviously of great evolutionary significance for the human species in which offspring spend a long period of their early life dependent on parents.

There are less desirable factors involved in normal sexuality. Aggression appears to be a part of the mix, but perhaps to a greater extent in men_ This may appear only as fantasy, although such fantasies may be harmlessly acted out during sex. At a more extreme level, aggression may lead to sadomasochistic tendencies or even to rape. Another component of normal sexuality appears to be a tendency to femininty in men, and masculinity in women. Most people recognize this, although it usually remains in the background all their lives. This does not mean we are all bisexual*, only that in learning to be an adult we learn from both parents, and therefore we adopt a few habits, attitudes, values and self-images which are culturally associated with the opposite sex.

Influencing factors on sexuality

As will be seen later, physiology sets only very broad limits on human sexuality; most of the enormous variation found among humans must be attributed to the psychological factors of learning and conditioning. Early years are very important in the development of adult sexual orientation – there being a reasonable fixed sequence of development. Before the age of five, the child develops a sense of gender identity, thinks of himself or herself as boy or girl, and begins to relate to others differently according to their gender and, through experience, learns what sort of behaviour is expected of him or her.

Around the age of puberty, the maturing adolescent is confronted with conflicting attitudes and standards regarding sex. The message from adults is almost totally negative – the young person is told what not to do, while their peer groups are exerting a pro-sexual influence. Despite the factors working against a healthy rational attitude towards sex, the sexual impulse is sufficiently strong to gradually override the negative factors, and most people eventually manage to achieve at least a tolerable sexual adjustment.