From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- "Sex, as we know, is a heat-seeking missile that forever seeks out the newest medium for its transmission." --(Gerard Van Der Leun, 1993)
- "Human sexuality is, quite apart from Christian repressions, a highly questionable phenomenon, and belongs, at least potentially, among the extreme rather than the ordinary experiences of humanity. Tamed as it may be, sexuality remains one of the demonic forces in human consciousness - pushing us at intervals close to taboo and dangerous desires, which range from the impulse to commit sudden arbitrary violence upon another person to the voluptuous yearning for the extinction of one's consciousness, for death itself." --Susan Sontag in the The Pornographic Imagination
Human sexuality comprises a broad range of behavior and processes, including the physiological, psychological, social, cultural, political, philosophical, ethical, moral, theological, legal and spiritual or religious aspects of sex and human sexual behavior.
Sexuality and love
Human sexuality, besides ensuring biological reproduction, has important social functions: it creates physical intimacy, bonds, and hierarchies among individuals; may be directed to spiritual transcendence (according to some traditions); and in a hedonistic sense to the enjoyment of activity involving sexual gratification. Sexual desire, or libido, is experienced as a bodily urge, often accompanied by strong emotions such as love, ecstasy and jealousy. The extreme importance of sexuality in the human species can be seen in a number of physical features, among them hidden ovulation, the evolution of external scrotum and penis suggesting sperm competition, the absence of an os penis, permanent secondary sexual characteristics, the forming of pair bonds based on sexual attraction as a common social structure and sexual ability in females outside of ovulation. These adaptations indicate that the importance of sexuality in humans is on a par with that found in the Bonobo, and that the complex human sexual behaviour has a long evolutionary history.
Human choices in acting on sexuality are commonly influenced by cultural norms, which vary widely. Restrictions are often determined by religious beliefs or social customs. The pioneering researcher Sigmund Freud believed that humans are born polymorphously perverse, which means that any number of objects could be a source of pleasure. According to Freud, humans then pass through five stages of psychosexual development (and can fixate on any stage because of various traumas during the process). For Alfred Kinsey, another influential sex researcher, people can fall anywhere along a continuous scale of sexual orientation (with only small minorities fully heterosexual or homosexual). Recent studies of neurology and genetics suggest people may be born with a predisposition to one sexual orientation or another.
Sexuality in history
Art and artifacts from past eras help to portray human perception of sexuality of the time.
Many of the ancient civilisations provide evidence of developments in sexuality. In particular:
- Egypt: The couple Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, now buried in a joint Fifth-dynasty (2498–2345 BC) era tomb in Saqqara, Egypt, are believed to be the oldest recorded same-sex couple in human history. The Ancient Egyptians related the cult of phallus with Osiris. When Osiris' body was cut in 13 pieces, Set scattered them all over Egypt and his wife Isis retrieved all of them except one, his penis, which was swallowed by a fish (see the Legend of Osiris and Isis). The phallus was a symbol of fertility, and the god Min was often depicted ithyphallic (with a penis).
- India: Ancient texts from Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism such as the Vedas reveal moral perspectives on sexuality, marriage and fertility prayers. The epics of ancient India, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, possibly from as early as 1400 BCE, later influenced Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan and South East Asian culture. They indicate that sex was considered a mutual duty between a married couple, but where sex was considered a private affair. The most publicly known sexual literature of India are the texts of the sixty-four arts.
- Mesopotamia: In ancient Mesopotamia, Ishtar was the primary Goddess of life, men and women, nature and fertility, sex, sexual power and birth. Ishtar was also the goddess of war and weapons and any victory was celebrated in her temples with offerings of produce and money as well as through a feast and orgy of sex and intercourse with holy temple prostitutes.
- China: In the I Ching (The Book of Changes, a Chinese classic text dealing with what would be in the West termed metaphysics), sexual intercourse is one of two fundamental models used to explain the world. Heaven is described as having sexual intercourse with Earth. The male lovers of early Chinese men of great political power are mentioned in one of the earliest great works of philosophy and literature, the Zhuang Zi.
- Japan: In perhaps the earliest novel in the world, the Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji), dating back to around the 11th century AD, eroticism is treated as a central part of the aesthetic life of members of the nobility.
- Greece: In ancient Greece, the phallus, often in the form of a herma, was an object of worship as a symbol of fertility. One ancient Greek male idea of female sexuality was that women envied penises of males. Wives were considered as commodity and instruments for bearing legitimate children. They had to compete sexually with eromenoi, hetaeras and slaves in their own homes.
- Rome: Ancient Roman civilization included celebrations associated with human reproductive organs. Over time there emerged institutionalization of voluntary sex as well as prostitution. This resulted in a virtual sexual caste system in Roman civilization – different grades and degrees of sexual relationships. Apart from the legally wedded spouses, a number of males used to have Delicatue, mistresses of wealthy and prominent men. The next were the Famosae, mostly the daughters and even wives of the wealthy families who enjoyed sex for its own sake. There was another class known as Lupae, willing to have sexual union with anyone for a price. Copae were the serving girls in the taverns and inns and who did not mind being hired as bedmates for the night by travelers.
Sexology, the study of sexual interests, behavior, and function, covers sexual development and sexual relationships including sexual intercourse. It also documents the sexualities of groups such as the disabled, children, and the elderly.
Alfred Kinsey became interested in the different forms of sexual practices around 1933 when he developed the Kinsey Scale, which ranges from 0 to 6, where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual. His Kinsey Reports starting with the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953 contributed to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
- History of human sexuality
- Primal scene
- Sexually explicit material
- History of Sexuality by Foucault
- List of human sexuality topics