Sexuality and Culture

Posted by on April 24, 2016 in Conscious Living, Relationships & Sex with 5 Comments


Ten Rules For Being Human


Though biology plays an important role, the way in which sexuality is expressed and acted upon is highly influenced by culture.

“Human sexuality” refers to people’s sexual interest in and attraction to others; it is the capacity to have erotic or sexual feelings and experiences. Sexuality differs from biological sex, in that “sexuality” refers to the capacity for sexual feelings and attraction, while “biological sex” refers to how one’s anatomy, physiology, hormones, and genetics are classified (typically as male, female, or intersex). Sexuality is also separate from gender identity, which is a person’s sense of their own gender, or sociocultural classification (i.e., man, woman, or another gender) based on biological sex (i.e., male or female). It is also distinct from—although it shapes—sexual orientation, or one’s emotional and sexual attraction to a particular sex or gender.

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Sexuality may be experienced and expressed in a variety of ways, including thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles, and relationships. These manifest themselves not only in biological, physical, and emotional ways, but also in sociocultural ways, which have to do with the effects of human society and culture on one’s sexuality. Some researchers believe that sexual behavior is determined by genetics; however, others assert that it is largely molded by the environment. Human sexuality impacts, and is impacted by, cultural, political, legal, and philosophical aspects of life, and can interact with issues of morality, ethics, theology, spirituality, or religion.

Sexuality Across Cultures

Throughout time and place, the vast majority of human beings have participated in sexual relationships (Broude 2003). Each society, however, interprets sexuality and sexual activity in different ways. Human sexuality can be understood as part of the social life of humans, governed by implied rules of behavior and the status quo. The sociocultural context of society—which includes all social and cultural factors, from politics and religion to the mass media—not only creates social norms, but also places major importance on  conformity to these norms. Norms dictate what is considered to be acceptable behavior; what is considered normal or acceptable in terms of sexual behavior is based on the norms, mores, and values of the particular society.

Sexuality across cultures

Different cultures vary in how they understand sexuality and in what they deem to be acceptable or normal.

Different cultures vary in regard to norms, including how they understand and perceive sexuality, how they influence the artistic expression of sexual beauty, how they understand the relationship between gender and sexuality, and how they interpret and/or judge particular sexual behaviors (such as premarital sex, the age of sexual consent, homosexuality, masturbation, etc.). Societies that value monogamy, for example, are likely to oppose extramarital sex. Individuals are socialized to these mores and values—starting at a very young age—by their family, education system, peers, media, and religion.

Sexual norms across cultures

Homosexuality is perceived differently by different cultures and subcultures. Many of these perceptions are influenced by religion.

Society’s views on sexuality are influenced by everything from religion to philosophy, and they have changed throughout history and are continuously evolving. Historically, religion has been the greatest influence on sexual behavior in the United States; however, in more recent years, peers and the media have emerged as two of the strongest influences, particularly among American teens (Potard, Courtois, and Rusch, 2008).

Sexuality Throughout History

Sexuality has always been a vital part of the human existence. History shows an increase in the collective supervision of sexual behavior when agricultural societies emerged, most likely due to population increases and the growth of concentrated urban communities. This supervision placed more regulations on sexuality and sexual behaviors. With the advent of patriarchal societies, gender roles around sexuality became much more stringent, and sexual norms began focusing on sexual possessiveness and the control of female sexuality. How males and females were allowed and expected to express their sexuality became very different, with men having a great deal more sexual power and freedom. Different cultures, however, have established distinctive approaches to gender.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the United States, many changes in sexual standards have occurred. New artificial methods of birth control were introduced, leading to major shifts in sexual behavior. Social movements in the latter half of the 20th century, such as the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, and the advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) rights have helped to bring about massive changes in social perceptions of sexuality. The American researcher Alfred Kinsey was also a major influence in changing 20th-century attitudes about sex, and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction continues to be a major center for the study of human sexuality today.

Culture and Religion

Most world religions have developed moral codes that have sought to guide people’s sexual activities and practices. The influence of religion on sexuality is especially apparent in many countries today in the long-debated issue of gay marriage. Some religions view sex as a sacred act between a man and a woman that should only be performed within marriage; other religions view certain kinds of sex as shameful or sinful, or stress that sex should only be engaged in for the purpose of procreation. Many religions emphasize control over one’s sex drive and sexual desire, or dictate the times or conditions in which sexuality can be expressed. Whether or not sex before marriage, the use of birth control, polyamorous relationships, or abortion are deemed acceptable, is often a matter of religious belief.

Sexuality and the Media

Mass media in the form of television, magazines, movies, and music continues to shape what is deemed appropriate or normal sexuality, targeting everything from body image to products meant to enhance sex appeal. Media serves to perpetuate a number of social scripts about sexual relationships and the sexual roles of men and women, many of which have been shown to have both empowering and problematic effects on people’s (especially women’s) developing sexual identities and sexual attitudes.

Sexuality in the United States

While the United States prides itself on being the land of the “free,” it is rather restrictive compared to other industrialized nations when it comes to its citizens’ general attitudes about sex. In an international survey, 29% of Americans stated that premarital sex is always wrong, while the average among the 24 countries surveyed was 17%. Similar discrepancies were found in questions about the condemnation of sex before the age of 16, extramarital sex, and homosexuality, with American total disapproval of these each acts being 12%, 13%, and 11% higher, respectively, than the study’s average (Widmer, Treas, and Newcomb, 1998).

Women’s Sexualities

American culture is particularly restrictive in its attitudes about sex when it comes to women and sexuality. It is widely believed that men are more sexual than women, and the belief that men have—or have the right to—more sexual urges than women creates a double standard. Ira Reiss, a pioneer researcher in the field of sexual studies, defined the double standard as, for example, prohibiting premarital sexual intercourse for women but allowing it for men (Reiss, 1960). This standard has evolved into allowing women to engage in premarital sex only within committed love relationships, but allowing men to engage in sexual relationships with as many partners as they wish without condition (Milhausen and Herold, 1999).

Sex Education

The manner in which children are informed of issues of sexuality, and at what age, is a topic of much debate in the United States today. People have very differing views about how, what, when, and by whom children should be taught about sex. The school systems in almost all developed countries have some form of sex education, but the nature of the issues covered varies widely. In some countries this education begins in preschool, whereas other countries leave sex education to the pre-teenage and teenage years.

The messages that children are taught about sex play an important role in how they will grow into their sexual selves and learn to express (or not express) their sexual motivations. Sex education covers a range of topics, including the physical, mental, and social aspects of sexual behavior. However, the topics covered are highly influenced by what the immediate dominant culture deems to be appropriate. According to TIME magazine and CNN, 74% of teenagers in the U.S. reported that their major sources of sexual information were their peers and the media, compared to only 10% who named their parents or a sex-education course. This illustrates how large a role society plays in shaping people’s views when it comes to acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and attitudes toward sexuality.

Source: Boundless. “Human Sexuality and Culture.” Boundless Psychology. Boundless, 13 Apr. 2016. Retrieved 23 Apr. 2016 from

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  1.' Shannon Wills says:

    Reanna Smith

  2.' Sobe Livin says:

    Omg this is SO perfectly said…why can’t I find more people who get this…If anyone reading this gets this please friend me the world needs more friends like us…peace and thank you:))

  3.' Elsa Duarte-Noboa says:

    Well said considering how short the article is! ?

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