Sexuality encompasses our sex, our personality and our gender. Our sex is defined by the reproductive anatomy we are born with. Gender is a more fluid concept and is relative to the customs of the society around us. Our sexuality is also determined by our personality. Some people are promiscuous and see sex as a series of conquests. Some people enjoy fantasy and masturbation. Others want to explore sex play with a lover.
When we are young adults we have the impression that there is very little difference between men and women. As we age the differences may become more obvious. Perhaps as we grow older we become more vocal in expressing our views and more confident in behaving as we want to. Men tend to be more solitary in their pursuits. They see their own personal status as central to how others value them. Women tend to become much more dependent on the sociable companionship of others.
Some people like being different. They like the attention they get and they may positively take steps to differentiate themselves from others by dressing or behaving differently. Others have no choice in being different from others. We need to be sensitive to remarking on people who are unusual or who stand out in some way. Children should consider how they might include others who do not fit naturally in a social group. Equally they should learn to respect individual privacy and the choice we all have to opt out of group activities. We need to think about how we would feel if we were excluded for being different.
Sex is determined before birth and refers to a person’s biological status as male or female. Sex is defined by biological facts: chromosomes, balance of hormones, internal and external anatomy. When an egg and sperm fuse to create a new individual there is the potential for either sex to develop. So although the vast majority of people are born either male or female, some individuals (called intersex) may display physical characteristics of both sexes at birth. The clinical recommendation for intersex infants is to raise them as females, with surgery to feminise the appearance of the genitalia.
Women may bully and abuse others. But they do not have the same motivation (that men have) to obtain sexual gratification from others. In this sense women are not sexually motivated as men are. Men may pose a threat to others because of their desire for penetrative sex. Not all men but certainly some. This is the main reason that it is important to know a person’s sex.
Transsexuals are people who undergo surgical and hormonal procedures to transition from one sex to another. They then look like the opposite sex. Transsexuals cannot change their genes and they cannot acquire the reproductive capabilities of the opposite sex.
Gender is a more complicated concept than sex and is influenced by culture, class and race. Gender refers to the behaviour and attributes that may be considered typically male or female in one social group but may be viewed otherwise in another. Transgender is used for people whose identity, behaviour or general sense of self does not conform to what is usually associated with the sex they were born.
From an early age we want to be identified according to our gender. We align our personal preferences with specific characteristics. So girls align themselves with feminine attributes: a personal presentation that enhances their attractiveness and an accommodating demeanour (smiling and docile). Boys align themselves with masculine attributes: a practical personal presentation and an assertive demeanour (competent and serious).
Gender identity is concerned with a sense of belonging. Most people feel natural accepting the sex they were born even if they do not exhibit all the stereotypical behaviours for their sex. Other people have violent objections to being identified as their biological sex. For them such associations are emotionally significant.
In a similar way, a lesbian woman objects to intercourse under any circumstances. Even heterosexual women may be fairly indifferent to intercourse but a lesbian has a much stronger rejection of any kind of physically intimacy with a man including intercourse. Other lesbian women marry and have children before they recognise their sexuality.
Some heterosexual men enjoy dressing up in women’s clothes. This is called cross-dressing. Dressing in feminine apparel, typically made of softer, silkier materials than male clothing can be arousing for a man. When a man has a clothing fetish it is called tranvestitism. Homosexuals who dress in women’s clothes are called ‘drag-queens’. When women wear masculine style clothing it is for social or political reasons. Women engage in behaviours to arouse men rather than arouse themselves.
No one who knows how remarkably different individuals may be … would conceive of erotic capacities (of all things) that were basically uniform throughout a population. (Alfred Kinsey 1948)