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Ch. 8
Sexuality and Society
Defining Sex and Gender
Sex: biological differences between males and
Gender: the culturally and socially constructed
differences between females and males based
on meanings, beliefs, and practices that a group
associates with femininity or masculinity
Intersexed: having unrecognizable genitalia or
both male and female genitalia
Transgendered: one’s gender not the same as
biological sex
The biological distinction
between females and males
Primary sex characteristics: the
genitals, organs used for reproduction
 Secondary sex characteristics: bodily
development, apart from the genitals,
that distinguishes biologically mature
females and males
Cultural Variation in Sexuality
Our biology does not dictate any specific
ways of being sexual
Almost every sexual practice shows
considerable variation from one society to
Sexual positions and practices
Showing affection
Regulation of openness and timing of
sexuality also varies
Incest Taboo
Is a cultural universal
The norm forbidding sexual relations or marriage
between close relatives is found in every society
However, different norms exist among cultures as to
which blood relations are permissible as sexual
partners and which are not.
Cultural: inbreeding may have detrimental outcomes
Or is a general human preference for group exogamy
Westermarck effect: discourages sexual relations
with individuals with whom they were raised
Biological: instinct to avoid mating with close
The Sexual Revolution and
Sexual Counter-Revolution
Sexual Revolution (1960’s):
Kinsey’s studies (1948, 1953) were bestsellers
Youth culture (late 60s) “If it feels good, do it”
The “pill” (1960) removed fear of pregnancy
Now few remain abstinent till marriage
Sexual Counter-Revolution (1980’s)
Conservative movement
saw “moral decline” -> return to “family values”
Against practices associated with the spread of
sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and
Sexual Attitudes in Canada
Sexuality was regulated in Canada by the
Criminal code until 1969
Canadian attitudes toward non-marital and
extra-marital sex and homosexuality have
become more tolerant since then (see
Table 8.1)
Adult Sexual Activity and
Frequency of sexual activity in Canada (Bibby 1995):
24 percent rarely or never
23 percent 1-3 times per month
53 percent at least once per week
Canadians claim to be more sexually satisfied than
Americans, though not by much
Austria ranks first, Canada ranks third, and United
States fifth in percentage of people reporting sexual
satisfaction over age 40
The lowest five are Thailand, China, and Japan
More sexual contentment in countries with greater
gender equality (Marx and Engels said this too!)
Extra-marital Sex
It is widely condemned (more than 85% in
Canada and over 90% in US condemn it) but…
33% of men and 35 % of women report a partner
who cheated
53 percent of married people would forgive an affair
63 percent of divorces can be attributed to affairs
Pew Global Poll (2014): cultural variation in
attitudes toward extra-marital affairs, but in most
countries, majority believe it is morally wrong.
Sexual Orientation
A person’s romantic and emotional
attraction to another person
Heterosexuality: to the other sex
 Homosexuality: to the same sex
 Bisexuality: to people of both sexes
 Asexuality: no sexual attraction to
people of either sex
Sexual Orientation:
Nature or Nurture?
Nature (biological)
Nurture (sociocultural)
A growing body of evidence links sexual
orientation to the difference in the size of the
hypothalamus (in brain, regulates hormones)
People in any society attach meanings to sexual
activity, and these meanings differ from place to
place and over time
Most likely, a combination
“an attraction, physical and emotional, to people of
the same sex.” (Tepperman et al.)
“a preference for emotional-sexual relationships with
individuals of the “same” sex (homosexuality), the
“opposite” sex (heterosexuality), or both
(bisexuality)” (Kendal et al.)
Can be part of behaviour or identity
Homosexual and gay: males who prefer “same” sex
Lesbian: females who prefer “same” sex
Bisexual: those who prefer both
Straight: heterosexuals who prefer “opposite” sex
Criteria for Classifying Individuals
as Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual
Sexual attraction to persons of one’s own
Sexual involvement with one or more
persons of one’s own gender
Self-identification as a gay man, lesbian, or
Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
Gender identity refers to one’s sense of
maleness or femaleness in society
Formed by age three
Important aspect of one’s self concept
Emerges as a significant aspect of identity during
Sexual identity refers to a sense of one’s
attractiveness to others comfort with one’s body
and sexual attitudes and feelings
Sexual orientation - level of attraction to the
same, opposite, or both sexes
Homosexual orientation
Heterosexual orientation
Bisexual orientation
In the Past…
Homosexuality has often been regarded as:
A sin
A function of some form of physical and
mental pathology
In Aug. 6, 1885, the British Parliament voted to
make homosexual acts a criminal offense.
Many other Western countries soon followed suit
In 1930s Germany, Hitler launched campaign
against not just Jews but also other groups…
Thousands of homosexuals sent to concentration
Gay men identified with pink triangles and lesbians
with black triangles.
More Recently…
Dr. Alfred Kinsey’ s research (1953) instrumental in
the normalization of homosexual behavior
Sexual feelings and behaviors towards
the same sex were not abnormal
 Researchers concluded that
homosexuals cannot be distinguished
from non-homosexuals in psychological
Thomas Szasz – Psychiatrists replaced the church
in labeling homosexuality an illness
The Numbers:
Dr. Alfred Kinsey (1953) showed that
sexuality a continuum:
Kinsey estimated the homosexual population
at 10 percent of the population
Current studies indicate it is between 1 to
4% of the population
2003 Canadian Community Health Survey
found only 1% but according to gay
community in Canada more likely 5 – 10%
Canadian Attitudes Toward
(source: Environics Research Group 2001 Poll and Pew 2013 Poll )
Our Changing Attitudes…
(CBC Digital Archives)
Go to the CBC Digital Archives to see the
changes in Canadian attitudes and
understanding by watching the 1959 clip
“A Psychiatric Problem” and the 1978 clip
“The Rocky Road to Gay Rights”
More recently… Does Pride Need to Get
More Political about LGBT Rights? (CBC
News, June, 2015)
Global Attitudes on Homosexuality 2013
Global Attitudes on Same Sex Marriage 2013
Pew Poll 2013
Pew finds that the proportion of Americans
who report personally knowing someone who
is gay or lesbian has increased from 61 per
cent in 1993 to 87 per cent 2013
Read Why Do We Support Gay Rights? by
Michael Adams (Globe and Mail, 2013)
2010 Environics Focus Canada
2010, nearly seven in 10 (68 per cent) said
they were in favour of marriage for same-sex
couples (Focus Canada Poll 2010)
Seventy-nine per cent of Canadians aged 18
to 29 are in favour, as compared to 55 per
cent of those aged 60 and older. In the United
States, 70 per cent of those born after 1980
support same-sex marriage, as compared to
31 per cent of those born between 1928 and
Environics Focus Canada 2010
The Gay Lifestyle: Interpersonal
Relationships and Domestic
Studies point to similarities and differences between
homosexual and heterosexual relationships
Interestingly, domestic arrangements often mirror
those of heterosexual couples
Influence of patriarchal culture?
Long-lived partnerships between gay men are not
uncommon but they are not typical
Lesbians tend to attach a high priority to domestic
The Homosexual Subculture
Homosexual subculture consists of the institutions
within the gay community
Gay magazines and periodicals
Bars, Movie theaters
Social clubs and organizations
A major function of the subculture is that it provides
a way for its members to understand and accept
their orientation
Homosexual organizations aid in the pursuit of
political rights
Who “Becomes” a Homosexual?
No direct link between genetic traits and
homosexuality but growing scientific literature
provides evidence for biological basis
Large portion of homosexuals attribute their
orientation to early childhood or support a
biological explanation
Social scientists largely attribute
homosexuality to one’s social environment
Believe sexual behavior is learned
Labeling Theory (Symbolic
Interactionist) Explanation:
Homosexuality as a process of labeling
(based on Goffman) that involves four stages
1. Sensitization
2. Dissociation and significance
3. Coming out
Identity Confusion—feeling different from others
Seeking out others who are openly lesbian or gay and
4. Commitment
Integrating self concept and accepting a label by
pursuing a way of life that conforms to the label
Inequality Based on Sexual
Orientation Exists Because of:
Homophobia: the irrational and excessive fear of
intolerance of homosexuals and homosexuality
Biphobia: fear and intolerance of bisexuals and
bisexual lifestyles
Transphobia: fear of transsexual and
transgendered people
Heterosexism: belief that heterosexuality is the only
normal, natural, and moral mode of relating, and
hence is superior to homosexuality or bisexuality. In
our culture, heterosexuality is the norm and many
people are at least somewhat “heterosexist.”
The Social Problem of
Variance from the societal norm of
heterosexuality is not a social
 The societal response, whether it is in
the form of prejudice, discrimination
(institutional or individual) or
homophobia is a social problem.
Sources of Homophobia
Homophobia tends to be associated with
Male gender identity
 Distorted notions of masculinity
 Study by Adams (U. of Georgia) showed
that individuals who score in the
homophobic range on a "Homophobia
Scale" demonstrate significant sexual
arousal to male homosexual erotic
Generally, research shows that
homophobic individuals….
1. are less likely to have had personal contact with
lesbians or gays;
2. are less likely to report having engaged in
homosexual behaviors, or to identify themselves as
lesbian or gay;
3. are more likely to perceive their peers as
manifesting negative attitudes, especially if the
respondents are males;
4. are more likely to have resided in areas where
negative attitudes are the norm (e.g., the midwestern
and southern United States, the Canadian prairies,
and in rural areas or small towns), especially during
5. are likely to be older and less well educated;
Research shows… (cont.)
6. are more likely to be religious, to attend
church frequently, and to subscribe to a
conservative religious ideology;
7. are more likely to express traditional,
restrictive attitudes about sex roles;
8. are less permissive sexually or manifest more
guilt or negativity about sexuality, although some
researchers have not observed this pattern and
others have reported a substantially reduced
correlation with the effects of sex-role attitudes
partialled out;
9. are more likely to manifest high levels of
authoritarianism and related personality
Health Effects due to Homophobia:
Report to Gay and Lesbian Health
Services Saskatoon SK
Canadian research shows that an “increased
incidence of health and social problems found in the
GLBT population are related to the stigma and
shame associated with living in a homophobic
society” (Ryan, Brotman & Rowe, 2000)
Evidence of higher rates of depression
Higher unemployment
More likely to be victims of physical violence and
anti-homosexual homicide
(source: The Human Impact of Homophobia, 2003 by Christopher Banks
Homophobic Discrimination
Typically, three most common types of discrimination
and oppression are:
 People believe gays are immoral and belittle or show
hostility, deny jobs and housing, etc.
 Many Judeo-Christian religions and Islam generally
find homosexuality to be a sin
 Stereotypical beliefs equate sexual orientation and
other practices eg. Pedophilia is nearly always
committed by heterosexual men
 Canada decriminalized homosexuality in 1969 and in
2005 legalized same-sex marriage
 Since 1995, illegal in Canada to refuse employment or
benefits on basis of sexual orientation
Homophobia (including biphobia,
transphobia, and heterosexism) seems to be
more pronounced in the U.S. than in Canada
The result of legislation (Charter of Rights,
recognition of the legality of gay marriage,
etc.) and activism (i.e. Pride) has had a
positive effect on Canadian attitudes.
Canadian research shows an increase in
tolerance toward homosexuality
What are Canadian Moral Attitudes?
Other Issues Related to Sexuality
Teen pregnancy: on a decline, but higher
percentage of unmarried teen pregnancies
than in the 1950s
Pornography: sexually explicit material that
causes sexual arousal; its value causes
Sexual Assault and Rape: violent act that
uses sex to hurt, humiliate or control another
Prostitution: selling of sexual services
Prostitutes have little protection and frequently victims
of sexual abuse and violence
CBC’s The Sex Trade Up Close (2015)
Sociological Perspectives:
Structural Functionalist
Focus is on the relationship between social
structure and sexual orientation, e.g., norms and
laws function to preserve social structures like the
family, and how sexual orientation is said to
threaten it
Homosexual conduct because violates norms and
undermines stability (dysfunction)
Legalization of same-sex marriage and
homosexuality may be dysfunctional for society
Latent functions of prostitution: sex for those
without access and in loveless marriages
Perspectives: Social Conflict
Focus is on tensions in society and differences in
interests and power among opposing groups
People with power have own attitudes enforced
Norms pertaining to compulsory heterosexuality
reflect beliefs of dominant group
Pornography reflection of male power
Homophobia is like racism and sexism
Repeal laws based on discrimination and pass
laws that ban discrimination
Continue activism to gain equal rights
Perspectives: Symbolic Interactionist
Views sexual behaviour as learned behaviour
Examines process by which individuals come to
identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight
Acquiring status of heterosexual is easier because it
is the established norm
Sexual orientation is a master status, the most
significant status a person possesses, for many
homosexuals. It is especially significant when linked
to other subordinate group statuses
Society should be more tolerant.
Legal and social barriers that prevent full
participation in society should be removed
Perspectives: Feminist
Focus, originally, was on dominant group (men in
power) imposing its agenda
Norms and values about heterosexuality work to
promote interests of men
More recently a shift has occurred from critiques
of patriarchy to a more inclusive politics that
values all diversity and encourages acceptance of
all people
Promote sexual pluralism all people need to
support each other to combat oppression
Everyone can then fight against the variety of
Perspectives: Queer Theory
Rejects notions of “normal” or “natural” in
favour of social construction so any and
every form of sexuality is acceptable
The term “Queer” is reclaimed as a means
of self-identification (“ form of tertiary
Refuse to define self or others