May 16, 2007

My Theory on Sex - December 2005

A long-standing debate within the social sciences has been the root of human behavior and thinking: biology or society. This debate has been summarized by two main theories: social constructionism, which posits that thinking and behavior are based on society’s rules, and essentialism that suggests that personality is inborn, and that all people have innate, immutable traits. However, I believe that both of these theories are inaccurate. If social constructionism was correct all of the time, then there would be very few similarities between different cultures and historical periods because cultures are very different by time and place. Alternatively, if essentialism was correct all of the time, then more people would be very similar cross-culturally and cultures would be more similar across time and place. I hypothesize that the basis of human thinking and behavior is biology and certain innate characteristics, but the culture and society in which one lives modifies these characteristics. This model includes both biological and social influences, and suggests that these influences interact with each other to create individual personalities. For example, imagine two brothers that are one year apart in age. They are so close in age, that they are likely to have similar experiences culturally. They are also raised by the same parents and have similar genetics. However, practical experience tells us that it is highly unlikely that these two boys would be alike in every single way. They both have inborn personality traits that they do not share with their brother and that make them individuals, rather than very similar. Now imagine that these boys were raised in 8th century China. The time and place of their birth has changed, but their innate personality traits have not changed. It still seems likely that the different culture in which they were raised would also have an effect on their personalities. When examining the root of human behavior and thinking, it is important to recognize the influences of both biology and culture, because neither exist without the other.

Gender is one of the most common dichotomies in Western culture. However, it has been suggested recently that gender should be viewed as following a continuum, with traditional notions of “male” and “female” and the ends of that continuum. This conceptualization allows for more individual variation than previous models because there are more than two “options” for gender. A person can fall at any point on the continuum of gender, without being forced into an archaic binary system. In addition, it reflects the observation that most people do not conform to all aspects of traditional gender norms. I predict that most people would reside close to the polar ends, with very few people being at the exact poles. If this were true, then most people would conform to many aspects of gender norms, but not all. This model also helps to deconstruct the notion that “male” and “female” are mutually exclusive. An individual’s gender will probably reflects some traditional notions about both genders, with a greater adherence to the norms of one particular gender. Conceptualizing gender as a continuum is more reflective of the ways that gender is expressed in recent Western culture.

In the fields of psychology and human sexuality, female desire is often viewed as a complement to male desire, meaning that women are only interested in sex because men are interested in sex. This ideology reinforces a deficiency model of gender and denies female sexual agency. First, “maleness” is frequently constructed to be the ideal gender form, and that all other forms of gender are less valuable than male gender (a deficiency model). This leads to a greater tolerance of non-male variations in gender. For example, in Western societies, there is a greater tolerance of female transgressions of gender (i.e. wearing pants) than male transgressions (i.e. wearing a skirt). Additionally, those who identify as male may face greater criticism if they challenge their seemingly concordant sexual identity, or they identify as male and nonheterosexual. Secondly, in modern U.S. culture, women have a great deal of sexual agency. Denying this is to suggest that women are passive sexual partners who only exist as a place to hold babies until they are ready to be born. It also expresses heteronormativity, which many theorists have recently criticized. Gender forms should be constructed as equally valuable and not so that one gender is preferred above all others.

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