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Social Construction of Sexuality & Sexual Orientation

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  • 0:04 Sexual Orientation
  • 1:24 Innate or Social?
  • 2:56 Current Debates
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Cummins
Are we born with our sexuality and our sexual orientation? In this lesson, we'll talk about the ways that sociologists view sexuality and sexual orientation as potentially more complicated than biological givens.

Sexual Orientation

Do we choose who we are sexually attracted to? Are we born with certain innate desires? Can we easily categorize people when it comes to things like sexuality and sexual desire? In this lesson, we'll talk about some of the major debates about sexuality, including analyzing questions about whether sexuality is innate or socially constructed.

But first, we should go over some definitions. When we say sex, we mean the anatomical and physiological differences between men and women. Gender is how we express this, including things like being feminine or masculine. Sexuality refers to our attractions or sexual preferences. Sexual orientation is how we identity ourselves in relation to sexuality. So, identifying as homosexual or heterosexual is an example of sexual orientation. And finally, when we say something is socially constructed, we mean that its meaning is assigned by our society and it can vary across different time periods or different cultures.

So back to our question about whether sexuality is innate or socially constructed. This isn't necessarily an easy question to answer, but many sociologists believe that sexuality and sexual orientation, like sex and gender, are social constructs. That means that our sexuality might not simply be something we're born with.

Innate or Social?

Essentialism is an idea in science that suggests that certain things are innate or a biological given. In terms of sexuality and sexual orientation, this means both are predetermined at birth. Our sexual identity, our attractions, and our desires are all a part of our biology. Essentialism believes that being heterosexual or homosexual is programmed into us.

But sociologists and other scholars have argued that sexuality might be more fluid than this. The idea here is to move past the dichotomy of gay versus straight and think of sexuality on a continuum. Our desires and preferences can be more complicated than simply preferring one sex over the other. Scholars have shown that throughout history, our ideas about sexuality have not been constant or universal. The kinds of sexual practices that humans have engaged in have varied depending on the time period or the cultural context. In fact, the concept of heterosexuality is a very European notion that was developed in a particular moment; it can't account for all of the complexity of human sexuality.

In Western culture, heterosexuality is the dominant form of sexuality, meaning it's considered the most legitimate. But even those who identity as heterosexual might not be so rigid in their desires. For example, studies have found that even men who report mostly being attracted to women sometimes reported being attracted to men.

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