Sexuality is a multifaceted aspect of human development. It is based on biology and is constantly influenced by psychological factors and the social context. We are sexual beings from the moment of birth. It is because of sexual differentiation, which begins in the foetal period. So when we talk about sexuality, we think not only about sex but about all the factors that influence sexual life - safety, self-awareness, identity. We should also not forget the social dimension - the establishment of partnerships or the development of communication. For psychology, it is one of the most interesting elements of our lives not only because of the vastness of the concept but also the constant development of knowledge and the discovery of new variables and relationships in this field.
This handbook is based on Seligman’s model of the following elements of sexuality:
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The biological dimension of gender
It is strongly linked to body structure, and we can distinguish as many as eight constituent elements. In this dimension, the body can develop in the female direction or the male direction (in most cases), or it can have features of both (ambiguous gender characteristics - intersex).
- Chromosomal sex - also known as genetic sex. The main factor in determining the appearance of the body are the chromosomes which, during fertilisation, combine in a pair to form an organism with male or female characteristics (the ovum always has an X chromosome, and the sperm may have an X or Y chromosome). The XX chromosome pair determines the development of the body in the female direction, and XY in the male direction.
- Gonadal sex - the gonads are the ovaries and testes. The main factor responsible for their development is the chromosomes. The presence of a Y chromosome results in the production of testes from the bipotential gonad in the early prenatal period. If the Y chromosome is absent, then the body produces ovaries.
- Gonadophoric sex - these are the oviducts or vas deferens. The oviducts are produced prenatally from the Müller ducts and the vas deferens from the Wolff ducts.
- Genital sex - this is determined by the appearance of the genitalia. The male body is determined by the penis and scrotum, the female body is characterised by the clitoris and labia. This element of the biological gender dimension is decisive for gender assignment at birth. On the basis of the appearance of the genitalia, the male or female gender is assigned. There are two terms: AMAB - assigned male at birth, and AFAB – assigned female at birth.
- Phenotypic sex - determined by secondary sexual characteristics, i.e. external appearance, body hair, breast development, and fat distribution.
- Hormonal sex - determined by the predominance of secreted hormones specific to organisms of a particular sex. In male organisms, androgen predominates, in female organisms - oestrogen.
- Metabolic sex - this is determined by the type of enzymatic apparatus of the metabolic systems. It is closely linked to hormonal activity during the prenatal period but later it is no longer determined by the amount of sex hormones.
- Brain sex - male and female organisms differ in the function and structure of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, among others.
Socio-cultural gender dimension
The division of roles in partnerships is adopted based on cultural norms. This phenomenon is described by the Gender Theory, which states that there are socially prescribed roles (behaviour, dress, language) that are typical for women and men in a given society. A manifestation of gender in European culture is, for example, the wearing of dresses by women.
Gender theory is not an ideology but a sociological recognition of a fact. This phenomenon has been described by Judith Butler, among others, the author of the key work for gender studies, Gender Trouble. She draws attention to the cultural conditioning of typically female and male characteristics and behaviour, stereotypes and discrimination against women.
Psychological gender dimension
The psychological and most important aspect of sexuality. The fundamental and existential sense and acceptance of one’s gender at a psychological level, i.e. the gender with which a person identifies irrespective of the sex assigned at birth and the sex organs. In addition to the two genders (male and female) in the dichotomous system, there is a spectrum of genders beyond the dual system called non-binarity. This term covers many identities. Non-binary persons may, for example, identify neither as male nor as female, may identify with both or may have a fluctuating gender identity.
Personal pronouns are an important issue. For non-binary people, as for everyone else, it is important to address them with the pronouns of the gender with which they identify. If you do not know how to address someone, it is best to ask. Remember that gender does not equal pronouns.
It is a concept that helps to understand the complexity of sexuality. Transgender is a broad umbrella term that can encompass all people who experience a mismatch between the sex assigned at birth and their gender identity. The opposite of transgender is cisgender, which is the conformity of gender identity to the sex assigned at birth.
Changes in attitudes towards gender identity are becoming increasingly apparent. It is incorrect to use terms such as transsexualism or transsexuality. The former is simply pejorative (the ending -ism is associated with a disorder). The second no longer fulfils its role in sexology, as it refers to a binary schema. It assumes binarity. The definition of transsexuality had strict assumptions that did not work in practice. One of them was the conviction that people defined as transsexual pursue genital correction at all costs.
In practice, however, it turns out that gender correction can take place at a different level and pace for each person, e.g. for economic reasons. In sexology, the new term ‘gender incongruence’ is being used.
Transgender people should decide for themselves about the extent of surgical alterations to their bodies, the undertaking of hormone therapies and the affirmation of their gender. It is inappropriate to ask transgender people about their sex organs, hormones, and the name they were given at birth. These questions can cause DYSPHORIA. Dysphoria is a strong feeling of discomfort that can involve suffering caused by the mismatch of specific gender elements with one’s gender identity.
Refers to all individuals who are diagnosed with any number of differences in chromosomal, gonadal, hormonal or genital sex characteristics. For some intersex people, their varied sex characteristics are apparent at birth. For others, they may be noticeable in early childhood, during adolescence or even adulthood. An example of intersexuality may be atypical gonads that are not visible for several years of life, having neither testicles nor ovaries, or having both testicles and ovaries. This can result in disorders of sexual maturation, such as the absence of menstruation.
Sexual orientation refers to the direction of sustained emotional and sexual desire. In the literature, there are usually three - heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. Sexual orientation is not a choice but an innate aspect of sexuality. In sexology, there is also the Kinsey theory, which describes sexual orientation on an axis with extreme heterosexuality at one end and extreme homosexuality at the other. The theory assumes that the vast majority of people could find their sexual identity on a spectrum between the two poles (here, the term ‘orientation’ replaces ‘sexual identity’).
The concept of sexual identity is broader than sexual orientation. It refers to a person’s subjective sense of self. In addition to hetero, homo, and bi identities, the term accommodates many other identities - asexuality or pansexuality, for example, and includes non-binary people.
It is the lack of sexual desire towards other people. Asexual people can fall in love with people of any gender but do not need sex. We differentiate asexuality from loss of sexual needs, fear of sex, and sexual abstinence. Asexual people can be sexually fit and have intercourse. However, if they decide to take this step, it is not for the satisfaction of sexual needs, but, for example, for procreation.
The prefix ‘pan’ means ‘everything, everyone’. It is the romantic, emotional and sexual attraction to people regardless of their sex assigned at birth, gender identity. A pansexual person differs from a bisexual person in that they may feel attracted to people outside the binary gender pattern.
- L - homosexual women, feeling sexual and emotional attraction exclusively towards women
- G - homosexual men, feeling a sexual and emotional attraction only towards men
- B - people who feel sexual and emotional attraction to both women and men
- T - transgender people - people whose gender identity is inconsistent with the sex assigned at birth
- Q - queer people, a general term for non-heteronormative, non-cisgender people
- I - intersex people with diverse gender characteristics
- A - asexual people
The ‘+’ sign means that we also remember other people, e.g. asexual and intersex.
It is an element of sexuality closely linked to sexual need (libido). Preferences are information about the kind of people with whom we most willingly have sex, what kind of behaviour, sexual stimulation and conditions for satisfying sexual needs we choose. We are talking about different types of behaviour: masturbation (autoerotic behaviour), partner sex, group sex, watching pornography or other specific preferences. Each specific behaviour is a strategy to satisfy our needs. These are not always healthy from a medical point of view, in which case we speak of paraphilias. Paraphilias will be the subject of a later chapter in this handbook.