What Can We Learn From Other Cultures That Can Help US Better Understand Our Sexualities? Essay

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¶ … Cultures Can Teach Us about Sexuality

Sexuality is an interesting concept, and when examined clearly has a relationship to cultural rules and norms. What is considered acceptable and appropriate sexual behavior varies significantly according to cultural rules, though some sexual taboos and norms seem to cross cultural lines. The fact that cultural norms impact what sexual behaviors are considered appropriate or inappropriate is significant, because many people argue that certain variants of sexuality are either natural or unnatural. However, if some sexual behavior was inherently unnatural, one would not expect to find sexual behavior that is considered aberrant in some cultures as a normative behavior in other cultures. In fact, it is this diversity of "normal" sexual behavior that is the most informative aspect of learning about sexual behavior in other cultures, because it helps explain that what is considered deviant in some cultures is considered normal in other cultures.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on What Can We Learn From Other Cultures That Can Help US Better Understand Our Sexualities? Assignment

Of course, examining diverse cultural sexual norms does not mean that all abnormal sexual practices should be embraced as elements of cultural diversity. The fact that a behavior might be considered normative and may be adapted to further cultural norms does not mean that the behavior is necessarily positively adaptive. For example, child brides are the norm in many cultures. The practice of permitting child brides serves to unite families, shift the financial burden of females to other families, and provide men with wives, so it does serve some positive social roles. However, that does not mean that the young girls who are married to adult men benefit from the process or that any benefits that they do receive would not be equally applicable if they were to be married as adults. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that just because a behavior is considered the sexual norm for a particular culture does not mean that it is a healthy behavior for the participants. Instead, normative sexual behavior, even if it is not as damaging as something like the practice of having child brides, can be negative for those in the culture if the normative guidelines prohibit the expression of natural sexual behaviors.


Studying other cultures provides insight into the normal behavior for those cultures. The first thing that this does is help demonstrate that what is considered normal varies tremendously according to the surrounding culture. This can help explain why there is actually a tremendous amount of variety in what is considered normal behavior in America, depending upon the person's surrounding subculture. This can be helpful because it can help a person understand why his or her feelings about sexuality can be appropriate while still clashing with what appear to be prevailing cultural norms in the larger society or in the societal subgroup.

In fact, one of the interesting aspects of the study of sexuality is that sexuality provides a significant amount of insight into other cultural norms and how those norms may impact sexual behavior. Sex should not be considered separate from the rest of a culture's norms and beliefs, but viewed as an integral part of that culture. This is important because the social sciences once discussed sexuality, at least in other cultures, as a normal part of cultural expression. However, at some point in time that changed, so that discussion of sexuality became a titillating side study rather than informative about culture. This had a negative impact on the social sciences and on the broader study of sexuality. "Only once sexuality becomes cordoned off in the professional imagination from the examination of religion, diaspora, voting behavior, interpersonal dynamics, community organization, and a million other facets of social life does the study of sexuality become a professional bridge jump" (Weston, 2011, p.9). Instead, sexuality must be viewed as it exists within the actual culture, as a vital and integrated part of the culture. Therefore, the first thing that the study of other cultures can teach a person about sexuality is that sexuality and sexual norms serve a cultural function. Understanding what function the prevailing sexual norms serve can help one understand how and why a norm has developed and if that norm continues to serve a positive function in society.

Another interesting aspect of sexuality is the relationship between sexuality, gender, and power and cultural norms help determine what gender and sex roles are indicative of lower power, and, therefore, lower status (Parker & Aggleton, 2007, p.5). The more conservative a culture, the lower status that women enjoy outside of the sexual context, which is linked to constrained sexual freedoms for women, because controlling women's sexuality is a way of controlling women in non-sexual ways, as well. Furthermore, when a society is built upon the role of the dominant male and subservient female, reinforcing the stereotype of the dominant male is important, which generally leads to prohibitions against homosexual behavior. However, what is considered homosexual behavior can actually be impacted by the emphasis on hyper-masculinity in the prevailing society. For example, most, although not all, societies have some type of stigma against homosexual behavior, particularly male homosexual behavior. However, what behavior is considered homosexual may vary with the surrounding context. For example, in many Hispanic societies, only one man in a same-sex sexual interaction is considered effeminate or deviant, the "bottom." A man who has sex with a male partner, but is the "top" is not considered effeminate or gay. This is reminiscent of other cultures were sex between younger males and older males was a cultural norm regardless of sexual preference, so that a man who plays the "top" role in a same-sex sexual relationship is seen as displaying hyper masculinity rather than demonstrating any effeminate behavior. What is fascinating is that this could provide insight into a subculture of American society: prisons. Same-sex relationships are normal behavior inside prisons, even among men who primarily self-identify as straight, and the fact of these relationships is not seen as an indictment, even in cultures with strong prohibitions against homosexual behavior. This can be understood by looking at other cultures and how sexuality is seen as a more fluid, less rigid concept than it is traditionally viewed in mainstream American society.

In fact, this fluid sexual preference challenges American norms about what it is to be straight or gay, which is currently a major issue in modern American culture wars. The reality is that there are differences in how cultures approach the idea of homosexuality. In modern Western society, there is the notion that sexuality is an identity, so that, regardless of sexual acts, one either is or is not homosexual. This separates sexual identity from sexual acts. However, at many times, engaging in homosexual acts has been enough to merit a label of homosexual. "This distinction between sexual practices and sexual identities is, however, a fundamentally troubling one" because it fails to delineate what behavior is or should be considered sexual (Elliston, 2005, p.92). This is an interesting cultural norm, and one that speaks to the heart of the cultural wars about homosexuality in American society. Many of those who are strongly opposed to homosexuality focus specifically on the behavior. As long as a person is willing to live in the closet, the nature of attraction is considered insignificant in comparison to the person's actual sexual behavior. In the context of homosexuality, which is still viewed as abnormal or maladaptive by large chunks of American society, the idea of fluidity and behavior-based labels challenges what some embrace as the idea of homosexuality being an immutable, in-born characteristic rather than a choice.

What is more interesting is that how a society treats behavior that may be considered maladaptive is an important view into society. The Western approach to the discussion of sexuality has been conducted with the idea that increased discussion leads to increased knowledge and acceptance. However, this has not always been the case in other cultures. Instead, in many cultures people living outside of cultural norms have done so with relative acceptance and a lack of stigma from mainstream culture. An increase in discussion has sometimes led to greater ostracization. For example, many societies have long histories of transgendered individuals living within the society. However, "the appropriation of the image of transgendered sexuality as social critique has constructed a discourse of silence in which the transgenderism/homosexuality of individuals is rendered mute in 'respectable' portrayals of people not used for social/political discursive purposes" (Sinnott, 2011, p.323). Therefore, one of the things that other cultures have revealed about sexuality is that it is critical to remember that sexuality is about and involves individuals and their life choices, not simply sexual behaviors or group sexual norms.

On the other hand, it is equally important to keep in mind that sexual behavior and how a particular society views sexuality is highly indicative of underlying cultural norms in that society. For example, rigid sexual norms are often associated with religious regimes that may also limit women's opportunities in non-sexual contexts. As a result, it makes sense… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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