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General view on the problem of sexuality

Sexual relations are an integral part of the life of each of us.

People are characterized by certain sexual feelings, attitudes and ideas about  sexuality, but sexual experience is purely individual, since each of us is a unique personality. This experience is based on the person’s own experiences, but it is shaped by the social environment and publicly available information. To understand the phenomenon of sexuality, it is necessary to imagine its versatility.

Sexuality has attracted the attention of people at all times. Sexual themes are widely reflected in art and literature. Religion, philosophy, i.e. all that forms the moral and human behavior has always sought to establish certain frameworks and prohibitions. In different historical periods of a person’s illness, his creative abilities, aggressiveness, emotional disorders, and the flourishing or decay of culture “explained” to too intense or, on the contrary, insufficient sexual activity, as well as originality of sexual orientation or ideas.

Without forgetting the individual, social and historical sources of sexuality, we can broaden and deepen our understanding of this problem, considering its biological, psychosocial, behavioral, and cultural aspects. However, studying
sexuality from these positions, we actually acquire knowledge about human nature in all its complexity and diversity.

Why study sexuality?

There are many different reasons that make the knowledge of sexology necessary for any person; For example, college students attending relevant courses are guided not by academic, but by purely personal motives. Indeed, awareness of sex, as opposed to knowledge of physical chemistry or mathematical analysis, can be very useful in real life. This does not mean that the problem of human sexuality is not of scientific value (quite the opposite); simply obtained knowledge in this area can be used more directly than information from other sciences.

Informed in matters of sex a person can avoid many problems in their own lives and in the sexual education of their children. If problems arise (for example, infertility, impotence, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual harassment), the knowledge gained in this area will help to cope with them successfully. Awareness of the nature of sexuality makes a person more sensitive and attentive to other people, thereby contributing to the strengthening of intimate relationships and the achievement of a more complete sexual satisfaction.

Nowadays, another particularly compelling reason has emerged that makes knowledge of sexology necessary. In the era of the HIV epidemic (short name for the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS), the responsible choice of sexual partners literally saves a person’s life. In addition, it has now become clear that if a method of treating AIDS is not found, then in the coming years, the life of each of us will be affected to one degree or another by the tragedies associated with the HIV / AIDS epidemic; if we have accurate information on sex problems, we will become more tolerant and we will be better aware of the burden that this disease imposes on our society, and on the whole world.

Unfortunately, knowledge alone does not make a person happy. There are no guarantees that a careful study of this book will help find (or keep) a loved one. We simply believe that objective information about the sexuality of people will enable our readers to understand the many problems, both personal and social or moral, and thus more deeply know themselves and other people. We also believe that sexual literacy can lead to rational and responsible sexual behavior of people towards each other and help them make important decisions in this area. In short, sexual education is an invaluable preparation for life.

Various aspects of sexuality. Some definitions

For each person, the meaning of the word “sexual” seems obvious. First of all, it means something “indecent”, something that is not customary to talk about in society (Freud, 1943).

“And for the inhabitants of the islands of the southern seas, and for us, sex is not just some kind of physiological act; it means love and affection; it forms the core of such time-honored institutions as marriage and family; it fills the arts, giving it charm and magic In essence, he rules over all areas of culture. Sex in the broadest sense of the word is a sociological and cultural factor, and not just a carnal connection between two individuals “(Malinowsky, 1929).

“Francie, damn slut,” I often said, “because of lewdness you have not far removed from the cat.” “But you like me, don’t you? Guys love to fuck, women too. There is no harm from this, but it is not necessary to love everyone with whom we do this, is it?” (Miller, 1961).

What is sexuality? As the quotations show, a simple answer to this question cannot be given. Freud considered sex to be a powerful psychic and biological force, while Malinovsky emphasizes its sociological and cultural aspects. Henry Miller painted frank pictures of sex in his novels in order to philosophically comprehend the very essence of man. In everyday life, the word “sex” has recently been used to denote sexual intercourse (“have sex”). The word “sexuality” is usually understood more broadly, as it refers to everything related to sex. Sexuality is one of the facets of this person, and not just his ability to erotic reaction.

Unfortunately, our language limits the possibility of discussing sex in conversations between people. By distinguishing between sexual activities (such as masturbation, kissing, or sexual intercourse) and sexual behavior (which includes not only sexual intercourse as such, but also flirting, a certain style of clothing, reading Playboy and dating), we only slightly touched to the problem of sexuality. Describing various types of sex as procreative (having childbearing), recreative (for the sole purpose of having fun) and relative (“love-friendship”, the ability to communicate with a loved one), we are convinced that the categories we have selected are too few. And although in this chapter we cannot give an exhaustive answer to the question: “What is sexuality?”, We will look at various aspects of sexuality, which will be discussed in this book.

Real situation

David and Lynn sat in front of a sex therapist’s office, worrying while waiting for an appointment. Despite the embarrassment they felt, David and Lynn were determined to find a way out of the sexual problems that had darkened their relationship over the past three months. They had been living together for two years and had intended to get married after graduating from college, but the feeling of dissatisfaction that entered their lives cast doubt on the reality of these plans.

When they entered the doctor’s office, they outlined their problems. They met three years ago, when they were 18 years old, in their first year. The novel began on the basis of common interests and easily turned into intimate sexual intercourse. For both David and Lynn, this was not the first love affair; they had a strong sexual desire for each other. Their first love date was passionate and sensual. The bond grew stronger and gave them great pleasure. The natural result of these feelings was a joint life, bringing them joy – until recently.

Failure first befell them during the Christmas holidays, when they went to Boston to see Lynn’s parents. David was upset because he and Lynn had separate bedrooms. Lynn was saddened by the apparently cold reception her parents gave David. The only time they managed to be alone (on Sunday morning, while Lynn’s parents were in church), their caresses were hasty and mechanical. They returned with relief to New York and met the new year with friends.

Sexual relations – an integral part of the life of each of us.

The party, during which there was a lot of champagne, lasted until 4 am. Returning to their homes, David and Lynn intended to make love, but David failed to achieve an erection. They laughed at it and fell asleep, satisfied that they were “home.”

The next morning, David had a terrible hangover. He took a few aspirin tablets, had a quick breakfast and suggested Lynn go to the bedroom. She did not mind, although she didn’t really want to, because she, too, was tormented by a little hangover. David and this time failed to achieve an erection. Lynn reacted to this with understanding, but David had a very strong sexual failure all day. Deciding that he needed to rest and calm down before making new attempts, he went to bed that evening.

Waking up in the morning, he felt awake and immediately turned to Lynn to embrace her.

Despite his well-being, David’s erection was only partial, but she also disappeared while trying to have sexual intercourse. Since that time, David has always had some difficulty with an erection, and Lynn, who initially tried to help him, became more and more concerned. In their relationship, in the past, relaxed and pleasant, they began to show irritation and sharpness. They talked about breaking up, but they believed that they still loved each other and could, with some help from a specialist, cope with this problem.

In this example, chosen from our filing cabinet, we want to consider various aspects of sexuality, which are further elaborated in further chapters of the book. The situation that has arisen in the lives of David and Lynn gives us the opportunity to show the importance of the various aspects of sexuality that interact in the life of each of us.

Biological aspect

Difficulties with erection first appeared in David after he drank a lot of champagne. This should not come as a surprise, since alcohol has a depressant effect on the nervous system. Since the nervous system normally transmits physical sensations to the brain and activates some sexual reflexes, too much alcohol can block the sexual response of any person.

However, the biological aspect of sexuality is much more extensive. Biological factors largely control sexual development from the moment of conception to childbirth, and upon reaching puberty – the ability to reproduce. In addition, these factors influence sexual desire, sexual activity and (indirectly) sexual satisfaction. It is even assumed that biological factors determine some sexual differences in behavior, for example, the greater aggressiveness of men compared with women (Olweus et al., 1980; Reinisch, 1981). Asexual arousal, regardless of its cause, causes biological effects: an increase in pulse rate, the reaction of the genitals, and sensations of warmth and trembling that spread throughout the body.

Psychological aspect

David and Lynn treated the situation differently. David was worried, could not think of anything else, lost confidence in himself, while Lynn, who initially showed understanding and participation and tried to support him, became more and more irritable and alienated. It was clear that the nature of their relationship had changed under the influence of the stress created by the sexual problem. They even began to doubt their feelings for each other and whether they should marry, although they were convinced of this when traveling to Lynn’s parents.

This case illustrates the psychological aspect of sexuality, but at the same time, social (nature of interaction between people) are added to purely psychological factors (emotions, thoughts, perception individuality). David’s concern for his first sexual “failure” led to a chain of setbacks, despite the fact that the original biological “cause” – too large a dose of alcohol – was already absent. The panic that gripped him made him make more attempts to have sex, but the results turned out to be exactly the opposite of those he and Lynn wished for.

The psychological aspect is inherent in any sexual problem, but in the development of sexual self-identification of a person in the development process, this aspect plays a dominant role. A child’s awareness of being male or female is shaped mainly by psychosocial factors. The ideas of a given individual about his sexual role in early childhood (as a rule, they persist after he becomes an adult) are largely based on what his parents, peers and teachers inspire. In addition to the psychological aspect, sexuality has a pronounced social aspect, since sex between people is regulated by laws, prohibitions, and also public opinion, convincing us of the need to follow our sexual behavior to accepted norms.

Behavioral aspect

After talking with David and Lynn separately, we found that in the three months since their first sexual failure, the relationship between them has changed a lot. The frequency of attempts at sexual intimacy has fallen sharply, whereas previously they had sex 4-5 times a week. David often began to resort to masturbation (which he had not done for several years), as it turned out that in this way he easily achieves an erection. As for Lynn, she masturbated only once, because it seemed to her that she was doing something wrong. Lynn also avoided expressions of affection towards David, fearing that this might put additional pressure on him.

The described details of the David and Lynn relationship reflect the behavioral aspect of sexuality. And although the sexual behavior of a person is determined
biological and psychological factors, the study of the behavioral aspect of sexuality is of independent interest. By examining it, we will not only learn what people are doing, but also better understand how and why they do it. For example, David resorted to masturbation in order to build self-confidence, to prove to himself that he has retained an erection ability. Lynn tried to avoid physical intimacy with the best of intentions, but David could have decided that she rejected him.

When discussing this topic, one should not judge the behavior of other people on the basis of their own criteria and personal experience. Too often, people are inclined, when discussing sexuality, to divide all its manifestations into “normal” and “abnormal”. “Normal” we often consider what we do ourselves and what we like, whereas “abnormal” in our eyes everything that others do and that seems to us to be “not so” or strange. Attempts to judge what is normal for other people are not only an ungrateful task, but, as a rule, doomed to failure, because our objectivity suppresses our own principles and experience.

Clinical aspect

David and Lynn completed a two-week course of sexual therapy and resolved all their problems. They not only began to receive the same pleasure from intimacy as before, but also felt that as a result of the therapy other aspects of their relationship had improved. As Lynn told us: “The fact that we coped with the sexual problem was great, but apart from that, we learned so much about ourselves. We have become much closer, and the feelings that bind us are so strong that we can overcome any difficulties if they occur. ”

Despite the fact that sexual activity is one of the natural functions of the body, there are many different circumstances that can weaken the pleasure or spontaneity of our love dates. Physical problems such as illness, injury or drugs can change the nature of our sexual reactions or even suppress them altogether.

Feelings of anxiety, guilt, embarrassment or depression and conflicts in our personal relationships can disrupt sexual activity. Search for ways to solve these and other problems that impede the achievement of sexual health and happiness, is engaged in sex therapy.

Great progress has been made in the last two decades in the treatment of a wide variety of sexual disorders. Two points played a key role in this: a deeper understanding of the many facets of the nature of sexuality and the development of a new science – sexology – which studies the problems of gender. Doctors, psychologists, nurses and other specialists, after completing a course of sexology, can use this knowledge in combination with their professional training to help many of their patients.

Cultural aspect

The lives of David and Lynn, like the life of any of us, reflect the characteristics of the cultural environment to which we belong. So, Lynn’s parents did not allow her and David to sleep in the same room, although they knew that the young people live together. Another example is the feeling the guilt Lynn felt about masturbation was largely due to her upbringing. And David’s anxiety caused by his sexual failures was partly a reaction to the widespread belief among Americans that an erection should occur as soon as a man came to a love date.

Adopted in our society, the attitude towards sex is far from universal. In some nations, a special disposition towards a guest or friend is expressed by offering him his wife (Voget, 1961). Famous tribes (Ford, Beach, 1951), representatives of which are unknown kisses. The authors describe their impressions in this way: “When the tonga first saw Europeans kissing, they began to laugh, saying,“ Look at them, they eat saliva and food remnants from each other. ”These strange customs can repel or amuse us, however they help to realize that our views are far from being shared by everyone and not everywhere.

Sexual relations attract heightened attention and are the subject of many debates, but differences arising during disputes often depend on the time, place and circumstances of the discussion. Estimates “morally” or “correctly” are different in different nations and in different centuries. Many moral principles relating to sex are associated with certain religious traditions, but religion does not have a monopoly on morality. People who do not have firm religious convictions may be no less moral than deeply religious people. There is no such system of sexual values ​​that is true for one and all, and no moral code can be indisputably correct and applicable in all cases.

In the United States, ideas about sexual behavior that prevailed in the first half of the 20th century have changed significantly over the past 25 years. If, for example, before they attached great importance to ensuring that a girl retains her virginity before marriage, now the attitude to premarital sexual relationships has become the exact opposite. As a result, the age at which sexual activity begins is reduced compared with what it was 20-30 years ago; A growing number of adolescents have sex and a significant proportion of future spouses live together before marriage. Another illustration of the change of morals is the attitude to masturbation as a harmless enjoyable exercise, which differs sharply from previous views, according to which masturbation is a sign of moral weakness and a path to mental degradation.

Over the past decades, three trends have played an important role in the development of American attitudes towards sex and sexuality. The first of them is the release of sex-role stereotypes. Each person feels himself a being of one or another sex (sexual self-identification); how it manifests itself in this capacity is commonly called the sexual role (Money, Ehrardt, 1972). Traditionally, women and girls were considered to be sexually passive, while men were assigned the role of sexual aggressors. In accordance with the existing stereotype, it was the man who should initiate sexual relations, and the woman who acted actively or did not conceal the pleasure derived from carnal love, looked askance. For many people, these views have now been replaced by ideas about the equality of sexual partners. The second trend is greater openness in matters of sex. This change has affected all media, from television and film to the printed word. As a result, they stopped looking at sex as something shameful and mysterious. The third trend is the spread of attitudes towards sex as a way to enjoy and relieve tension. The predominance of relational and recreational sex over the past 25 years is partly due to the improvement of contraceptives and anxiety about the overpopulation of the planet.

It would be a mistake to assume that sociocultural views may remain unchanged for a long time. Judging by some signs, anxiety caused by an increase in the frequency of sexually transmitted diseases, combined with increasing tendencies towards political and religious conservatism, may soon lead to a rollback from sexual permissiveness of the 60-70s. In fact, many observers believe that the so-called sexual revolution has already ended, that we are on the threshold of a new era, when a sense of duty and loyalty in intimate relationships prevail over momentary pleasure and sexual permissiveness. However, since cultural trends are distinguished by their inconsistency, it is impossible to predict with certainty how development will proceed in this new direction.

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