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This article is about the issues and phenomena pertaining to human sexual function and behavior. For information about sexual activities and practices, see the article human sexual behavior. For information on animal sexuality see Animal sexuality. For information specifically dealing with adolescents see Adolescent sexuality.

Human sexuality refers to the expression of sexual sensation and related intimacy between human beings, as well as the expression of identity through sex and as influenced by or based on sex. There are a great many forms of human sexuality (sexual functions). The sexuality of human beings comprises a broad range of behavior and processes, including the physiological, psychological, social, cultural, political, and spiritual or religious aspects of sex and human sexual behavior. Philosophy, particularly ethics and the study of morality, as well as theology, also address the subject. In almost any historical era or culture, the arts, including literary and visual arts, as well as popular culture, present a substantial portion of a given society's views on sexuality. In most societies and legal jurisdictions, there are legal bounds on what sexual behavior is permitted. Sexuality varies across the cultures and regions of the world, and has continually changed throughout history.

A large variety of books, educational websites, and local education/support/social organizations exist for various forms of sexuality.

Scope of human sexuality[]

The term human sexuality covers a very wide range including:

Physiological aspects[]

Human sexuality can be influenced by hormonal changes in the development of the fetus during pregnancy. Some hypothesize that manner of expression is largely because of genetic predisposition. Others hypothesize it is because of personal experimentation in early life, and thus the establishment of preferences. A less divisive approach recognizes that both factors may have a mutual role to play. Human physiology and gender makes certain forms of sexual expression possible.

Sexual dysfunction addresses a variety of biological circumstances whereby human sexual function is impaired. These manifestations can be in the form of libido diminution or performance limitations. Both male and female can suffer from libido reduction, which can have roots in stress, loss of intimacy, distraction or derive from other physiological conditions.

Performance limitations may most often affect the male in the form of erectile dysfunction. Causes of this may derive from various forms of disease pathology including cardiovascular disease, which can reduce penile blood flow along with supply of blood to various parts of the body. Moreover environmental stressors such as prolonged exposure to elevated sound levels or over-illumination can also induce cardiovascular changes especially if exposure is chronic.

Sexual behavior can be a dangerous disease vector. Safe sex and monogamy are relevant harm reduction philosophies.

Social aspects[]

Human sexuality can also be understood as part of the social life of humans, governed by implied rules of behavior and the status quo. Thus, it is claimed, sexuality influences social norms and society in turn influences the manner in which sexuality can be expressed. Since the invention of the mass media, things such as movies and advertising have given sexuality even more ability to shape the environments in which we live. Some see sexuality as distilled (often into stereotypes) and then repeatedly expressed in commercialized forms.

Gender identity is an aspect of human sexuality that can be affected by one's social environment, and differerent social environments can have specific attributes they associate with each sex, such as certain types of dress, colors, behaviors. A common example in Western media could be the portrayal of a little boy in blue shorts and a white T-shirt playing with a toy truck, while a girl is shown in a pink dress playing with a doll.

Society and politics[]

Sex education[]

Sex education is the introduction of sexual topics within an educational context. Almost all western countries have some form of sex education, but the nature varies widely. In some countries (such as Australia and much of Europe) "age-appropriate" sex education often begins in pre-school, whereas other countries (notably the USA) leave sex education to the teenage years and even the late teenage years. Sex education covers a whole range of topics from "where do babies come from?", contraception, abstinence, signs of sexual diseases, and the social and psychological implications of sexual relationships.

Cultural and psychiatric aspects[]

Human sexual behavior in most individuals is typically influenced, or heavily affected by norms from the culture in which the individual lives. Examples of such norms are prohibitions on sexual intercourse before marriage, or against homosexual sexualities, or other activities, because the religion to which the individual's culture adheres forbids such activities (see taboo). Sometimes, if not most times, such culturally induced behaviors do not reflect the natural sexual inclinations of the individual.

Those who wish to express a dissident sexuality are often forced to form sub-cultures within the main culture due to various forms of oppression or repression. In other cases, forms of sexuality may develop into a fetish or alternately develop as a form of psychiatric disorder or paraphilia.

Study of sexuality[]

In contemporary academia, sexuality is studied in the fields of sexology and gender and sexuality studies, among many other fields.

See also[]

  • Religious aspects
    • Mythology of same-sex love
    • Tantra
    • Kama sutra
    • Consecrated virgins
  • Sex and the occult
    • Sex magic


  • Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual Strategies Theory: An Evolutionary Perspective on Human Mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204-232. Full text
  • Hill, S. E. & Reeve, H. K. (2004). Mating Games: the Evolution of Human Mating Transactions. Behavioral Ecology, 15, 748-756. Full text
  • Marlowe, F.W. (2003). The Mating System of Foragers in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample. Cross-Cultural Research, 37, 282-306. Full text
  • Roberts S.C., Little A.C., Gosling L.M., Perrett D., Jones B.C., Carter V., Penton-Voak I.S. & Petrie M. MHC-heterozygosity and human facial attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behavior 26, 213-226. Full text
  • Schmitt, D.P., Alcalay, L., Allik, J., Angleiter, A., Ault, L., Austers, I., et al. (2004). Patterns and universals of mate poaching across 53 nations: The effects of sex, culture, and personality on romantically attracting another person's partner. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 560-584. Full text
  • Schmitt, D.P, Shackelford, T.K., Duntely, J., Tooke, W., Buss, D.M., Fisher, M.L., Lavallee, M., & Vasey, P. (2002). Is there an early-30's peak in female sexual desire? Cross-sectional evidence from the United States and Canada. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 11, 1-18. Full text

External links[]

Original editors: Vern L. Bullough and Bonnie Bullough] [full text]

This article traces a series of issues related to sexuality and changing values regarding sexuality from post-WWII to the present.

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