Sex & Sexuality: Crash Course Sociology #31


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ROBOT TEXT:
let’s talk about sex it’s totally okay if that makes you want to cringe after all most people will tell you that sex is private not something that people generally talk about at least not in class besides sex is usually thought of as a deep primeval part of ourselves it’s a matter of drives and instincts of biology and psychology and if sex and sexuality are both primeval and private can a social science tell us anything about them of course it can because no matter how natural and private you think they are sex and sexuality are still a part of every society and like I’ve been saying since this course started society gets in everywhere [Music] in order to talk about sex we need to get a handle on some terms starting with sex not sex the act but sex the category sex is a biological category and it distinguishes between females and males and biologically speaking the root cause of sex is a pair of chromosomes xx for females and XY for males these chromosomes result in two kinds of visible differences there are primary sex characteristics which show up as the sex organs involved with the reproductive processes and which develop in utero and then there are secondary sex characteristics which develop at puberty and are not directly involved in reproduction things like pubic hair and large breasts or facial hair now we tend to think of sex as a simple fixed binary you’re either male or female but that’s not the case a significant portion of the population is intersex that is people who are born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies this can mean a lot of different things like it can mean having different combinations of sex chromosomes as in Klinefelter syndrome which creates chromosomes xx and Y or in Triple X syndrome which results in X xx an intersex condition can also mean that the body responds differently to hormones or that the genitals aren’t fully developed this wide variety of intersex conditions makes population figures hard to pin down if intersex is defined strictly in terms of having a typical genitalia at birth then one in every 15 hundred to two thousand births fits that description you have to find more broadly however to include all of the conditions I just mentioned intersex conditions appear in as much as two percent of the population and of course different societies respond to intersex people differently in some societies they’re accepted as just a natural variation but Western society and medicine have long understood sex as an immutable binary so intersex people were not seen as an acceptable variation but rather as a deviation in need of correction some intersex conditions do require medical intervention for the sake of the patient’s health but many don’t and for years doctors performed unnecessary operations on intersex children in order to make them acceptable according to cultural ideas about sex so society plays a role in the biological category of sex but when it comes to gender those distinctions are all about Society gender is the set of social and psychological characteristics society considers proper for its males and females the sets of characteristics assigned to men are masculinity and those assigned to women or femininities a lot of people have a hard time understanding the difference between sex and gender but hopefully this definition makes it clear gender is its own thing separate from sex some people don’t even want to accept that gender is anything but biological but sociology is here to tell you that it really isn’t instead it’s a matter of social construction to explore this idea some more let’s go to the thought-bubble let’s start with how we dress a business suit is considered masculine a skirt is feminine and it should be obvious and uncontroversial that this is a purely social convention because for example you’d be pretty hard pressed to explain the objective difference between a skirt and a kilt except to say that wearing one is feminine and wearing the other is masculine and this is also true of things that might seem to be more biologically determined for example physical labor like construction has typically been understood as masculine and there might seem to be an underlying biological explanation for that because on average men do tend to be bigger and have more muscle mass than women but even with an average difference between the sexes there’s a great deal of overlap – plenty of women are bigger and stronger than plenty of men and minor difference is an average size and strength can’t explain why some occupations have been stratified by gender the reality is that minor average biological differences are used as the justification for widespread gender stratification funneling males and females into different jobs hobbies and identity constructions and society then points to this resulting stratification as proof of an underlying difference in biological reality even though that reality doesn’t actually exist thanks thought-bubble so one way of thinking about gender is that it’s a matter of a self presentation a performance that must be worked out constantly what we wear how we walk and talk even our personal characteristics like aggression or empathy are all ways of doing gender there are ways of making claims to masculinity or femininity that people will see and hopefully respect and we can be sanctioned if we don’t do gender right or well enough this is precisely what’s happening when a man is called a sissy or a woman is told that she really ought to smile more the idea of gender as a performance is known as gender expression but gender is more than that it’s also a of identity gender identity refers to a person’s internal deeply held sense of their gender nobody really perfectly fits the cultural ideal of masculinity or femininity and lots of people construct their gender differently from these conventional ideas in particular transgender people are those whose gender identity doesn’t match the biological sex they were assigned at birth by contrast cisgender people’s gender identity matches their biological sex still both trans and sis people can express their identity in a variety of ways conventional or otherwise and this should make it clear that gender like sex is not binary there are many ways of doing femininities and many ways in which a person can be masculine now that we’ve got a basic understanding of sex and gender we can finally get to sexuality sexuality is basically a shorthand for everything related to sexual behavior sexual acts desire arousal the entire experience that is deemed sexual one part of sexuality is sexual orientation or who you’re sexually attracted to or not most people identify as heterosexual meaning that they’re attracted to people of the other gender while this is the most common orientation significant numbers of people are homosexual attracted to people of their own gender but these are really only poles on a continuum with plenty of people being attracted to both their own and other genders as in bisexual or pansexual and some people are asexual and don’t experience sexual attraction at all now these definitions can vary from person to person just as they vary from society to society this and the fact that social norms may make people wish to keep their orientation private makes estimates of the number of homosexual and bisexual people necessarily imprecise that said based on the surveys we do have around 4 percent of the American population identifies as gay lesbian or bisexual however this increases to around 10 percent if we ask instead whether a person has ever experienced same-sex attraction or engaged in homosexual activity so what can each of the three sociological paradigms tell us about sexuality we’ll start with symbolic interactionism because it’s insight is the most fundamental and that is that sexuality this intensely private and supposedly primeval thing is socially constructed you might think that this is a claim too far because sexuality is a matter of inbuilt urges some things just are sexual but if we actually start asking what is sexual then the constructed nature of sexuality gets pretty obvious pretty fast we might think for instance oral sex is just sexual but that’s not necessarily true in all societies for example among the Sambia of the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea young boys perform oral sex on and ingest the semen of older men as part of a rite of passage to adulthood oral sex is definitely happening but it’s not clear that this should be thought of as sexual in the way we understand it and we might also be inclined to label this ritual as homosexual behavior but it’s still not quite the same thing as homosexuality as we understand it in the u.s. so physically identical acts can have radically different social and subjective meanings we can explain this in part with the concept of sexual scripts these are cultural prescriptions that dictate them when where how and with whom of sex and what that sex means when it happens the idea that sex happens at home between two willing partners for example is part of a generic sexual script in our society likewise sex what happens between two people who met at a bar might come with a different script and therefore different shared expectations than sex between two people who’ve known each other for a long time this brings us to the structural functionalist perspective since sexual reproduction is necessary for the reproduction of society this view says that sex has to be organized in some way in order for society to function in society organizes sexuality by using sexual scripts before contraception was widespread it was these norms that controlled how many people were born by determining when and how often people had sex and by controlling who had sex with whom they also generally made sure that those kids were born into families that could support them this is one function of the universal incest taboo the prohibition of sex between close relatives reproduction between family members would ultimately break down kinship relations it would be impossible to maintain a clear set of familial obligations if for instance your brother could also be your father but as seen from the perspective of social conflict theory regulating sexuality is also a matter of creating and reinforcing inequalities in particular our society is traditionally built around heteronormativity this is the idea that there are only two genders that gender corresponds to biological sex and that the only natural and acceptable sexual attraction is between these two genders heteronormativity makes heterosexuality seem like it’s directly linked biological sex but heterosexuality is just as much a social construction as any other sexuality it’s defined by dominant sexual scripts privileged by law and normal by social practices like religious teachings so it comes to be understood as natural in a way that other sexualities are not queer theory challenges this naturalness and especially shows how gender and heterosexuality are tied together heteronormative ‘ti is based on the idea of two opposite sexes that naturally fit together like poles of a magnet so by this logic men pursue women are pursued men or dominant women are submissive but all this is socially constructed the sexes aren’t opposites there are just two of them at both ends of a spectrum along with a whole array of variations between them but the idea of opposite sexes helps make heterosexuality seem natural to us and so you can see how sex gender and sexuality are all linked and all socially constructed and you can see how society gets in everywhere even among these apparently private and primeval things and in turn these things help structure societies creating and sustaining inequalities and giving them the veneer of the natural but sociology can help us pick them apart today we learn about what sociology can tell us about sex and sexuality we talked about the biological classification of sex and how it’s more complicated than we tend to think and we discussed the social construct of gender and a little bit about how it works finally we talked about sexuality and sexual orientations and what the three paradigms of sociology can tell us about them crash course sociology is filmed in the doctor Cheryl C Kinney studio in Missoula Montana and it’s made with the help of all of these nice people our animation team is thought cafe and crash course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud if you’d like to keep crash course free for everyone forever you can support the series at patreon a crowdfunding platform that allows you to support the content you love thank you to all of our patrons for making crosswords possible with their continued support you [Music]

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