Generally speaking, human sexuality is how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. The study of human sexuality encompasses an array of social activities and an abundance of behaviors, series of actions, and societal topics. Biologically, sexuality can encompass sexual intercourse and sexual contact in all its forms, as well as medical concerns about the physiological or even psychological aspects of sexual behaviour. Sociologically, it can cover the cultural, political, and legal aspects; and philosophically, it can span the moral, ethical, theological, spiritual or religious aspects.
As Michel Foucault wrote in The History of Sexuality, the concept of what activities and sensations are "sexual" is historically (as well as regionally and culturally) determined, and it is therefore part of a changing "discourse". The sexual meanings (meanings of the erotic dimension of human sexual experience), are social and cultural constructs, they are made subjective only after cultural and social mediation. Being the main force conditioning human relationship, sex is essentially political. In any social context, the construction of a "sexual universe" is fundamentally linked to the structures of power. The construction of sexual meanings, is an instrument by which social institutions (religion, marketing, the educational system, psychiatry, etc.) control and shape human relationships.
According to Foucault, sexuality began to be regarded as a concept part of human nature since the 19th century; so sexuality began to be used as a mean to define normality and its boundaries, and to conceive everything outside those boundaries in the realm of psychopathology. In the 20th century, with the theories of Sigmund Freud and of sexology, the "not-normal" was seen more as a "discontent of civilization". In a well known passage of his work, Foucault noted that the development of the notion of sexuality organized sex as a "fictitious unity" of "disparate parts, functions, behaviours, and feelings with no natural or necessary relation among them"; therefore the conception of what is "natural" is a social construct. To escape this cultural "sexuality" Foucault suggest to focus on "bodies and pleasures".
In many historical eras, recovered art and artifacts help to portray human sexuality of the time period.
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This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Sexuality. The Official Guide to Sexuality is Sheri Winston. Sheri is the founder and primary instructor of the Center for Wholistic Sexuality. She also provides Wholistic Sexuality Counseling for singles and couples. She’s a certified Nurse-Midwife, Gynecology Practitioner, Registered Nurse, and Licensed Massage Therapist, as well as a Writer and Artist.
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