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Human Sexuality

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Overview of Human Sexuality

Since the end of the nineteenth century, sexuality has been considered one of the primary elements in a person's essential identity along with race, class, and gender; in this view, one is born into an unchanging sexuality that forms a central core of how one identifies oneself and acts in the world. The idea of “sexuality” as a concept was produced by medical and psychiatric discourses, according to Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality. Prior to the articulation of sexuality as a category of identity, sexual acts were only something a person did, not a result or sign of who that person was. People had sex but not sexuality. Sexual acts were classified as transgressive or licit, often with regard to their reproductive function within civil and religious-sanctioned marriage, but the person who committed these acts had no specific sexual identity. The emergence of categories of sexual activity as identity formations created our contemporary understanding of “homosexual” and “heterosexual.” These labels have been mapped onto existing binary structures of normality and abnormality, so that “homosexuality” has been synonymous with sickness, deviance, and sin in the languages of medicine, social sciences, and religion.

Western culture in the twentieth century has been obsessed with constructing, analysing, discussing, articulating, and debating questions of sexuality: Is it innate or learned? Can it be changed? Are some forms more acceptable than others? How should unacceptable forms be treated or punished? The creation of vast fields of knowledge concerning sexuality and the continual negotiations of power around sexuality have resulted in both increased political visibility of sexuality as a component of human identity and increased (indeed, ubiquitous) representations of sexuality in mass media. In twenty-first-century global culture, sexuality is everywhere.

From CREDO Sexuality: Key Terms in Literary Theory

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