The topic of human sexuality is such a complex and vast discourse. Human sexuality is a wide encompassing area of study that includes the disciplines of science, psychology, and medicine and many more. The opinions and experiences surrounding sexuality are unique and personal to everyone. The subject itself has been a large topic of discussion in politics, society, and religion, with differing perspectives in each of the respecting categories. The book, Human Sexuality: Opposing Viewpoints claims that “human sexuality involves basic instincts– innate impulses and physical responses programmed into human biology over hundreds of generations to ensure the continuation of the human race.” (Stalcup, Leone & Swisher, 1995) Sexuality has been an ever-changing pattern of opinion and will continue to be for generations to come. This research paper will explore the different attitudes of sexuality in society throughout history.
Due to the broadness of the term, the word itself seems to have gained a tentative definition throughout the years. According to the textbook, Essentials of Human Sexuality, human sexuality is most simply defined as “the ways in which we experience and express ourselves as sexual beings.” (Rathus, Nevid, Fichner-Rathus, 1998) Human sexuality also includes the biological, physical, emotional attitudes, and behavioral actions that encompass the topic itself.
Before diving into the history and world of sexuality, it is important to note and become familiar of what sex is and what the purpose of it. The term, sex, has more than one meaning. The word can refer to the male and female anatomical sexual organs used in the engagement of coitus–sexual intercourse (Rathus et al, 1998) One may also refer to the idea of sex being activities in which two consenting individuals and sex organs engage for the purpose of reproduction or pleasure. (Rathus et al, 1998) The purposes behind sex are countless and are always changing. Some of the causes for sex include biological advancement, reproduction, pleasure, emotional connections, and spiritual enhancement.
Prehistoric and Pre-Modern Civilization Attitudes of Sexuality
hat we know about about sexuality during prehistoric times and the times before the discovery from America comes directly from visuals left behind from our forgotten ancestors. These visuals came in the form of carvings, artifacts, and paintings depicting their customs and ways of life during a time in world history where the use of written language was unknown to mankind. Using these artifacts as foundations of inference of times before in a hunter-gatherer state of living, one can conclude that men hunted while women were tasked for rearing children and foraging for small game and edible plants and the sort. Art taken and examined during the Stone Age from circa 20,000 years ago proposes that women were worshipped for their ability to produce offspring and fertility, while also furthering the species, these artworks depict the women with their sex organs enlarged and exaggerated hips. (Fichner-Rathus, 1995) As times changed, society gave into the male role of superiority over women. Furthermore, this established the idea of the glorification “of the male role in reproduction, [thus] phallic worship sprang into being.” (Rathus et al, 1995) In essence, phallic worship is the glorification of the male sexual organ. During these prehistoric times, phallic symbols were used widespread to convey the power of the male in comparison to the female. This was the beginning of the societal idea of inequality between men and women, with men taking center stage.
Before arriving on the subject of sexuality in American history, it is important to make mention of great and ancient civilizations that came before the discovery of America, to allow for clear knowledge and clarification of vast societies in which those who settled in the Americas could had influence from in their ideas of sexual morality and attitudes.
The ancient Hebrews and Greeks valued family life and viewed sex as a beautiful engagement of love and passion. Where they differed was whom they could make love to, and when it was deemed okay to do so.
The ancient Hebrews strongly condemned homosexual behavior in both men and women. Sexual encounters were only to be had within a marriage, in order to strengthen the bond between the man and woman. Hebrew women were expected to tend to the men and rear the children. Anything outside of these tasks was seen as taboo and out of the ordinary. Women were not allowed to have affairs outside their marriage, for they could pay high consequences for committing adultery. On the other hand, men could have multiple wives and occasionally a concubine would be introduced within the marriage to benefit the man.
As for the Ancient Greeks, their view on sexuality was strikingly different than that of the Greeks. Their perspective was more open in comparison the aforementioned culture and their respective customs and ways of thought. Artwork, sculptures, and written works of the time such as books and plays written by famed playwrights such as Aristophanes imply that that conversation of sexuality was to be an open conversation and not hidden behind closed doors. The topic of sex was to be expressed openly. To this art-centered society it was important that “the healthy mind must dwell in a healthy body.” (Rathus et al, 1995)
Christian values on sexuality stemmed greatly from the ancient Hebrew way of thought. Christian views were founded on the basis of what saints during that time preached. Widely known, many Christians restricted any temptation or sexual encounters until marriage. Falling into temptation was sinful and looked down upon. Virginity of brides was deemed necessary to be considered pure in the eyes of Christian practices. Ridding oneself of any temptation would allow a pure state of mind and complete devotion to God and the readings of the Bible. Marriages were lifelong and divorce was not an option. Like the Hebrews, homosexual acts done by males and females alike was an abomination and any other form of sex besides penetration was deemed sinful and unholy.
Attitudes of Human Sexuality in Early America
When English settlers made their way to the New World, the goal was to create a New England and build the foundation of pure and godly way of living, much like what they were used to back home. It is important to note that the set of beliefs and ways of thought the settlers brought with them gave rise to the Protestant Reformation period that would later follow. (D’Emilio & Freedman, 1988) The Protestantism during this time drew a line between the societal acceptance of sexual desires to reproduce within a marriage and the taboo of sexual sins that included sexual acts that took place out of marriage for pleasure. Protestantism rejected the ideas of abstinence and celibacy of priests and more. This new wave of Protestantism was seen as the perfect fit on the journey toward a “perfect commonwealth.”
The religious regulation of sexuality in the Protestant religion reinforced reproductive sex rather than pleasurable sex. The Protestantism during this time drew a line between the societal acceptance of sexual desires to reproduce within a marriage and the taboo of sexual sins that included sexual acts that took place out of marriage. Sex was encouraged once a couple was married to bear as many children as they could due to high infant mortality rates. (D’Emilio & Freedman, 1988) If they chose to limit reproduction within the family unit, couples would refrain from sex or take other precautionary measures since birth control was not around during these years.
Sexuality During The Reconstruction Period of America
Before the Civil War, permanent marital unions between white and black couples were almost nonexistent, due to the outlaw of interracial marriages during this time. Though they did exist, they were not legal unions, and therefore not officially recognized as a union of marriage. After the Civil War, came the Reconstruction era. New ways of thought had to be introduced and tolerance among non-white people took a bit getting used to, even for minorities. Along with this freedom, came consequences that came after.
Black women were still vulnerable to the white man’s advantage. Some southerners, filled with revengeful anger toward the outcome of the Civil War, “unleashed their rage against freed slaves by sexually assaulting black women.” (D’Emilio & Freedman, 1988) Whites seemed to justify racially charged lynching practices on the assumption that black men lusted for white women, though there was no evidence to back up this stereotype. Acts of lynching were common practice against the black minority, more specifically, geared more towards black men. Events and actions of white people toward the black minority caused a shift in the ideals and morals of sexuality for African Americans. This caused a general and sometimes stereotypical fear of white men. Black women were to eventually become especially afraid of white men, given the countless counts of white men on black women sexual violence.
The Sexual Hygiene Movement
The early twentieth century brought along a new sense of perspective on the idea of sex and sexuality. Public knowledge of venereal diseases became a public health matter. Treatment and prevention became a top priority. Safe and healthy sex was of the utmost priority. A physician by the name of Prince Morrow, from New York, coined the idea of a hygienic movement to put a stop to venereal diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, which were mostly unknown to the public.
In 1904, he published a text called Social Diseases and Marriage, where he argued that “venereal diseases…strike at the very root nature’s processes for the perpetuation of the race.” (Morrow, 1904) Morrow also spoke on the fact that he believed that these common sexually transmitted diseases could be stemmed back to the origin of prostitution. Although he held female prostitutes accountable for the origin of such diseases, he ultimately put the blame on men and their unchaste practices of sexuality. He also emphasized on the fact that shaming those infected with these kinds of diseases would get the community nowhere and coming together for the common good would allow for progress in the area of treatment and prevention. His social campaign on the fight against sexually transmitted diseases and infections called for an open discussion on sex, which was relatively progressive during the early 1900’s. He advocated for education on sex, in hopes it would wipe out the wave of ignorance in sexual practices that could lead to gonorrhea or syphilis. Dr. Prince Morrows movement on sexual hygiene was very new and very ahead of its time.
The Sexual Revolution
The sexual revolution was a worldwide phenomena that encompassed people of all races, genders, and sexual identities. The ideas of sexuality in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s became an open book and everything was up for grabs in conversation on the topic of sex. This gave rise to the hippie counterculture. Contrary to popular belief, the hippie counterculture was not just about sexual promiscuity. They were about being in tune with oneself and others. Although they did not engage in constant sexual rendezvous at any time and place, “they did pride themselves on their liberated sexual attitudes.” (Allyn, 2000)
The sexual revolution called into questioned the ideology of sexuality in times before. The idea of solely having sex for the intent of reproduction was absurd to the changing attitudes of the mid 20th century progressive minds. Sexual liberation meant using “sexual intercouse was merely a way to communicate with, and express love.” (Allyn, 2000)
Men and women felt freer, not in the sense and idea of sex, but the changing attitudes on the ideas of gender roles in both men and women. Men could cook for the family or sew and not be shamed for it, while women could do physical work without being given a dirty look by onlookers. Times were changing, and they were changing fast.