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What does sexuality mean?

1 February 2017

“What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and trapped and enslaved and tortured by their sexuality! The only drawback in that freedom is that without it one would not be a human. One would be a monster.“
John Steinbeck, East of Eden 1952

Sexuality is innate and inescapable. It is marvellous, sometimes chaotic and monstrous – may be mosaic that has evolved over the centuries. Every generation thinks it has invented sexuality and may be it has as sexuality is a constantly changing network of interlinked ideas, knowledge, desires, pleasures, controls and exploitation. In certain cases it stops being homogeneous either in expression or understanding and could potentially be disruptive.

As explained on the OED, sexuality is the quality and expression of being sexual – having a sexual nature, instinct, or feelings. Most people are sure they know what “sexuality” means but the concept has become more ambiguous and multifaceted over the years: we now include heterosexuality, asexuality, homosexuality, hypersexuality, paraphilias, pomosexuality, pansexuality, and so many others that we will only get confused… sexuality is simply a question of biology or an urge applied to individuals, to behaviours, styles and expression - but how does it exist beyond the word? Perhaps it is best understood as a chaotic social construct. In most societies sex is, and has been, a private act and so the definitions, boundaries and “rules” have become quite specific. This being so, the sanctions especially those applied to relatively less powerful groups of people have been hijacked to boost arguments on morality, politics and science; a great deal of academic study on sexuality has an agenda too, be it explicit or not. Any appraisal of sexuality involves an understanding of difference, of what normal means, of secrecy and knowledge of who should know, say or do what to whom. It’s an enormous, difficult and fascinating task and there’s never any shortage of anyone willing to try: who, as has been asked, could make their bedroom a laboratory…??

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