Behaviour and Sexuality

Sexual behavior reflects or expresses an individuals sexuality

5th November 2012

Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behaviour, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.’

Kinsey et al. 1948:639

Human sexuality, regardless of age, race, or color, is an important aspect of everyone’s life. As such, it becomes an integral part in defining identity and action. Perhaps as a result of this role in defining human existence, it becomes interesting to consider one of the many curious notions of Western discourse on sexuality; the assumed link between sexuality, and the production of identity and subjectivity. One such assumption regarding sexual experience is that, an individual’s sexuality is an expression or reflection of their sexual behavior. What becomes apparent here, not only within feminist and Queer theory, is the existence of a strange paradox in which ambiguity and fluidity in sexuality and gender are used to form the foundations of identity politics.

During the 1970s the establishment of gender-sex distinctions resulted in gender being understood as, “the cultural elaboration of the meaning and significance of facts of biological differences between women and men” (Moore 1999:151). Between tradition, and the theorizing and debate that continued, a consistent but unacknowledged problem remained: what exactly is gender? Some proposed that the concern of gender and gender relations was the sexual division of labor, and the roles, tasks and social status of women and men, while others conceptualized gender’s connection with cosmological beliefs, and symbolic principles and valuations. Collier and Yanagisako (1987:37 cited Moore 1999:153) posited that current models were contentious of pre-existing Western notions of sexual difference relating to reproduction, which are nothing more than Western folk theories of biological reproduction. They argued that, no compelling reason existed to assume cultural conceptions of gender were resultant of the biological difference in the roles of women and men in sexual reproduction. Echoing Simone de Beauvoir’s (1953:267; cited Butler 1998:402) claims that, “one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman”, gender became reconceptualized not as something you were, but as something you did. The biological facts of gender therefore resulted in a body that is “not a thing, [instead] it is a situation” (De Beavoir 1953:84). Contemporary developments in feminist theory and Queer theory have suggested that there is no need for the concept of gender at all[1].

Queer theory emphasized that issue is not gender, but rather the way you ‘live’ your sexuality, or ‘enact’ your sexual identity. The interpretation of much of Queer theory is that sexual difference is understood as sexual variety (Abelove 1993; Rubin 1994; De Lauretis 1991). This body of work emphasizes that genitals, sexual practice, sexual identities and sexual desire do not necessarily fit together in any conventional sense or that conventions can and should be subverted. According to Foucault (1978:127), sexuality is not a thing, fact, or unchanging component of human subjectivity, rather it is a “set of effects produced in bodies, behaviors, and social relations by a certain deployment …[of] a complex political technology”. Foucault notes that sexuality within western culture has been narrowed down to a heterosexual couple and explains how these repressions have caused a backlash into a more ‘perverse’ and ‘secretive’ society. Yet the pathologizing of sexualities has helped create an explosion of sexual identity and greater discussion (Foucault 1978:36-49).

Each of these discussions is multi-faceted and contains a number of different strands. To begin with, according to Halperin (1989:259) sexuality defines itself as an independent domain within the field of human psychophysical nature, while simultaneously effecting the domains theoretical delineation and isolation from other areas of personal and social life. Secondly, the reconceptualization of gender as a process rather than a category focuses on the ‘doing’ of gender rather than the ‘being’ of it. Emphasizing Performance theory, Judith Butler (2008:402) writes that, “gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time-an identity … [that] must be understood as the … way in which bodily gestures, movements, and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of being an abiding gendered self.” It is through this that the notion of gender identity is compelled by social sanctions and taboo (Butler 2008:402). Finally, sexuality generates sexual identity: “it endows each of us with an individual sexual nature, with a personal essence defined in specifically sexual terms; it implies that human beings are individuated at the level of their sexuality, that they differ from one another in their sexuality and, indeed, belong to different types or kinds of being by virtue of their sexuality” (Halperin 1989:259).

In ‘Is There a History of Sexuality?’ Halperin (1989:257) addresses the ‘misguided’ discourse on sex as a bodily function, arguing that sex, as a natural act grounded in bodily functionality, has no history since it lies outside of history and culture. However, sexuality by contrast does not properly refer to some aspect or attribute of bodies, and it is from this cultural construct sexuality, that sexual identity emanates, representative of the “appropriation of the human body and of its physiological capacities by an ideological discourse” (Halperin 1989:257). Halperin later makes the claim that by considering the history of sexuality, it becomes idealized when the focus should be on a new analysis of the construction of sexuality (Halperin 1989:273). Halperin (1989:259) claims that sexuality refers to a positive, distinct, and constitutive feature of human personality, the underlying characteristic of individual acts, desires, and pleasures, being the “source from which all sexual expression proceeds”. Sexuality therefore, is not a simply descriptive terminology; rather it is a method of constructing, organizing, and interpreting those features.

Connotations associated with the interpretation of these features often leads to discussions regarding sexual orientation, which refers to a pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes, and to an individuals identity sense resultant of those attractions, related behaviors, and communal memberships (APA 2008). Sexual orientation is frequently depicted as ranging from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, but remains nominally discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual[2]. These ranges of behaviors and attraction have been documented in various cultures throughout the world, many of which have developed identity labels to describe people who express these attractions resulting in sexual orientation being frequently discussed as the sole characteristic of the individual. This perspective remains incomplete since sexual orientation is best defined in terms of relationships, expressive of behaviors meeting individualistic personal needs. Sexual orientation therefore, characterizes the association through which individuals are likely to find satisfaction and fulfillment of relationship requirements, rather than individual themselves. For many, this is a fundamental aspect of their personal identity. In this way it is clear that sexual behavior does, in fact, reflect an individuals sexuality.


Abelove, H, Barale, MA & Halperin, DM (eds.) 1993, ‘The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader’ Routledge, New York.

American Psychological Association, 2008, “Answers to your Questions: For a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality”, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns Office, Washington, DC [Online] Accessed 27 October 2012, <>

Butler, J 1988, ‘Performative Acts ans Gender Constitution: An Essay on Phenomenology ans Feminist Theory’, Theatre Journal, vol.40 no.4, pp.519-531 [Online] Accessed: 25 October 2012 <>

De Lauretis, T 1991, ‘Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities: An Introduction’, Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 6(2-3), pp. iii-xviii, [Online] Accessed: 28 October 2012, <>

Foucault, M 1978 The History of Sexuality, Pantheon, New York

Halperin, DM 1989, ‘Is There a History of Sexuality?’, History ans Theory, vol.28 no.3, pp. 257-274 [Online] Accessed: 25 October 2012 , <>

Kinsey, AC, Pomeroy, WB, & Martin, CE 1948, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.

Moore, L (ed.) 1999, ‘Whatever happened to women and men? :gender and other crises in anthropology’, Anthropological theory today, Polity Press, Malden MA, pp. 151-171.

Rubin, G 1994, ‘Sexual Traffic’, Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 6(2-3), pp.62-69, [Online] Accessed: 28 October 2012, <>

[1] Consider the isssues surrounding Norrie mAy Welby <;

[2] It may also be useful to note that asexuality or the indifference toward or lack of attraction to either group is also possible.


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