As I’ve been plowing through the first semester of 1L education (first year of law school…oy), I’ve been not-blogging. Yeah, I know. But, I’ve still been teaching two sociology courses online for Hawaii Pacific University; Introduction to Sociology, and Sociology of Gender and Sexuality. The text for the first half of Gender and Sexuality was already chosen for me, but it’s definitely one I would choose anyway, and well worth a read for pretty much anyone: The Sociology of Gender, Third Edition, by Laura Kramer (Oxford University Press). The second half text was my choice: Current Directions in Human Sexuality and Intimate Relationships, Edited by Terri D. Fisher and James McNulty (Pearson) which features readings from the Association for Psychological Science publication. It’s also friggin cool, and it allows my students to address the ways that good research can still have bias, and what we are learning from the sciences and social sciences about the study of our sexualities. Super interesting stuff in there.
As part of the course requirements, I post discussion board questions, to which the students respond. This is fun for me, as I get to watch them tackle the concepts and support each other in exploring the ideas in often very practical ways. This week was section four in the Current Directions reader, Sexual Orientation. There were five selections, all cool reads. Check the text out for what’s in there; it’s not expensive, and really good reading. Here’s the discussion prompt from this week:
Our readings for this week form a relatively clear picture of what is going on today, in the sciences and the social sciences, regarding sexuality. One major development from the past decade has been work that highlights pre-birth factors contributing to people’s sexual attractions. Another is an ongoing analysis of who people are, in terms of interests in familial arrangement, coupling, and sexual evolution, regardless of who we are sexually attracted to. These two major areas of research are important for two convergent reasons: (1) they allow us to better understand, as a society, what the interactions are regarding lingering questions about sexuality and the aged but still relevant ‘nature vs. nurture’ conversation; and (2) these areas of research provide a human picture of what it means for our society to be heteronormative at it’s core.
Heteronormativity, put simply, is the assumption shared by many, if not most, people in most societies today: that heterosexuality is not just a ‘default setting’ of human beings, but that heterosexuality is the ‘good’ or ‘normal’ setting. The heteronormative assumption is also not necessarily overt, although often it can be. It is a foundational presumption with which we are taught to understand the world, through cultural messaging of all the kinds we experience: family group education, peer group conditioning, formal education, television, film, and in the contemporary era, internet entertainment and socialization. Ever hear someone use the term, “that’s so gay,” to illustrate the point that something is bad, stupid, wrong, or just uncool? This is only one, of many thousands of ways we are conditioned to understand non-heterosexuality as simply not as ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’ as heterosexuality. Similarly, many researchers and bloggers have, in recent years, tackled the idea that the most insulting thing a person can do to a man, is imply that he is ‘like a woman’, which is what we see when people call men ‘little girls’. This brings us back to a set of assumptions that if a man is gay, he is womanlike, which inherently implies: less than a ‘real man’. Which holds at it’s core, the presumption that women are less ‘good’ than men, in whatever ways we seem to still collectively agree upon. And this is the foundation of misogyny pervasive and invasive in our society, that we must include in discussions of sexuality.
While there is research telling us that most folks tend to at least ‘lean’ heterosexual, there is good evidence pointing to a very large gray area of sexual attraction, and sexual interest. There has also been a decent amount of research documenting non-heterosexual sex in countless animal species, making the ‘natural’ argument for heterosexuality, and against non-heterosexuality, much less convincing. In any case, as the researchers from our texts note, the study of our sexuality is rightfully nuanced. As Brian Gladue from North Dakota State University at Fargo notes in The Biopsychology of Sexual Orientation: “A continual and humbling reminder of the task of developing a model [of sexuality measurement] is that heterosexuals, like homosexuals, vary in their psychosexual milestones of genital, neuropsychological, erotic, and reproductive development.”
All of this brings us back to a discussion of heterosexuality, non-heterosexuality, and what sexuality itself actually is within our societal framework. Most sexuality researchers are now in agreement that our sexuality falls somewhere on a continuum, and many people experience shifts in sexual attraction patterns over their life course, meaning that our assumptions about static and singular sexuality are more than likely at least partially false. What are some reasons why this is so significant today? What might be some situational, cultural, and societal factors that we must include in a discussion of sexuality and the experience of sexuality in our society? How might we address these concepts in regard to politics and government policy? Finally, what might we say about how cultural norms and values either restrict or enhance our own experiences, and the experiences of everyone else, of our individual sexualities?
What do you dear readers think?