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Title: Sexuality and Social Theory
Contributor(s): Hawkes, Gail (author)orcid ; Scott, John (author)orcid 
Publication Date: 2005
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Abstract: "Sexuality must not be thought of as a kind of natural given which power tries to hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries to gradually uncover. It is the name that can be given to a historical construct..." --Michel Foucault 1978. "Biological sexuality is the necessary precondition for human sexuality. But biological sexuality is only a precondition, a set if potentialities, which is never unmediated by human reality, and which becomes transformed in qualitatively new ways in human society... it does not 'cause' human behaviour but conditions and limits it.' --Robert Padgug 1991. Overview: Scientific accounts of sexuality have tended to ground sex in terms of an essence, be it psychological or biological. From a biological perspective, sex might be defined as functional in terms of reproduction of the species. Yet human sexuality is not limited to a biological goal of reproduction. Sexuality can be expressed in multiple contexts to represent a myriad of meanings. Sexual essentialism, in reducing sexuality to biological or psychological functioning, cannot adequately explain the who, what, where, why, and how of human sexuality. For example: Why do we choose the partners that we do? Why do we tend to favour certain sexual practices over others? While biology may influence human sexuality, culturally defined human practices and relations produce, recreate, and legitimate biological sex. As expressed in Robert Padgug's quote at the beginning of this chapter, biological functions only provide a set of potentialities; they do not dictate what forms human sexuality might take, nor do they tell us how these forms might be imbued with social meaning. In this chapter we investigate social approaches to sexuality, outlining a number of key perspectives that have informed much of the discussion in this text. We first look at traditional thinking about sexuality and then explain how traditional accounts of sexuality came to be challenged during the twentieth century by socio-cultural accounts of sexuality, notably those perspectives that have been grouped under the broad label of social-constructionist approaches. What made these approaches distinct was their attention to the historical and cultural specificity of human sexuality. While noting the limitations of these approaches, their influence on socio-cultural understandings of sex and sexuality has been considerable and continues to inform much research. This chapter examines the following: • the emergence and development of a 'science of sex' • the implications of biomedical understandings of sexual behaviour • social scientific accounts of sex and sexuality • the so-called 'debate' between sexual essentialism and social constructionism.
Publication Type: Book Chapter
Source of Publication: Perspectives in Human Sexuality, p. 21-38
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Place of Publication: Melbourne, Australia
ISBN: 0195517016
Field of Research (FOR): 160899 Sociology not elsewhere classified
HERDC Category Description: B1 Chapter in a Scholarly Book
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