Although Biology plays a very vital role, the way sexuality is perceived, expressed or acted upon differs with different cultures. As such, what is seen as normal sexuality in one culture may not be normal in another. Basically, sexuality talks about people’s sexual interest and/or attraction to others. It is the potential to have sexual or erotic feelings and experiences one to the other. The subject of sexuality is therefore a complex one since there are many cultures around the world. In other to be able to tackle with this subject, in some way, we will have to zero down to what ‘normal’ is within most cultures.
Scientifically, when something is said to be ‘normal’, it means average. Contrarily, when something is said to be ‘healthy’, it means it is adaptive. What this infers therefore is that what is normal sexuality depends on many things, apart from culture now, just like it is pretty difficult for an individual to answer the question “Am I normal?” The truth is, what defines a healthy sexuality varies to a large degree.
Because of these variables, we often wonder whether our sexual needs, desires or interests are normal. As a matter of fact, married people who use the services of therapists often ask about normality. Therefore to define normal or abnormal sexuality, it is necessary to define “sexuality” and “abnormality” Sexuality includes every component including, and is not limited to, sexual behaviors, sexual desires, sexual attitudes that one is engaged in, sexual function, preferences and identification. Psychologically, on the other hand, abnormality is seen from 3 perspectives
- The Frequency Perspective: Which considers the abnormality of a behavior based on the rarity of occurrence in a general population
- The Social Norms Perspective: Which considers the abnormality of a behavior based on what is socially acceptable
- The Maladaptive Perspective: This considers the abnormality of a behavior when it causes problems in the life of the person who exhibits such behavior.
Sexuality or a sexual behavior is therefore said to be abnormal when it is not reported frequently from the frequency perspective. The problem with this perspective is that frequency can only be based on what is reported. If a particular sexual behavior is not reported, it doesn’t mean it is not in existence. If people are not willing to disclose, then the frequency will be low. A very large portion of sexuality-based researches are based on self-report. People get asked sensitive questions such as sexuality and they are expected to answer correctly. But more often than not, people distort the truth. For instance, women may be asked about how many sexual partners they keep or they have had so far in their lifetime. In most studies, women round down while men round up. In both cases, the figures are distorted and not exact giving results that are either an over-representation or under-representation of that the truth is. In most studies therefore, based on the frequency perspective, what is normal sexuality refers to sexual feelings towards the opposite sex. This is the most frequently reported.
Looking at the social norms perspective of normal sexuality, one can see clearly that this has to do largely with religion, politics, societal beliefs and ancestry. In most cultures around the world, the term ‘normal’ refers to what is ‘more acceptable’. Rather than seeing ‘normal’ as what is ‘absolutely acceptable’ and abnormal as ‘absolutely unacceptable’, each culture finds a way of identifying a range or spectrum of behaviors that may be more or less acceptable. Also, what is normal culturally tend to change over a period of time. For instance, pre-marital sex may be abnormal in the 1950s but is now acceptable in the 2000s. Normal sexuality from this point of view is pretty dicey as many cultures practice many kinds of sexuality and it is therefore difficult to find a ‘general normal’ from this perspective.
From the Maladaptive point of view, normal sexuality is beheld from the perspective of what is ‘healthy’, not what is ‘average’. This perspective therefore only seeks to know whether a sexual behavior is causing troubles, bringing harm to the individual or to the whole society. While the first two perspectives, the Frequency and the Social Norm perspective are seen as ‘objective’, trying to zero down on what is acceptable, the maladaptive point of view cares less, it only wants to know whether what is seen as normal or abnormal by the first two perspectives interferes with someone’s life. As long as it doesn’t, it is considered normal and when it does, it is considered abnormal sexuality.
Obviously, from the above definitions of ‘What is Normal Sexuality?’, it is clear that the topic of sexuality is very complex. I personally think what can be done to do justice to this topic is to ask questions such as
- Is this acceptable to me and my partner?
- Is this sexuality manipulative, exploitative, coercive or self-destructive?
- Does it cause any kind of harm to my partner or the society as a whole?
Sexuality is normal in itself. It is biological and it is what develops with an individual right from birth. What affects sexuality is mostly external, rather than natural or internal. For instance, a female might have found out she is never satisfied with intercourse without clitoral stimulation. Because her partner does not seem to be into this, she finds it hard to discuss and as such, she over time resolves that clitoral stimulation may be something unacceptable for her partner. She recedes to a life of sex without satisfaction.
Also, the taboos of masturbation may prevent an individual from discovering sexual pleasure based on hand stimulation and because of this, such individual finds it hard later in life to direct their partners on how to use this method to bring them sexual satisfaction.
For me, most have come to believe that their ‘manliness’ or self-worth is largely based on their ability to please their partners. He therefore puts all focus on performing rather than enjoying sex. When the partner doesn’t seem to be satisfied, such men get depressed or start having sexual anxiety which cause problems such as erection dysfunction, which later causes problems in the relationship.
These and many more external factors affect human sexuality. You are invited to the AwareMedNetwork Conference where issues such as this and more will be discussed exhaustively. Please visit the official website to register.