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The sex, gender and sexuality of the human body have both intertwined and disjointed histories within society, deeming some classifications as normal/healthy and others as pathological/sickly. Eighteenth-century science especially exacerbated the oppositional nature between categories of sex, gendered experiences and sexuality, constructing them as universally biologically determined.
The discovery of the hormone in 1905 provided the first biological justification for a difference between female and male bodies. Although the previous common belief was that there were two types of hormones – one for each sex – studies conducted in the 1920s found female hormones in male animals serving to refute this theory. After a number of theories were tested – among which were that female sex hormones either had no effect or that they caused disease and/or homosexuality – eventually it was understood that male and female sex hormones work cooperatively and even synergistically in both male and female bodies. While both sexes came to be defined by biological differences, the woman s body, defined primarily by her reproductive capabilities, took on an especially gendered understanding and became further medicalized according to a heteronormative model. The development of the contraceptive pill in the 1950s transformed female sex hormones into big business; simultaneously constructing heterosexual vaginal intercourse as the sexual norm resulting in pregnancy.
Simone de Beauvoir was the first to recognize and challenge the notion of the male sex as ”normal – casting the woman as the ”other in addition to distinguishing between sex and gender. Similar to the medical understanding of the female body as primarily defined by its reproductive capacity, female sexuality was understood as singularly oriented towards procreation – in contrast with a more lustful conception of male sexuality.
From the beginning to the middle of the nineteenth century, the Early Victorian ideal of true love dominated the discourse, idealizing true womanhood, true manhood and true ”love which was free of sensuality and defined by its purity. It was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century that ”heterosexuality and ”homosexuality came to be named and documented. Such a change in discourse has been argued to have resulted from the growth of the consumer economy which replaced the Victorian work ethic with a new pleasure ethic. In conjunction with this shift and rise of erotica, the male-dominated medical field defined male-female relationships as healthy and natural. This conception served to shift the rhetoric from the previous label of the sex-enjoying woman as a ”nymphomaniac to the sex-rejecting woman as suffering from ”anesthesia. As such, the true love model was replaced with the normal love model, one which was replete with sexuality, subsequently assigning people a ”sexual orientation.
Dr. Krafft-Ebing s influential Psychopathia Sexualis (1892) argued that people had a ”sexual instinct that was oriented towards members of the opposite sex with an inherent ”purpose for procreation. This publication served to naturalize heterosexuality subsequently establishing the ”oppositeness of sexes which was the source of the universal, normal, erotic attraction between males and females. Further the post-World War II ”cult of domesticity served to re-associate the woman with the home and men with work outside the home, thereby reifying this oppositeness of sexes – and their mutual dependence upon one another in order to maintain a family and/or household. These trends simultaneously pathologized same-sex attraction and nonconformist gender identities/behaviors.
Alfred Kinsey et al. (1948) challenged this hetero-homo dichotomy (and associated positive/ negative values), in providing evidence that homosexual experiences are much more common than previously thought. He challenged the ”natural divide between heterosexuality and homosexuality and instead emphasized how ”Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separate pigeon holes. The living world is a continuum. Gore Vidal further argued that ”there is no such thing as a homosexual or heterosexual person. There are only homo- or heterosexual acts. These new perspectives challenged this dichotomy and the privileging of ”heterosexuality as normal or healthy behavior, relegating all other acts to the pathological bin.
- Beauvoir, S. de (1973) The Second Sex. Vintage Books, New York.
- Foucault, M. (1978) The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. Vintage Books, New York.
- Kinsey, A., Pomeroy, W. B. & Martin, C. E. (1948) Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. W. B. Saunders, Philadelphia.