Mythic visions of sexuality

Quotes from Myth and Sexuality by Jamake Highwater.

Given the fact that the best minds of our time have entirely abandoned the seventeenth-century mechanistic world view, why have we retained its antiquated fallacy of “universal man” in matters of sexuality.

Since the time of its inception, sexual research has been obsessed with anatomy. When we think about sex, nearly our entire attention is given to the mechanical operation of genitalia. Rarely do we turn our attention away from the sex organs themselves to the subtle sources of meaning that are associated with them. Many socoiologists see this trend as the result of the masculinization of sexual attitudes: the inclination to focus sexuality entirely in the groin. In the long view, however, sex is not so narrowly focused. Quite the contrary, sex is a vehicle for a variety of feelings and needs. But for most men it is difficult to grasp the possibility of such variety because of the emotional illiteracy which is an implicit aspect of male socialization.

Sexuality is shaped by social forces. Far from being the most natural force of our lives, it is, in fact, the most susceptible to cultural influences. This viewpoint does not attempt to deny the importance of biology, for the physiology and morphology of the body certainly does provide the preconditions for human sexuality. But biology does not cause the patterns of our sexual lives. It simply conditions and limits what is likely and what is possible.

It is unreasonable to continue to set up an antagonism between sex and society as if they were biologically dissociated elements arising from separate domains of Nature. We must recognize that sex is highly socialized and that each culture designates various practices as appropriate or inappropriate, moral or immoral, healthy or unhealthy. We constantly construct boundaries that have no basis in “nature.” Yet we continue to indulge the fantasy that our sexuality is the most innate and natural aspect of being human, and that sexual conduct between men and women is predestined by biology forevermore by the dictates of our inborn “human nature.”

Because Western ideology insists that sexual activity is wholly instinctual, that it is natural and innate, we are reluctant to recognize that sexuality has a history. Instead, we are convinced that sexuality is impervious to change, and therefore exists outside of time. Research, however, indicates that there have been many major changes in both sexual behaviour and the significance we attached to it. Social historians have provided countless examples of such shifts of meaning, making it clear that sexuality does possess a history.