Is Human Sexuality purely instinctive or learned? Do Social Norms and Values Influence Sexual Conduct?
This was the Social Scientific question of the month for my Marital and Sexual Lifestyles class.
Here is my submitted response, I thought this would make a great Blog addition to a pre-health site so feel free to comment on this everyone.
The 'striking' conclusion after numerous studies of human societies worldwide and
animal behavior is "every human society regulates the sexual behavior of its
members" (Linda Rouse, pg. 9). The term 'striking' was most appropriate since
human sexuality has always been generalized as the product of an individual's
experiences and also as their identity. In other cases human sexuality has been
concluded as being instinctive or as a biological intuition (an ability
predetermined by genes). However, we now learn that specific norms and values
govern sexual behavior and "it is in our interactions with others that we learn
sexual behavior and our feelings about sex" (Rouse, pg. 9).
Anthropologists such as Clellan Ford, Frank Beach, and Ian Robertson provide enlightening
insight about human sexuality worldwide. Robertson's extensive cross-cultural
analysis shows how the "interplay between biological potentials and cultural
norms produce extraordinarily diverse kinds of sexual conducts" (Rouse, pg.11).
Robertson noted the variance in sexual conduct from several cultures around the
world, each culture having a different sexual norm than the other. Showing
clearly that human sexuality cannot be studied and understood with the least
degree of ethnocentrism as "sexual behavior is learned through socialization
and [conformity] to the prevailing norms in a given society" (Rouse, pg. 9).
Ford and Beach published a report in 1951 showing not only how culture mediates
sexuality, but also how "sexuality is patterned by learning" with the human
brain playing a pivotal role (Rouse, pg.
Psychologist Harry Harlow hypothesized that if behaviors such as mating or rearing offspring
were instinctive then an animal in isolation should exhibit all of these habits
without having to have learned or observed them. Harlow experimented on rhesus
monkeys and his results showed otherwise. The male monkeys reared in isolation
lack effective copulation abilities and females raised in isolation (and later
had offspring) did not show 'normal' mothering behaviors. Linda Rouse states
that Harlow's experimental results give good grounds for skepticism about the
notion of human sexuality being completely biological. And I concur. From an
evolutionary perspective it can be inferred that the same would apply to humans
reared in isolation since all primates (humans, monkeys, apes, etc.) share a
distant common evolutionary ancestor. Research conducted by behavioral
ecologist also confirms a great deal of synapomorphies (shared derived traits)
between all primates. Hence, Harlow's results provide strong supporting
implications on human sexuality as a learned and society influence trait than a
purely instinctive ability.
Rouse, L. (2002). Marital and Sexual Lifestyles in the United States: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Relationships in Social Context. Arlington, TX: Haworth Clinical Practice Press, 2002