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Many people believe that sexuality is a simple reflection of biological differences. To sociologists, sexuality is derived from experiences constructed within social, cultural, and historical contexts. Sexual identities and behaviors develop herein; norms and cultural expectations guide individuals. western societies also privilege binary, dichotomized gender roles. Research suggests that in most of the world, action, autonomy, competition, and aggression are desirable masculine qualities. Sexuality is scripted to encourage men to initiate, be aggressive, and be sexually knowledgeable, especially in heterosex, from flirtation to foreplay and everything else. Masculine sexuality is thought to be powered by a libido that inhibits rationality and planning; condom use is believed to interfere with these spur-of-the-moment impulses.
Though hegemonic masculinities define racial, ethnic and class similarities, differences exist, especially in the USA. Caucasian men masturbate younger and Asian Americans have less sexual experience. Intercourse is the primary sexual expression for African Americans, while Latinos differ based on ethnicity and acculturation. Trans-gender men face other issues, including visibility.
Men’s bodies are seen as mechanized, tool-like, exemplified by the occasional practice of referring to the penis as an object separate from a man’s mind. Erections – proof” of arousal – are given hundreds of slang terms denoting the importance and power of the phallus. This mind/body separation can lead to recreational sex, where feelings of intimacy, love, and tenderness are dissociated from partnered sex. Men are expected to master their bodies, thus experiencing performance anxiety when they can’t get the job done.”
Pornography, sexually explicit materials intended to arouse, depicts men as powerful, lusty initiators with enormous, reliable phalluses. Via pornography, western men learn about sexualities in general and their own scripts in particular. Coitus (penile-vaginal intercourse) is assumed to be the most natural” sexual behavior, reinforcing heterosexuality’s dominance and making gay sex and sex between men invisible. Cultural acceptance of non-genital and solo sexual expression is limited, though masculine sexuality can include watching strippers, going to sex clubs, and engaging in domination and submission.
Patriarchy, when social power mostly rests in men’s hands, can create gender hierarchies in which men dominate women. Rape, sexual assault, and child molestation are the darkest aspects of patriarchal societies. A complex mix of patriarchy and sexism, homophobia (the fear of anyone or anything defined as gay or lesbian) includes the misperception that to be gay is to be less than a man. The word fag and other terms are often used as a form of social control. Risky, emotionally circumscribed interactions showing sexual prowess are often employed to confer status and convey heterosexuality.
Normative” men’s sexuality has been constructed as non-relational, objectifying, and phallocentric, more amenable to paraphilia and fetishes, multiple partners, recreational sexuality and a strict separation of sex and love. Normative men’s sexuality is all-too-often an embodiment of gender and societal inequalities. These norms ignore the everyday contexts in which sexualities are produced and individually experienced. Luckily, norms are more fungible in practice, and individual men still have large latitude in negotiating and developing different (and more equal) sexual expressions.
- Herek, G. (2005) Beyond homophobia”: thinking about sexual prejudice and stigma in the twenty-first century. Sexuality Research & Policy: Journal of NSRC 1 (2): 6-24.
- Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H, Michael, R. T. & Michaels, S. (1994) The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
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