Sexuality and self-expression are two of the most fundamental facets of human nature. We rely on them to form relationships, procreate, and ultimately, survive as a species. However, while sexuality and self-expression are so rooted at our core, we as a civilization have very little understanding of them.
For answers, people have historically turned to religious texts like the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus, the concept of a male and female gender, determined by one’s genitalia, is articulated through the story of Adam and Eve. In Leviticus, it is established that men must only have sex with women: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22).
For the past several thousand years, ideas like these have been accepted as fact, and anyone who disagreed faced scrutiny and ostracization. As western society becomes more open-minded and sociological research challenges long-established ideas about sex and gender, people begin to live their lives more openly and freely, but are often met with opposition.
Let’s continue the conversation that senior Stiven Peter started in Issue nine, Volume 107, of The Spectator about sex and sexual ethics. In his article, “A Beautiful Thing: Sex and Sexual Ethics,” Peter finds fault in transgenderism, same-sex unions, and premarital sex. His argument uses philosophy and statistics to prove certain notions of human purpose and what it means to lead a traditional, healthy life.
The idea that transgenderism, same-sex unions, and premarital sex are unhealthy ultimately stems from religious texts and the ideas they have engendered in many populations. However, these ideas support a very narrow, limiting idea of humanity that doesn’t account for the human population’s diversity.
Gender and sexuality, like most of our other characteristics, are fluid. While we enjoy grouping people into identifiable categories, these categories are mere social constructs. We exist on broad, multidimensional spectra that each account for our uniqueness as individuals, similar to race, eye color, or body type.
The traditional view of gender is that it corresponds to one’s biological sex, being either male or female. While the words “gender” and “sex” are often used interchangeably, gender and sex refer to different things: Gender identifies a person using social and cultural factors, while sex pertains to one’s biological characteristics. In many cases, people’s perceptions of themselves do not reflect their biological makeup.
The notion that every person falls into “one of two” categories not only invalidates the wide variety of gender identities that exist in today’s society, but overlooks the fact that even biological sex is a spectrum. According to the Intersex Society of North America, over 2 percent of the human population is intersex, meaning that their anatomy and chromosomal makeup are not strictly male or female. In 2015, a study in the weekly science journal “Nature” stated that even for people whose sex can easily be assigned at birth, hormones and characteristics of the opposite sex are usually present.
Transgender people do not contradict a so-called “fundamental truth about being human.” If anything, the uniqueness and the complexity in each individual’s sex and gender is a defining aspect of humanity.
Likewise, the people we fall in love with can fall anywhere on the spectra of sex and gender. While people often have sexual preferences, these preferences vary from person to person, and some people don’t have a sexual preference at all.
Findings from the Academy of Science South Africa indicate that a person’s sexual orientation is caused by a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors. The factors that determine sexuality are the same for everyone regardless of sexual orientation, and non-heterosexuality is therefore just as natural as any other sexuality.
Why, then, do we view non-heterosexual couples differently than heterosexual couples? Peter argues that heterosexual couples should be regarded differently because they are a “biological unit” with the ability to procreate. However, due to the variant nature of sex and gender, non-heterosexual couples do occasionally have the ability to procreate. Likewise, heterosexual couples are often infertile.
In many animal species, barren couples have played a crucial role in survival, nurturing abandoned and orphaned babies and treating them as their own. Many of these couples are homosexual. In 2012, “Yale Scientific” reported that homosexuality exists in at least 450 species worldwide.
Although prevalent in the animal kingdom, Peter calls sex without the intent of procreation “immoral,” an idea that originated in Leviticus. He articulates a very specific idea of sex—that it should be simultaneously affectionate and life-producing. However, the word “sex” is used to describe an act undertaken by over a million species, and as such, sex takes many forms and has a multitude of purposes.
For humans, sex has been found to have several benefits unrelated to reproduction. Numerous reputable health-related websites and magazines, including Health.com, AARP, and DoveMed, published findings by medical doctors noting that sex releases endorphins, strengthens emotional bonds, relieves stress, improves bladder control, and reduces the risk of cancer, among other things.
Sex plays a different role in the lives of different people, but as long as sex is honest, consensual, and healthily practiced, no act of sex is inherently inferior to another. The sexual decisions a couple makes, regardless of the status of their union, are private, intimate, and unique, and are not indicative of the nature of their romantic bond or their moral character.
Sex, gender, and sexual ethics are examples of the beauty in human nature. However, the narrow, exclusive definitions of these concepts that Peter uses does not account for much of this beauty. It’s time that we as a society unlearn the preconceived notions about nature and morality that limit our perception of humanity. We should appreciate the natural diversity and fluidity with which we exist and acknowledge the beauty in every human, regardless of gender and sexuality.