Human Sexuality > Introduction

Human Sexuality

Presented by
Lance J. Parks, LCSW


This course is recognized by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.
This program is Approved by the the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (Approval #886463870-5845) for 10 Social Work continuing education contact hours.
This program is approved for 10 continuing education hours by:
The California Board of Registered Nursing # CEP 14462
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) # 886463870
The Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling #50-14000
Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists # 628
Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors #1646
The Texas Board of Social Worker Examiners # 5547
The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) #6412


Upon completion of this course the participant will be able to:

  • Differentiate the definition of sexuality and discuss concepts and attitudes regarding sexuality throughout history
  • Evaluate concepts of sexuality and describe the life cycles that occur through infancy through adolescence to old age
  • Explain various concepts of sexuality such as intimacy, reproduction, behavior, and gender identity
  • Distinguish between basic concepts regarding sexual orientation such as the difference between heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality
  • Explain different viewpoints between gender roles and expectations
  • Evaluate different types of relationships and define how values, attitudes, and cultural and religious beliefs affect relationships
  • Evaluate and define the impact of sexuality and power when it comes to abusive relationships
  • Assess and define different types of abusive relationships, sexual assault, and its aftermath
  • Demonstrate and specify basic beliefs and concepts behind the world's most popular religions and their attitudes toward human sexual development and behavior
  • Identify the most common sexual disorders as well as treatments and therapies available for such disorders
  • Recognize how sexual attitudes and behavior affect workplace environment
  • Assess and debate the enormous role the media places on sexual attitudes and behavior in today's society


What is human sexuality? The dictionary defines human sexuality as an area of research and study that focuses on all aspects of humans as sexual beings. Basically, human sexuality involves much more than anatomy and sexual responses, but incorporates how we engage in relationships and behaviors that determine our desires and sexual identity as well as our overall sexual health, well-being, and our perceptions and expressions.

[QN.No.#1.Human Sexuality is about more than just physical sexual responses.]

Understanding and experiencing sexual issues, behaviors, and how they are involved in our daily lives and environments determine how we react to certain situations, other people, and most importantly, relationships. Human sexuality has as much to do with emotional reactions as values, morals, and responsibilities.

No course on human sexuality would be complete without exploring myths and misconceptions regarding the subject. Understanding human sexuality also means understanding, developing tolerance for, and respecting others, regardless of their sexual diversity, or what we consider to be normal or abnormal behaviors.

Everyone Listens When "Sex" Is Mentioned

Sex is not merely a physical act between two people, but incorporates many meanings including; the act itself, the process of reproduction, lovemaking, as well as defining every individual's concept of sexual identity and gender. Sex also determines whether an individual is male or female. Most people think of sex as being a defining factor into who we are. To many, we are male or female, masculine or feminine. To others, it's not so simple and biological sex has many sides, aspects, and dimensions.

We have already briefly touched on issues regarding the development of sexual identity and gender. Actually, many of you may already think you know all there is to know about sex, relationships, and gender identity issues, but many don't realize the enormous and forceful impact that ideas of sex, gender identity, attitudes, and religious beliefs have on relationships as well as concepts of personal identity and yes, even our psychological and physical health.

Studying Human Sexuality

Understanding and studying human sexuality goes way beyond the physical aspect of sex. The study of human sexuality includes understanding and enriching our emotional expectations as well as enhancing self-knowledge, identity, and developing values and morals. Regardless of a persons upbringing, culture, heritage, or faith, human sexuality plays an important role in their life from childhood to old age.

[QN.No.#2.Regardless of your upbringing, culture, heritage, or fate, human sexuality plays an important role in our lives.True/False:]

Because sex is an emotional as well as physical act, a study of human sexuality will often create unexpected reactions from students. Some topics will make students uncomfortable, while others may be amused, confused, or offended. That is not the intent of this course; on the contrary, it is important for individuals to focus on their own feelings and rely on their own upbringing, cultural beliefs, and faith when it comes to incorporating human sexuality basics into everyday life experiences.

One of the most important aspects of any course on human sexuality is to encourage students to make responsible choices. While our sexual values and morals contribute to making responsible sexual choices throughout our lifetime, individuals need to learn about the dangers and risks they might encounter as well as the pleasures involved in human sexuality.

Do you know the difference between HIV and AIDS? Do you know how to protect yourself, or your partner from HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases? If you are a woman, do you know how to protect yourself against pregnancy? Do you know how to protect yourself from abuse, sexual violence, and/or peer pressure? Whether you're a man or a woman, you certainly have expectations of relationships and dating. How do you communicate your needs, desires, or expectations to your girlfriend/boyfriend, your spouse, or anyone else involved in your life? It is easy to make snap decisions in the blink of an eye, but some decisions made without planning can have long lasting consequences. Information is power. Knowledge, planning, good judgment, as well as accepting and recognizing consequences for poor decisions can literally affect the rest of your life.

Human sexuality courses are designed to inform, and provoke thought and reflection. Students who understand the risks of contracting AIDS, HIV, or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are less likely to become the victims of such diseases. Students who understand and have information regarding birth control and contraception are better able to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Students who understand basic human behaviors, relationships, and sexual dysfunctions, sexual attitudes and behaviors may be able to protect themselves against abuse, date rape, and domestic violence.

Understanding Human Sexuality

Human sexuality goes way beyond sexual relationships, acts, and behaviors. In order to understand human sexuality, it is essential to understand basic anatomy and physiology. These concepts will be explored in this course, as will the life cycles of sexuality, our concepts of self, how relationships are formed, as well as the difference between general male and female expectations when it comes to relationships and sexual relations.

[QN.No.#3.In order to understand human sexuality, it is essential to understand _____ & ______]

The concept of sexuality in power, sexual dysfunctions, and attitudes and behaviors regarding sex will also be fully explored. Because sexual relationships and human sexuality involve more than a physical act, students will also learn about and understand psychosocial relationships, behaviors, and interactions.

Unfortunately, many people think they know a lot about sex, especially as young people; however, they are often misinformed about a great many aspects of sex. Where or whom did they get their information? Television? Magazines, books or movies? Their friends? The Internet? Pornography? Many young people 'learn as they go' from their sexual relationships. If they are lucky they have completed a sex education class in school, but more than likely, much of their information is from observing unscientific behaviors of their friends or family.

Personal experience doesn't make one an expert in human sexuality. Neither do talks with parents or friends. Many of us develop our concepts regarding sex from early experiences, which can hardly be used as a basis for lifetime relationships, but unfortunately, they often are.

The study of human sexuality is complex and involves various levels of love, intimacy, and normal human sexual responses. Human sexuality means understanding expectations, stereotypes, and different sexual stages of development that are experienced throughout life. It also involves information regarding sexual aggression and violence, sexual orientation, and the problems, therapies, and solutions.

Normal or Not?

Many people are terrified of being "abnormal". But who defines what is normal and abnormal in relationships, sexual preferences, responses, and problems? Who determines the "normal frequency" of sexual relations between couples? In many cases, the concept of normalcy is determined by where we were raised, our cultural heritage, our faith, and our belief in what comprises a normal relationship. How is normal to be determined?

Sexual relationships and human sexuality differ depending on geography. For example, the sexual relationships or habits of a couple from the Bronx may be considered taboo in portions of Africa, South America, or Asia. The practices of a Polynesian couple might seem strange to a couple living in France. Geography and cultural heritage plays a large part in what is considered normal or taboo when it comes to sex or sexual relationships.

[QN.No.#4.Sexual relationships and human sexuality differ depending on geography. true/false?]

Human sexuality is also determined in great extent to how parents discuss issues of sex and sexuality with their child. For example, did a persons parents use nicknames or anatomically correct names for male and female genitalia? Did they discuss what could be considered appropriate or inappropriate touching? Did they discuss certain aspects of sexuality and sexual behaviors such as puberty, menstruation, masturbation, intercourse, birth control, homosexuality, or sexual abuse with their child? For Americans, the answer is no to most of these.

Sexual Health

Sexual health also plays an important role in determining what is considered normal or abnormal. Do you engage in healthy sex? What is healthy sex? Sexual research has been going on for decades in order to determine the answers to such questions. Every day we open magazines and watch television to be deluged with visual and audio messages that encourage and intensify attraction, beauty, allure and more. The advent of the electronic age and most especially the Internet will play a great role in how today's generation perceives sex, sexual behavior and sexual health.

Sexual health is a part of our overall health, but one that is often neglected because of embarrassment, shame, or attitudes that our sexual preferences, questions, and concerns should not be discussed openly. Sexual health is not only physical, but may be emotional and psychological as well. Psychological and emotional sexual health issues may include but are not limited to controlling relationships, guilt about sex, fear about sex, violence, or how we perceive sex.

There are several misconceptions as well as truths involved in understanding human sexuality. Some people believe that anyone who takes a course or who is interested in human sexuality will make more informed choices about behaviors and relationships. Some believe that understanding human sexuality encourages a satisfying sex life or a sense of identity. Many believe that understanding sexuality encourages the rejection of myths or misconceptions and encourages stronger emotional and physical relationships.

Regardless of your conceptions regarding human sexuality at the beginning of this course, you are encouraged to think about the topics broached in this course and utilize the information provided in order to make better and more informed choices and responses in the future, not only regarding sexual relationships, but relationships and expectations as a whole.

This is not to say that any or every future episode or event in your life can be anticipated ahead of time, but that armed with knowledge, you will be able to separate fact from fiction, make rational and informed decisions and most importantly, learn to accept and understand how you feel about human sexuality.

Sexuality through the Ages

It is obvious that sexual relationships have been engaged since the beginning of man, though our historical perspective of sexual relationships as well as beliefs and customs regarding human sexuality are based on historical records that date back over 20,000 years. Did you know that Stone Age cave drawings have been shown to include depictions of sexual behavior, pregnancy, and childbirth?

A large number of ancient civilizations worshipped females as creators of the world as they knew it. We all understand the concept of "Mother Nature." Many cultures, including Native Americans, Egyptians, Japanese, and Babylonians believed that females created the world in ancient times.

Ancient Greek culture is still studied today through their mythology and art. As a patriarchal or male dominated society, the Greeks were known to be relatively tolerant regarding sexual habits and behaviors. Indeed, Greek mythology is filled with male bisexuality. The Greeks are well known for respecting and prizing beauty of both men and women. Prostitutes, from brothels to courtesans, were common and indeed socially acceptable in all social circles in the Greek culture.

Ancient Rome is known by many historians to be one of the most decadent in the history of mankind and is sometimes blamed for the fall of the Roman Empire. As in Greece, ancient Roman citizens didn't much differentiate between heterosexual or homosexual relationships. As a matter of fact, large numbers of Roman citizenry were devoted to Bacchus, the god of ecstasy and wine. Many Roman rulers were bisexual and even Caligula is rumored to have engaged in orgies that included sadomasochism and bestiality.

As Christianity developed throughout the European continent, intellect, religion, and Western political cultures played a great role and influence over attitudes regarding sexual behavior.

From the end of the Roman Empire until about the 16th century, Catholicism was a dominant force in Western Europe. The Church established a moral code and sexual behaviors such as homosexual relationships, adultery, and lust was deemed sinful. Marriage was expected to be monogamous and adultery was severely punished. Adulterers were publicly humiliated and sometimes beaten, possibly stoned and often shunned.

Ideas about human sexuality within the Catholic realm, as well as attitudes regarding sex, were more fully developed when Augustine, a fourth century bishop, denounced sexuality as an inherent threat to spiritual growth. However, Augustine was unable to argue against the Bible's justification of sex in marriage and stated that, "it was only through procreation that the evil act became good."

At this point in history, in this particular realm, guilt played an immense role in how sexual behavior and relationships were formed during the Middle Ages. Anything other than "normal" sexual practices, meaning "normal intercourse" in the typical “missionary” or man-on-top position was considered abnormal and decadent.

In the United States of America, during the early 1800s, sexual health and development became increasingly stifled. While the role of churches in religion and their impact decreased somewhat in family life, society became increasingly prudish. Women were covered from neck to toe. It was considered improper for any part of a woman's body, including her arms, to show in public. It was believed at that time that indulging in sexual relationships was actually detrimental to physical and emotional health. It wasn't until the end of the 19th century that attitudes about the human body and sexual behavior began to change.

The 20th Century and Beyond

Perhaps due to the growing abilities of travel, communication and understanding of human anatomy and development, attitudes regarding human sexuality went through a transition during the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. The Victorian era still held a severe grasp on many attitudes regarding birth control and sexual behavior outside of marriage, but other aspects starting changing.

While prostitution has always been a part of society since the beginning of history, the late 1800s and early 1900s saw a growth in the openness of the practice of prostitution. At this time society started recognizing what would become known as "social diseases." It was during this time that sexually transmitted diseases and infections were first understood by the medical community and treatments were discovered, developed and administered. With the advent of effective treatment for STD's and access to condoms, the 'pill' and other means of contraception, mixed with an increase in secularization and the growing desire of young people to experience sexual freedom, a movement snowballed and culminated in the 1960's in what would be known as the "sexual revolution." 

In the 1960s, youth around the world experimented with open and free sex among their peers. This is not to say that all members of this generation were involved with such inhibition when it came to sexual activity, but many were and for the first time in American and western history, unashamedly so. Individuals saw and experimented with sex as "sex for fun" rather than sex as an activity that was engaged in primarily for procreation.

Many individuals may forever view the 1960s as the "hippie", or "flower power" mentality that changed the world regarding sex. There were other contributing factors to the paradigm shift in the way people viewed sex from the 1960's through the 1980's including greater independence and freedom for women, (especially in the workplace), improved economies, cheaper and readily available methods of transportation throughout the country and the world, and the influence of entertainment, movies, television and books. All of these factors played a role in the development of a changed sexual understanding.

In the late 1950s, the popularity of "girlie magazines" entered a boom. This boom didn't end until the mid-1970s. College students rallied for availability of contraceptives and promoted coed dormitories. It was also the time when the old double standard (it's okay for the man but not for the women to engage in sexual activity) tilted more toward equality, which led to a change in sexual standards still present today.

[QN.No.#5.The contributing factors to the "sexual revolution" in the 1960's are:]

Unfortunately, the sexual revolution of the 60s also brought with it an increase in the number of individuals suffering from sexually transmitted infections and diseases, the most common of which was genital herpes, which reached almost epidemic proportions.

Then, in the 1980's, the sudden rise in individuals suffering from HIV and AIDS served as a hault to the 'free love' many partners mentality. People were dying. With research and public education to how HIV was transmitted, it was a wake-up call to many around the world and brought new information and marketing. Society stressed 'safe sex' and the benefits of limited sexual partners.

The Study of Human Sexuality

How is human sexuality studied? Remember that sexuality is a part of every individual's personality, whether he or she is aware of that fact or not. There are multitudes of factors that encourage and lead humans to engage in sexual activity. The multitude of methods commonly used today to survey and study sexual behavior in humans include but are not limited to:

  • Observational Method - direct observation of sexual behavior in laboratories or in the field is one of the most common methods of studying human sexuality and behavior. For example, the study of body language and nonverbal communication has always been of great interest to psychologists and researchers. However, the most positive studies consist of those where participants are unaware that he or she is being observed, in order to prevent the "observer effect", which changes the behavior of participants due to the presence of an observer.
  • Survey method - this type of methodology utilizes information that is collected through interviews, surveys or questionnaires of participants. This method is basically used to generate information on sexual behavior and attitudes within certain groups of individuals or population demographics to gain more detailed perceptions, feelings and attitudes regarding sexual behavior. However, this method is not always accurate, as many individuals may answer untruthfully in order to maintain the idea of socially acceptable responses to certain questions.
  • Correlational method - this method enables psychologists or researchers to view and examine relationships and correlation between communication, couple longevity, compatibility, and sexual satisfaction.
  • Experimental method - this methodology enables psychologists and researchers to attempt conclusions between independent and dependent variables. For example, researchers often used this method to observe and study the response and attitudes of participants to mentally or sexually arousing materials while physiological responses are being measured through instruments that measure blood pressure, oxygen, heart rate, and so forth.

Human sexuality is also studied from a biological perspective and involves the study of hormones such as those produced by the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and hormones produced by the ovaries and testes as well as the adrenal cortex. This field of study also involves research into both male and female hormones such as estrogens, progestin, testosterone, androgens, and so forth.

[QN.No.#6.The study of human sexuality from a biological perspective involves:]

Organic, neurological, and physical aspects of the human body offer researchers nearly never ending opportunities to research human sexuality behavior and development in a wide range of scenarios. Human sexuality encompasses sociological as well as philosophical and religious aspects of any individuals given environment. Physiological, moral, ethical, cultural, and political aspects determine what type of sexual behavior is acceptable or unacceptable in certain cultures.

Researchers are also studying what is called the "learning perspective" which seeks to understand how sexual behaviors may also reflect our experiences. For example, why do some cultures hold some sexual behaviors as acceptable and others as taboo? Why is it that some individuals within a certain culture find nothing wrong with certain sexual acts, while others may consider them abhorrent?

Understanding human behavior, growth and development, heritage, culture, and a multitude of other factors when it comes to sexual growth and development is believed to play a large role in shaping the sexual behavior of certain individuals.

The study of human sexuality is very complex and involves many different aspects of our daily environment and lives including learning, physiology, and understanding. History, culture, and personality also play a large role in the development of any individual. In addition, religious beliefs, traditions and background also have a huge impact on whether or not certain sexual activities are considered "acceptable" or not in today's society.


The acceptance or unacceptance of certain types of sexual behavior in different societies also holds the ability to offer greater understanding to socio-cultural aspects of human sexuality and development. In social norms involving politics, mass media also plays a large role in the development of sexual behavior and acceptance in society. The impact of the sexual revolution and growth of feminism in society has also offered today's men and women a new outlook on sexual behavior and expectations in the 21st century.

Sexuality is known to occur in life cycles that incorporate much of our growth and development from early childhood until old age. Concepts of "self" also determine many individual concepts and beliefs regarding sexual behavior. Such concepts of self and an understanding of the life cycles of sexuality will be explored more fully in the next lesson.
Human Sexuality > Introduction
Page Last Modified On: June 1, 2017, 10:46 AM