Daly & Wilson’s (1988) theory of male violence and homicide states that according to the notion of “kin selection” a co-operative and caring behaviour is exhibited towards those who are genetically related. The theory gives and explanation why is it more likely that husband would murder their wives, than their biological children. But, the theory does not explain why the reported violence “in the US and Britain” against women frequently starts when the woman is pregnant with a man’s child (Squire, 2000). Essentialists argue that sexuality is determined by biology and the support for those claims come from genetic studies.
The essentialists view support the idea that men and women develop a permanent sexual orientation prenatally or at an early stage of live (e. g Bailey & Pillard in Walsh, 1997). Leway (1991) in his autopsy study of brains of nineteen gay men, sixteen heterosexual men and sex women examined cell groups (nuclei) in hypothalamus-known as important in differentiating typical male from typical female sexual behaviour. Usually, two of the nuclei are larger in men than women. He found that one of the nuclei (INAH-3) are the same for both gender, INAH-3 was not larger in gay men than in heterosexual women.
These finding were heavily criticised. Firstly, in some gay men and heterosexual women the INAH-3 was as large as in most heterosexual men, therefore the size of this brain region cannot be a sole cause of sexual orientation, perhaps may not be the cause at all (Walsh, 1997). Secondly, all gay participants died of aids, therefore their brain differences might be due to the disease. Also, in some of heterosexual men in the study, who also died of aids, INAH-3 was not smaller than in other heterosexuals (Walsh, 1997).
Two genetic studies, Bailey & Pillard (1991) and Bailey et al. , (1993), one with male and one with female participants showed the innateness of homosexuality. The studies were conducted with monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins, and homosexual men and women with brothers and sister who were adopted (genetically unrelated). Similarity of sexual orientation was correlated with the genetic similarity. Among MZ twins of gay men- 53% were gay, among DZ twins of gay men- 23% were gay and among adopted brothers – 11% were gay.
Among MZ twins of lesbians – 48% were lesbian, among DZ twins – 16% were lesbian and among adopted sisters – 6% were lesbian. For both studies (both sexes) the heritability of sexual orientation is about 50%, which indicates that the results cannot be counted for as significant (Walsh, 1997). All the biological theories are based on the supposition that heterosexual and homosexual are underlying true forms of sexuality (DeLamater & Hyde, 1998). Another assumption is that homosexuality and heterosexuality are two separate and unambiguous categories.
These theories rest on supposition that homosexuality and heterosexuality do not change over time, they are constant. Social constructionist stance points out that sexuality is not universal and static phenomena but created by culture, by categorizing some behaviours and relationship as “sexual” and by drawing the meaning from these categorization and definitions (DeLamater & Hyde, 1998). The understanding and categorization of the worlds is historically and culturally define. The particular forms of knowledge are specific to particular cultures and particular periods (Burr, 1995).
According to Foucault (1978) “sexuality is not an essence”, but cultural construct (DeLamater & Hyde, 1998, p 14). The meaning of sex is constructed and derived from language and discourse. The way we understand sexuality today and the sex practices taken up differ from those of the past. According to Gagnon (1990) “each institution in society has an ‘instructional system’ about sexuality” (DeLamater & Hyde, 1998). Our innate drives “drive” our sexuality (essentialists view) do not “command” with whom (or with what object), when and where we take on our sexual behaviour.
Lost of our behaviour can be easily explain using cultural explanations. Genetically we are not so different as we were 2000 years ago, but our ways of behaving and thinking differ from the past. Sexual behaviour is not universal, but doffer across cultures. Blackwood (1993) pointed at the results based on a review of the anthropological literature that homosexuality tends to vary largely from one society to another (DeLamater & Hyde, 1998). The value systems and social structures of the different societies mirror the homosexual behavioural patterns.
As mentioned earlier, biological theories supposed that sexual orientation is constant over time. That is to say, that sexual orientation either heterosexual or homosexual is “fixed” for life. In some societies sexual behaviour is not fixed, one can go between sexual orientation back and forth. In another societies sexual orientation is fixed as demonstrating in a common saying “once homosexual, always a homosexual”. Herdt (1984) showed that the Sambian culture in New Guinea do not apply the concept of sexuality as a fixed trade (Baumeister, 2001). Sexual orientation varies according to men’s age.
Sambian males cannot achieve manhood without devouring semen from older men, therefore after the age of seven they live with older men and attain sexual contact with them, while not having any sexual contact with females. After they father children they become exclusively heterosexual. Mead (1935) studied the behavioural patterns in New Guinea ethnic group- they Arapesh and the Mundugumor, and discovered different gender roles in different cultures (Rogers ; Rogers, 2001). The Arapesh both men and women behaved more in a feminine manor while the Mundugumors both genders displayed more masculine behaviour.
The Mundugumors lived in the harsher climate; therefore they culturally built up the behaviours which are the result of environmental predisposition, i. e. local adaptation. Each society has different “things” to adapt to. Whilst not trying to present essentialist’s stance and their theories invalid and unsound, social constructionists argue that gender cannot be differentiated only through biology but should be defined by “interaction between people by language and by discourse of a culture” (DeLamater & Hyde, 1998, p 16).
Biologically we are constrained (humans cannot fly), but nevertheless our brains have evolved and out thinking allows us freedom away from our biological constrain. Why we behaved and how we behave, it all starts from biological nationalism, from modern literature such as “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” by Gray (1990) and similar self-help “educational” literature and blinds the issues of power and oppression of one sex by another (Potts, 2002).
Culture does influence our reproduction, as Sperling & Beyene (1997) pointed out that “there is no universal biological pattern for the female reproductive cycle” (Segal in Squire, 2001, p 40). In the Western societies women’s adulatory cycle is approximately thirty-five years, while in underdeveloped societies the reproductive cycle is four years, showing the difference of thirty-one years. This refuted the essentialist’s views that “biology is destiny”. Reproduction and sexuality are not the same entity, ninety-nine per cent of the time our sexual activities are not of a reproductive nature.
Baumeister, R.F. (2001) Social Psychology and Human Sexuality. Philadelphia: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group.
Burr, V. (1995). An Introduction to Social Construction. London and New York: Rutledge.
DeLamater, J.D. & Hyde, J.S. (1998). Essentialism vs. Social Constructionism in the Study of Human Sexuality. The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 35, No 1, pp 10-18.
Potts, A. (2002). The Science/Fiction of Sex. London & N. Y.: Routledge.
Roger, W.S. & Roger, R.S. (2001) The Psychology of Gender and Sexuality. Buckingham, Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Squire, C. (2000) Culture in Psychology. London: Sage.
Walsh, M.R. (1997) Women, Men and Gender. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
South Bank University, BSC Psychology