Sexuality, race, and class

While sex can be considered a global phenomenon, sexual expression can be determined by factors such as culture, race, or social class. For instance, in some cultures, sex between men may not be considered sex at all (or considered as joshing or fun)[32], whereas in other societies, men who have sex with men are not considered homosexual if they are the ‘active’ partner in sex[33]. Therefore, what is considered sex in one society might not translate to others. We all have different identities and sometimes some of these identities appear not to fit together. For example, some people may find it difficult to reconcile their religious affiliations with their sexual preferences or practices. This may cause them psychological (or sexual) problems. The important issue for such individuals would not be to simply try to stop their desires or practices, but to find their own unique understanding of their religion and sexuality, or to learn from others who have been in their position.

Some people who are considered ‘minorities’ because of their sexuality (e.g. bisexual men) and also because of another identity, such as race (e.g. being Asian in the UK), may experience different types of challenges (e.g. racism and homophobia) because of being both Asian and bisexual, for example[34]. Therefore, an ‘intersectional’ approach should be taken when understanding sex and sexuality[35], to appreciate how varied ‘normal sex’ can be.

As some forms of sex and sex venues become commercialized (e.g. with public spaces for people to meet for sex closing down, people have to resort to finding sexual partners online), poor people who do not have access to the internet may find it difficult to meet others, either online or in clubs/pubs. These are specific challenges to having sex that people with money may not experience.

Different cultures also have different ways of understanding genders. Some don’t see people as simply men or women, but also regard a ‘third sex’. People who may see themselves as belonging to this group might carve out their own gender and sexual expression, which may look ‘abnormal’ for those that don’t belong to that community, but feel natural to those who live out those genders. In some cultures, men and women have very predefined roles and responsibilities, not only to themselves, but to their families and communities. For example, women may be forced to get married and have sex with their husbands to get pregnant. In such cases, ‘normal’ sex may be sex without the expectation of intimacy, which could be demonstrated in other (non-sexual) ways. Just as ideas of who is beautiful are culturally determined, beliefs about sex may also be culturebound. There are, for instance, racial differences in terms of sexual desire. East Asian women, for example, report having lower sexual desire than women of European descent[36]. This may be due to biological reasons, but also due to conservative sexual attitudes, lack of sexual knowledge and experience, or ‘sex guilt[37]. Therefore, what is considered a ‘normal amount’ of sex is culturally determined.

Sexuality and disability

32. das Nair, R. (in press). If Singularity is the Problem, could Intersectionality be the Solution? Exploring the Mediation of Sexuality on Masculinity in Dasgupta, R. & Gokulsing, M. (Eds.) Perceptions of Masculinity: Challenges to the Indian Male. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishers.
33. Carrier J.M. (1995). De los Otros: Intimacy and Homosexuality Among Mexican Men. New York: Columbia University Press.
34. das Nair, R. & Thomas, S. (2012). Politics of Desire: Exploring the “Ethnicity/ Sexuality Intersectionality in South Asian and East Asian Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM). Psychology of Sexualities Review, 3(1), 8-21.
35. das Nair, R. & Butler, C. (2012). Intersectionality, Sexuality, Psychological Therapies: Exploring Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Diversity. London: Wiley Blackwell.
36. Brotto, L.A., Chik, H.M., Ryder, A.G., Gorzalka, B.B. & Seal, B.N. (2005). Acculturation and Sexual Function in Asian Women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34, 613-626.
37. Woo, J., Brotto, L.A. & Gorzalka, B.B. (2011). The role of Sex Guilt in the Relationship between Culture and Women’s Sexual Desire. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 385-394.

Sexuality and disability