Sex sums it up. You think about it, use your body for it, and your
sexuality influences decision-making and life style choices. When
trying to work out what it means to be a vibrant human being, your
sexuality is a good place to start.
by Pete Moore
The biological mechanics of sex spliced
together two lines of history and as a consequence formed you. It
is also the means by which you can reach out and tie yourself into
future generations of life.
But the biological
affect of sex is much more than exercise between the sheets; a person’s
sexuality is a vital expression of his or her being. It is more
than our preference for one sexual partner over another. Our sexuality
drives the way we interact in the office or lab, our determination
to win in any encounter, our ability to strike up conversations
with strangers. It goes a long way to shape our sense of self and
Don’t be surprised
then that any mention of sexuality and sexual identity is going
to be contentious. Any consideration of the way we relate with other
people is always going to raise strong opinions and emotions.
You could see the task
of making sense of humanity as similar to passing light through
a prism. As it exits the glass it spreads, revealing many different
constituent components. Conventionally we refer to these as colours
and talk about the distinctions between red and blue, green and
yellow. You can understand the original beam all the more by assessing
So too with humanity.
Looking at the various facets of humanity reveals a holistic understanding
of who we are.
If you want to see the power of a person’s innate sexuality,
then you need look no further than the stories of some of the people
who have had their physical bodies surgically altered shortly after
birth so that their gender has apparently been changed.
Courtesy of Digit - Image Source - Royalty Free
Parties are only one aspect of what it is to be human!
One of the most famous
is that of David Reimer, a person who found himself in the public
gaze after journalist John Colapinto wrote As Nature Made Him, a
book telling David’s life story. To be fair, this wasn’t
the first time that people had written and talked about him, as
he had been the subject of public lectures and academic papers for
many a year before. Only previously his identity had been hidden
behind fictitious names - either John or Joan.
Soon after he had been
born in August 1965, a botched circumcision left him with no penis.
His parents sought advice from medical psychologist John Money.
Money was a respected, if controversial, sex researcher who was
convinced that sexuality was entrained by a person’s environment,
and believed that if this little boy was surgically turned into
a girl and raised as a girl, then he would adapt perfectly and develop
a female sexual identity. The theory grew from Freud’s insistence
that male identity developed as a boy learnt about his penis –
remove the penis and ‘he’ would grow happily as a ‘she’.
His parents eventually
agreed to the surgery and the boy was castrated in the summer of
1967. For years Money heralded the ‘success’ of this
case as an example that sexuality is learnt and wrote and spoke
about how well the child had adopted his given sex. David, however,
felt different. Unaware of the surgical origins of his physique,
he was fully aware that he didn’t like being a girl. And at
the point he planned to take his life, aged 14, David’s parents
spilt the beans.
and hormone treatment have wiped out the female aspects of David’s
reconstructed body, returned much of his maleness and restored his
understanding of who he is. Far from proving that sexual identity
is something we add as we grow, David’s life shows the way
that it is a powerful influence right in the centre of our being.
It would seem that sexuality depends less on the genitals, and more
on the brain.
Courtesy of Arthur White - Reproduced with permission of
Living out our sexual
identity also influences the way we treat our bodies, and that in
turn can affect the rest of our lives. Arthur White is a power lifter
- in fact he is not just any old power lifter; he has won numerous
international competitions and in 2002 became the world champion.
Aged 51 he was old enough to be the father of some of the other
Arthur is a prime example
of someone whose body has influenced his life. As a teenager he
learnt two things fast. The first was that when the meiotic lottery
dealt out his set of genes he landed up with tougher tendons than
most people and the ability to build stronger muscles than anyone
else he came across. He also found if he put the time into pumping
steel in a gym he could hone his body until it not only worked well,
it also looked good.
And this led to his
second lesson - a good-looking body could get you a good-looking
girl. He married young, but a mid-life affair with a receptionist
at his gym almost cost him his family, and the depression that he
sank into before he got his family life back together almost cost
him his life.
For Arthur, life has
moved on, and he now travels around UK prisons as a Christian evangelist
- but still his body is the key to the door. He speaks only after
he has pumped some steel - his body is still doing much of the talking.
Not everyone’s body would be considered as an instant asset.
But like it or not, it is still a critical part of who you are.
Take David Bird, for example. He was born with a facial deformity
that has made one of his eyes slump down his face. The result could
be to drive a person into hiding, and indeed David spent many of
his teen years trying to keep out of sight. But now his face has
become an asset. His appearance hasn’t changed, in fact the
abnormality has probably become more extreme, but David has learnt
to enjoy his body. As he has gained confidence he now uses his unusual
appearance almost as a reason for going out and meeting people.
Asked whether he would have an operation to change it, he answered,
“No, my face is me, it’s what I’ve got”.
Reproduced with permission of Wileys
his wife Joanne
This is not naivety.
Far from it. David is well aware that our current culture is one
that places a lot of importance on appearance. There is, after all,
the tendency to see the Hollywood film goddesses with immaculate
faces as normal, and for people to think that any deviation from
these icons is a slur on your character. It is a fashion sensation
that has given rise to the high-street availability of injections
of botulism toxin, which paralyses facial muscles, relieving tension
and effectively ironing out wrinkles.
If you are ever in
doubt that we live in a world where appearances count, just take
a moment and scan the covers of glossy magazines in a newsagents.
Most display a stunningly good-looking person in seemingly perfect
health. Teeth lined up in stunning harmony. Editors use the images
because they know that we will be reassured by, or drawn to, the
image and buy the publication. It’s a technique that is not
lost on the money-makers in big business. Flick through any financial
end of year report and there again are the same reassuring images
– faces of the directors and managers, sitting at pristine
desks in clinically clean offices. Again the photos are carefully
lit so that the end result looks more a photo of a supermodel than
of a finance guru. The idea is that the face looks so strong that
you trust them to protect your money, so honest that you would never
doubt their motives, and so friendly that you wish you’d met
them years ago and had been given the opportunity of ‘coupling’.
It all relies on the
well-known fact that we judge people by their faces. Taken on its
own, you could be forgiven for asking, so what? But the issue is
that for well over a century people have been dabbling with the
idea that the face is more than a mask, but that it reveals critical
information about a person’s character. One of the most persistent
researchers in this area was Francis Galton (1822-1911). This cousin
of Charles Darwin became a pioneer of eugenics. He took hundreds
of photos of people convicted of various crimes and analysed them,
determined to produce a method of classifying them in terms of criminality.
His ‘criminal type’ of person tended to be shorter than
average, had a broader neck, and enlarged forehead and stunted face.
While the detail within
Galton’s work is now looked at with more than a measure of
amusement, the underlying concept has not gone away. We make judgements
about the sort of behaviour we can expect from others by looking
at their faces – and intriguingly that can influence the person
they are, or the person they become. Some 1970s and 80s studies
of classroom teachers showed that children who were perceived as
uglier were punished more frequently and more harshly, than those
who were rated as more attractive. So two children with much the
same type of behaviour were treated differently on the basis of
their face. You can see how one child might start to rebel, and
then start living up to his or her label. Label someone as naughty
and they start adopting the characteristics of naughty children.
At the same time, less attractive children are more likely to be
the victims of bullying than age-matched attractive peers.
Looks also have a tangible
effect in the job market. Research from the London Guildhall University
showed that the penalty for unattractiveness in men is a 15 per
cent reduction in their pay package, and an 11 per cent drop for
women. In addition, tall women earn 15 per cent more than do shorter
ones, but tall women and short men were less likely to get married.
It appears that the
sexual sorting of genes that established your physical frame has
a number of curious ways that can influence the chances of your
genes moving into the next generation.
So we have
seen how the biological drives central to our existence as human
beings not only affect our sense of self, but also influence how
we are perceived by others. In the final part of this guide ‘How
to be Human’ I will explore this social infrastructure and
look at how understanding our role in society is pivotal to understanding
ourselves. See you next week!
Here to Read Part Two