Human sexuality or more specifically, sexual orientation, can be viewed through a multidisciplinary lens. Sexual preference and sexual identity that form a person’s orientation whether homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual all have as much to do with science such as biology, as social science such as sociology, anthropology, and psychology. Paul R. Abramson and Steven D. Pinkerton provide a good source for this multidisciplinary and complex understanding of sexual orientation in their book Sexual Nature, Sexual Culture.
It must be stressed that this topic is most easily and aptly described by individual nature and group culture. Individual attraction toward a person of one or both sexes is on the micro level, however expression of sexual orientation is very much influenced by a person’s culture and the allowance for that expression. Therefore looking at sexual orientation as an umbrella with sexual preference as a more personal and biological underpinning of that alongside sexual identity that is influenced by culture is important notes to take in understanding how sexual orientation can be presented by different people in different places.
On an individual level, Abramson and Pinkerton look at sexual orientation as having to do with pleasure and pleasure having to do with biology. Simple biological accounts of mate selection due to the instinctive need to have children do not fit with the model of homosexual or bisexual orientations. Instead, what is discovered in Sexual Nature, Sexual Culture is that the concept of pleasure in sexual activity is rarely, if ever, presented in academic works about sexuality. This does make sense, however, to look at how pleasure plays a part in sexual orientation.
Abramson and Pinkerton say “underlying the great diversity of human beliefs and behaviors in the area of sex and sexuality are evolved biological and behavioral potentials, constraints, and hormonal regulators… human sexuality is primate sexuality” (17). Therefore, an etiological approach is taken here by the authors to demonstrate how the personal and cultural indicators of sexual orientation are corollary to a more primal need that can be compared to the sexual behavior of primates.
By looking at primates it can be seen that sex can be influenced by aggression and other biological factors, such as hormones. Obviously there is no cultural or psychological issues to explain the sexual preference of primates, so this is the entrance to the theory of pleasure as it relates to human sexuality. For heterosexual females in both the primate and human species, obviously sex is influenced by procreation and the cycles that support it. However, when looking at females in both categories who are no longer able to procreate, sexuality functions as a source of both pleasure and of identity in a group.
It is fair to say that pleasure overrides the need to procreate when dealing with those, who identify as homosexuals in humans and primates that are identified by having homosexual encounters that are not justified by scientific necessity. It is here, too, that the idea of aggression comes into play as it cannot be proven in primates that homosexual behavior is not a product of the need for males to use sex as an aggressive outlet, irrespective of sexual orientation. It is here that sexuality needs to be further explored to show that aggression is not the strongest force is sexual activity and, therefore, sexual orientation.
By looking at research and self-reports, this idea can be discarded as aggression is not evident in all sexual encounters, therefore is a variable that is not dependent on orientation but rather independent and unreliable. Instead a dependent variable is pleasure and this includes all orientations and does not simply imply the pleasure of sexual activity. Instead, pleasure can be viewed as the overarching and operative term that can refer to the desire to look at a beautiful woman or a masculine man with positive feelings. It is not the point whether or not this pleasure is derived from a person of the same or the opposite sex or both.
This is simply a preference of pleasure that also surrounds the activities of mating rituals, such as talking to another person and enjoying their company in the hopes on one day culminating a relationship further into a close, sexual lifestyle with another person. Fear is also another factor in sexual orientation in many facets of the process. In less accepting cultures, homosexuality can be considered evil and punishable as is the fear of showing an orientation toward a person of the opposite sex if there is much competition from members of the same sex.
As well, fear of contracting diseases and unwanted pregnancies can influence how sexuality is displayed by certain people and in certain cultures. It is biologically shown, however, that sexual orientation cannot be changed by aggression or fear but only operate in the parameters of pleasure. However, how sexuality is expressed and how a person individually views their orientation requires an interdisciplinary approach in those areas.
In closing Sexual Nature, Sexual Culture is a text that does outline the very complex parts of both primate and human sexuality. The authors believe that a student of sexual orientation must weave in many different disciplines to understand the complexities. As well, understanding primate behavior does point to sexuality as a very primal, yet evolved function of human life. The central theme here is pleasure and it’s purpose in the human existence. This applies to all orientations and all people, though sexual identity and cultural acceptance will vary.