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Community Health: Education, Prevention and Inspiration

Empowering people to make healthy, respectful and responsible choices.

What is Sexuality?

Posted by Tammi A. Tannura -

Sexuality means different things to different people. I've heard people use the word sexuality to question a man's masculinity, as well as to describe someone's sexual orientation ("He is a gay male.").

The word sexuality is a very broad term. Advocates for Youth, a national organization that helps young people make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, offers an excellent example of the range of the definition of sexuality. Advocates for Youth proposes that there are five Circles of Sexuality.

Circle #1: Intimacy
When people hear the word intimacy they often think of sexual intimacy or sexual behaviors. Intimacy, however, is the emotional connections we have with others. It is our basic human need to be emotionally close to another person, and to have that closeness returned. Intimacy involves emotional risk-taking, and revealing our true self, despite the possibility of being rejected.

Relationships can have intimacy without sex. For example, friends have intimacy with one another without engaging in sexual intercourse. Parents may share emotional closeness with their children, and siblings may have intimacy with one another as well.

Circle #2: Sensuality
Sensuality means understanding and accepting our bodies. It has to do with how we feel about our bodies–how they look, feel and what they can do. A few key concepts that further explain the sensuality circle can be found below.

Body image is a part of the sensuality circle. Our attitudes and feelings about our bodies define our body image.

Skin hunger also falls into this circle. Skin hunger is our human need to be touched and held which makes people feel connected. Some young people engage in intercourse to get their skin hunger needs met.

If you have ever felt a warm, excited, quivery feeling around someone you liked, this is your attraction template. The attraction template is an internal mechanism that indicates our emotional and physical attractions to particular people

Circle #3: Sexual Health and Reproduction
Sexual health and reproduction
includes the behaviors related to reproduction and keeping the sexual parts of the body healthy. This circle includes facts about reproduction, our values and opinions about sexual behavior, risk reduction, contraception and sexual intercourse. This circle of sexuality is likely how most people would describe the content of a sex education class they took in school.

Circle 4: Sexual Identity
Our sexual identity is made up of various components. Biological gender, gender identity, gender role, and sexual orientation make up our sexual identity.

Biological gender is our physical package. Our physical package is whether we have a penis or a vagina, XY or XX chromosomes, all of which externally defines us as male or female. However, our physical package doesn't always match our gender identity.

Gender identity is our internal sense of being male or female. While our physical package aligns most of the time with our gender identity, this is not true for all people. Some persons may feel that they are trapped in the wrong body. For example, a person with a penis and XY chromosomes may look like a male on the outside, but have an internal sense of being female on the inside.

Pink for girls, blue for boys is an example of stereotypical gender roles. Gender role is behaving in certain ways to express one's sense or masculinity or femininity, and is greatly influenced by family, media, and societal expectations.

Sexual orientation is the final piece of the sexual identity circle. Sexual orientation can be defined as our direction of attraction toward people of the same sex (homosexual orientation), opposite sex (heterosexual orientation), or both (bisexual orientation). More simply put, your sexual orientation is whoever 'turns your head'.

Circle #5: Sexualization
The final circle of sexuality is sexualization. Sexualization is the use of sex or sexuality to influence, manipulate or control other people. Sexualization ranges from harmless manipulation such as flirting, to extreme violence such as sexual assault. Sexual harassment and child sexual abuse would also fall into the sexualization circle of sexuality.

So, there you have it--the five circles that define sexuality. Hopefully, by now you would agree that our sexuality is more than sex, more than our femininity/masculinity, and more than our sexual orientation.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Leader's Resource: Circles of Sexuality, Life Planning Education: A Youth Development Program, Retrieved 7-13-12

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