AskDefine | Define sexual

Dictionary Definition

sexual adj
1 of or relating to or characterized by sexuality; "sexual orientation"; "sexual distinctions"
2 having or involving sex; "sexual reproduction"; "sexual spores" [ant: asexual]
3 involved in a sexual relationship; "the intimate (or sexual) relations between husband and wife"; "she had been intimate with many men" [syn: intimate]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /'sɛkʃuəl/ (US)


  1. of or relating to having sex (as in verb phrase usage; e.g. sexual reproduction)
  2. of or relating to the sex of an organism (as in concrete noun usage; e.g. male or female)
  3. of or relating to sexuality (as in abstract noun usage; e.g. sexual behavior)


Derived terms

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Extensive Definition

Generally speaking, human sexuality is how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. The study of human sexuality encompasses an array of social activities and an abundance of behaviors, actions, and societal topics. Biologically, sexuality can encompass sexual intercourse and sexual contact in all its forms, as well as medical concerns about the physiological or even psychological aspects of sexual behaviour. Sociologically, it can cover the cultural, political, and legal aspects; and philosophically, it can span the moral, ethical, theological, spiritual or religious aspects.
As Michel Foucault wrote in The History of Sexuality, the concept of what activities and sensations are "sexual" is historically (as well as regionally and culturally) determined, and it is therefore part of a changing "discourse". The sexual meanings (meanings of the erotic dimension of human sexual experience), are social and cultural constructs, they are made subjective only after cultural and social mediation. Being the main force conditioning human relationship, sex is essentially political. In any social context, the construction of a "sexual universe" is fundamentally linked to the structures of power. The construction of sexual meanings, is an instrument by which social institutions (religion, marketing, the educational system, psychiatry, etc.) control and shape human relationships. To escape this cultural "sexuality" Foucault suggest to focus on "bodies and pleasures".

Biological aspects

The biology of human sexuality examines the influence of biological factors, such as organic and neurological response, heredity, hormones, and sexual dysfunction; it examines the basic functions of reproduction and the physical means to carry it out. The biological perspective helps to analyze the factors, and ultimately aids in understanding them and using them to deal with sexual problems.
Sexual behavior can be a disease vector. Safe sex is a relevant harm reduction philosophy. Monogamy is also espoused, however, practicing safe sex with many committed partners, referred to as serial monogamy or polygamy, is not as safe, particularly among adolescents.
Sex as exercise can produce some health benefits.

Sociocultural aspects

Human sexuality can also be understood as part of the social life of humans, governed by implied rules of behavior and the status quo. This focus narrows the view to groups within a society. The sociocultural aspect examines influences on and from social norms, including media such as politics and the mass media. These sorts of media can help to bring about massive changes in the social norm — examples include the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism.
The link between constructed sex meanings and racial ideologies has been studied. Sexual meanings are constructed to maintain racial-ethnic-national boundaries, by denigration of "others" and regulation of sexual behavior within the group. "Both adherence to and deviation from such approved behaviours, define and reinforce racial, ethnic, and nationalist regimes."

Sex education

Sex education is the introduction of sexual topics within an educational context. Almost all western countries have some form of sex education, but the nature varies widely. In some countries (such as Australia and much of Europe) "age-appropriate" sex education often begins in pre-school, whereas other countries (notably the USA) leave sex education to the pre-teenage and teenage years. Sex education covers a range of topics, including the physical, mental, and social aspects of sexual behavior.

Psychological aspects

The psychological study of sexuality focuses on psychological influences that affect sexual behavior and experiences. Early psychological analyses were carried out by Sigmund Freud, who believed in a psychoanalytic point of view. He also conjectured the concepts of erogenous zones, psychosexual development, and the Oedipus complex, among others.
Behavior theorists such as John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner examine the actions and consequences and their ramifications. These theorists would, for example, study a child who is punished for sexual exploration and see if they grow up to associate negative feelings with sex in general. Social-learning theorists use similar concepts, but focus on cognitive activity and modeling.
Gender identity is a person's own sense of identification as female, male, both, neither, or somewhere in between. The social construction of gender has been discussed by a wide variety of scholars, Judith Butler notable among them.

Sexual behaviour

Human sexual behaviour encompasses the search for a partner or partners, interactions between individuals, physical or emotional intimacy, and sexual contact. Some cultures will find only sexual contact within marriage acceptable; however, extramarital sexual activity still takes place. Unprotected sex may result unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. In some areas, sexual abuse of individuals is prohibited by law and considered against the norms of society.

Sexual activity and lifestyles


Heterosexuality involves two individuals of different sexes.
Different-sex sexual practices are limited by laws in many places. United States marriage laws may serve the purpose of encouraging people to only have sex (and children) within marriage. Sodomy laws were seen as discouraging same-sex sexual practices. Laws also ban adults from committing sexual abuse, committing sexual acts with anyone under an age of consent, performing sexual activities in public, and engaging in sexual activities for money (prostitution). Though these laws all cover same-sex sexual activities, they may differ with regards to punishment, and may be more frequently (or exclusively) enforced on those who engage in same-sex sexual activities. Laws also control the making and viewing of pornography, including pornography which portrays different-sex sexual activities.
Courtship, or dating, is the process through which some people choose potential sexual and/or marital partners. Among straight (presumably middle class) teenagers and adolescents in the mid-20th century in America, dating was something one could do with multiple people before choosing to "go steady" with only one, the eventual goal being either sex, marriage, or both. More recently dating has become what going steady was and the latter term has fallen into disuse.
Different-sex sexual practices may be monogamous, serially monogamous, or polyamorous, and, depending on the definition of sexual practice, abstinent or autoerotic (including masturbation).
Different moral and political movements have waged for changes in different-sex sexual practices including courting and marriage, though in all countries, changes are usually made only at a slow rate. Especially in the USA, campaigns have often sparked and been fueled by moral panic. There, movements which claim to strengthen different-sex sexual practices within marriage are seen by others to discourage same-sex sexual practices, such as Defense of Marriage Act and the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment.


Same-sex sexuality involves two individuals of the same sex. It is possible for a person whose sexual identity is heterosexual to get involved in sexual acts with people of the same sex, for example, mutual masturbation in the context of what may be considered "normal" heterosexual teen development. Homosexual people who pretend to lead a life of heterosexuality are often referred to as living "closeted" lives, that is, they hide their sexuality in "the closet". The term "closet case" is a derogatory term used to refer to another homosexual that hides his or her homosexuality or bisexuality, and "coming out" or "outing" refer to making that orientation (semi-) public voluntarily, or by others against their wishes, respectively.
The definition of homosexuality is a sexual attraction to members of one's own sex, though people who engage exclusively in same-sex sexual practices may not identify themselves as gay or lesbian. However, the degree of attraction complies with the varying levels of frequency, willingness, and/or interest. In sex-segregated environments, individuals may seek sex with others of their own sex (known as situational homosexuality). In other cases, some people may experiment or explore their sexuality with same (and/or different) sex sexual activity before defining their sexual identity. Health campaigns and officials often seek to target self-identified "straight" or bisexual men who have sex with men (MSM) as opposed to self-identified "gay" or homosexual men.
Despite stereotypes and common misconceptions, there are no forms of sexual activity exclusive to same-sex sexual behavior that can not also be found in opposite-sex sexual behavior, save those involving contact of the same sex genitalia such as tribadism and frot.
Among some communities (called "men on the DL" or "down-low"), same-sex sexual behavior is sometimes viewed as solely for physical pleasure. Men on the "down-low" may engage in regular (though often covert) sex acts with other men while continuing sexual and romantic relationships with women.

Auto-erotic sexuality

Autoeroticism is sexual activity that does not involve another person as partner. It can involve masturbation, though several paraphilias do not require a partner.
Though many autoerotic practices are relatively physically safe, some can be dangerous. These include autoerotic asphyxiation and self-bondage. The potential for injury or even death that exists while engaging in the partnered versions of these fetishes (choking and bondage, respectively) becomes drastically increased due to the isolation and lack of assistance in the event of a problem.

Alternative sexuality

A number of "alternative sexualities" exist. These are usually based upon individual choice. They range from the broadly accepted or tolerated, through to the highly controversial and illegal.
Examples of these less common or alternative sexualities include BDSM activities where dominance and submission activities are central features of sexual activity, through to zoosexuality where there is human-animal sexual activity.

Coercive and abusive sexuality

Sexual activity can also encompass sexual abuse - that is, coercive or abusive use of sexuality. Examples include: rape, lust murder, child sexual abuse, and zoosadism (animal abuse which may be sexual in nature), as well as (in many countries) certain non-consensual paraphilias such as frotteurism, telephone scatophilia (indecent phonecalls), and non-consensual exhibitionism and voyeurism (known as "indecent exposure" and "peeping tom" respectively).

Sexual pleasure

Sexual pleasure is pleasure derived from any kind of sexual activity. Though orgasm is generally known, sexual pleasure includes erotic pleasure during foreplay, and pleasure due to fetish or BDSM.

Study of sexuality

In contemporary academia, sexuality is studied in the fields of sexology and gender and sexuality studies, among many other fields.

See also

sexual in Bavarian: Sexualidädt
sexual in Bosnian: Seksualnost
sexual in Breton: Revelezh denel
sexual in Bulgarian: Сексуалност
sexual in Catalan: Sexualitat
sexual in Danish: Seksualitet
sexual in German: Sexualität des Menschen
sexual in Estonian: Seksuaalsus
sexual in Spanish: Sexualidad
sexual in Esperanto: Sekseco
sexual in Persian: جنسیت
sexual in French: Sexualité humaine
sexual in Friulian: Sessualitât umane
sexual in Korean: 인간의 성
sexual in Croatian: Seksualnost
sexual in Italian: Sessualità
sexual in Hebrew: מיניות
sexual in Latin: Sexualitas humana
sexual in Macedonian: Сексуалност
sexual in Dutch: Seksualiteit
sexual in Japanese: 人間の性
sexual in Norwegian: Seksualitet
sexual in Polish: Seksualność
sexual in Portuguese: Sexualidade
sexual in Russian: Сексуальность человека
sexual in Slovak: Ľudská sexualita
sexual in Serbian: Људска сексуалност
sexual in Finnish: Seksuaalisuus
sexual in Swedish: Sexualitet
sexual in Vietnamese: Tình dục
sexual in Turkish: İnsan cinselliği

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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