Top 10 key human sexuality topics for academic research
Human sexuality throughout history remains to be one of the most eccentric, diverse, and interesting fields of study. It is how humans encounter and convey themselves sexually. The spheres of human sexuality revolve around human erotic, biological, emotional, spiritual, or physical feelings and behaviors.
Human sexuality drives human behavior and motivation from childhood all through to adulthood regardless of race, culture, or background. Human sexuality is different from that of animals. Animals seem to engage in sex for reproduction. For humans, sex is driven by several factors that lead them to engage in sexual behavior.
The study, understanding, and discussion of human sexuality are not explicit despite the subject being closely linked to being an important factor in human survival. Sexuality researchers experience hurdles of being isolated within their respective fields. Their work is termed as unimportant marked by a lack of coordination within the social sciences for proper research support. Although largely underdeveloped, this vast subject has been divided into smaller human sexuality topics. In this article, we will objectively look into key aspects of sexuality using a scientific and social lens for academic research purposes. Here are a few human sexuality research topics to be discussed:
Sexual orientation refers to a long-term pattern of romantic, emotional, and/or sexual attraction to persons of the same sex, both sexes/gender, opposite sex, or more than one sex. A person’s identity based on their attractions is membership in communities that identifies as so. This is also a basis to define sexual orientation.
The key issue in sexual orientation is feelings and identity and not sexual attraction. There are four broad categories to this that are discussed which include: heterosexual orientation, homosexual orientation, bisexual orientation, and asexuality.
According to experts, an individual does not choose their sexual orientation therefore, it cannot be changed. For example, therapy conversion which involves trying to change homosexual individuals to become heterosexual does not work and it is sometimes damaging.
The LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender & queer) community faces prejudice, judgment, bias, and stereotypical treatment. This characterizes pronounced mental health issues among the demographic of the population. Thus, rather than trying to change a person’s sexual orientation, it is more prudent to help them cope with social prejudice and internal conflict. Research shows that there is no correlation between sexual orientation and psychopathology. They are all part of human sexuality and normal human bonding for both sexual and romantic experiences. For example, you might wonder, what is the most preferred sexual technique reported among gay males? The answer to that is fellatio, which is also performed by heterosexual women.
Sexual deviation belongs to a class of interesting human sexuality topics. It refers to atypical sexual behaviors including both activities and fantasies that are not normal. Such behavior could be mild, sporadic, to be more serious and frequent. Atypical sexual behavior has been closely linked to paraphilia according to a medical standpoint. Paraphilia is an intense sexual urge or impulse-driven by unusual objects, fantasies, individuals, or situations.
There are a few hypothetical descriptions for the development of deviant sexual behavior, they include:
- A developmental approach that looks at factors that lead to the development of atypical sexual behavior from an early age
- Learning theory speculates that unusual sexual behavior is a conditioned response, where one learns to be sexually stimulated by deviations from sexual norms
- Psychodynamic perspective implies that sexual deviations are a defense mechanism that allows one to escape the apprehension that comes from engaging in normal sexual behavior
There are eight disorders under sexual deviation which are deeply considered in sex research topics, they are:
Voyeurism is the act of deriving sexual pleasure from secretly watching others’ naked bodies or engagement in sexual activity. Voyeurs also tend to eavesdrop on sexually overt conversations between other people. Voyeurism is distinct as it involves an element of risk in watching the other person, mostly a stranger.
Sexual sadism disorder
You may wonder, what is the primary source of sexual excitement for sexual sadists? Sadism refers to inflicting pain, humiliation, or suffering to another person for sexual gratification. The infliction could be either physical or psychological. The recipient could be either a non-consensual or a consensual partner. When the act is consensual it is referred to as sadomasochism.
Sexual masochism disorder
Masochism is the act of gaining sexual pleasure from one’s humiliation or pain. Masochistic acts include: psychological humiliation, physical restrain, receiving punishment/pain. Both sadism and masochism are very chronic behaviors until an individual seeks treatment.
Pedophilia is characterized by an older adolescent or adult gaining an exclusive sexual attraction to preteen individuals. That is children below the age of 15 years but above 5 years. The sexual attraction could be catalyzed by deeply arousing fantasies, impulses, and behaviors involving children within the age bracket.
Sexual arousal by inanimate objects, materials, or body parts is called fetishism. The sexual stimulation could be either physical, mental, or both. In learning theory, fetishes arise from classical conditioning in which an individual associates an object with sexual arousal and orgasm.
Frotteuristic disorder is defined as persistent and strong sexual arousal derived from touching or rubbing on/against non-consenting individuals.
Sexual gratification is obtained from the exposure of one’s genitals. An exhibitionist may consciously intend to shock their target or have a fantasy that they will be sexually aroused by their act.
Transvestism implicates repeated and powerful sexual arousal from cross-dressing. Transvestic disorder on the other hand causes major distress or functional impairment.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
One of the most important topics in human sexuality is the study of sexually transmitted diseases. This is an infection transmitted via sexual contact, through a virus, bacteria, or parasite. According to the Center for Disease and Prevention, one in five people had an STD on any given day in 2018 in the United States.
There are many types of STDs ranging from mild infections to fatal diseases. Adolescents and young adults are more likely to contract STDs since they are prone to engaging multiple sexual partners.
STDs have dire health, physical and emotional consequences on an individual. Hence it is important to provide holistic treatment to individuals suffering from these diseases. Clinical and mental health treatment should be incorporated as treatment measures for STDs.
Here is a list of some common STDs:
- HIV(Human Immune Deficiency Virus)
- HPV(Human Papilloma Virus)
- Pubic lice
All of the above STDs have their treatment measures ranging from medication, surgical removals, injection, and laser therapy; to cure or manage them. General preventive measures from contracting an STD include; getting a vaccination against a certain STD (if available), using condoms, maintaining genital hygiene, and abstinence from sex.
Sexual functioning satisfaction and pleasure
Human sexuality research papers and healthcare experts often connote sexual complaints into four major categories:
- Desire, this infers to an awareness of sex
- Arousal is the change in body, mind, and emotional state of a person when thinking about or engaging in sex
- Orgasm, the peak of sexual exhilaration characterized by heightened pleasure and sensation
- Pain refers to physical pain accompanying sexual engagement
There are a few factors that affect sexual function. These are age, physical, medicinal, and psychological, they include:
- Pre-menopause, transition, and menopause
- Consumption of antidepressants
- Physical activity
- Hormonal birth control
- Injury/surgery on reproductive organs
- Body injury such as the nervous system
Some of these factors can be addressed to improve an individual’s sexual function. Human sexuality theories have been used to explain sexual dysfunction and sexual abuse.
Satisfaction and pleasure
Sexual satisfaction in any romantic relationship is important. Love and stability in a relationship are achieved with better sexual satisfaction. According to a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. People not only experience a deep connection while having sex but also for several hours after sex. This proves that sex is important for any true bond to exist in a relationship.
In another study, it was noted that couples who have been together for longer experience more sexual satisfaction from their partners. In the United States, about 10%-50% of men and 25%-60% of women experience sexual dysfunction and do not enjoy sexual pleasure. The most common sexual outlet for adolescents is masturbation since other forms of sexual pleasure are not readily available. Sexual satisfaction and pleasure profoundly project gender differences and the psychological side of human sexuality since it involves both females and males.
Menstruation combines biological, physiological, and psychological features to prepare the female body for the possibility of pregnancy. It is an integral part of human sexuality as a whole and not exclusively to female sexuality due to its complexity. Menstruation is a technical term for experiencing your period.
The menstrual cycle
The menstrual cycle is coordinated by hormones in the body in several phases. The phases of the cycle vary from woman to woman and can evolve. It is estimated that only 10-15% of women experience a 28 day-long cycle.
The first day of bleeding counted as Day 1 is when the menstrual cycle begins. Your period should last between 3-7 days but 5 is the average number of days. Menstrual flow is heaviest in the first two days of the cycle.
After the bleeding stops, the endometrium prepares for the chance of pregnancy. The uterine lining gets thicker and supplemented with blood and nutrients. This happens between days 6-14 of the cycle.
An egg is released from the ovaries to the uterus through the fallopian tube at around the 14th day. Fertilization occurs if sperms are present in the uterus. The fertilized egg attempts implantation on the uterine wall. This happens between days 14-25 of the cycle.
If fertilization or implantation does not take place, hormones signal the uterus to prepare the shedding of its lining. The egg dissolves and is shed along with the lining. This happens between days 25-28 of the cycle and the cycle begins all over again on Day 1.
A more comprehensive breakdown of the menstrual cycle contains:
- Follicular phase (Days 1-14)
- Ovulatory phase (Day 14)
- Luteal phase (Days 14-28)
- Dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps). Menstrual cramps happen due to the contraction of the uterine wall. Contraction in the uterus happens throughout the menstrual cycle but is more predominant during menstruation.
- Endometriosis is a painful disorder in which tissue similar to that which forms the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. This term is derived from the lining of the uterus called the endometrium. Endometriosis is quite common and affects 10% of women. There are various types of treatment for this disorder including medication, hormone therapy, surgery, etc.
- Amenorrhea is a clinical term for the absence of menstruation. Primary amenorrhea occurs when one starts their period late for the first time normally between 16-18 years. Secondary amenorrhea occurs when a woman misses their period six months in a row after initial menstruation.
Fertility is the quality of being able to produce children. Infertility on the other hand is the incapability of reproducing naturally. Fertility and infertility go for both males and females. To understand infertility, let us look at the process of conception:
- Secretion of Follicle Stimulating Hormone
- Follicle develops into the corpus luteum
- An egg is released from the ovaries through the fallopian tube to the uterus
- Fertilization occurs to form a zygote
- Implantation of the fertilized egg to the endometrium
If any of the above processes is incomplete, then there occurs infertility. Here are common infertility problems between men and women:
- Blocked fallopian tubes
- Ovulation disorders
- Uterine problems, for example, fibroids, endometriosis, etc.
- Lack of ejaculation
- STDs interfering with reproductive health
Infertility in both males and females can be treated in several ways such as; intrauterine insemination (IUI), reproductive technology (ART), medication, surgery, etc. Infertility places emotional and psychological demands on an individual and a couple. An infertility medical practitioner should be aware of the mental health issues that could cloud his/her patient.
Sexual addiction or hypersexuality is intense sexual thoughts, urges, and behaviors that are destructive to your health, relationships, and job. In 2014, a review was published stating that 3-6% of people in the United States have hypersexuality or compulsive sexual behavior. Psychiatrists do not classify compulsive sexual behavior as a mental disorder.
Definitive features of sexual addiction are:
- Habitual masturbation
- Engaging in sex with multiple partners and extramarital affairs
- The urge for sex is intermingled with shame, anxiety, and depression
- Sexual activities may be extreme, inappropriate, and sometimes risky
- Domination of sexual activities to the exclusion of responsibilities and tasks
- Engaging in other forms of sex while alone, such as; pornography
Hypothetically, sexual addiction could occur due to some reasons. It is thought that the addiction could be due to problems with impulse control. Sexual addiction can also occur from sexual trauma experienced earlier on. Mental illness such as bipolar disorder may result in hypersexuality as one of its symptoms.
Sex addiction treatment is based on the underlying cause and mainly includes counseling and behavioral therapy. This means that a psychologist, psychiatrist, or sex therapist may be involved in compulsive sexual behavior treatment.
Sexual abuse is unsolicited sexual acts through the use of force, threats, and taking advantage of victims who are unable to give consent. Sexual abuse leads to physical, emotional, and psychological effects on the victim.
Sexual violence and abuse are common but not exclusive to women and girls. In the United States, 14.8% of women and 1.4% of men have experienced sexual assault at some point in their lives. Sexual crimes include:
- Non-consensual contact
- Child molestation
- Non-contact sexual contact, for example; revenge pornography
Childhood sexual abuse occurs in many forms. It does not necessarily mean inappropriately touching a child. It also includes; voyeuristic tendencies against a child, exposing genitalia to a child, and exposing a child to sexual acts.
Sexual and reproductive health
Sexual health refers to a state of well-being physically, mentally, and emotionally. It does not necessarily translate to the absence of disease or illness.
Maintenance of sexual and reproductive health relies on access to accurate and reliable information on sexuality. Knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent them is also a factor of sexual health. Effective, acceptable, and affordable contraception methods for both men and women help in maintaining sexual health. Access to sexual healthcare services and facilities culminates sexual and reproductive health, especially among women. This includes; family planning consultation, antenatal care, safe child delivery, STI treatment, etc.
Sexual counseling and education
Human sexuality questions have led professionals both in counseling and education working with patients, students, and researchers to gain more skills in the development of human sexuality. Sexuality education is a practice dedicated to giving information on sexual practices, health, and human sexuality.
Sex education is predominantly delivered to children in pre-teen to teenage years in school. Sexual counseling on the other hand is life-long from childhood to adulthood. Sex education can be classified into three categories namely:
- Abstinence education
- Health and safety-oriented education
- Comprehensive sex education
For this article, most of our scientific information about human sexuality has been obtained through secondary sources. Despite human sexuality being an extremely wide subject, human sexuality topics can be broken down and researched upon more critically. These topics include sexual orientation, sexual deviation, STDs, sexual functioning, menstruation, fertility, sexual addiction, sexual abuse, sexual health, and sexual education. These topics are however not exhaustive of the human sexuality field but give a slight understanding and offer solutions to human sexuality issues.