Sexual Personalities

Human Sexuality in Endless Forms Most Beautiful

What Is Sexual Personality?

Three key principles in the study of sexual diversity.

In my first Sexual Personalities post, I'm going to lay out a few principles that I follow when writing about sexual diversity. I just want to let you know where I'm coming from and what I'm trying to accomplish here. Before I do that, though, I should first define what I mean by "sexual personality."

People's sex lives differ in lots of fascinating ways--we differ in how fast we fall in love, how easily we stay faithful, and how kinky we're willing to get when satisfying our partner's erotic desires. We differ in our ability to truly trust romantic partners, or feel empowered by vigorous sex, or comfortably have sex with strangers. We differ in whether we do these things primarily with men or women, or both (and for about 1% of us, with neither; Bogaert, 2006). These sorts of enduring differences in people's sex lives are what I refer to as our "sexual personalities." Most of the time, I'll be blogging about some new or interesting scientific study that takes a look at a core feature of sexual personality.

Okay, so on to some principles about sexual diversity.

My first principle is that I think it's important to be sensitive and respectful toward the diverse ways people express their sexuality. For instance, whether someone remains single forever or re-marries a dozen times, I think both can be genuine and worthwhile ways to live a sexual life. It's true that some of the darker aspects of sexual expression are really, really hard to respect, such as those leading to sexual abuse or aggression. In this blog, I'll be considering sexual personalities based on honesty (telling partners the truth), equality (desires of all partners carry equal weight), and responsibility (taking care to reduce negative sexual health outcomes; see Reiss, 2006) as most worthy of respect.

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My second principle in writing this blog is that I want to increase society's acceptance of diverse sexual personalities. I'll be addressing controversial topics such as whether sexual orientation is inherited, whether differences between (and within) men and women are related to sex hormones, and whether sexual addiction should be thought of as a real mental disorder. I'll stick firmly to science no matter what, but I think the science will show that there is no "normal sexuality" that everyone must follow. Instead, there are lots of different pathways for authentically expressing our sexual selves, and people along all paths deserve to be treated with personal dignity, social equality, and to have their sexual well-being taken seriously. In this vein, I'll often refer to the Millennial Declaration of the World Association for Sexual Health (http://www.worldsexology.org/millennium-declaration).

My third principle is that I think it's useful to look at sex from multiple psychological perspectives. Where do diverse sexual personalities come from? I think to really answer that kind of question you have to look in lots of places. Typically, two of the most frequent sources of sexual personality are going to be human culture and biological evolution (and often a combination of both). So, I'll be comparing how human sex lives differ across modern societies, across historical time periods, and across foraging cultures typical of our sexual ancestors. I'll also entertain the idea that some aspects of our sex lives might be influenced by adaptations from our evolutionary past.

I want to make it clear from the beginning of this blog that just because a feature of sexual personality is observed across all cultures or may have a biological function, this does not mean it is inevitable (almost all adaptations are affected by experiences while growing up), nor would this mean that the sexual personality is morally good (assuming this is called the Naturalistic Fallacy). In my opinion, though, we definitely need to know how and why sexual personalities come from our evolutionary past, because if we don't we're giving ourselves huge handicap in creating the sexual world we ultimately desire. To not acknowledge our evolved sexual personalities (or to deny we have an evolved psychology at all) is both dangerous from a public health perspective and scientifically untenable. At least, that's my view.

So there it is. I'll be approaching sexual personalities in this blog from multiple psychological perspectives, in an atmosphere of sensitivity and respect, and with an emphasis on increasing society's acceptance of sexual diversity. My next post will provide a concrete example of these three orienting principles as I discuss modern U.S. politicians' sexual personalities.

References

Bogaert, A.F. (2006). Toward a conceptual understanding of asexuality. Review of General Psychology, 10, 241-250. 

Reiss, I.L. (2006). An insider's view of sexual science since Kinsey. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

David P. Schmitt, Ph.D., is a Caterpillar Inc. Professor of Psychology at Bradley University.

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