10 Ways Social Norms And Institutions Hinder Individual’s Choices On Sexuality

Throughout society we as humans are pressured to fit in with societal norms and institutions. Little do we know that these norms and institutions can influence something as drastic to our core as sexuality. Each institution subliminally corals an individual’s decisions not just on sexuality, but also what is allowed within that specific sexuality. In reality humans may be following what their surroundings say, rather than what they actually want to do.

1. The Word of God says there is Only One Way to Go.

Many churches in today’s society limit the individuals allowed into their institution based on sexual orientation. From the Tanya Erzen piece Straight to Jesus it is shown that some churches have become more accepting to homosexuality, or accepting enough to work with individuals on changing their sexuality. However even in regards to the church New Hope, (A church focused on changing gay men to straight men) their doctoral statement says “We believe that the bible teaches that all homosexual conduct is wrong and against God’s standards”. These negative views on homosexuality can really effect members of the LGBT community and their commitment with religion. This could cause individual internal conflict of feeling they must choose between their sexuality and their relationship with the church. This is a common aspect among Christian, Jewish, and Muslim cultures. These limitations put by churches has led to many Americans to lash out against these establishments. The Huffington Post has created a web page full of responses to one of the most well-known homophobic churches the Westboro Baptist Church, who’s widely displayed slogan is “God Hates Fags”. These limited institutions hinder our sexual choices by flat out saying there is only one appropriate choice in God’s eyes, heterosexuality. Not only does this go against the value of all religions of bringing citizens together, but also causes inner turmoil for many homosexuals.

Erzen, Tanya. Straight to Jesus. Los Angeles. University of California Press. 2006. Print.

2. At What age is sex allowed? Depends on the Country.

Age is a crucial aspect of society that delegates when it is “appropriate” to have sexual relations with another. When wondering at what age is having sex acceptable, there is no set answer because it depends on where an individual is in the world. In the article Sex, love, and autonomy in the teenage sleepover Amy Schalet compares teenage sexual relationships in Dutch and American cultures. Her findings show that it is deemed inappropriate for an American teenager to have cross gender sleepovers, or sexual relations, while it is more acceptable in the Dutch culture. Schalet states “American sexuality has been dramatized rather than normalized” which is what deems teenage sex inappropriate. She also finds that in Dutch societies families are closer through the sharing of information about sex between parents and teenager. Oprah and American talk show host did a segment on talking with parents about how to discuss sex with their child, and what she noticed was that most felt very uncomfortable about the situation because of their child’s age. Age and location are controlling factors when it comes to choices on sexuality because the individual has to deem when it is appropriate to have sex. It ties in to social norms because someone does not want to have sex younger than the social norm for that location and be chastised for it.

Schalet, Amy. “Sex, Love, and Autonomy in the Teenage Sleepover.” Contexts 9(3): 16-21, 2010.

3. Men are called heroes, Women are called sluts.

When contemplating whether to participate in sexual acts not only is age a factor, but how society will view the individual after the fact is another determinant. There is a double standard when it comes to male and females having sex. In the article The Sexual Double Standard and Adolescent Peer Acceptance Derek Kreager and Jeremy Staff discovered “that young women’s fears of the slut label curbs their sexual expressions, while young men are encouraged to demonstrate their sexually permissive behavior”. These labels placed on teenagers by their peers can deeply effect one’s sexual activity. Furthermore this double standard of labels effect friendships, and popularity. The article demonstrated guys praise promiscuous guys, and are fond promiscuous girls because of their ability to be future sexual partners, while women don’t like promiscuous guys or girls. On the website ask men, men give their answers to any possible life questions, and when asked about the double standard they state “men and women are different, just accept it”. This double standard smashes down on sexual choices installing the fear in women about being a slut, decreasing their amount of sexual partners. On the other hand it increases the promiscuity of men because they are seen as popular, and declared as heroes for having sex.

Kreager, Derek, and Jeremy Staff. “The Sexual Double Standard and Adolescent Peer Acceptance”. Social Psychology Quarterly 72(2): 143-164, 2009. Print.

4. Labels…. another word for handcuffs.

Sexuality labels; straight, gay, and bisexual, are labels placed on individuals by society that act as handcuffs limiting someone’s sexual choices. These labels are based solely on gender preferences. Kate Bornstein writes in her article Gender Outlaw that we can actually base our sexuality on a plethora of characteristics, which would decrease the control the umbrella terms straight, gay, and bisexual have on individuals. Bornstein uses the example of handkerchiefs that represent certain sexual acts one finds appealing as a way to find sexual partners. A blog posted to The New Gay website demonstrates an individual female named Kay’s opinion on sexual labels. She states “For me, it sends out the message that I believe in love and love only. And that I am not talking about physical anatomy even though it plays a big role here. It gives me the option to not feel boxed in or tied down”. Not using these blanket labels allows the individual to define their sexuality based on however they want. These labels hinder sexuality by placing someone in a particular group, and giving them a set of norms they must follow, which limits their sexual choices and individuality.

Bornstein, Kate. Gender Outlaw. New York, NY. Vintage. 1995. Print.

5. Pushed Down the Aisle

The American white wedding is the ultimate push to limit sexuality. Weddings limit choices on sexuality because it is a display of heteronormativity, where it represents a passage to womanhood. The article One is not born a bride by Chrys Ingraham discusses the heterosexual imaginary as “The way of thinking that relies on romantic and sacred notions of heterosexuality in order to create and maintain the illusion of oneness”. Women are pushed to this institution of heterosexuality starting from a very young age. Little girls are bought wedding dress replicas for playing, and they reenact wedding multiple times. The push towards being a bride is even thrust upon multiple television shows. An example is the television show friends and how Monica one of the main females is obsessed with marriage, she demonstrated to women everywhere that women should want to get married. Weddings limit sexuality by displaying a monogamous life long relationship. This effects women and men choices on sexuality by saying that they shouldn’t be promiscuous forever, but actually settle down with someone.

Ingraham, Chrys. ““One is Not Born a Bride: How Weddings Regulate Sexuality”.” The New Sexuality Studies: A Reader, 2e, edited by Seidman, Meeks, and Fisher. London: Routledge, 2011.

6. The Irrationality of Homophobia

Homophobia is the fear of sexual intimacy between people of the same sex. This fear is held by a lot of American in today’s society, as well as the view of homosexuality as being abnormal. Homophobia hinders choices of sexuality because an individual is less likely to express their homosexuality because of fear of being judged, or not accepted by society, including their family. In the article Homophobia an irrational fear states “People see them as abnormal, disgusting, sick. They are called vile, immoral, and crazy and they are often the objects of violence and discrimination. They are homosexuals, and despite growing gay and lesbian awareness, today’s society in a general is still highly homophobic”. They world acts as if homosexuality is a disease and it is something that can be cured. Homophobia varies across many different aspects of life including politics, business, and laws. Homophobia hinders sexuality through fear and oppression.

Ahmed, Mona. “Homophobia an irrational fear”. Case Western Reserve University. Case Western Reserve University. 1988. Web. 3 August 2014.

7. The Removal of Sex Education

Multiple states around the country are in the midst of trying to ban sex education from high school. Many parents want to remove education because they fear that if their children are too informed they will participate in more sexual acts. From the article 7 States trying to gut sex ed and promote abstinence shows how 7 states are trying to promote only abstinence, even to the point where they are trying to remove free condoms from schools. This goes hand in hand with fear from parents and conservative law makers. Other websites on sex education including articles from European countries discuss the removal of sex education as well. Their research indicated that sex education correlates with an increase in sexual misconduct, and gang sexual violence. If we take away sexual education from school’s it will limit choices of sexuality by limiting teenager’s knowledge on sex and sexually transmitted diseases. This will also limit their ability for safe sex, with the removal of condoms from classrooms.

Liebelson, Dana. “7 States trying to gut out sex ed and promote abstinence”. The Week. The Week. 2013. Web. 3 August 2014.

8. Laws against same sex marriage

Laws against same sex marriage clearly hinder sexual choices by stating if someone wants to get married they must be a heterosexual couple. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures website and their article on same-sex marriage laws one of their major concerns is on whether it is constitutional or not to ban these marriages. The equal protection clauses of the constitution is one of the clauses that comes up in question over same sex marriage cases. It questions whether homosexual are under equal protection for the sanction of marriage and all the extra privileges that come with it. Throughout the past few years many states have adopted same sex marriage laws. The government is one of the largest institutions to promote heteronormativity and to hinder sexual choices by allowing only one sexual orientation to get married. This could increase homosexuals to feel isolated, and unwanted in the area they live in.

“Same Sex Marriage laws”. National Conference of state Legislatures. National Conference of state Legislatures. 2014. Web. 5 August 2014.

9. The Expectation of Procreation

One social norm that hinders choices on sexuality is the expectation of procreation. Mothers always try to push their newly wed daughters into having children for the sake of having grandchildren. This expectation of procreation hinders sexuality for the obvious reason that in order to procreate a man and a woman is needed. With this expectation, many gay and lesbian couples turn towards adoption, however society further limits these couples by some states having a ban or restrictions on gay adoption. According to the article Gay Adoptions from the love and pride website discusses that only Utah and Mississippi downright outlaw fay adoption, but other states involve restriction such as the level of difficulty to get the adoption approved. This could leave homosexual couples waiting 2-3 times longer than a heterosexual couple when adopting a child. This also is seen in the website which gives basic facts on adoption rates, it shows how there are over 22,000,000 million heterosexual households in the U.S that have adopted children, while there are only 94,000 homosexual households with adopted children. These staggering rates show the limitations of gay adoption. This expectation of procreation and adoption rates hinder sexuality by displaying how much easier the route would be if the couple was heterosexual. This way they would most likely be able to procreate on their own, and even if they couldn’t the adoption process would be faster and easier.

“Gay Adoption”. Love and Pride. Love and Pride. 3013. Web. 5 August 2014.

10. Social Media and Cyber Bullying

Recently the new craze on social media sites is to post a “selfie”, but these selfies seem to cause a lot of harm to the individual that posts them. Social Media sites hinders sexual choices by causing individuals fear on what to post because of how others react. A girl might want to post a “selfie” because of her new outfit she is wearing, but she has to really think it over because of the harmful backlash this photo may cause. Teenagers make some of the rudest comments to each other over social media because they have a computer screen in between them and the victim for protection, making comments such as “slut”, “ugly” and “fat”. These comments can destroy someone’s self-esteem, and their ability to feel sexy. According to the article Cyber Bullying, Sexting, and Sexual Violence on Social Media they state that approximately 25% of teenagers are cyber bullied, and 78% of those harassed do not tell their parents about it. Not only is their cyber bullying because of appearance but there is cyber bullying because of sexual orientation as well. This ties in to the cyber bullying research center where it is discovered that about 78% of gay teens are verbally abused by their peers, and that those who are teased are more likely to have lower grade point averages than those who are not. When looking at these statistics it is clearly seen that that these harmful words can effect an individual’s sexuality by messing with their psyche, which declines their sexuality, and pushes them to hide their sexual orientation.

“Cyber Bullying, Sexting, and Sexual Violence on Social Media”. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 2012. Web. 4 August 2014.

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