Hi, I'm Dr. Katie Mohrman. I'm Dr. Jacob McWilliams. In our previous modules, we've looked closely at the idea of sex and gender as social constructs. Today, we will examine sexuality as a social construct as well. Last time, we discussed essentialist versus social constructionist theories of identity. As a reminder, essentialism posits that are sense of sexual and gender itself are inborn. It also regard sexual and gender identities as transhistorical and transcultural. Essentialist perspectives of gender and sexuality assumed that a person's sense of self and their attractions are innate, fixed, and unchanging. In other words, essentialism contends that sexual identities such as gay or straight are identities that have always existed, and that exist in all cultures around the world. Over the last 40 years, scholars have used historical evidence to debunk this essentialist theory of sexual identity. Today, sexuality like gender and sex is now viewed among scholars as a social construct. Scholars now understand that the idea of each individual having a sexual identity is a relatively recent historical phenomenon. Before the 1700 and 1800, there was no concept of a person having a sexual identity. If you were to travel back in time to 598, 1186 or 1626 and told someone, I'm a lesbian or I'm heterosexual, they wouldn't understand what you were saying. This is because before the 17 and 1800s people didn't have a concept of being a particular person because of their sexual choices or desires. Moreover, the labels we use today to describe our sexuality did not exist then. Instead, societies generally focused on labeling specific kinds of sexual practices as either permissible or taboo. Anyone could engage in a sexual practice whether it was socially acceptable or not, but doing so didn't mean you are a particular person. It wasn't until the 1700s and 1800s that a notion of personal sexual identity developed. In Western cultures, societies shifted from labeling particular sexual acts as bad or good and began to categorize people based on their sexual behaviors and desires as well as their gender expression. Labeling people according to these criteria came to be called sexual identity or sexuality. This transition from a focus on sexual acts to sexual identities is evident when we look at the advent of certain words. The word homosexual for instance, wasn't invented until 1869. The word heterosexual didn't appear until the 1880s, and neither term was widely known or used until the mid 1900s. The emergence of the concept of sexual identity in Europe and the US coincided with an increase in global interaction, primarily through colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. As a result, Western ideas about sexuality were transported to and use to help dominate other cultures. We'll have experienced all kinds of sexual desires and engaged in all kinds of sexual practices throughout history. How those desires and practices are categorized and given meaning has very dramatically across time and place. For instance, today in the US we would consider an older person say a 40-year-old having sex with a younger person say a 13-year-old to be taboo. In today's world, the 40-year-old would be labeled a pedophile based on their desires and behaviors. However, this would not have been the case in ancient Greece or Rome for instance. Such appearing would have been considered socially acceptable and neither person will be labeled with a sexual identity as a result. To give another example, in some cultures around the world, it's socially acceptable to marry and have sex with multiple partners. But in others, it's considered taboo and perceived as unethical or depraved. Sometimes even as indicative of a sex addiction. What these examples illustrate is that how we interpret the significance of sexual activity is largely dependent on where and when we are born. Our cultural and historical context determines not only how we understand the desires and behaviors of others, but our own as well. To be clear, the social constructionist theory of identity does not claim that a person's sexual attractions and desires are chosen or easily changeable. On the contrary, this theory recognizes that they are complex and closely held aspects of a person's sense of self. However, it explains our complexity, significance, and categorization through an examination of historically and culturally specific social forces rather than biology. This is not to say that bodies and their functions don't matter. Indeed, they along with human behavior or the material which is classified and labeled under the rubric of sexuality.