Why Do We Need To Label Sexuality?

Why do we, as humans, feel the need to label everything that we interact with? Labels define a thing which creates a box for it to live in, the box gives us boundaries of what something is or is not. The boundaries offer us a safe place to navigate and to stay away from the “unsafe.” But it is the connection of the two that create curiosity for us to explore, which leads us back to labeling things in our own experiences. But is there a benefit from then? Labels can create problems as much as they help to understand. Often these labels have led to judgmental mindsets and discrimination. 

 What if I told you that heterosexual was a fairly new term and is not one that has always existed? You would probably say something along the lines of that I am crazy, heterosexuality has always existed. I would say you are both wrong and right. To be able to clarify this further, we must look at what we mean when we say heterosexuality or any other sexuality. The keyword is ‘sexuality.’ This term is very different from the meaning of sex, sex is this meaning refers to opposite genders coming together for the purpose of reproduction. But reproductive intercourse is not the same thing as heterosexuality.


According to an article from the BBC titledThe Invention of Heterosexuality”  states “Sex has no history… because it’s “grounded in the functioning of the body. Sexuality, on the other hand, precisely because it is a ‘cultural production,’ does have a history. In other words, while sex is something that appears hardwired into most species, the naming and categorizing of those acts, and those who practice those acts, is a historical phenomenon, and can and should be studied as such.” This essentially means while there have always been sexual instincts, it was man that decided it needed a label and thusly created the first usages of a sexuality term. And heterosexual was coined in the 1860s along with homosexual, monosexual (term for masturbation), and heterogeneity (bestiality).

 By 1901 heterosexuality was listed in the Dorland’s Medical Dictionary as an abnormal or perverted appetite towards the opposite sex. But why was heterosexuality considered abnormal? Until this time Christianity held the mindset that sex was reserved for reproduction purposes and not for pleasure, an ideal that was carried into Catholicism from Stoicism. Before 1868, there was no differentiation between the types of love or sexual desire people felt towards one another. Prior to that, any differentiation was based on the act of sex behaviors, which lead to deciding what was good or bad. The ruling factor prior to this was the Bible, in which any sexual act that was not meant for reproduction. As such, the Bible classified sex as either productive or non-productive, non-productive being the sin. It is considered a sin because it is the act of spilling the life bearing seed that is semen, This is what gives credence to anyone saying that homosexuality is a sin, as there is no means of reproduction. It is funny that the act of homosexual sex is considered equal to masturbation. 


The differentiation goes further as sex is not meant to give pleasure, according to Stoicism beliefs. Their feeling is that Stoicism teaches that the body should not be led by natural sexual desire as this will lead us astray. The mindset is that sex should be used for procreation purposes and not for the building or increasing of feelings toward another. Those should come as a separate entity. 

 It can be argued that these definitions came at a time when American way of life was becoming more regularized. As more people started moving to denser population centers, it was becoming harder to control the sexual proclivities of those people. As such, these activities were often blamed solely on the middle class, as they were the population that was increasing in the cities. Being able to define sexual activity gave a means to segregate people into different social management types. As laws were wholly secular, they also needed a non-religious means of managing the people. This allowed the movement away from non “normal” sexuality activity to be treated as depravity instead of sin. The degenerates, as they became called, were the loathsome of humanity. 

 This mindset has created the ability to treat hetero and homosexuals differently simply from the belief that they can be divided into two groups. The only reason to treat them differently is based on a recent grammar addition by humans in our need to label and differentiate people. Views on sex and what is acceptable changes with times and nature of the word, whereas sexuality is still a mindset stuck in its infancy of conception in the 1860s. Since the terms, in fact, did not exist before then, is there a real need for them to continue forward. We have learned that sexuality is more of a spectrum where people fluidly change over time, why not adapt out definitions accordingly and change the outmoded mindsets, we once had.

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