Sexuality is often defined simply in terms of sex, but sexuality encompasses many different aspects of our lives beyond just sex alone. Sexuality is determined in part by our genetics and in part by the social expression of our underlining heredity and interaction with others. Three common ways in which sexuality has been described are in terms of: sexual behavior, sexual orientation, and sexual identity. However sexuality like many other aspects of our lives can be best understood holistically whereby both the internal (i.e. sexual identity, sexual orientation, etc.) and external (i.e. gender socialization, voluntary celibacy, etc.) factors that influence sexuality can be addressed.
The majority of educational resources available on sexuality focus on internal factors such as sexual behavior, sexual identity, and sexual orientation. These factors are important to sexuality given that they are responsible for influencing how we think, feel, and act out our unconscious expressions of sexuality. Although the internal factors related to sexuality are in part genetically determined (also referred to as biological determinism), human beings are rational beings and therefore have the ability to exercise choice in determining whether or not these internal factors get expressed publicly. Moreover, internal factors are not necessarily static and thus can change over time as we age and experience new places, situations, and people.
However what often gets neglected in discussions on sexuality is a dialogue on the diversity of external influences on sexuality. The most well known external influence on sexuality is gender socialization, which occurs in almost all aspects of our community including our family, school, media, and even politics. Some external influences that are less often associated to the development and expression of sexuality are sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, the presence of conflict or war, and spirituality, which could be thought of as both internally and externally influencing.
Of course the two greatest influencing factors on sexuality throughout history have been culture and religion. Culture is one of the central ways human beings define and express themselves including in terms of how we develop sexually. Cross-culturally sexuality means different things, and the expression of sexuality has different restrictions (or none at all) depending on where you go and who you talk to. Generally speaking, culture carries the most weight in sanctioning the expression, suppression, misuse, and even loving gesture of sexuality.
Despite what some people might think religion’s influence over sexuality is not about restrictions instead religion acts as a means by which sexuality can be channeled for the purposes of expression and even celebration. Although different religious doctrines propose a diversity of mandates when it comes to the ways in which sexuality should be channeled, most religions produce specifications on the basis of martial status, sex, and one’s personal spiritual growth.
Over the years as sexual expression has increased in many parts of the world so has the use of sexuality for the purposes of abuse. Project Respect (http://www.yesmeansyes.com) is a non-profit organization that focuses on educating youth, young adults, and adults on various means of prevention with concern to sexual violence (i.e. rape, sexual assault) and on the sharing of prevention strategies with the rest of the community. The ultimate goal of this organization is to erase the presence of violence in sexuality and to promote a world of sexual expression without fear of harm.