What is Sexuality?

Sexuality. Search for it on google and there are over 73 million results. For as prevalent as the concept is, what does it actually mean? And does it even matter?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexuality as:

a central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.” (WHO, 2006a)[1]

The dictionary definition of sexuality is:

The quality or state of being sexual: the condition of having sex, sexual activity, expression of sexual receptivity or interest especially when excessive[2].

Clearly, the two definitions are not the same.

The dictionary equates sex with sexuality, as do most of us. The reality is that the sex act—having it or not, how you like it, what you expect of it—is but one element of sexuality.

The more elaborate and complex definition identifies the factors that influence sexuality, what it encompasses, and the various ways it can manifest.

Some influences that shape sexuality are:

Biological—physical health, diseases
Psychological—a family’s posture related to sexuality, whether or not they talk about it; the fear of being judged *
Social—racism, homophobia, sexism and other prejudices
Cultural—the way of thinking and acting of a particular group;
Religious/Spiritual—beliefs of what is permissible according to the rules and understandings of faith; believing that sexual intercourse is a sin stems from religious influences.

Some of what sexuality encompasses is:

Eroticism—sexual desire; willingness to kiss, touch and/or initiate sexual intercourse *;
Pleasure—ability to feel satisfaction with a sexual relationship.

And sexuality manifests itself in:

Thoughts—imagination, mental elaboration;
Beliefs—religious or otherwise;
Attitudes—reactions or actions in certain situations;
Values—that determined as important: family, income, political position*.

And so, does this matter?


Sexuality is influenced by everything and manifests itself in everything we do!

The more we understand our sexuality, the more we can achieve real sexual freedom—the freedom to truly know ourselves and to make choices that stem from that full knowledge.

Dr. Mirian, a sexologist, notes that “there is a freedom to talk about the subject (sexuality), but it isn’t discussed in a way that allows people to feel self-confident, with healthy self-esteem, (or) able to exercise their sexuality satisfactorily.

So let’s talk about sexuality!


In summary… sexuality is:

Genitalia and biological sex;
Gender identity and role;
Sexual orientation;
Thoughts and beliefs;
Self esteem;
Sexual desire;

Sexuality is…how you understand and interact with your world!



Mirian Lopes

Mirian Lopes: Psychologist and Post Graduate degree in Human Sexuality


[1] http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/sexual_health/sh_definitions/en/

[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sexuality