Why Gender Matters
There has been a lot written about gender lately. Most of it revolves around transgender issues and the transgender movement, which has brought gender to the forefront of sexual politics in America and around the world. There is a lot more to gender, however, than transgender issues. In the next few articles, I’m going to talk about gender from the perspective of sexual pleasure and sexual mindfulness. I want to focus on the big picture and look at gender issues as they relate to your sexual identity. I also want to tie this to sexual mindfulness and your sexual pleasure.
Your Sexual Identity
Your sexual identity is the comprehensive term used to describe how you see yourself as a sexual person. Your sexual identity has six parts; (1) your biological sex/gender, (2) your gender identity, (3) your gender role, (4) your sexual orientation, (5) your sexual behavior, and (6) your sexual response. All six of these parts combine to form a picture of how you see yourself and behave as a sexual person (Blonna & Carter, 2018).
The Five Continua of Sexual Identity
One way to view these parts is to look at them as five different continua. To a certain extent, these continua are fluid and change over the course of your life. Some are more fluid than others.
|1. Biological Continuum
|Male ———— Intersex ———— Female|
|2. Gender Continuum
(Gender Identity & Gender Role)
|Masculine ———— Transgender ———— Feminine|
|3. Sexual Orientation Continuum
|Heterosexual ——— Bisexual ——— Homosexual|
|4. Sexual Behavior Continuum
|Uninterested — Average Interest — Very Interested|
|5. Sexual Response Continuum
|Unresponsive – Average Response – Very Responsive|
For example, your biological continuum is determined by your chromosomes (XX or XY) and your genetic inheritance. Your chromosomes and genetic inheritance determine things such as your biological sex/gender (male, female, intersex, other), internal and external sex organs, hormone type and levels, and your physical characteristics (body size, shape, hair and eye color, skin pigmentation, etc.). These biological factors are fixed at conception. Some of them can be changed (anatomy and physiology, hormonal release, etc.) but only through medical, surgical, or cosmetic interventions.
Unlike your biological continuum, the other continua are more fluid.
Your gender continuum is very fluid and changes over the course of your life. Your gender identity is defined as how you see yourself as a man, woman, both, or neither. Your gender role is the behavioral part, how you act as a man, woman, both, or neither. Both of these aspects of sexual identity change as you age, grow, mature, and gain sexual and relationship experience. Some people change very little, while others change a great deal.
As you'll see in a later article, I define your sexual orientation as your adult, free choice, of sexual partners. For many people, their sexual orientation continuum is fluid and changes. While most people retain their initial sexual orientation throughout their lives, it is no longer unusual to hear of men or women in their adulthood, mid-life, or older adulthood becoming attracted to a member of the same, opposite, or both sexes. In some cases, they repressed these desires for decades but tried to control them to conform to society's norms. In others, the spark of desire was more spontaneous.
I take a broad view of sexual behavior and see it relating to your sexual interest, overall level of activity, and the specific sexual behaviors you engage in. Once again, this continuum is very fluid. Your level of sexual desire will wax and wane over the course of your lifetime. Your sexual behavior repertoire will grow and change as you mature, enter into sexual relationships, and face or no longer face challenges associated with pregnancy and STD prevention issues.
Lastly, your sexual response continuum is also very fluid. Sexual response is the result of a complex interplay between your body, mind, and spirit. Becoming aroused and achieving orgasm are intimately related to your thoughts, feelings, physical health, mental well-being, and a host of other variables. These variables and others vary for each sexual encounter and change over time as a result of the aging process.
A Real-World Example
Let me give you an example of how sexual identity plays out in the real world. I'll use myself as a case study. I am a 68-year-old white heterosexual man who has been married for 48 years and still enjoys sex with my wife. I have two adult sons, ages 33 and 36. I understand the biological aspects of being male and how they are related to my sexual response. I know a lot about the internal and external parts of my sexual anatomy how they work. I am aware of the effects of aging on things such as hormones, muscle mass, sexual response, etc., all components of being a biological male. I also am aware of how I see myself as a 68-year-old man. I understand and am happy with my gender identity and role and how they have evolved over the years. I am comfortable being heterosexual and married and having a repertoire of satisfying sexual activities that I engage in by myself and with my wife. Lastly, I understand and am comfortable with my sexual response. I see how it has changed over the decades and do not see this change as something negative. It is just different and no less satisfying than it was when I was in my 20s.
In the coming articles in this series, I'll take a deeper look into all of the variables involved in your sexual identity and how they can impact your sexual pleasure. I'll also explain why it is so important to be mindful of all of this and how sexual mindfulness can help you with this.