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Social Science and Sexuality: Aspects of Feminism


The life of human beings on this Earth has always been a very complicated matter. This has been so due to some factors – natural, physical, psychological, and others. From the initial stages of its existence, mankind tried to structure relations between human beings and between their small and large groups. Some scientists believe that mankind was formed only after the first pre-historic society appeared.

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They say that before living in a state from people lived in a wild form of existence which was the reason why the construction of society was necessary. People wanted to have some security, some guarantee that their property will remain theirs tomorrow and no one will come and take it, as well as their lives, away. Either according to this theory, the theory of a social agreement, or according to Darwin’s evolutionary theory, the formation of the society was an inevitable stage of human development (Baird, 2001).


As soon as the society was established, at first in its simple forms, then in more complicated ones, people felt the desire to study the phenomena and the processes that take place in the society they live in. Firstly, philosophy dealt with it but in the middle of the 19th century, social science was established as the separate branch of science that deals exclusively with social events and processes (Bozon, 1996). One of the processes it deals with is the interrelation between society and sexuality during the development of mankind. This topic has several main points and we are going to consider them in this essay.

They are gender issues, i. e. the problem of equal rights for men and women, the role of women in social and cultural life and the struggle for the shift of this role, feminism, as well as the rights of people with different sexual orientations, i. e. gays, and lesbians. The major claims of social science in the past, and they remain one of the basic ones in it, were that ideas that society is a place where all people of different races, sexes, religions, and preferences can live with equal rights, obligations. and possibilities. Thus, the main controversies of the interrelations between the concepts of sexuality and social science are derived from its main claims.

In reality, there was no equality in the past until people who were discriminated against started fighting for their rights. In modern society, social science also deals with the problems of social discrimination based on different biological and social factors. So, this is the main issue in respect of the correlation between social science and the concept of sexuality.

Women in Early Societies

Social science tries to trace the development of the phenomena of sexuality in the history of human society. It studies all stages of the development of society and it is now evident that human society is moving towards the equality of rights of both sexes. But it has not always been so and history presents a great area for work in this direction. At the beginning of the social life of human beings, the rights of women were considerably higher than the rights of men.

In numerous pre-historic societies there very often were cases when women were heads of certain social groups, clans, and tribes. This phenomenon was called to be a matriarchy, and although the cases are very rare nowadays, it still exists in some countries or tribes whose development remains at the level of the pre-historic people. In times of matriarchy, women ruled the society, participated in wars. and decided political affairs which then started being considered as the man’s work (Braizer, 2001).

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There was no need for the struggle for equal rights because they were equal and men did not protest against the then state of things. The cult of a woman was very strong as the humans of early societies understood that life is given by a woman and this is the basic reason why women can be superior to the opposite sex (Voss, 2007).

Middle Ages and Religion

But with time the situation started changing and males acquired more and more power in society. This shift began in the period of the Middle Ages when religion acquired great power over people’s minds and lives. If in the pre-historic period the spiritual basis of human existence consisted in different myths they created and believed in, then in the epoch of Christianity beliefs changed to a single religion that became dominant.

In the pre-historic myths, the role of women was great. They were Goddesses, powers of nature, even the Earth itself was thought of as a female being because it gave birth to everything in the world. Religion, on the contrary, limited the role of a woman to a housewife that had no right to participate in the social, political, or cultural life of the society. Thus, beginning from that time, the role of a woman was so limited that men were considered to be the only rightful members of the society while women were thought of as their parts that have no rights for independent existence. Christianity, of course, did not deny that women give birth to all people and made it the basis for its ideology, but then women were put into such limits that can not be called humane. According to the religious beliefs, the main ideas of a woman were obedience, submissiveness, humility, and other phenomena of the same kind.

This meant that women should not participate in men’s activities which do not always presuppose the above-mentioned values. In Islamic countries, the state of things became even worse as women were not even allowed to show their faces in the presence of men other than their husbands. Despite this fact, in many cultures and religions women play very significantly, sometimes even fundamental roles, for example, the Blessed Virgin Mary in Christianity or the cult of a woman as a keeper of the house and the family in Hinduism.

In India, it is common to display respect to women according to religious tradition, but in real life women seldom see their husbands before their weddings. They can not make decisions and any manifestation of disobedience to parents or husband is unimaginable there. The picture was the same in the Moslem countries, as well as in Christian societies, but recently the situation has changed for the better (Weston, 1998).


But have you ever asked yourself a question as to why the situation changes? To my mind, the answer is simple – women started struggling for their rights and, in addition, a lot of men have understood that women must have equal rights with them. The struggle for the equality of rights for women in comparison to men was called the feminist movement, although the name came much later than the essence of the movement was developed.

Already in times of Reformation in the 16th century, women claimed the equality of rights because they saw that the power of religion was weakening. The voices became louder during the 17 – 18th centuries when several significant events took place, the main important among them being The Great French Revolution that proclaimed equality and freedom for everybody. Nevertheless, the basis of the feminist movement was established in the 19th century in the USA and the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The catalyst for feminism was the movement for the right for women to vote at elections in Great Britain.

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Then the idea of equal rights in all spheres of social life appeared and was developed by the three waves of feminism. But some other scholars tend to claim that another reason for feminism was the industrial revolution in the world. As far as the development of technology presented more working places and more opportunities for men, they were taken away from the houses to earn money and feed families. Meanwhile, women were to face great amounts of housework and were bound to it for their whole lives. It is no wonder, that such a state of things did not satisfy women and they started to form movements that later became known as feminism (Weston, 1998).

Aspects of Sexuality

In different countries the situation was also different, that is why feminism can not be treated too generic. Women in some areas demanded equal rights for men and women in the society, while others, who were radically oriented, struggled for the return of matriarchy and for the destruction of the society that, as they thought, was created by males and for males only. In these types of feminist movements, liberal and radical feminism, we can observe the picture of the relations between males and females in different cultures and see how they changed through time. In other words, we can trace how the concept of sexuality developed in societies that had different cultures and values.

For example, in the Western countries, like members of the European Union, or the United States of America, sexuality is not a very burning topic because these regions have already overcome this issue due to the democratization of their societies (Muszynski, 2000). In these countries women are recognized as rightful members of the society, they can vote at elections and be elected to the legislative or executive bodies of their countries. In some countries, women even reach the position of President. Examples of this are Germany, Great Britain, and some other countries. In Asian countries, this process is also successful, although not to such an extent as in Europe and the USA.

Asian countries not only allow women to vote but also can be ruled by women, for example, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan or Gandhi in India. Countries of Latin America are still under the great influence of the concept of “machismo”, i. e. male superiority that can not be doubted. This concept also used to limit freedoms of women in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and other countries but recently even there the progress has been noticed, as women can vote and be elected, can participate in social and cultural life without coming into conflict with the ideals of their society (Mauro, 2004).

Social Science and Motherhood

One more important point that shows the connection between social science and sexuality is the relations between women and society, and namely between the women who have children and the rest of the society. This point is so significant because the status of women with children was undeservedly low in the past. That is why social science, and its prominent representatives like Adrienne Rich, have tried to find out the reasons for such a state of things.

The breaking point of this very problem is the distortion of the importance of such a social institution as motherhood. Scholars in social science noticed this process long ago and defined its main features saying the following. Throughout the history of mankind, people did not doubt the fact that all human life was born by women and there will be no human life without women. But at the same time, society tried to lower the role of women a much as possible by different religious, cultural, and even political means. By this, the role of a woman who gives birth to life was reduced to being a housekeeper.

Thus, the institution of motherhood, instead of being a pride for every woman, became a phenomenon that limited women’s possibilities in human society. Women with children had to stay at home and take care of their babies. They did not have any chance to work or to be involved in any kind of social work or political activities. Even in recent years, the institution of motherhood has been more like a disadvantage for a woman who tries to find a job, than a thing that will make her proud. According to the laws, the employers that hire women who have children have to provide those women with certain benefits, parental leaves, and special care for their children.

As far as this involves quite high levels of expenses, the employers prefer not to have in their staff women with children or pregnant women. Furthermore, if a woman working in a company becomes pregnant, the employers prefer to fire her and hire another worker instead than pay for all the expenses that her motherhood could involve.

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Or, as Sharon Hays exemplifies it, if a woman has to take care of her child in hospital while there are some assignments that she must fulfill at work, the employers do not understand the priority of a child to the work and either implement certain sanctions and fines against this woman or fire her at all (Hays, 2006). So, these are the main points of connection between social science and sexuality with which feminists and social activists are fighting to bring genuine equality in human society (Weston, 1998).

Homosexuals and Lesbians

Having considered the interrelation between social science and sexuality as the relationships between two sexes, we must not forget about the relations that can occur between the representatives of the same sex, i. e. homosexual relations whether between men or between women. This issue is one of the main concerns of social science nowadays, as far as this kind of relationship occurs more and more often in the modern society which strives for equality of rights, freedoms, and preferences (Baird, 2001). This point was also important in the past as it influenced considerably the social life of these people as well as the people they were surrounded by.

Different social conflicts occurred because the people with different sexual orientations wanted equal rights with those who are heterosexuals, and as a result, certain progress was achieved in this respect (Munk, 1998).

In the past, homosexual relations were prohibited by law in many countries, for example in the USSR or Great Britain. Criminal cases were filed against homosexuals and lesbians, and they had either to go to jail or hide their relations thus creating a layer of the society that was in a hidden conflict with the state power and with the bulk of that very society (Moore, 2001). But recently, there have been certain improvements for homosexual people. In many countries, social movements for the equal rights of homosexuals appeared, and as a result of their activity, they got more freedoms and rights in society. Nowadays, homosexual marriages are allowed legally in many countries. Besides, a homosexual can not only participate in social life but also become a politician and influence all aspects of the life of society.


To conclude, the aim of it was to study the relation of social science and sexuality in all its aspect and to find out the reasons for this or that kind of events that take place in the society concerning the phenomenon of sexuality. We managed to achieve the set goals in this research essay and see how sexuality developed together with the development of human society on the whole. We considered the historic stages of social development and sexuality and the issues connected with it. We can see now, that the situation with the quality of rights for both sexes, as well as for those with different sexual orientations changed drastically over the past few years.

Social science deals with the issues of society and sexuality as one of its aspects. Social science is a great science that studies the most important for humans – the development of the largest social institution, society, in all aspects and tries to explain some current or past events to predict the development of the society in the future.

Works Cited

Baird, V. No-Nonsense Guide to Sexual Diversity: Global Overview. Internationalist Publications, 2001, pp. 10 – 19.

Baird, V. No-Nonsense Guide to Sexual Diversity: Science. Explaining Sexual Orientation. Internationalist Publications, 2001, pp. 101 – 111.

Bozon, M. Sexuality and the Social Sciences: A French Survey on Sexual Behaviour. Dartmouth Publishing Group, 1996.

Braizer, C. No-Nonsense Guide to Sexual Diversity: The Great Goddess. Internationalist Publications, 2001, pp. 18 – 19.

Hays, S. Why Can’t a Mother Be More Like a Businessman? Maternal Theory: Essential Readings, 2006, pp, 408 – 429.

Mauro, D. Social Science Research Council: “Handbook of Sexuality Research Training Initiatives”. Social Science Research Council, 2004.

Moore, M. Stupid White Men – And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of Nation: The End of Men. Harper Collins, 2001, pp. 142 – 161.

Munk, V. Romantic Love and Sexual Behavior: Perspectives from the Social Sciences. Praeger Publishers, 1998.

Muszynski, A. Social Issues and Contradictions in Canadian Society, B. Singh Bolaria: Social Construction/Deconstruction of Sex, Gender, Race and Class. Harcourt Canada, 2000, pp. 95 – 125.

Voss, B. Archaeologies of Sexuality. Taylor & Francis; 1 edition, 2007.

Weston, K. Long Slow Burn: Sexuality and Social Science. Routledge; 1 edition, 1998.

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