How Our Concept of Sexuality Has Evolved

To this day, the concept of sexuality has been affected by numerous factors. For example, the influence of 19th-century misogyny and scientific Victorianism resulted in sexuality that was characterized by morality and restraint. In this article, we talk about some of the factors that have had an impact on our conceptualization of sexuality over time.
How Our Concept of Sexuality Has Evolved

Last update: 16 July, 2021

Many factors have had an influence on the repression of human sexuality. Its development isn’t random. Neither is our social and moral concept of sexuality. Furthermore, we can trace conservative factors in its conceptualization back to the Neolithic period.

In this era, patriarchy began to develop as one of the main foundations of human sexuality and sexual experience. There were also later conservative concepts of sexuality by way of scientific Victorianism and misogyny.

Sexual behavior varies depending upon each individual society and its history. For example, some practices that people consider normal today would’ve been considered abhorrent or indecent in earlier times. For this reason, we can’t define sexual behavior as something innate or devoid of any historical or social influence.

In this article, we elaborate on the elements that have contributed to the repression of human sexuality and that have played an essential role in the development of the concept of human sexuality up to today.

A couple in bed together.


Patriarchy is the dominance of man over woman. This idea first arose in the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic Age. At this time, the ideology of the subordination of women began.

From a sexual aspect, the same thing happened. In other words, the sexual protagonist and subject of both active and passive pleasure was the man. This patriarchy brought about discrimination against women and their sexual roles.

Scientific Victorianism, the merge of science and religion

This train of thought started in the 19th century. It was when science began to assume the restrictive ideas of religion and morality.

Therefore, supported by the legitimacy of science, they created taboos. In fact, they began to adopt positions that were previously only associated with religion. There were two cornerstones here. The concepts of chaste women and harmful masturbation.

The invention of the chaste woman

During the Middle Ages, women had a leading role in sex. It wasn’t so much in terms of their pleasure, but they seemed to be knowledgeable about all sexual processes. This is evidenced in the tale La Celestina.

However, in 1857, Willam Acton, an English physician, stated that women didn’t have sexual feelings. Furthermore, that they didn’t seek sex and didn’t enjoy it.

From then on, society considered women to be frigid and chaste by nature. Consequently, they thought of sexual desire as exclusive to men. In fact, they considered any woman who looked for sex as abnormal. Although women were seen as insatiable centuries earlier, now they were inhibited.

The chaste woman was seen as only useful for the purposes of reproduction. In fact, men sought sexual satisfaction elsewhere. For this reason, the woman’s sexual urges were ignored.

Masturbation was harmful

During the 18th century, Tissot, an important Swiss doctor, wrote Diseases Caused by Masturbation. In this book, he claimed that sexual arousal was dangerous. In addition, he claimed it could cause blindness, epilepsy, and many other diseases.

From that moment in the 19th century, the hunt was on for the masturbator. It became an activity that was prohibited for medical reasons, as well as due to the usual religious grounds.

With scientific suggestions that masturbation could lead to death, people instigated inhumane practices to prevent it. For example, in some Western countries up to 1940, they carried out female circumcision. There were also spiked penis rings, among other deterrents.

Misogyny based on science and evidence

Misogyny is one of the conservative factors in the concept of sexuality. It was extremely prevalent in the 19th century. Nevertheless, it originated in earlier times.

Once again, this concept was championed by science. Indeed, science considered women to be inferior to men. For this reason, they were relegated to family and domestic life. Their sex life was disregarded in deference to the man’s pleasure. Thus, their sexual enjoyment was completely irrelevant.

This wasn’t just an opinion. In fact, science validated the idea that women were inferior to men. You only need to read a few quotes from some illustrious scholars of the time to confirm this.

For example, Auguste Comte was a French philosopher that said that women’s lives should be focused exclusively on the family and home.

Charles Darwin was an eminent English naturalist. He claimed that the brain of a man was superior, more creative, and more fearless.

Otto Weininger was an Austrian philosopher. In his book, Sex and Character, he stated that women were superficial and lacked social goals.

Paul Möbius was a German neurologist. He wrote a pamphlet entitled On the Physiological Mental Deficiency of Women.

Sexual liberation

These scientifically corroborated ideas gave rise to the kind of misogyny that was extremely hard to break. In fact, it made women feel insecure. Furthermore, it completely repressed them in all areas of their life, including sexually.

However, as science advanced, more particularly psychology, new voices emerged. They wanted to separate morality and sexuality.

In the early 20th century, Havelock Ellis, a social psychologist, took a liberal stance. He stated that sex is a necessary element for the happiness of both men and women.

Ellis maintained a positive outlook on sexuality. In fact, he began to speak of modesty as a limiting element of sexual behavior. Furthermore, he concluded that there’s not just one sexual norm, but rather a variety of them.

Freud’s contributions to the development of sexuality have been viewed as both positive and negative. He was the first to talk about the female orgasm. However, he claimed there were two types, the clitoral and the vaginal. We now know this to be untrue.

Kinsey: Sexual Behavior in the Human Female

Kinsey conducted a study using a quantitative approach with behavioral surveys. He tried to eliminate the idea that the ultimate goal of sexual response is merely the process of reproduction. In addition, he aimed to take the moral weight off masturbation. In fact, he argued that young men who don’t masturbate may experience sexual problems later in life.

Kinsey discovered that 90 percent of men practiced masturbation. He also claimed that sexuality manifests itself in many ways and the procreative element is just one of them. Furthermore, it isn’t the most important.

Kinsey wrote Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953. In this book, he stated that a woman’s sexuality depends on internal factors, among others. Furthermore, that women reach maximum sexual desire at the age of 30. Finally, he confirmed that there are no “frigid” women and he wrote in-depth about the female orgasm.

As we’ve seen, many conservative factors have influenced the development of the concept of sexuality. Nowadays, sexual liberation has developed in many parts of the world. However, it’s difficult to escape from the role that scientific Victorianism and misogyny have played in the concept of male and female sexuality over the years.

Indeed, many of the moral views of sex still prevalent today are rooted in these earlier ideas. However, fortunately, science no longer defends them.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.