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FAQs

What is Human Sexuality?

Sexuality can be defined as the integration of the physical, emotional, intellectual and social aspects of an individual’s personality which express maleness and femaleness.” (Chipouras,1979)

What are the major components of Human Sexuality?

 

There are 5 major components of sexuality, namely- 1. Biological Sex, 2. Gender Identity, 3. Sexual Orientation, 4. Social Role and 5. Sexual Role. Each individual evolves as a unique combination of all of these factors. Some of these components are a gift of nature while some are influenced by culture, upbringing, environment, experience.

Simply put Biological sex of a baby is whether the baby born is a boy or girl. Medically biological sex can be defined in two ways-Genotype (genetic expression) and Phenotype (anatomical expression). Genotype sex is the genetic expression (chromosomal sex) of a person. Each cell in a male has sex chromosomes “XY” (except sperm cells). Each cell of a female has sex chromosomes “XX” (except  ova cells). So we say that a person who has a genotype of sex chromosomes “XY” is a male and a person who has a genotype of sex chromosomes “XX” is a female.

Phenotype is the anatomical expression (physical development) of a person. If the baby has testes, penis and internal reproductive organs of a male (e.g. seminal vesicles, prostate) we say that the baby is a male. If the baby has vulva, clitoris, vagina and internal reproductive organs of a female (e.g. uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries) we say that the baby is a female.

In most of the cases a person’s genetic expression and anatomical expression are similar. i.e. a baby who cells have sex chromosomes “XY” will have a Penis, Testes (and internally seminal vesicles, prostate gland) and is considered a male. Similarly a baby whose cells have sex chromosomes “XX” will have vulva, clitoris, vagina (and internally uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries) and is considered a female.

 

Can there be other types of genetic and anatomical expressions?

Yes. In some cases there may be other types of genetic expressions e.g. ‘X’, ‘XXY’ etc. Similarly in some cases the anatomical expression may present differences in development of reproductive organs e.g. in some females there may be absence of vagina or uterus; in some males development of the penis may be incomplete.

In rare cases a baby may have parts of both male as well as female reproductive organs partially developed. e.g. a baby who has incomplete testicular development and also a partial formation of vagina. In such cases it becomes difficult to label the baby as a boy or girl. Such persons are termed as Intersex.

What are the problems faced by people who have variations in their reproductive anatomy?

 

Since these people don’t fit into the societies accepted stereotypes of male and female, most grow up with deep shame of their anatomy. They try to hide their variation/s from society. Many suffer depression and have low self esteem. They are afraid that if their variation becomes public they will be ridiculed and harassed. Many feel isolated from their families and friends, finding a life partner become difficult.

Who is a transgender (TG)?

There are a few boys who psychologically feel that they are girls. They are not comfortable with their male anatomy. They desire to become girls. This means that their biological sex is male but their gender identity is female. Similarly there are some girls who psychologically feel that they are boys. They are not comfortable with their female anatomy. They desire to become boys. Their biological sex is female but their gender identity is male. Such a person whose psychological sex is opposite of their biological sex is called a transgendered person.

Why does person become transgender ?

No one knows why a few boys are psychologically girls and a few girls are psychologically boys. Gender Identity cannot be taught. It cannot be learned. It cannot be changed. Some parents feel guilty, they feel that they did not bring up their children properly with the result that their son or daughter became transgendered. Parents should not feel guilty as parental upbringing has nothing to do with the development of a particular gender identity.

Is it possible to change the Gender Identity of a person?

No. It is not possible to change the gender identity of a person thru counseling, therapy, medications or any form of treatment. It is in everybody’s interest to accept that persons gender identity as it is.

What are the problems faced by transgender?

Many transgendered boys are feminine and many transgendered girls are masculine. Because of this they face a lot of discrimination from society. They are ridiculed, harassed and ostracized from society. They find it difficult to get jobs and accommodation. Many of they are disowned by their families. Most have severe depression and low self esteem. Their acceptance by family, friends and colleagues is a major part in gaining their self esteem.

What is SRS?

SRS is Sex Reassignment Surgery. Some transgendered persons opt to go in for SRS. A male (male to female TG) who wants to become a female can undergo sex reassignment surgery whereby his penis and testes, prostate and seminal vesicles are removed. A labia and vagina are surgically constructed. Some also undergo breast enhancement. Post surgery the person can have receptive intercourse thru the vagina, but since there is no uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries the person will not get pregnant.  A female (Female to Male TG) who wants to become a male can undergo sex reassignment surgery whereby her breasts are reduced; ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina are removed and testes and a penis are surgically constructed.  The testes will not generate sperm. The penis can be used for urination but it cannot become erect for intercourse. A transgender person who undergoes SRS is called a transsexual.

Who are Hijaras?

Since society does not accept a man who considers himself a woman many transgender who are ostracized by their families join the Hijara community. Hijara community is a cultural community of transgendered men (Men who consider them to be women). Some wear female attire and ask for alms (‘mangti’). They dance at weddings and bless the couples. Some Hijaras eventually voluntarily undergo surgical removal of their testes (emasculation) and penis. Since Hijaras are alienated from main stream society they have little access to knowledge, medical services, job opportunities and knowledge of safe sex behavior.

What can be done to reduce the incidence of HIV amongst sexual minorities?

If a person (man or woman) has unprotected (without wearing a condom) penis-vaginal sex or penis-anal sex with his/her partner who has HIV infection then there is a chance that the person will become infected with HIV. Hence when seeking casual sex it is important that condom is used properly and consistently. It should be noted that having unprotected penis-anal sex with an HIV infected person carries the highest risk of acquiring HIV infection.  Since Gays, Transgenders are marginalized by society and discriminated against, they find it very difficult to get information on safe sex knowledge. Because their sexual activities are surreptitious, seeking condoms become difficult.  Because of these reasons they are more at risk of acquiring HIV infection. With a more tolerant and sensitive society they will find it easier to get access to safe sex information and condoms, which will reduce the incidence of HIV.

When do people know that they are gay?

There is no simple answer or standard answer to this question, as it varies from person to person. Generally it can be said that being gay is not something a person suddenly begins to consider, and it may not be something they can initially put a name to. Research published in 1996 showed how the young gay men interviewed had described a set of feelings which they gradually realised made them 'different' in some way, and a set of feelings they thought maybe every teenage boy has.

I thought, well, this is just the phase bit. Sooner or later I'm going to start finding women attractive. I never did. As I became more attracted to men, and I still wasn't getting attracted to women, I thought, shit, you're gay. And it was really quite a shock when it hit me. - Luke

Eventually all people who are gay realise that not only are they sexually attracted to members of the same sex, but that this attraction is not transitional. This realisation could come at any time during their lives.

Is homosexuality a phase young people go through?

For some people yes, and for others no. Some people do not have their first homosexual feelings or experience until they are well into adulthood. In a national survey in Britain carried out in the 1990s, nearly the same number of women reported their first homosexual experience had happened in their twenties as did in their thirties, forties or fifties. But, there is evidence that for some people homosexual experiences may well be part of a transitional or experimental phase in their youth. This is hardly surprising given that adolescence is a period of change in which many people find who they are and what they want for themselves in adult life. This kind of behaviour is perfectly normal.

Are you born gay? What causes people to be gay?

One of the things I can remember thinking a lot about is ... why am I like this? Is it someone's fault? - Rob

There is no simple answer to the question, 'Are some people born lesbian or gay?' There are some theories which stress biological differences between heterosexual and homosexual adults, suggesting that people are born with their sexuality already determined.

In 1993 the American researcher Dean Hamer published research that seemed to prove that homosexual orientation could be genetically transmitted to men on the x chromosome, which they get from their mothers. However when this study was duplicated it did not produce the same results. A follow-up study which Hamer collaborated on also failed to reinforce his earlier results. Most recently research published in April 1999 by George Rice and George Ebers of the Universty of Western Ontario has cast doubt on Hamer's theory. Rice and Ebers' research also tested the same region of the x chromosome in a larger sample of gay men, but failed to find the same 'marker' that Hamer's research had produced. Claims that the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus is influential in determining sexual orientation, have yet to be substantiated. At the moment it is generally thought that biological explanations of sexuality are insufficient to explain the diversity of human sexuality.

How can science tell you what I am? I mean I've had boyfriends, and was happy with them, had girlfriends and may have boyfriends again for all I know. If it's a gay gene what's going on? Is it just turning itself on and off in my head? It doesn't feel like biology it feels like love. - Jo

Psycho-social explanations offer a variety of factors that could contribute to the development of a person's homosexuality. For example, a female dominated upbringing in a gay man's past, with an absence of a male role model. Others stress adherence or deviance from conformity to gender roles, and individual psychological makeup. While none of these factors alone completely answers the question 'what causes homosexuality?', they rule out some things. For example, lesbian and gay young people are not 'failed' heterosexuals. Also, homosexual partners are generally of the same age proving wrong the assumptions that young people are 'turned gay' by older people.

What is clear is that people's behaviour is influenced by their family environment, their experiences and their sense of themselves. Beliefs about sex are initially shaped by family values. Later on these beliefs may be shaped by pleasant and unpleasant experiences of sex and also shape their choice of activities and partners. Throughout their life a person's sense of who and what they are has a strong impact on their sexual development and experience.

Can you stop being gay?

 

There is now growing general support for the belief that sexuality is pre-determined and may change over time, or remain fixed. However, many people are interested in whether sexuality can be altered solely by a person's desire to change. Organisations that help homosexuals attempt to change their sexuality can be generally divided between those that use psychological 'reparative' methods and those that use religious 'healing' methods.

Some people believe homosexuality is an illness and believe it can and should be cured. Many of these 'cures' revolve around psychological therapies (often called reparative therapy) which endeavour to re-orient a homosexual sexuality to heterosexual. Although there is little scientific data to evaluate, what is available seems to indicate that reparative therapy is ineffective. American Psychological Association (APA), the world's largest association of psychologists has stated that:

Homosexuality is not a mental disorder and the APA opposes all portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual people as mentally ill and in need of treatment due to their sexual orientation.

Some strongly religious groups believe that homosexuality is sinful and is in direct breach of the Bible and other religious texts. As with reparative therapy there has been little to no scientific evaluation of the healing and prayer techniques used. What evidence is available suggests that the success of these techniques is restricted to three areas:

  • Convincing bisexuals to limit their sexual activities to members of the opposite sex.
  • Convincing homosexuals to become celibate.
  • Convincing gay men and lesbians to attempt to maintain heterosexual relationships, whilst retaining their homosexual orientation.

Tellingly two founders of a ministry established to 'heal' homosexuals later described their programme as 'ineffective ... not one person was healed'.