According to the World Health Organisation (WHO, 2002) sexuality may be defined as a ‘central aspect of being human throughout life and 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 expressed and experienced. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical and religious and spiritual factors.’ Within this broad working definition is a more specific definition of sexuality or sexual identity, which includes 5 interrelated, yet distinct, components or dimensions that cumulatively contribute to an awareness or perception of oneself as a sexual being. These 5 dimensions include biological sex, gender identity, social gender role, sexual orientation, and sexual practice or behaviour (see diagram below for a schematic overview of these dimensions).
The relationship between these dimensions remains complex and largely unclear, as the degree of correspondence between each dimension may at times appear inconsistent, or even contradictory, according society’s standards and norms for, or expectations of, human sexuality. The more we learn, the more we realise that, when it comes to human sexuality, there are essentially no basic rules or prescriptions that can apply to all. What follows is a description of each dimension. Try to identify where you fit in on the human sexuality landscape.