The notion that our most erogenous sex organ lies between our ears should not be dismissed. The cognitive activity of the brain can quickly either augment or inhibit a sexual response cycle (Walen & Roth, 1987). Walen & Roth (1987) pointed out that perceptions and evaluations are the two major types of cognitive activity. That is, how a stimulus or situation is interpreted determines how the individual will respond to the stimulus. According to Walen & Roth, perception includes at least three components: detection, labeling, and attribution. Detection is defined by an individual’s ability to note the presence of a stimulus or to discriminate it from other stimuli. Next, labeling is the descriptors that an individual uses to categorize the stimulus event. Third, attribution is an explanation for the perception. Individuals may of course rely heavily on situational cues when making attributions. How may all three of these factors affect sexual behavior? Well, the inability to detect sexual stimuli, incorrect labeling, or misattribution may significantly impede sexual performance (Walen & Roth, 1987). The second major cognitive factor is evaluation, which is a process of rating events from good to bad. For example, the cognitive theory of Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) has focused primarily on evaluative beliefs (Ellis, ). The general point to take away from this particular theory is that “when an individual evaluates a sexual stimulus as good or positive, sexual arousal may be enhanced. On the other hand, when a stimulus is evaluated negatively, sexuality will be diminished. Even more destructive are the exaggerated negative evaluations that Ellis refers to as catastrophic” (Walen & Roth, 1987, p.340).
To what extent does sexual behavior reflect experience? Would you hold the same sexual attitudes and behaviors if you had been reared in another culture? Even within the same society, family and personal experiences can shape unique sexual attitudes and behaviors. Learning theory focuses on environmental factors that shape behavior. Within this context, learning theory examines the environmental factors that shape sexual behavior (McConaghy, 1987). Behaviorism emphasizes the importance of rewards and punishments in the learning process. Events (such as rewards) that increase the frequency or likelihood of particular behavior are termed reinforcements. When applied to sexual behavior, children left to explore their bodies without parental condemnation will learn what feels good and tend to repeat it. However, when sexual behavior (like masturbation) feels pleasurable, but parents connect it with feelings of guilt and shame, the child is placed in conflict. Conversely, punishment tends to suppress behavior in circumstances in which it is expected to occur. Thus, if young people are severely punished for sexual exploration, we may come to associate sexual stimulation in general with feelings of guilt or anxiety. Social Learning Theory uses the outpersonals concepts of rewards and punishment, but it also emphasizes the importance of cognitive activity (i.e., anticipations, thoughts, and plans) and learning by observation. Observational learning or modeling refers to acquiring knowledge and skills through observing others. Observational learning may also take place when exposed to certain films, books, or music. According to social learning theory children acquire the gender roles deemed appropriate in society through reinforcement of gender-appropriate behavior. In addition, individuals duplicate behaviors of those they respect and hold as models.
Human sexuality is a very complex behavior that is affected by many facets of our lives including our physiology, cognition, and learning. These are just a few of the components that this paper focused on for the sake of brevity. Otherwise, many other factors could have been discussed, such as, the culture, personal and general history, and the humanistic perspective. The point here is that human sexuality, like us, is multi-dimensional and one can only begin to get a sense of what it is by the inclusion of many perspectives and ideas. However, one particular point that this paper would like to get across to the reader is that it is a motivating factor. This is a bit over simplified but it seems that so much of what we do day in and day out as humans is in some way or another governed by our sexual self. While this makes us similar as humans, it is not necessarily the case that we condone the same behaviors or have overlapping norms from culture to culture. Thus, within this similarity there is still a great deal of diversity.