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Minerva Ginecol. 2010 Aug;62(4):349-59.

Social and ethical determinants of human sexuality: 1. The need to reproduce.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, La Sapienza University, Rome, Italy.


Aims of this study was to review the many and diverse factors conditioning human sexual behavior; starting with the first and still most important: the need to reproduce and to analyse these factors and how they have changed over time in order to better understand the interplay between the major determinants of human sexuality. For this aim the authors made a literature review of relevant scientific papers and books, including religious websites. At the dawn of humanity, sexuality was focused on reproduction; this, however, did not exclude other important meanings in sexual relationships, since non-conceptive copulations have been a constant aspect of human behavior, becoming an almost unique feature of genus homo. In this respect, the characteristics of a female continuously accessible to her male set the stage for a trend towards monogamy and created the substrate for closed families. Anthropologists have justified conceptive sexuality because sexual activity is costly in terms of energy consumption; for this reason, in the early days, restricting sexual activity made sense for the survival of the species. Traditional ethical considerations and ancient norms by the three major monotheistic religions have favored conceptive sexuality, restricting sexual activity to sanctioned unions and insisting that the major scope of sexuality is procreation. In spite of this, among humans sexuality has always had a wider meaning to the point that for millennia, humans have tried to separate its unitive and procreative meanings. Today much has changed since reproduction can be achieved without intercourse, further separating it from sexual activity. In humans sexuality always possessed multiple meanings, first and foremost reproduction and the creation of a bond between a man and one or several women.

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