The portrayal of sexual culture in literature

The Portrayal of Sexual Culture in Literature

Sexual culture is defined as how members of a given culture perceive and display sexuality. This culture can vary drastically from one society to another and is often depicted in literature. Authors can paint an accurate and vivid picture of the intimate relationships of their society by showing the characters’ attitudes and behaviours, as well as the society’s laws and beliefs in regards to sexuality.

The Different Representations of Sexuality in Literary Works

Literature provides a unique aspect of social history, as it allows readers to immerse into the lives of the characters and in some cases, learn about the customs and norms of the setting. This can include sexual culture. Here are some of the ways authors often portray sexuality in their writing:

  • The Critique of Social Norms – Authors can criticize and highlight the harmful effects of rigid sexual ideals, norms, and taboos.
  • Intersectional Representation of Gender and Sexuality – By depicting characters who are often erased or ignored in mainstream narratives and issues related to their discrimination, authors can challenge discriminatory attitudes.
  • Exploring of Different Sexualities – Authors can encourage readers to learn more about diverse sexualities, which is especially important for those who grew up with a limited understanding of the subject.

Examples of Literature Showcasing Different Sexual Cultures

  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf – This iconic novel portrays the fluidity of gender and sexuality and dissects Englishness and gender expectations in a creative and bold way.
  • Invisible Life by E. Lynn Harris – This story follows a gay African-American man’s journey to self-realization and is representative of the Afro-American LGBT experience.
  • Call Me By Your Name by Andr√© Aciman – This novel explores the complexity of desire with an examination of a romantic relationship between two men in a Sicilian-American family.


In conclusion, literature has been used to explore sexual culture for centuries. Authors often paint a memorable picture of the sexuality of their society, offering insight into different understandings of intimate relationships by depicting the attitudes and behaviours of their characters, as well as the laws and beliefs of the setting. Whether it be through critique of social norms, intersectional representation of gender and sexuality, or exploration of different sexual cultures, literature is able to capture a wide array of perspectives.

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