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Critically evaluate psychological explanations for the development of sexual identity

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Critically evaluate psychological explanations for the development of sexual identity. In order to understand the development of sexual identities, we must first be able to understand what is meant by 'sexuality'. If one is asked 'who has a sexuality?' the first answer is typically 'gay people'. In our society, sexuality is socially constructed and closely linked with gender, and this can lead to problems with people developing not only their own identity, but also their own sexual identity. There is an idea that people are conditioned into heterosexuality by the media, peers and parental expectations. In other words their sexual identity has been socially constructed. There have been three main theories attempting to provide an explanation for our sexuality. One general criticism is that they tend to explain homosexuality as a 'problem' and heterosexuality is consistently perceived as 'normal'. "Normal needs abnormal in order to be normal" The first main explanation is a biological theory. The main suggestion is that sexual identity is determined by our genetic makeup. Studies have included those measuring the effects of pre-natal hormones, brain structure and genetics. In other words, the suggestion that pregnancy could affect the child's sexuality. ...read more.


The social/psychological approach suggests that we learn sexual behaviour and develop our own sexual identities by modelling our behaviour from other people, mainly adults, in our immediate environment. However this idea is fabricated on the idea of Social Learning Theory, which has had supportive evidence in the area of pro and ant-social behaviour (Bandura 1973), but there has been no evidence to support the idea in relation to sexuality. Infact, the evidence that has been collected by Bailey et al (1995), found that children raised by gay parents are no more likely to be gay than other children (cited in Patterson 1995). This theory should theoretically explain the gaps in the biological theory, but the research is too inclusive to draw strong conclusions. Because children are not often raised by gay parents, the situation is rare and therefore there are not enough families to be able to research the theory on. A more feasible explanation than direct modelling behaviour is the idea of social conditioning, and that our environment reinforces heterosexuality and possibly actively discourages homosexuality. Some families are distinctly homophobic yet children from these types of families still identify as gay or lesbian. Tucker (1989) ...read more.


It seems to be centred on masculinities and femininities rather than homosexual or heterosexual identities. Freud's theory is derived from adult's memories of childhood and their fantasies. One major criticism of Freud's work is the inability to confirm his hypothesis, purely because you cannot prove someone's memories. However it has a fundamental appeal because it is broad and deep and therefore 'further research will sort out the valid and invalid propositions' (Lindzey and Campbell 1998; cited in Crain: 275). The focus on the causal aspects of homosexuality rather that heterosexuality maintains the notion that homosexuality is an 'abnormal' developmental pathway. The language used in a lot of the research is heterosexist, for example "to come to terms with your sexuality..." reinforces the idea that homosexuality is something that is wrong that a person must come to accept. The biological approach doesn't take into account any cultural differences. If sexual identity developed entirely by biological means then all adolescents would begin sexual activities at the same age, but we know that this is not the case. Hormonal factors act as social signals however social factors determine the likelihood of engaging in intercourse e.g. familial controls, opportunities and physical attractiveness. Smith et al (1985) suggested that research that ignores the contribution of social factors may be overstating the effects of social factors (cited in Crain: 161), and therefore should not be taken as reliable evidence. ...read more.

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