Sexual identity is defined as individual’s feelings of maleness or femaleness (Gender Identity, 2011). Some human psychologists believe that, sexual identity has three components: individual’s sexual orientation, behavior, and gender identity (Gender Identity, 2011). Individual’s sexual orientation entails identifying whether a person is heterosexual (sexually straight), homosexual (gay or lesbian), or bisexual (identifies with both male and female sexual characteristics). The second component: individual’s behavior, entails observing the visible behaviors in a person. For instance, is a girl child more of a ‘tomboy’ or a ‘homemaker-type’, and, is a boy child more of a ‘macho guy’ or a ‘sensitive guy’ (Gender Identity, 2011). Gender identity entails the deep feelings held by an individual on whether he/she is a male/female respectively.
Development of sexual identity starts between the ages of two and three years, and reinforced at puberty by the sociological and psychological factors surrounding an individual during that period (Gender Identity, 2011). Once a person’s sexual identity is established, it becomes permanent. Development of sexual identity is determined by, sexual orientation of an individual, gender assigned to an individual immediately after birth, and gender roles assigned during one’s childhood.
Literature Review and Application
According to Patterson (1995), sexual orientation is a very important aspect in human development. Traditionally, sexual orientation was limited to heterosexuality. Sexual identities, such as homosexuals and bisexuals, were not recognized in the traditional society. Researchers in human psychology did not also consider these identities in their researches about sexual identity. However, early in the 19th century, researchers discovered that it is not obvious that human sexual attraction is on the opposite sex of an individual. Some people display sexual attraction to individuals of the opposite gender, while other display sexual attraction to individuals of the same gender (Patterson, 1995). This is shaped by the way in which an individual experiences attractions, defines whom he/she is, and what one does (behaves). For instance, when a girl child is born, the society demands that she should be assigned female gender, be feminine, behave like a woman, and be attracted to men only. However, this might not happen in all cases. A female child might be assigned the female gender, but displays masculine characteristics, identifies herself as a man, and develops attraction to either men or women. Patterson (1995) states that people have different sexual orientations, which determine their sexual identities. If a conflict of one’s sexual identity occurs during the early stages of development, it can interfere with the development of one’s sexual identity, thus causing delays in development of individual’s sexual identity in adulthood (Patterson, 1995).
Gender assignment usually occurs at birth (Strickland, 1995). When a child is born, the doctor or the midwife announces whether it is a boy or a girl, depending on the physical anatomy of the genitals. Based on the gender assigned to an individual during birth, it is expected that an individual will conform to that gender through out his/her life. This forms the basis of sexual identity in the society. According to the American Counseling Association, gender assignment forms the main basis of sexual identity in the society (Strickland, 1995). The society expects an individual to conform to the norms of the gender that he/she is assigned to, immediately after birth.
A research study conducted by Hammack (2005) indicated that, the gender roles assigned to an individual during his/her childhood, have direct impact on one’s sexual identity. In the study, groups of male and female children were assigned different roles. One group of five female children was assigned roles that the society deem to be feminine, another group of five male children was assigned roles that the society deem to be masculine, and another group of three male children and three female children was assigned a combination of feminine and masculine roles. The results indicated that, children in the first and second groups tended to identify with sexes, represented in the roles that were assigned to them. Children in the third group showed varying sexual identities, whereby some of them did not conform to their genders. The study concluded that, an individual might fail to identify with his/her assigned gender because of influence of gender roles assigned to that person during childhood.
Results of observations made in a local preparatory school were consistent with the findings of Hammack’s research study. Whilst observing the different activities undertaken by children in the preparatory school, it was found that female children tended to engage in extra curricular activities that portrayed feminine roles while male children engaged more in extra curricular activities, which depict masculine roles. As the children engaged in different extra curricular activities, they would display sexual identities, which conformed to the gender roles they were acting. It was also observed that children tended to display sexual identities, which were consistent with the genders assigned to them immediately after birth, depending on the physical anatomy of their genitals.
In addition, a few children were observed to display sexual identities, which did not conform to their assigned genders. This observation confirmed research observations that sexual orientation differs in different people. It is not obvious that an individual has to display sexual identity, which conforms to his/her gender.
Summary and Conclusion
Individual’s sexual orientation, gender roles assigned during one’s childhood, and the gender assigned immediately after birth, determine the development of individual’s sexual identity. Individuals tend to display sexual identities, which is consistent with the gender roles assigned to them during their childhood. The society expects an individual to conform to the gender assigned immediately after birth in displaying sexual identity. However, there are instances where individuals display sexual identities, which do not conform to their genders. This is because of differences in the way people experience attractions, the way they define themselves, and the way they behave.