What controls human gender identity or sexual orientation? The longstanding debate of nature versus nurture could help to explain human sexual orientation. The aim of this paper is to discuss the roles of biological factors (nature) versus environmental factors (nurture) in explaining gender identity or sexual orientation. This paper will evaluate and give results as to which factor has greater influence on gender identity, nature or nurture. The paper will also discuss the current arguments about gender identity and evidence from biopsychology that may help to resolve the argument (Wickens, 2005).
Definition of gender identity
Ault and Brzuzy (2009) describes gender identity as a multifaceted system of ideas surrounding femininity and masculinity, in terms of the roles that society prescribe to women and men, and the relation of these roles to femaleness and maleness in relation to self. Individuals mirror gender identity through behavioral expression of the body as sexual, femininity and masculinity, and individual perceptions regarding how others will respond to expressions of gender (Ault & Brzuzy, 2009). Once established during the initial developmental stages, usually at age of three, it becomes difficult to modify thereafter. This explains why children born with indistinct genitalia and assigned a gender in error struggle to reestablish their correct identity later in life (Wickens, 2005).
Ambiguous genitalia occur during birth because of biological errors during sexual differentiation. Sexual differentiation refers to the development of female and male organs through biological processes. Some studies suggest that sexual orientation is linked to factors that occur during sexual differentiation. The parental exposure to androgens and their impact on the development of human brain play a significant role in sexual orientation (Wirth, 2010). Hereditary also comprises part of the debate. This leaves the study to determine whether biology only provides the slate of neutral circulatory upon which sexual identity is inscribe or biological factors has direct influence on sexual orientation.
The role of biological factors (natural) on sexual differentiation and gender identity
The debate between nature versus nurture in defining gender identity gas continued for many years. However, biological factors play a significant role in determining early physical development in children. For instance, at birth, girls and boys have unique sexual organs, and disparity becomes more evident when at the onset of puberty as the body organs mature. Human hormones are responsible for coordinating the development of these physical differences.
Many studies suggest that same sex hormone that facilitate sexual differentiation in the uterus and which activates the onset of puberty play a significant function in determining gender identity (Wickens, 2005). Compared to girls, boys have more androgens (male hormones). However, some girls and boys are born with a disorder called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), which makes them have higher level of androgens than their peers without the condition. Scientific studies on children with such condition have been conducted to determine how this condition influences their behavior. The researchers found that males with higher level of androgen behave in a similar way to their peers without this condition (Wickens, 2005). Conversely, females with extra androgens are inclined to exhibit more male gender-stereotypic behaviors and traits compared to their normal peer females. In addition, females with this condition have external organs that resemble male genitalia. Despite the appearance of penises among these girls, they are identified as female. The gender of females is genetically determined. Females have two “X” chromosomes, in contrast to male counterparts, who have “X” chromosome and a “Y” chromosome.
Even undergoing surgeries to correct their genitalia to make them appear physically female, girls with CAH continue to demonstrate intensified muscular traits. For example, they are likely to identify with traditional masculine activities and toys over “feminine” games and toys, and play with male peers. They are also aggressive and physically active, and avoid playing with girls. They tend to avoid games with stereotypical feminine connotations, including playing as being a bride or a mother and do not appear to give much attention to their physical appearance like their peer do.
The role of environmental influences (nurture) on sexual differentiation and gender identity
Sexual differentiation is a purely biological process, unlike gender identity, which is a social construct. Other studies show that social environment and children’s upbringing also influence their development of gender identities. These studies arrived at the conclusion that children’s preference, behaviors, interests, and overall self-perception strongly depend on authority and parental figure teaching on the topic of sexual stereotypes that occur before adolescent. Children who grow while receiving teachings on certain activities or traits as normal or abnormal for them to engage in because of their gender, internalize them and project them in later life. For example, some girls taught that math is difficult and boys perform better in math may report their dislike for math or record lower grade in math. They might grow with the belief that math is not for girls, and record lower grades on math homework and test.
Further, children learn from what they encounter in their surrounding, partly, through imitation and observation of what they see their parents do. They tend to emulate and internalize the behaviors and activities they experience and act the same way through their lives as if they have independently developed such traits and behavior. For example, children brought up in families where parents adhere to gender-stereotypes roles are more likely to take on such roles as adults compared to their peers coming from backgrounds with less stereotypes. Children learn behaviors they feel are sex-appropriate from their primary caregivers, which is the reinforced by the society. They also learn the meaning of male and female, and apply such terms on personal level, the multiplier effect of such accounts for behaviors that characterize gender.
Bisexual, Trans-gendered, and Homosexual Youth
Subjecting such people to intense social and biological conditioning pushes them into making certain conclusion; most girls develop a mainly feminine gender identity, while most boys develop a mainly masculine gender identity (Roberts, 2000). Despite their readiness to participate in cross-gender stereotyped, they may exhibit varying behaviors that contracts the stereotypical norms of gender identity. Their social and sexual engagements are in harmony and consistent of what their society and family expect of them. The society does not does not force them into conforming to what they do not like.
However, minority of girls and boys may fail to experience this sense of congruence and comfort. They exhibit a dissimilar experience of incongruence and anxiety because of the feeling that their gender identity do not synchronize with the expectation of the society. Those who develop homosexual sexual orientation experience a gender identity consistent with physical gender, implying that they are girls who feel normal and comfortable being girls, boys who feel normal and comfortable being boys (Wickens, 2005). Nonetheless, they find their sexual orientation attracted toward homosexuals (same-sex) peer in contrast to the normal case of heterosexual attraction.
With that said, there are people who are truly bisexual and will tend to chose whether to identify with either homosexual or straight. This is attributed to the varying factors that define gender identity. The levels of hormone, genetics, and INAH3 sizes each individually vary to various degrees (Wickens, 2005). This makes it difficult to make an outright conclusion because an individual may portray traits that influence both hetero and homosexual tendencies.
The general belief that individuals perceive gender identity consciously is an archaic way of thinking. It is evident that primary caregivers play an important role in the lives of most people. However, people live in a world that presents a continuous new knowledge and technological advances to research far beyond the past findings. Anybody with the notion that gender identity is a social construct should conduct some scientific research to back up the claims. This paper has already mentioned that some people do make conscious choice to be a bi or homosexual for various reasons. The reality of the issue is that those who identify with a homosexual lifestyle are responding to some biological factors that are beyond their control. They were naturally born the way they are.
Ault, A., & Brzuzy, S. (April, 2009). Removing gender identity disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: A call for action. Social Work, 54(2), 187-189.
Roberts, C. (2000). Biological behavior? Hormones, psychology, and sex. NWSA Journal,12(3), 1-19. Retrieved November 27, 2009, from Gale PowerSearch database.
Wickens, A. P. (2005). Foundations of biopsychology (2nd ed.). New York: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Wirth, M. (April 8, 2010). Sex on the brain: the biology of sexual orientation. Retrieved on December 3, 2011, from: http://www.ndsmcobserver.com/viewpoint/sex-on-the-brain-the-biology-of-sexual-orientation-1.1310439