Monday, August 31, 2015

The development of human sexual orientation Part 1

The LEADERSHIP abuse series will resume on September 4 - 

Two former officers, married to each other and teaching in higher education degree programs share their professional input on sexual orientation and homosexual relationships.

First, my qualifications: I have a doctorate in psychology, with concentrations in human cognition (how thinking works) and human development. I have taught at a Christian university in the S.E. United States for just under 20 years, teaching a broad range of courses, including courses in human development and personality. A standard part of many human development and personality courses is a discussion of sexual development – including our identification of ourselves as female/male and the development of sexual orientation. I have also taught seminars in human sexuality, sexual orientation, and child sexual abuse (and its consequences).

One of the most common dichotomies that I see in discussions of sexual orientation is between two explanations for the development of sexual orientation. Some individuals argue that same sex sexual orientation is chosen (i.e., that members of the LGBTQ community choose a homosexual “lifestyle.”) Other individuals make the opposite argument that homosexuals are “born that way.” This dichotomy is sometimes expressed as a “nature vs. nurture” issue. Same sex sexual orientation is something individuals are born with (nature) vs. same sex sexual orientation is a choice (nurture). In this article, I argue that BOTH of these positions are incorrect; that same sex sexual orientation in particular and sexual orientation in general is neither chosen nor are individuals born with a particular sexual orientation. Rather, the development of sexual orientation is a result of both biological and environmental factors that interact over the first several years of a person’s life; these factors interact to produce a sexual orientation (and related sexual attractions) in individuals at puberty (generally between 10-14 years old). Furthermore, the course of sexual orientation development is, at an abstract level, the same regardless of one’s sexual orientation: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and even asexual orientations generally develop the same way.
Let us begin with the observation that, in one sense, children are neuter or non-sexual.
That is, although children are biologically male and female from conception, until they reach puberty, they do not have a sexual orientation or experience sexual attractions to others. Nature, God, or evolution (or whoever or whatever you want to attribute this to) has set up human development so that sexual attraction does not appear until we are physically mature enough to reproduce (i.e., until we experience puberty); being sexually attracted to another individual has no use or purpose unless it prepares us for reproduction. At puberty, male testes start producing sperm - only at puberty or later can males make a female pregnant. Similarly, at puberty, females start ovulating/menstruating - releasing fertile eggs (about 1/month) – only at puberty or later can females become pregnant. In order to facilitate reproduction, part of the process of human development is to ensure that humans are sexually attracted to others; a consistent pattern of sexual attraction to others is what we call sexual orientation. It should be no surprise that the first appearance of sexual attraction to others typically occurs at puberty, very roughly between 10-14 years old. This is the age during which most children experience their first sexual attractions to others or experience their first “crushes” on others, whether they experience a crush on a friend or acquaintance or on a teacher or another adult.

It is hard to think of 10-14 year olds as making intentional choices about who they are attracted to or who they have a crush on. Children who are experiencing their first crush, regardless of whom the crush is directed toward, are more likely to be surprised or confused by their attraction than they are intentionally choosing who to be attracted to. Adolescents of that age are usually not thinking about who they are attracted to until they (often unexpectedly) discover that they are attracted to or have a crush on another person. The experience of an adolescent’s first sexual attraction to or crush on another individual, understanding what is occurring in their own body/mind/spirit, and thinking about how to behave toward the other individual, are the classic material of adolescent angst and stress. Indeed, mental health professionals recognize that a significant proportion of adolescent suicide attempts (approximately ¼ - 25%) result from the stress and turmoil that adolescents experience in developing their sexual identity, especially attraction to same sex individuals. 

People do not have a sexual orientation until they experience puberty. Individuals with a same sex sexual orientation are not “born that way;” they do not develop their sexual orientation until puberty. In the same way, individuals do not chose their sexual orientation. To think that, for example, a 10 or 11 year old chooses who they are sexually attracted to is nonsensical. Rather, sexual orientation (both same sex orientation and opposite sex orientation) occurs as a result of a broad range of biological and environmental factors that interact and that ultimately crystallize at puberty to produce a person’s sexual attraction to others. Of course, this leaves open the question of what biological and environmental factors interact and how they interact to produce sexual orientation. I will address this issue in my next article.

Steven Hayduk
Former SA Officer
Guardians of the Truth ’83-‘85

Steven Hayduk served in the Canadian military in military intelligence (communications and signals intelligence) and then as a Salvation Army officer, prior to obtaining his doctorate in psychology (cognitive and developmental) from McGill University, Montreal, Canada, in 1998. Hayduk also has a second degree black belt in World Taekwondo Federation style taekwondo, and studies Taijiquan and Kobudo. He teaches an Asian Martial Arts class at Southern Wesleyan.

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