The Development of Sexual Orientation
Of course, in addition to the obvious physical changes of puberty, the natural outcomes of this process include increased sexual drive and feelings of sexual attraction. Most children begin experiencing feelings of sexual attraction sometime during late childhood or early adolescence. The object of their attraction is usually a member of the opposite sex, but some youngsters are attracted to people of the same sex. A person's sexual orientation is his or her tendency to be attracted to people of the same sex (homosexual orientation), of the opposite sex (heterosexual orientation), or of both sexes (bisexual orientation). Why an individual develops a specific sexual orientation is a matter of great debate, as you are probably well aware. The basic issue is the same question we have discussed so often: What are the relative influences of nature (genetics and biology) and nurture (the environment in which a child develops), and how do these two factors interact?
Researchers estimate that from 2 to 10% of adults in the United States identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (Patterson, 1995; Savin-Williams & Diamond, 2004; Savin - Williams & Ream, 2007). One study of young men who described themselves as homosexual or bisexual found that these men recalled experiencing feelings of same-sex attraction by the age of 10 and had their first homosexual experiences at around 14 (Savin-Williams, 1995).
Some differences between homosexual and heterosexual individuals are apparent during childhood. For example, homosexual men and women report having had cross-gender interests (e.g., preferring toys, activities, or clothing typically associated with the opposite sex) during childhood more often than heterosexuals. Children with gender identity disorder (in which a person is dissatisfied and uncomfortable with his or her biological sex) dress and behave in ways that are more typical of the opposite sex. These children are significantly more likely to develop a homosexual orientation than children without the disorder (Bailey & Zucker, 1995; Zucker & Bradley, 1995).
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