The Development of Sexual Orientation (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

One interesting theory tries to integrate the findings on biological and environmental influences (Bern, 1996, 2000). According to this exotic becomes erotic theory, adolescents begin to see exotic, or very different, attributes and behaviors as erotic, or sexually attractive. In this process biology exerts an indirect influence through temperamental characteristics such as activity level and aggressiveness. First, in the preschool and elementary school years, children who are by nature active and aggressive enjoy more active, rough, and energetic activities and peers—that is, more typically male interests and activities. Children with less active and less aggressive tendencies gravitate toward a more female-typical pattern. The key factor, according to this theory, is not a child's overall activity level and degree of aggressiveness, but how different the child feels from his or her own or opposite-sex peers during childhood. During childhood each group will tend to view the other as different (exotic) and undesirable, and these perceptions will cause arousal. Children interpret this arousal as dislike, discomfort, or sometimes even anger or fear. Puberty then changes things—a lot! At this point youngsters cognitively reinterpret the arousal and gradually come to experience it as attraction. As a result, most adolescents develop sexual attraction toward members of the group they have not identified themselves as belonging to.

Notice that this theory tries to explain both heterosexual and homosexual development. The groups that form during early and middle childhood are based not on gender but on traits like activity level and aggressiveness. More active and aggressive girls are more likely to identify with boys early on; less active and less aggressive boys are more likely to identify with girls. Some evidence supports the exotic becomes erotic theory. Gender segregation during early and middle childhood is very strong, and young children often describe the opposite sex as undesirable and different ("yucky," to use one 6-year-old's word). And, as we noted earlier, homosexual men and women report higher levels of childhood cross-gender play and preferences, as well as feelings of being different from others of their gender (Bailey & Zucker, 1995; Ruble et al., 2006). However, others have suggested that the process may work in the opposite way. That is, rather than behavioral differences leading to a feelings of being different from others of the same sex, it may be that feelings of being different lead to progressively more atypical gender behavior and a homosexual self-concept (Carver, Egan, & Perry, 2004; Hammack, 2005; Nicolosi & Byrd, 2002; Ruble et al., 2006). Clearly, the development of sexual identity is complex and more research is needed.

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