Sexual development is an important personal characteristic that contributes to ones self-worth. It is the way one sees him or her independent of one’s anatomic appearance. The way one feels and the way one is acknowledged by society and the environment can make the difference between being happy or unhappy. Whether or not one’s choice is accepted by others can also influence how one lives. Unfortunately, sexual development is often confused because it is most often assumed to agree with one’s appearance. Very often, it does but sometimes it differs. Simply because something seems or is supposed to be a certain way due to one’s societal expectations, does not mean that it always will be. Things are not always the way they appear and it takes much greater knowledge and understanding to accept people for what they are, even if it does not go along with what one learned.
Keywords: Gender, male and female, hormones, environment
Everyone possesses a gender identity, which most often matches one’s anatomic appearance. One’s sexual development can be either male or female or even something in between. Is sexual development truly so important or does it not play that significant of a role? Maybe this example will help everyone come to a better conclusion about this subject. A healthy baby boy was born to very happy parents. However, about eight months into his life, something happened and his genitals were horrifically destroyed. His biggest male appearance at that age, his penis, did not exist anymore. His parents, completely disturbed by the accident, heard about a psychologist who was able to assign sex to children whose genitals were destroyed or not there for another reason. According to Culbertson (2009), “If it is not created, then the child will be assigned a grammatical gender (in the Western world, all children must be either a boy or a girl), which may or may not match that child’s social gender as it evolves over the course of childhood” (para. 14).
Very often, when a parent chooses the sex for his or her own child due to the circumstances, it seems to work very well. However, prenatal hormones also influence these factors in either working or not. Nevertheless, it did not work in this case and this boy began to live an unhappy life as a girl. Time went by and many problems occurred until she saw another psychologist. Her parents finally told her what happened and she began the transformation into a male. It seems like being a male made him happier once again and he even married and became a stepfather. However, this story does not have a successful conclusion, as David Reimer committed suicide at the age of 38 (New York Times, 2004). This tragic story shows that one’s sexual development matters.
It also explains that there is more than one factor that contributes to one’s sexual development. Therefore, the author of this paper will try to provide a better understanding into how gender identity and sexual development happens. The interaction between hormones and behavior will be explained and what role it plays in finding his or her own gender indentify in sexual development. As usual, it will also use the help of biopsychology and the environment to provide a better answer for the reader. The author hopes that the reader will not only establish a deeper knowledge about this subject but mostly that he or she will walk away with more understanding for individualism.
Determination of Sexual Development
Many different factors come into play determining one’s final sexual development. It is very important to acknowledge that not everything that appears a certain way also will perform as such. One’s anatomy might indicate being a male or female; however, this does not mean that this is actually how a person views him or herself. Chromosomes play a very important role in developing sexual organs. Sexual chromosomes, such as XX and XY, help determine sexual differentiation. For instance, XX chromosomes will lead to the development of a female while XY chromosomes develop a male. In addition, the sexual X chromosome and non-sexual chromosomes can do more and possess the ability of developing either sexual genitals. This is why the exposure to hormones before and after one is born is so significant.
Hormones are responsible for one’s biological development. Therefore, it is very interesting to find out that the Y chromosome directs the glands to releases male sex hormones. Furthermore, hormones present during pregnancy will most likely affect the nervous system. It is important to acknowledge that every embryo is bisexual and has the ability to develop into a male or female until the end of the first trimester and the ability of hormones, which will the determine the kind of system, the Müllerian system or Wolffian system, one develops (Carlson, 2007).
It is clear that hormones influence sexual development and help one to not only view him or her as male or female but also feel as such. For instance, hormones also influence feminine and masculine characteristics. As stated by Berk (2004), “Masculine and androgynous children and adults have higher self-esteem, whereas feminine individuals often think poorly of themselves, perhaps because many of their traits are not highly valued by society”(p. 263).
Children and Sexual Development
One is not born knowing everything about him or herself. The way one is brought up, the environment, and different beliefs, just to mention few, all help one come to that conclusion. Children are not born with the knowledge of what his or her anatomy and gender identity is; they learn it at a certain age. To be even more exact and according to Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus (2008) “Most children first become aware of their anatomic sex by about the age of 18 months. By 36 months, most children have acquired a firm sense of gender identity” (p.167). Therefore, one’s social learning and cognitive development also affect gender identity and sexual development. Children are influenced first by their parents and then by other authorities, peers and even the media. Another very important theory that should be considered in how one comes to their gender identity is the gender schema theory. This theory knows the strong influence one’s cognitive development and the environment play together. This happens by setting either masculine or feminine categories with which one can identify more.
So for instance, boys play only with specific toys and girls do the same. Either gender is criticized by not following these rules or these rules are even pre-set by others. Parents buy gender specific toys and stores even categorize their sections by age and gender. These examples show how much other factors help one choose his and her gender identity and therefore influence one’s sexual development (Berk, 2004, p. 263). Still, even though one’s appearance normally goes along with one’s preference, there are times when this does not happen. Maybe this is one of the reasons why it takes so many to open up and let everyone know how he or she truly feels. This may also be one of the reasons why so many never say anything and hurt themselves or even end their lives. This is why it is especially important for parents and other authorities’ roles to avoid stereotyping and allow the possibility of acceptance even if it does not go alone with one’s thinking and the social agreement.
Furthermore, this can be explained by examining the behavior of intersexuals. Intersexuals’ gonads differ from their sexual appearance yet they are brought up by how they look. However, many express difficulty indentifying with being either male or female. This provides the clear evidence of the interplay of biological factors and the environment contributing to one’s sexual development (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2008). However, indentifying with either one seems to be important. Quoted by Gross: Both males and females reported that gendered expectations at home involved educational success. For females, gendered expectations at school involved being interested in fashion and boys. For males, gendered expectations at school involved being interested in girls and participating in non-academic activities like sport (Gross, 2009).
Biological psychology plays an important role and considers different factors when explaining what and how sexual differentiation and sexual development is determine. It acknowledges that a person’s brain influences one’s behavior; this behavior resembles male or female characteristics and will be categorized as such. However, biological psychology also knows that it is not so simple explaining a human and there are many other important aspects in one’s life, which cause certain things to occur. Therefore, not only the brain but also, hormones, heredity, the environment, cultural upbringing, and one’s choices will determine either a traditional or a non-traditional role with which one can better identify.
Determination of Greater Influence
As everyone differs from each other, so too differ each individual’s influence. For instance, someone could have been exposed to prenatal hormones that normally would determine how one turns out to be, but then they were prone to the influences of his or her environment and turned out completely opposite. Therefore, saying which has the greater contribution is a difficult decision to make. There is evidence for both such as, being raised as a male and resembling one should surely let one know that is how they should feel. That does not happen all the time. If the answer would be so clear, then one should be able to know what causes female homosexuals to have higher levels of testosterone, as human biology or a certain lifestyle can increase the level. This is why it is, most likely, the interplay of both that contribute to this occurrence, leading to uncertainty of the main cause.
One’s looks do not indicate how one feels and certain important factors contribute to one’s sexual differentiation, gender identity, and sexual development. Surely, it matters to try to find the correct answers because they may provide more understanding to human nature. So maybe one day, much clearer resolutions can be provided. However, in the mean time, one should always keep in mind that every individual tries to be his or her best and to be acknowledged is what, in the end, counts and makes a truly good person. One way of doing so is “by making it illegal to discriminate in employment, public accommodation, credit, housing and education based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity”( Journal of Property Management, 2007).