In attempting to offer an explanation as to the determining factors that define gender identity, we have to have an understanding of the physical characteristics that define the difference between male and female and we also have to consider the psychological factors that play a part in who we best identify with, whether it be male, female, or even both. This paper will explore the interactions between hormones and behavior, and how those interactions affect the determination of gender identity. We will explore the biological (nature) and environmental (nurture) factors on sexual differentiation and gender identity prior to expressing which may have the greater influence and then review some current arguments relating to sexual identity and how those arguments may be resolved by using evidence from biopsychology. Gender identity is defined as the sum of those aspects of a person’s appearance, personal conception of self and behavior culturally attributed to femininity or masculinity. As sex is biological, gender is psycho-sociocultural. Gender identity was used originally for the medical term to explain gender reassignment surgery.
This term is also found in psychology and is often called core gender identity. Gender development starts at conception, it is from this point forward that one is treated as male or female (WebMD, 2011) . However, when it comes to the determining factors that define gender identity, genetics and hormones both play a large and important role in determining the physical characteristics that define the difference between male and female. Something that we must also have to consider the psychological factors that play a part in who we best identify with, whether it is male, female, or sometimes both. Along with this theory come the outward manifestations of personality that are displayed in an attempt to reflect our personal identity to the world. If this concept is accurate, it would only stand to reason that the determining factor of gender identity is self-defined as a result of inherent and extrinsic or by environmental factors and are displayed through our individual gender roles. Biological factors play a very large part in physical development.
Hormones are responsible for sending natural chemical messages. These same hormones shape the appearance of physical characteristics. Some studies say that same sex hormones that determine sexual organ differentiation in utero have a significant involvement in shaping gender identity. The first biological factor affecting gender identity is the chromosomes that are in every cell of the body. Both parents contribute one half of the genotype; the mother or female supplies the X and the father or male the X or Y, the determining gene that gives gender its first definition (Board on Health Sciences Policy & Committee on Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender Differences, 2001). The sex of the embryo is formed at the moment of conception however there are seven weeks where the embryo has no sex; both the XX and XY embryo develop in the same way. It is during the sixth week that the testes and ovaries are formed; testosterone, or the lack of, starts the embryo on a separated path, one being male and the other female.
The formation of gender identity is not completely understood as it is much more complex than just getting a sperm and egg cell to join; an XX or an XY genotype is only the first part in gender identity. There are many biological, psychological and sociological factors involved. The biological includes chromosomes, gonads, prenatal hormones, internal accessory organs, external genital appearance. The psychological includes assigned gender role and gender identity. The sociological could come from family, mass media and society (Kenyon, PhD, 2006). Sammons (2007) states that biological psychology observes that biological processes form gender identity. John Money a well-known behavioral psychologist first proposed the idea of “connection between biological and environmental factors in determining sexuality, arguing that social expectations interacted with an individual’s genes to affect hormone expression and thus sexuality” (John Money, 2011). Hormones are essential in regulating body functions and maintaining homeostasis. They also hold another important role, which is reproduction. Hormones help define our sex, and gender identity. It is because of hormones that gender identity and sexual orientation is mainly affected by nature and not by nurture. This is important statement because it proves that gender identity and sexual orientation is not purely choice, but driven by biological forces.
Human beings are sexually oriented by nature. From a young age hildren are taught preference when it comes to many things, one of them being personal sexuality and stereotypes regarding social sexuality. They learn that boys should not play with dolls or girls and the same for girls not playing with boys or rough housing. They observe specific behaviors concerning sexuality, from heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. They are exposed to differences in sexuality on television, in music, and in public places. Everywhere we turn in today’s society our children are being taught something different and sometimes these thing go against what they are taught a home. Children are taught or guided to have specific opinions about personal preference and how comfortable they are with their bodies. Some are taught to believe that homosexuality is wrong and should not be tolerated; others are taught that it is simply a personal choice. A number of children are taught that masturbation is disgusting and one should feel guilty and ashamed if even thinking of it. Parents and families have so much influence and sometimes invisible power regarding how a child behaves sexually or how comfortable a child is with their body. Typically, children who have not had access to understanding, explanation, and personal freedoms in regards to sexuality and gender identity grow up discovering they have psychological issues with their bodies.
This often cause teenagers to last out and become confused and they being to try to discover who they are sexually as well as who they as people and where they fit in in this world. Because hormones play such a diverse role in bodily functions, I will break down hormones into categories to provide clarification. Hormones are chemicals that come from the endocrine gland and are released into the circulatory system (Pinel, 2009). Hormones affect other endocrine glands or various parts in the nervous system. There are three types of hormones: amino acids, peptides and proteins, and steroids (Pinel, 2009). Out of the three types of hormones it is the steroid hormones that have a major role in sexual development and behavior (Pinel, 2009). The steroid hormones are unique in how they bind to cells. Like any other hormone they can bind to receptors in a cell membrane, but because they are small and fat-soluble they can bind to receptors in the cytoplasm or nucleus and directly influence gene expression (Pinel, 2009). At conception a female embryo has the XX chromosome while the male embryo has the XY chromosome. Those who suffer with a gender identity crisis may possess either the XX or XY chromosome but in fact identify with as well as exhibit traits of the opposite sex.
One’s sense of gender and one’s anatomical sex are two distinct elements: each developing at different times in different parts of the body (Kaneshiro, 2011) . According to Nevid (2008) in his book, Psychology: Concepts and Applications, the biggest argument related to gender identity is the nature versus nurture, the role played by hereditary and environmental factors as well as their relationship to gender identity. In addition, there is evidence that hormones have an effect, and plays a pivotal role in determining one’s gender. This paper will discuss gender identity, the interaction of hormones and behavior and examine the biological, psychological and environmental aspects and influences on sexual differentiation. Hormones are the chemical messengers that produced in different glands and are in general responsible for the body to function on the proper chemical level. As needed hormones are secreted to the site of action to allow certain biological activity to take place.
The hypothalamus and the amygdala, which are the most important parts in the brain stem, are one of the centers of sexual functioning (wickens, 2005), However, it is also the environmental factors have a critical effect in the producing sex and gender differences. These things brought together is what determine our sexual identity and who we are or grow up to be. It is my belief that we will do what we know is the best for us and the person we want to be. However, sometimes society makes it hard for us to identify who we until much later in our adult lives but eventually everyone finds themselves.
Board on Health Sciences Policy & Committee on Understanding the Biology of Sex and Gender Differences, 2001 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16706106