Sexual Development and Orientation


Researchers and scientists have observed that the majority of children start developing feelings of attraction towards the opposite sex in the course of late childhood and early adolescence (Cameron, 2002). During adolescence, a child’s body tends to transform differently in a manner perceived as strange to them.

While in western society, adolescence is that age between 8 years and 20 years, in African society it ranges between 13 years to 20 years (Bailey, et al., 2000). It is usually characterized by major emotional and physical changes that are related to sexual development. Research estimates that approximately 10% of individuals are homosexuals or lesbians who face numerous challenges and discrimination due to their sexual orientation.


In the adolescent stage or phase, an individual’s sexual orientation is often unsettled as since some individuals engage in numerous forms of sexual experimentation, it may not always dictate their natural sexual orientation or attraction (Boonzaier, et al., 2006). Sexual orientation and maturity are considered an innate facts of human life and key to people’s main identity. Sexual development is that gradual process of attaining sexual maturity and involves emotional and physical growth, being affected by a mixture of environmental, hereditary, and biological factors (Bailey, et al., 2000).

As aforementioned, most sexual development and maturity take place in late childhood and adolescence, between the ages of 8 years to 20 years. Certain changes become manifested during the process of sexual development and maturity for instance, in girls, breast development, the appearance of pubic and underarm hair, rapid growth, and the menstrual cycle begin (Boonzaier, et al., 2006). On the other hand, for boys, deepening or breaking of the voice, appearance of chest, facial, pubic, and underarm hair, ejaculation, and rapid growth can be observed (Cameron, 2002). It is also during this phase that the adolescent begins establishing their independence as well as personal identity.

Recent studies that have been carried out have observed the existence of a correlation between the physiology of individuals and their sexuality (Boonzaier, et al., 2006). Under normal circumstances, a child’s character influences him or her to prefer particular activities to others. These differences in preferences eventually evoke physiological desire when the child is near members of the opposite sex.

This physiological desire matures into a sexual orientation where these children become attracted to the gender they perceive as different or exotic (Bailey, et al., 2000). Scientists have observed that in the process of sexual development and orientation, children are able to respond sexually and certain early childhood experiences determine their sexual development and orientation later on in life (Cameron, 2002). In general, an individual’s sexual development has at least three major aspects, which include physical sex, gender role, and sexual orientation.

Hormones, which are sometimes referred to as chemical messengers are usually produced in different glands and secreted when necessary. They are generally responsible for the functioning of the body (Boonzaier, et al., 2006). They also assist in the maintenance of the body environment by keeping it constant with particular physiological limits despite numerous changes that may occur in the external environment. As regards the chemical level, hormones allow chemical reactions to take place in the body, which determines the behavioral pattern of an individual (Bailey, et al., 2000).

Hormones can be categorized into two types that are steroids which are sex hormones controlling an individual’s sexual behavior and peptides which are responsible for controlling other human behavior and temperaments (Boonzaier, et al., 2006). High levels of hormones bring rise to certain behaviors and these behaviors, in turn, increase the chances of change in hormones that affect behavioral response influencing physiological reaction of the body (Cameron, 2002).

Sex hormone secretions and genetic backgrounds, leading to a number of gender-specific physiological and behavioral responses, influence sex differences in the brain morphology (Bailey, et al., 2000). Studies have shown that the developing sex brain is feminine by nature unless interfered with by some particular stimuli drive. Hormonal, as well as genetic inputs, interact in the developing brain for instance the hypothalamus where there are obvious differences in the volume and morphology of the brain (Cameron, 2002).

This volume is distinctly enlarged between men and women resulting in distinct hormonal control over an individual’s sexuality. Brain sexual differences are founded on the fact that some of these differences can already be observed in tissues before gonadal differentiation (Bailey, et al., 2000).

Even though sexual development and orientation may be largely influenced by genetic factors, research has also shown it to be influenced by environmental factors for instance family and peers. While smaller cities or rural areas may influence individuals to become more heterosexual, large cities tend to provide a conducive environment for the development as well as the orientation of same-sex gender interests (Cameron, 2002). As concerns family influences on a person’s sexual development and orientation, children who have undergone parental divorce tend not to marry heterosexually for fear of being abandoned by their spouses, as compared to those children who grow up in intact families (Bailey, et al., 2000).

It has also been observed that those individuals who opt for homosexuality tend to have less loving fathers and develop closer relationships with their mothers as compared to their heterosexual counterparts (Bailey, et al., 2000). Childhood experiences as regards family are therefore important in determining the sexual development and orientation of individuals.


Various communities into which one is born to determine a person’s hopes, fears, beliefs, habits, and desires. The same also applies in regards to a person’s sexual development and orientation. During human development, children adopt a behavior perceived as acceptable to their specific culture where some may opt to give up sexual pleasures for some moral or religious reasons. It is therefore important for society to gain more knowledge as concerns dealing with those social issues related to sexual development and orientation.


Bailey, J. M. Dunne, M. P. & Martin, N. G. (2000). Genetic and Environmental Influences on Sexual Orientation and its Correlates in an Australian Twin Sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78. Pp. 524 – 536.

Boonzaier, F., Shefer, T., and Kiguwa, P. (2006). The Gender of Psychology. Cape Town: Juta and Company Ltd.

Cameron, N. (2002). Human Growth and Development. Amsterdam: Academic Press.

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