Sexual identity

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Sexual identity is a term that, like sex, has two distinctively different meanings. One describes an identity roughly based on sexual orientation, the other an identity based on sexual characteristics, which is not socially based but based on biology, a concept related to, but different from, gender identity.

Sexual identity related to sexual orientation

In this usage, sexual identity describes how persons identify their own sexuality. This may or may not relate to their actual sexual orientation. In a 1990 study by the Social Organization of Sexuality, only 16% of women and 36% of men who reported some level of same-sex attraction had a homosexual or bisexual identity.[1]

Sexual identity is more closely related to sexual behavior than sexual orientation is. The same survey found that 96% of women and 87% of men with a homosexual or bisexual identity had participated in sex with someone of the same sex, as contrasted to 32% of women and 43% of men who had same-sex attractions. Upon reviewing the results, the organization commented "Development of self-identification as homosexual or gay is a psychological and socially complex state, something which, in this society, is achieved only over time, often with considerable personal struggle and self-doubt, not to mention social discomfort."[1]

Psychotherapy, support groups, and life events appears to be able to change a person's sexual orientation identity, but not their sexual orientation.[2]

Identity based on sexual characteristics

The term sexual identity is used by psychologists and some recent writers in the general area of sexology to describe the sex with which a person identifies, or is identified.

Scientists such as John Money, Milton Diamond, and Anne Fausto-Sterling have sought to discover and describe the biological processes involved in the formation of sexual identities.

Formation of sexual identity

Richard C. Friedman, in Male Homosexuality published in 1990,[3] writing from a psychoanalytic perspective, argues that sexual desire begins later than the writings of Sigmund Freud indicate, not in infancy but between the ages of 5 and 10 and is not focused on a parent figure but on peers. As a consequence, he reasons, male homosexuals are not abnormal, never having been sexually attracted to their mothers anyway.[4]

Criticism of "sexual identity" as based on sexual characteristics

It is unclear how this concept is different from gender identity, or how it relates to it. The usage of gender instead of sex when speaking about social or psychological characteristics dates back to 1955 when John Money first used the term gender role:

"The term gender role is used to signify all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively. It includes, but is not restricted to, sexuality in the sense of eroticism." (Hermaphroditism, gender and precocity in hyperadrenocorticism: Psychologic findings (Money, 1955))

From there, gender identity was coined analogously.

See also


  • John Colapinto As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl; Harper Collins; ISBN 0-06-019211-9
  • Anne Fausto-Sterling; Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and The Construction of Sexuality; Basic Books; ISBN 0-465-07713-7
  • Clellan S. Ford and Frank A. Beach; Patterns of Sexual Behavior; Ace Books, 1951
  • Francis Mark Mondimore; A Natural History of Homosexuality; Johns Hopkins University Press; ISBN 0-8018-5440-7
  • John Money; Gay, Straight, and In-between: The Sexology of Erotic Orientation; Oxford University Press, 1988; ISBN 0-19-506331-7
  • Haig, D. (2004). "The inexorable rise of gender and the decline of sex: social change in academic titles, 1945-2001." Archives of Sexual Behavior 33: 87-96. PDF document
  1. 1.0 1.1 Laumann, Edward O. (1994). The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. University of Chicago Press, 299. 
  2. "Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation": 63,86,. “sexual orientation identity—not sexual orientation—appears to change via psychotherapy, support groups, and life events”
  3. Friedman, Richard C. (1990). Male Homosexuality. New Haven: Yale University Press, 312. ISBN 0300047452. Retrieved on 2009-04-16. 
  4. Goode, Erica. On Gay Issue, Psychoanalysis Treats Itself. - The New York Times. Retrieved on 2009-04-16.


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