During adolescence, teens become more and more aware of their sexuality and what it means to be part of their gender. In this lesson, we’ll explore how gender identity and sexual orientation develop in adolescence.
In many ways, Andy is a normal 16-year-old and does normal 16-year-old things, like going to school and socializing with friends. But Andy feels very different from other 16-year-olds. While most teenage boys like football and action movies, Andy doesn’t. In fact, Andy doesn’t even feel like a boy. Despite what Andy’s body looks like, Andy feels like a girl. She’s even started spelling her name with an ‘i’ on the end.
Andi is in adolescence, or the time between childhood and adulthood. Many changes occur during adolescence, including those around gender identity like what Andi is going through. Let’s look closer at how gender and sexual orientation develop in adolescence.
Andi isn’t alone in what she’s going through. As children turn into adolescents, they begin to question what it means to be part of their gender, and some adolescents find that their gender and their sex organs don’t match up, as with Andi.One of the first stages of gender development in adolescence involves establishing gender identity, or what it means to be part of each gender. For example, Andi developed the idea that a man is tough and likes cars and sports.
In early adolescence, people tend to be very rigid about gender roles. Boys sometimes act very hyper-masculine and macho and girls sometimes act very girly and lady-like. Many adolescents conceptualize masculinity and femininity in very rigid, differentiated ways.
As adolescents develop, most of them begin to understand gender roles differently. For example, Andi eventually understood that men can be gentle and like cooking instead of sports. Later in adolescence, many people conceptualize genders roles as more flexible than before. For many people, thinking about gender identity is all that they ever have to think about, but some adolescents, like Andi, discover that gender identity is more complicated than that.To understand Andi’s situation, let’s first look at the difference in ‘gender’ and ‘sex’. A person’s sex is about the sexual organs.
Because she has male sex organs, Andi’s sex is male. But that’s not the whole story. A person’s gender is the psychological state of being male or female. For many people, gender and sex are the same; someone with female genitals feels like a girl. But sometimes, as in the case with Andi, a person’s sex and gender are not the same. For example, Andi’s sex is male, but her gender is female. As adolescents figure out gender identity, they also sometimes discover that their sex and gender are different, as Andi has.
Andi isn’t the only one who feels different. Her friend Mary is struggling too, though in a different way. Mary’s sex and gender are both female, but while most girls are mooning over the boys in their class, Mary has a crush on another girl. During adolescence, sexual feelings spring up in most teens. As sexuality becomes a major part of life, so too does sexual orientation, which is based on which sex a person is attracted to.
Mary is attracted to people of the same sex and therefore, she’s homosexual. However, most people in Mary’s school are, or present themselves as, heterosexual, or attracted to the opposite sex. That is, girls are attracted to boys and boys to girls. For many teenagers, coming to grips with their sexual orientation can be a difficult thing to do.
It’s difficult enough to go through the dramatic physical and emotional changes that happen in adolescence, but when someone like Mary feels different, it can really increase the stress.And it’s not just the fact that Mary feels different either. She gets bullied at school all the time. Her classmates call her names and do mean things to her, just based on the fact that she’s attracted to girls. For this reason, some people who are not heterosexual pretend to be to fit in. While it can be tough to come out, studies show that people who are honest about their sexual orientation tend to be happier than those who hide it.
Like Mary, Andi is bullied when she talks about how she feels like a woman. This makes Andi want to hide the fact that she feels like a woman, but in the long run, being honest about who she is will help make Andi happier than hiding it. Still, Mary, Andi, and people like them might find that they need a little extra support in the form of a counselor or psychologist who is trained in dealing with teens struggling with gender identity or sexual oritentation.
In adolescence, people begin to think about their gender identity, including whether or not their sex matches their gender. Further, as adolescents’ sexuality develops, they begin to figure out their sexual orientation. Some people struggle with gender identity and sexual orientation, but most people are happiest when they allow themselves to be true to who they are.
When this lesson is done, you should be able to:
- Understand the problems teens face involving sex, identity and orientation
- Recognize the difference between sex and gender
- Define sexual orientation