Before I begin I would like for you to take a quick poll. I just want to see what people believe regarding sexuality and the development of sexuality. The basic debate is to what extent gender (and by extension sexuality) is determined by biological factors (Nature) and how much is determined by sociocultural factors (Nurture). In short do you believe men are born men, and women are born women, or are men taught to be men and women are taught to be women, or somewhere in the middle.
Now that we have that out of the way…
In two weeks I start an intensive on Pastoral Care and Sexuality. To this end I’ve already read three of the four assigned books and started researching for my final paper. While doing research I picked up a copy of Authentic Sexuality by Jack and Judith Balswick. In one of the opening chapters they discuss how gender identity is formed that I found to be quite intriguing. They suggested someone’s sexuality is composed of four different dimensions.
Natal Sex: This is the physical gender that the person is born with; they either have the female anatomy or the male anatomy. The vast majority of people are born either male or female though this is not the case for every human individual.
Gender Role: This is the role that the person is assigned by their wider community to play. Men and women are taught by their culture, their family, their friends, etc. what is expected of them and how they are expected to behave. This is usually in line with their natal sex but again is not always the case. A small example of this might be a girl who is encouraged to be very athletic (a stereotypical male trait) because the family always wanted a boy but didn’t get one.
Sexual Identity: This would be what the person believes themselves to be. Does the person think they are male or female (or something in between)? This is usually in line with natal sex but again there are variations, to provide an extreme example I’m sure we’ve heard of someone who has felt “they were a woman trapped in a man’s body…” or vice versa.
Sexual Orientation: This would be what gender the person is sexually attracted to. In today’s environment this is usually talked about in terms of someone having a homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual orientation. (I desire to avoid saying “people are homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual” because it implies all the person is is their sexual orientation…which I do not believe to be true.)
The Balswick’s go into detail and talk about how biological and sociocultural factors influence these various aspects. Their conclusion is that God uses both Nature (such as genetic factors and physiological factors), and Nurture (society, culture and family) as to shape human sexuality. Human sexuality is not exclusively a product of divine action, a social construct, or a biological fact but an interplay between all three.
This spawned another question that I’m sure will produce some heated debate with my next post, but before we get there.
I’m wondering what you think about this? Do you care to explain your answer to the poll? Would you change it? If anyone wants more information from the book just ask.