Psychosexual development

Perhaps the most controversial of the three theories is Freud’s theory of psychosexual development and the psychodynamic approach. This theory focuses on the development of heterosexuality rather than homosexuality. Freud (1923) suggests that everyone is born a bisexual, but development through ‘normal’ processes of identification with the parent of the same sex would result in heterosexuality. In contrast, homosexuality derives from over identification with the parent of the opposite sex. For example boys over identification with their mothers and girls with their fathers (Hogg & Vaughan: 115).

However, many gay men do have a close relationship with their fathers. Bailey and Zucker (1995) showed that retrospective research such as Bem (1996) suggests that non-gender conforming behaviour from an early age may be a predictor of later nonheterosexual identities. This is described as when the ‘erotic becomes the exotic’. For example boys who play with girls or dolls have a sense of being different (exotic) and as they get older they eroticise this difference. However this idea that boys should not be playing with girls and dolls is another example of society constructing heterosexuality as the norm. Who has the right to decide that it is ‘abnormal’ for boys to play with girls?

However, only a few gay men and lesbians conform to stereotypes of effimate men or butch women. Many gay males and lesbians have the same interests as other children at the time that did not become gay later in life. It is difficult to think about sexuality outside gender. It seems to be centred on masculinities and femininities rather than homosexual or heterosexual identities. Freud’s theory is derived from adult’s memories of childhood and their fantasies. One major criticism of Freud’s work is the inability to confirm his hypothesis, purely because you cannot prove someone’s memories. However it has a fundamental appeal because it is broad and deep and therefore ‘further research will sort out the valid and invalid propositions’ (Lindzey and Campbell 1998; cited in Crain: 275).

The focus on the causal aspects of homosexuality rather that heterosexuality maintains the notion that homosexuality is an ‘abnormal’ developmental pathway. The language used in a lot of the research is heterosexist, for example “to come to terms with your sexuality…” reinforces the idea that homosexuality is something that is wrong that a person must come to accept. The biological approach doesn’t take into account any cultural differences.

If sexual identity developed entirely by biological means then all adolescents would begin sexual activities at the same age, but we know that this is not the case. Hormonal factors act as social signals however social factors determine the likelihood of engaging in intercourse e.g. familial controls, opportunities and physical attractiveness. Smith et al (1985) suggested that research that ignores the contribution of social factors may be overstating the effects of social factors (cited in Crain: 161), and therefore should not be taken as reliable evidence.


Bailey, J. M and Zucker, K. J (1995) Childhood sex-typed behaviour and sexual orientation: A conceptual analysis and quantitative review. Developmental psychology 31, 43-55 Bandura, A (1977) Social Learning theory. London: Prentice Hall Dunphy. R. (2000) Sexual Politics: An Introduction. Edinburgh. Edinburgh University Press Heaven. P. (2001) The Social Psychology of Adolescence Chapter 7: Sexuality. Hampshire. Palgrave Macmillan Lindzey ans Campell (1998) in Crain. W. (2005) Theories of Development; Concepts and Applications. (5th Ed) pp 275 Patterson. J. (1995). Sexual Orientation and human development: an overview. Developmental Psychology 31 (1) 3-9.

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