According to Berk (2007), gender identity is “an image of oneself as relatively masculine or feminine in characteristics” (p. 276). Issues of gender identity can often be intensified during adolescent years, especially in early adolescence. Our culture is currently in a transition period of gender roles becoming less rigid, therefore possibly affecting how teens identify their gender. Gender identity development includes aspects such as how formal operational thought impacts adolescent-parent relationships, the importance of peer relationships in adolescence, and the factor of risk-taking in adolescence. These three aspects channel into one greater aspect, gender intensification. Gender intensification is the “increased gender stereotyping of attitudes and behavior and movement toward a more traditional gender identity (Basow & Rubin, 1999; Galambos, Almeida & Petersen, 1990)” (Berk, 2007, p. 411). Physical, cognitive, and social changes all contribute to gender intensification and they all play a part in the outcome of Erikson’s stage of Identity vs. Role Confusion.
In an article from Journal of Family Therapy (Tasker & McCann, 1999, p. 30, 25p.), gender identity is looked at through whether the adolescent defines themselves as homosexual or heterosexual. “For young people who have experienced same-gender attractions or sexual experiences there is the question of how to absorb these experiences within the construction of a coherent sexual identity” (Tasker & McCann, 1999, p. 30) while young people experiencing heterosexual attractions have less difficulty processing these experiences. The article goes on to tell about the issues therapists are faced with when dealing with adolescent gender identity conflicts. For example, “In many instances the therapist is faced with an adolescent who is unsure of which direction their sexual identity will eventually take” (Tasker & McCann, 1999, p. 31). A cross-sectional survey done with almost 35,000 Minnesota students reports that “Young men were more likely to report homosexual experience (but not homosexual attractions) compared with young women, possibly because of cultural pressures on adolescent girls to begin heterosexual activity at an earlier age than do adolescent boys.” (Tasker & McCann, 1999, p. 31). Another survey referenced in the article says that, “What is clear from these varying estimates is that many young people who will identify as heterosexual in adulthood have some same-gender sexual experiences while growing up.” (Tasker & McCann, 1999, p.31). These results further prove that during adolescence being unsure is almost unavoidable.
The fact that “the proportions of men and women who report having had homosexual encounters during adolescence are greater than the proportions who later develop a gay, bisexual, or lesbian identity” (Tasker & McCann, 1999, p. 32) clearly shows that adolescence is a time for experimenting and deciding who one is and who one is not. Having same-gender experiences and having same-gender attractions are very different things and do not automatically lead to a gay or lesbian outcome. Being unsure of one’s sexual identity comes as a dilemma of adolescence but is most likely resolved when adulthood is reached. Also, it is worth noting that adolescent men were more likely to report homosexual experience than young women were because of social pressures. Because of personal conclusions, it seems as though gay men are slightly more open about their orientation in society than lesbian women, therefore attributing to the likeliness to report homosexual experience. Sexual orientation as an adolescent is usually not definite and as studies have shown, adolescence is a time to explore different orientations, or explore one’s self in general.
Smith and Leaper’s (2006) article is more focused on “The study of adolescent gender identity has largely emphasized the degree to which individuals adhere to culturally proscribed social-personality...
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