Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How do I know I'm straight or Sexual Identity Development for all.

Identity is a statement “this is who I am.” In the process of clarifying identity, individuals go through a process of reviewing aspects of their lives sorting through events responding “like-me/not like me.” While this is an oversimplification, identify development is the attempt to both define and understand who we are. Obviously this also occurs in the area of sexuality. Previous blog entries highlight the sexual identity development for LGBT individuals, but there an interactive process that everyone goes through in forming their understanding of their sexual self. The purpose of this entry is to summarize this process and the tasks that everyone addresses in forming sexual identity.

The process consists of five dimensions.
1) Unexplored commitment reflects the fact that many people simply don’t think about the topic of sexuality.
2) Active exploration refers to the process of seeking information regarding sexuality. This dimension addresses the six tasks below. The person actively seeks information via the Internet, therapy, friends, family, society, etc.
3) Diffusion reflects a time of struggle and confusion. “What I thought I know is no longer the case.” This is a time of rejecting social norms about what I should be, and a time of exploration sometimes through trial and error.
4) Deepening and commitment of the identification of the individual’s likes and dislikes and an increased level of comfort with the self. For many people who identify of “straight” this may be occur without the exploration and diffusion dimensions.
5) Synthesis is a process of integration of all aspects of the self. There is an internal congruence between the self, values, behaviors, likes and dislikes. There is also an integration of the sexual identity with all other aspects of the person’s life including gender, racial, religious, and familial.

During the process, all individuals need to address the following 6 tasks.

1) What are my sexual needs?
Sexual needs are defined as a desire, appetite, biological necessity, impulses, interest, and/or libido with respect to sex. How much sex do I want, what are my levels of interest, etc.
2) What are my sexual values?
Sexual values are defined as moral evaluations, judgments, and/or standards about what is appropriate, acceptable, desirable, and innate sexual behavior.
3) What do I like?
I need to know what behaviors I like to engage in relating to or based on sexual attraction, sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or reproduction (e.g., fantasy, holding hands, kissing, masturbation, sexual intercourse).
4) Who do I like?
I need to figure out what are the physical, emotional, intellectual, interpersonal, economic, spiritual, or other attributes of a sexual partner.
5) How do I let others know?
This involves my skills in letting others know I’m interested. This can include verbal or nonverbal communication, and direct and indirect signals (e.g., flirting, eye contact, touching, vocal quality, compliments, suggestive body movements or postures).
6) How do I label myself.?
This is related, but different from “who do I like.” “Who do I like” refers to the attractions, but sexual orientation identity is how I define myself. This is self-defined, whether or not it is shared with others. Examples include heterosexual, straight, bicurious, bi/straight, heteroflexible, pansexual, kink, questioning, bisexual, gay, lesbian, and queer, among others.

For more information see:
Worthington R., Bielstein Savoy, H., Dillon F., & Vernaglia, E. (2002) Heterosexual Identity Development: A Multidimensional Model of Individual and Social Identity The Counseling Psychologist 30; 496 DOI: 10.1177/00100002030004002

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