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Empirical Research and Developmental Theory

Sexual orientation remains an enigmatic topic despite the large literature pillar devoted to it. Whether it is inborn or acquired, the consensus regarding the nature of one’s sexuality is still not reached, as the evidence differs. Adults are of particular interest regarding the issue because a person changing their sexual orientation long after puberty does raise the question of its development. Learning more about the way sexuality works can assist in handling people who can be attracted to the opposite sex or both sexes and confused about their attraction. This paper will analyze the evidence on sexual orientation development in adults and explain how those findings can help social work.

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The definite emergence of sexual orientation is not yet established, and its developmental paths are not entirely clear, which gives ground to various theories. Burri (2011) finds that genetic factors have an influence on sexual orientation, and this idea is supported by non-heterosexual people, although some environmental effects also occur. Burri’s study follows the concept of the nonsocial and social origins of sexual orientation, which attribute one’s sexuality to prenatal and external factors, respectively (Bailey et al., 2016). Those environmental effects are proven by the fact that one’s sexual identity may be subject to change (Brewster & Moradi, 2010). Bisexual people, particularly, may have a longer self-discovery period, which leads to older generations of the demographic not being visible (Brewster & Moradi, 2010). Overall, the evidence suggests that the nature of sexual orientation could be biosocial, and adults might still question their label.

The external factors that may affect one’s discovery or acceptance of sexual identity are numerous. They include social stigma, religion, economics, and self-hatred, which have an outside source (Moreira et al., 2015). There are also differences in how one’s race or ethnicity affects the process of self-discovery, as being in several minority groups can be disadvantageous (Ferguson, 2017). A transgender person, for example, can be bisexual while also belonging to the Native American ethnic group (Nuttbrock et al., 2009). Altogether, external social factors appear to impact a person coming in terms with their identity, and people who belong to multiple minority groups are at an increased risk.

As far as social work is concerned, learning about LGBT people and how they develop their identities might be exceptionally useful. First of all, it helps avoid pestering such people with unnecessary and potentially harmful questions regarding their orientation or gender. Uncovering a personal story of discovering one’s sexual identity could be used in assisting that particular person, but they should not be viewed as representing the whole spectrum of gay or bisexual people. If someone is still unsure about their sexuality, the findings can be helpful in convincing them that a developing sexual orientation is a common process even for adults. Moreover, one’s gender identity can also manifest in adulthood, which can reassure trans people who did not show a certain behavior in their early years (Nuttbrock et al., 2009). While interacting with non-white people, it is essential to bear in mind that their experiences can be different and harsher. The social factors that affect everyone may produce a more profound impact on such populations, making their self-acceptance process especially difficult. Ultimately, the theoretical findings will enrich the social work practice and make one more prepared to discuss sexual orientation topics.


Bailey, J. M., Vasey, P. L., Diamond, L. M., Breedlove, S. M., Vilain, E., & Epprecht, M. (2016). Sexual Orientation, Controversy, and Science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 17(2), 45–101. Web.

Brewster, M., & Moradi, B. (2010). Personal, relational, and community aspects of bisexual identity in emerging, early and middle adult cohorts. Journal of Bisexuality, 10(4), 404–428. Web.

Burri, A., Cherkas, L., Spector, T., & Rahman, Q. (2011). Genetic and environmental influences on female sexual orientation, childhood gender typical,ity and adult gender identity. PLoS ONE, 6(7), 1-8. Web.

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Ferguson, A. D., & Miville, M. L. (2017). It’s complicated: Navigating multiple identities in small-town America. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 73(8), 975–984. Web.

Moreira, A. D., Halkitis, P. N., & Kapadia, F. (2015). Sexual identity development of a new generation of emerging adult men: The P18 cohort study. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2(2), 159–167. Web.

Nuttbrock, L. A., Bockting, W. O., Hwahng, S., Rosenblum, A., Mason, M., Macri, M., & Becker, J. (2009). Gender identity affirmation among male-to-female transgender persons: A life course analysis across types of relationships and cultural/lifestyle factors. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 24(2), 108–125. Web.

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