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Sexual and Romantic Development in Youth

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Sexual and Romantic Development in Youth

This paper explores the effects of one's context and biology on sexual and romantic development in youth and young adults. I find it perplexing that children mature very differently in terms of their sexuality. This brings to question whether nature or nurture controls one's sexuality and romantic relationships. Many authors debate over the importance of hormones and biological factors versus environmental factors in relation to sexual development. Despite Freud's notion, parental influence determines a child's sexual development, many instances show that even "healthy" parenting results in children with unhealthy sex lives. For this reason, authors seek evidence supporting the importance of hormones as an influence on an adolescent's sexual maturation. However, other authors seek support for the importance of contextual influence on a person's sexual development. So, does a child's sexual and romantic development depend on biological or environmental factors or a combination of both?

Environmental Influences on Sexual/Romantic Development

Cyranowski and Andersen (1998), investigate how sexual self-schemas are cognitive generalizations about sexual aspects of the self. Also, these authors explore the importance of early attachment relationships in infants and maturing adolescents to sexual development. These views about sexual aspects of the self (sexual self-schemas), "derive from past experience[s], manifest in current sexual cognition, and guide sexual behavior" (Cyranowski and Andersen 1).

Attachment patterns first develop within early infant-caregiver relationships; therefore, "differences in the nature of and quality of these early interactions may result in the development of alternative 'internal working models,' or schemas regarding the self and self-other interactions" (3). The Attachment Theory suggests, one's earliest cognitive representations are those regarding one's self and relationships with others, which develop from infancy (15). The quality of these early relationships influences the development of mental models affecting later relationships. In other words, if early caretakers are neglectful or inconsistent, the child may "develop schemas of attachment relations as unavailable or inconsistent and may concomitantly develop schemas of the self as unworthy or unlovable" (15). These early relationships are the building blocks on which later personal and interpersonal relationships are based. Sexual self-structures remain closely associated with an individual's early attachment representations, particularly throughout adolescence and early adulthood (17). Throughout adulthood, one's sexual self-schemas may "influence attachment behaviors within romantic-sexual relationships[,] as well as one's view of the self as a sexually mature adult" (17).

Cyranowski and Andersen's (1998) investigation, completed at Ohio State University, focuses on assessing sexual responses and romantic attachment patterns in women. "The participants [are] 318 female undergraduate students at the Ohio State University...[who are given] the Sexual Self-Schema Scale, an unobtrusive measure of sexual cognition" (4). The women participating in the research, rate 50 adjectives on a "Likert scale ranging from 0 (not at all descriptive of me) to 6 (very much descriptive of me)" (4). Many different types of evaluations are also given to the participants to test: sexuality behaviors, the sexual response cycle, sexual desire, sexual arousal, sexual anxiety, orgasm/resolution, sexual self-evaluation, romantic attachment measures, relationship history, passionate love, romantic attachment styles, and dyadic satisfaction. The researchers discover a woman's sexual self-perception determines her sexual affects. For example, a woman who holds a positive view of her sexual nature should "drive positive sexual affects" (11) and vice versa. A woman who holds a positive view of her sexual-self does not feel compelled to act in any way (sexually) that she does not feel comfortable; therefore, her decision to engage in sexual activities is not a means for her to boost her confidence or feel likeable. On the other hand, women with negative views of themselves tend to use sexuality as a tool to better their self-image; this is when one's sexuality reaches an unhealthy level. These results, in regards to my question, show internal perceptions of one's self can determine sexual activity. These perceptions are often guided by society; thus, support the influence of one's context on sexual development.

This article answers my question about nature vs. nurture in regards to sexual development. In this study, the focus is on the environmental aspect to development. The article supports the idea that environmental factors contribute to the development of sex and relationships, in this case in woman. There is no mention of the biological or hereditary aspects that might contribute to sexual development; although, it does provide enough evidence to suggest the context in one's early years of development is responsible for the outcome of sexual development later in life.

Jan E. Trost's (1990) compilation of evidence on social controls in relation to teenagers and their sexuality, discusses how society sends conflicting messages to youth, which tends to influence them to stray from parental norms. Trost compiles evidence from several other authors to support her thesis: society, more than parents, influences an adolescent's sexual behavior.

Trost believes parental approval is less important in a youth's life than peer approval when sexuality is the subject. Trost cites Miller et al (1986) who, "studi[es] parental control and adolescent sexual behavior" (174). Miller et al discover: parents who enforce less restrictions in regards to sex raise more sexually promiscuous children. Parents, who are more moderate, develop children with "normal" sex habits; nevertheless, excessively strict parental rules result in children with sexual attitudes somewhere in the middle. Trost (1985) claims, teenage girls who value having a steady boyfriend, will often consent to sex in order to "hold onto" a boyfriend. This relates to the social norms influencing sexual behavior in youth. Trost goes on to cite other examples of social pressures, such as the underlying hint of sexuality in a majority of American TV programs. Her article provides ample evidence supporting the concept of societal influences affecting a youth's sexual/romantic development.

Another author, Toni Heineman (2004), provides

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