Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in Erickson’s Theory

You might often have been asked about your gender and sexual orientation in the societies you live in, in every part of life. Our gender and sexual identities are not ours to choose as the labels of identifying with a particular gender happen from the time of birth. The costs of making conscious choices in this regard are often prohibitively high, so we do what we can − make peace with our assigned labels and roles. However, when, as individuals, do we develop our gender identities and sexual orientation?

Erickson’s Theory

According to Erikson's theory, humans go through eight phases of development throughout their lives, overcoming challenges to acquire virtues. Finding one's gender identity during adolescence is extremely important for development and typically takes place during Erikson's Identity vs. Role Confusion stage. In order to create social and romantic roles, gender is crucial. Confusion can lead to issues, such as failing Erikson's theory's next step, intimacy vs. isolation. Erickson has discussed gender identity and sexual orientation in his psychosocial stages, which start to develop at around 6 to 11 years of age in the third stage of industriousness vs. inferiority.

Identity Formation

The process of forming an identity is not linear. It necessitates dedication to sexual orientation, an ideology, and a career path, at the very least. The process of combining the identity components involves both negation and affirmation. Parents must be given up as psychosexual objects in the continual identity-building process. What one rejects is known, yet what one selects and affirms has a component of the unknowable. One of the causes of some young people developing a partial or nonexistent identity is this. They cannot take the chance of denying key aspects of their past and plunge confidently into an uncertain future. As the development of ego psychology, Erikson's theory shares the outdated belief that heterosexuality is preferable to homosexuality. Mutual genital love, according to Erikson, faces the future and community.

Development of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in Erickson’s Theory Pre-adolescent Stage

At this stage, the child starts school and encounters new social influences. The child should ideally learn strong work and study habits−what Erikson called industriousness−both at home and in school, largely as a way to receive praise and joy from completing a task. The child's developing deductive reasoning skills and capacity for following rules cause the talents demonstrated in making things to be purposefully improved. Erikson's theories in this area matched the sex stereotypes prevalent at the time he developed his theory. He believed boys would construct tree houses and model airplanes while girls would prepare meals and sew. The exposure the child starts to have at this stage leads to developing their gender identities and roles where they start to identify themselves as either male or female based on their sexual orientation.

Struggles in Adolescence

Those who get through this stage have a solid sense of whom are better prepared to approach adulthood with assurance and confidence. People who struggle to develop a consistent identity−those who go through what Erikson called an identity crisis−show signs of role confusion. They lack an understanding of their identity, belonging, and goals. They might choose to leave the traditional life path (education, employment, marriage), as Erikson did for a while, or they might look for a negative identity through crime or narcotics. Although it is not as satisfying as a positive identity, even a negative one, as defined by society, is preferable to having no identity. It happens at this stage when some individuals cannot identify with a gender according to the norms of society, which leads to identity confusion.

Sex Differences and Development

Erikson thought that women's awareness of their reproductive potential has an impact on how they grow, and he highlighted a woman's capacity to bear children as a major personality factor. Erikson, however, did not find evidence to support the notion that a girl's consciousness of her sex was centered on a missing penis. Instead, a sense of vibrant inner potential is the emphasis of normative growth. He arrived at this conclusion after looking into the design of kids' playthings− boys and girls perceive space differently.

Girls place more emphasis on personal space and openness. Boys tend to focus on the universe and the high and low aspects. Whether social, historical, or other circumstances encourage a woman to design her life around her creative inner space or not, this space is an unavoidable aspect of her development. Erikson placed the experience of valuing femaleness at the center of how girls arrange their perception of themselves as "gendered,"

If we look at Erickson's theory of psychosexual development, in reality, only males go through the "eight ages of man." Although Erikson thought women might contribute significantly to the political and professional worlds, he did not think they find identity in their employment. Male development is better accounted for by Erikson's stages of development than female development.


Although his theory of psychosocial development is well known, it must be challenged because it corresponds to modern psychological viewpoints on the capacity for the intimacy of homosexuals and women. As the development of ego psychology, Erikson's theory shares the outdated belief that heterosexuality is preferable to homosexuality. Mutual genital love, according to Erikson, faces the future like many other theorists of his Erikson day, based his theories on his observations of social phenomena and his own life experience. The social and political climate of his day had an impact on his final work. Gender identity and sexual orientation are now viewed with new and open perspectives.

Updated on: 03-Nov-2022

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