SOCW6210 Discussion W5

Gender Identity in Life-Span DevelopmentGender identity—identifying oneself as male or female—is a critical component of an individual’s life-span development. Misconceptions and stereotypes abound with regard to gender, and you may bring personal misconceptions and stereotypes to your work with clients. As you read the resources this week, what concepts seem especially relevant to you as a social worker? Are you able to identify any personal misunderstandings about the formation of gender identity? What strategies might you use to apply your new understanding to social work practice? Post a Discussion that includes the following: A new understanding you have gained in the resources about gender identityAn explanation of how individuals’ gender identity affects their development through young and middle adulthoodA strategy you might use to apply your understanding of gender identity development to social work practice Please include 2 APA peer reviewed references. Also include subtitles for each discussion requirement in writing. Reference: Brewster, M. E., & 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. Burri, A., Cherkas, L., Spector, T., & Rahman, Q. (2011). Genetic and environmental influences on female sexual orientation, childhood gender typicality and adult gender identity. PloS ONE, 6(7), 1–8


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Journal of Bisexuality
ISSN: 1529-9716 (Print) 1529-9724 (Online) Journal homepage:
Personal, Relational and Community Aspects of
Bisexual Identity in Emerging, Early and Middle
Adult Cohorts
Melanie E. Brewster & Bonnie Moradi
To cite this article: Melanie E. Brewster & Bonnie Moradi (2010) Personal, Relational and
Community Aspects of Bisexual Identity in Emerging, Early and Middle Adult Cohorts, Journal of
Bisexuality, 10:4, 404-428
To link to this article:
Published online: 08 Dec 2010.
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Date: 23 December 2017, At: 08:29
Journal of Bisexuality, 10:404–428, 2010
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1529-9716 print / 1529-9724 online
DOI: 10.1080/15299716.2010.521056
Personal, Relational and Community Aspects
of Bisexual Identity in Emerging, Early
and Middle Adult Cohorts
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University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA
This study offered exploratory comparisons of personal, relational
and community aspects of bisexual identity for women and men
in emerging adulthood relative to those in early and middle adult
cohorts. In this sample of 576 bisexual individuals, the pattern of
findings for some aspects of bisexual identity (e.g., relationship commitment, bisexual community involvement) was consistent with the
developmental perspective that characterizes emerging adulthood
as a period of identity exploration and low commitment relative
to increasing identity commitment across early and middle adulthood. For other aspects of bisexual identity (e.g., self-described sexual orientation, outness and sexual behavior), gender appeared
to play a role, either on its own or in conjunction with life stage
KEYWORDS bisexuality, bisexual youth, emerging adults, sexual
orientation, sexual identity, romantic relationships, sexuality, life
stage development, early adulthood, middle adulthood
Despite growing attention to identity issues in lesbian and gay populations,
there remains a dearth of literature focused on bisexual identity (e.g., Diamond, 2008; Israel & Mohr, 2004; Phillips, Ingram, Smith, & Mindes, 2003).
Specifically, the literature on lesbian and gay identity has delineated personal
(e.g., self-identified orientation, outness), relational (e.g., romantic attractions
and relationships) and community (e.g., connection with sexual minority
This research was supported in part by the APA Society for the Psychological Study of
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues Bisexual Foundation Scholarship Award. This manuscript is
based on data from the first author’s master’s thesis.
Address correspondence to Bonnie Moradi, Department of Psychology, University of
Florida, P.O. Box 112250, Gainesville, FL 32611-2250, USA. E-mail:
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M. E. Brewster and B. Moradi
communities) aspects of sexual identity (e.g., Cass, 1979; Fassinger & Miller,
1996; McCarn & Fassinger, 1996; Morales, 1989; Troiden, 1989). For example,
romantic attractions and relationships are thought to be important in sexual
identity formation and, in turn, in coming out as a sexual minority person
(McCarn & Fassinger, 1996). Similarly, awareness of and connection with
sexual minority community groups have been conceptualized as important
to identity development, as these communities can facilitate self-definition
and self-acceptance and provide support and validation to sexual minority
community members (Cass, 1979; Morales, 1989; Troiden, 1989).
Although personal, relational and community aspects of sexual identity
have been discussed extensively for lesbian and gay people, attention is
needed to these aspects of bisexual identity and how they may vary with
developmental stages throughout life for bisexual individuals. Particularly,
developmental conceptualizations suggest that emerging adulthood is a period of greater identity and relational exploration and lower commitment
relative to early and middle adulthood (e.g., Arnett, 2000; Levinson, 1986;
Nelson & Barry, 2005). The current study offers exploratory comparisons of
bisexual individuals from emerging, early and middle adulthood cohorts on
personal, relational and community aspects of bisexual identity.
To facilitate the present discussion of identity, we adopt the following
conceptualization and terminology of sexual identity and its components
(Moradi, Mohr, Worthington, & Fassinger, 2009; Worthington, Savoy, Dillon, & Vernaglia, 2002): Sexual identity is defined as the self-acknowledged
collection of sexual behaviors, values, needs, preferences and so on that
make up an individual’s sexuality. Sexual identity includes sexual orientation, which reflects sexual, affectional and relational orientations toward
others as related to their gender or sex characteristics (e.g., same-, other-,
pan-sexual orientation). Sexual orientation identity, in turn, reflects the internal (e.g., self-identified orientation) and external (e.g., outness to others)
claiming of sexual orientation at the individual or personal level and sense
of group connection and membership at the collective or community level.
Thus, in the present examination of bisexual identity across life stage cohorts, the relational aspects of sexual orientation are reflected in assessment
of romantic attractions, behaviors and relationships; the personal and community aspects of sexual orientation identity are reflected in assessment of
self-identified sexual orientation, outness and community connection. These
aspects of bisexual identity are compared across emerging, early and middle
adult cohorts.
Emerging Adulthood and Distinctions from Early
and Middle Adulthood
The ages of 18 to 25 are posited to represent a distinctly formative period of development termed emerging adulthood that is characterized by
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Journal of Bisexuality
demographic flux (e.g., residential status, school attendance), role ambivalence (e.g., perceptions of self-sufficiency) and identity exploration (Arnett,
2000). Emerging adults are youth who have left their adolescent roles but
are yet to commit to adult roles or to consider themselves adults (Arnett,
2000; Nelson & Barry, 2005). Emerging adulthood is marked by uncertainty
and the sense that many different routes in life are available; individuals in
this life stage may be inclined to experiment with social roles and identities
in the course of establishing a life structure and considering various possible
identity and role commitments (Erikson, 1968; Levinson et al., 1979).
Emerging adulthood is particularly important for identity formation in
that this is “the period of life that offers the most opportunity for identity exploration in the areas of love, work, and worldviews” (Arnett, 2000, p. 473).
Of particular relevance to sexual identity is that emerging adulthood is a
time of experimentation with dating and relationships, entering intimate and
nonmarital relations, and beginning to treat romantic relationships as serious quests for emotional and physical intimacy rather than as recreational
activities (Arnett, 2000; Nelson & Barry, 2005). In emerging adulthood, individuals begin to consider their own identities in the context of romantic
relationships, asking: “Given the kind of person I am, what kind of person
do I wish to have as a partner through life?” (Arnett, 2000, p. 473). Because
romantic attraction and relationships are important aspects of sexual identity, the task of self-definition through relationship definition may make the
emerging adulthood stage a particularly salient time of intense exploration,
interpersonal growth, and identity formation for bisexual people who experience attraction to more than one gender. Within this context of personal
exploration and experimentation, emerging adults are also likely to have
more self- than other-oriented goals (Arnett, 2000; Nelson & Barry, 2005)
that suggests potentially low commitment in community aspects of bisexual
The identity exploration and experimentation that characterize emerging
adulthood distinguish this stage from the increasing commitment and stability that characterize the subsequent developmental stages of early adulthood
and middle adulthood (Berk, 2007; Levinson et al., 1979). Early adulthood
is typically defined as an age range spanning from the mid-twenties to early
forties, whereas middle adulthood encompasses ages from the early forties to mid-sixties. Early adulthood is marked by the peak years of the life
cycle, in which individuals establish a niche in society and often form stable relationships and occupations (Levinson, 1986). Beyond developing a
more concrete sense of self, individuals in early adulthood may also incur
stress related to relationship commitments, parenthood and financial obligations. Levinson (1986) described this period as a time when individuals
make important choices regarding family, work and lifestyles without “the
maturity or life experience to choose wisely” (p. 5). In contrast to the peak
of early adulthood, middle adulthood is marked by a decrease in biological
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M. E. Brewster and B. Moradi
capacities and increasing sense of personal responsibility for future generations; individuals in this stage are thought to feel responsible for their own
work and the work of others as they prepare to transition away from past
social roles (i.e., parenthood, employee; Levinson, 1986). Thus, emerging
adulthood is marked by tumultuous self-discovery, identity exploration and
low identity commitment, whereas early and middle adulthood are conceptualized as times of greater stability, personal identity and role commitment
and collective responsibility and commitment.
Although a developmental perspective conceptualizes emerging adulthood as a period of low identity commitment relative to early and
middle adulthood, attention to shifts in larger social contexts suggests potentially countervailing forces. For example, although sexual minority orientations and identities, including bisexuality, have become more visible
over time (e.g., Grossman, D’Augelli, & Hershberger, 2000; Keppel, 2006;
Savin-Williams, 2008), older bisexual cohorts may have experienced a virtual invisibility of bisexuality in culture, media and social contexts during
most of their life. Keppel (2006) suggested that as a consequence of such
experiences of invisibility, older bisexual cohorts may lack supportive social
networks (e.g., sexual minority or bisexual communities), perceive greater
risks associated with ‘outness’ (e.g., loss of employment, family issues and
health care rights for partners) and struggle with coming out. From this perspective, it follows that bisexual persons in early and middle adulthood may
be less out and less likely to be involved with bisexual or sexual minority
communities than are emerging adults. These countervailing developmental
and social context expectations—that emerging adults would have lower or
higher commitment to personal, relational and community aspects of bisexual identity relative to older cohorts—remain largely speculative and warrant
empirical exploration.
Gender and Bisexuality
Attention to gender is also important in exploring bisexual identity across
life stage cohorts because some differences in the experiences of women
and men may have implications for personal, relational and community aspects of sexual identity. For example, based on a review of the literature,
Brown (2002) surmised that women may be more comfortable with identifying as bisexual and more reflective and comfortable with ambiguity in their
coming-out process whereas men may be less comfortable with identifying
as bisexual and come out more abruptly and with less reflection. Such differences in self-identification and coming out may be shaped by a view of
same-sex attractions as a threat to masculinity and related social status, by
societal perceptions that men are either gay or straight (in contrast to views
that women’s sexuality is more flexible) and by societal stigmatization of
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Journal of Bisexuality
bisexual men as AIDS vectors (Brown, 2002; Burleson, 2005; Dodge, Reece,
& Gebhard, 2008). Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest more overall
negative attitudes toward bisexual men than women (Eliason, 2001).
Some gender differences in relational identity variables—including contexts for meeting same-sex partners, exploration of same-sex attractions,
and same-sex sexual behaviors—also have been observed. In this regard,
Baumeister (2000) suggested that women have greater “erotic plasticity”
(p. 348) such that women’s sexual responses and behaviors are more malleable and shaped by cultural, social and situational factors than are men’s
responses; such erotic plasticity may have implications for relational aspects
of identity for bisexual women and men. For instance, Burleson (2005) found
that many bisexual women, but not men, in other-sex relationships were
allowed or encouraged by romantic partners to explore their same-sex attractions. Furthermore, many bisexual men met male partners through cruising, sex parties or the Internet, whereas most women met female partners
through friends, work or polyamory community events. Bisexual men also
had significantly more same-gender sex than did bisexual women. In addition, findings with sexual minority youth suggest gender differences in the
centrality of sexual behavior to same-sex attractions and self-labeling. For
instance, in their sample of emerging adults, Savin-Williams and Diamond
(2000) found that women were more likely to describe their first same-sex
attractions and self-labeling as emotionally oriented whereas men were more
likely to provide sexually oriented descriptions. In this sample, men were
also more likely to engage in same-sex sexual behavior prior to self-labeling
as sexual minority whereas women were more likely to self-label first and
then engage in same-sex sexual behavior.
With regard to community identity and connection, bisexual men and
women may experience strain in finding support within the lesbian and
gay community, but for different reasons. For example, bisexual men in
Burleson’s (2005) sample reported that their sexual orientation was not taken
seriously by some gay men who perceived bisexual men as gay but in denial (as reflected in the saying “bi now, gay later”). Women may experience
disconnection from some lesbian communities because of the view that relationships with men reinforce patriarchy and subjugation of women (Brown,
2002; Burleson, 2005; Israel & Mohr, 2004). Taken together, this literature
suggests that gendered contexts might shape differences in personal, relational, and community aspects of bisexual identity.
Based on the literature reviewed here, the current study provides exploratory
comparisons of bisexual individuals in emerging, early and middle adult
cohorts on personal identity variables (i.e., self-identified orientation and
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M. E. Brewster and B. Moradi
level of outness), relational identity variables (i.e., relationship commitment
status, polyamory, same- and other-sex attractions and sexual behaviors)
and community identity variables (i.e., involvement in sexual minority and
bisexual communities). Moreover, given prior literature suggesting potential
variations in women and men’s experiences of aspects of bisexual identity
(e.g., Brown, 2002; Burleson, 2005), gender and its interaction with life stage
cohort will also be explored. Due to the limited literature on personal, relational and community aspects of bisexual identity across life stages, no
directional hypotheses are made. Overall, developmental conceptualizations
of the life stages suggest that emerging adulthood would be a period of
low commitment to personal, relational and community aspects of bisexual
identity, with a pattern of increasing commitment across early and middle
adulthood; the social context perspective suggests the countervailing pattern
that emerging adults might be more committed to these aspects of bisexual
identity given greater visibility of bisexuality and bisexual communities in
their social contexts.
Participants were recruited via online resources such as electronic listserves,
discussion boards and virtual communities for bisexual or sexual minority
individuals. The study was advertised as an examination of the life experiences of bisexual individuals. Participants were directed to an online survey
that began with an informed consent page. To participate in the study, respondents had to first affirm that they (1) identified as bisexual, (2) were age
18 years older, and (3) resided in the United States. If respondents affirmed
that they met these inclusion criteria and agreed to participate after reading
the informed consent, they were prompted to complete the survey.
The Internet has been a useful tool for collecting data from lesbian,
gay and bisexual (LGB) samples (Moradi et al., 2009). Specifically, sexual
minority listserves and online message boards may be good recruitment
venues because LGB people tend to view the Internet as a safe place to
connect with other sexual minority individuals (Riggle, Rostosky, & Reedy,
2005). Furthermore, even if such persons are not ‘out’ broadly, they may
feel comfortable being ‘out’ online because the Internet provides a shield of
anonymity; thus, the Internet is a viable resource for recruiting these underrepresented individuals (Mustanski, 2001). Online surveys also are shown
to yield similar responses as traditional pen-and-paper methods while being more cost-efficient (Gosling, Vazire, Srivastava, & John, 2004; Hiskey &
Troop, 2002). In recent years, numerous studies have utilized online methods
as their primary means to recruit sexual minority participants (e.g., CarballoDieguez, Miner, Dolezal, Rosser, & Jacoby, 2006; Ferna´ndez et al., 2005;
Wang & Ross, 2002). In the current study, to reduce the risk of nonbisexual
Journal of Bisexuality
people participating, the survey link was distributed only to groups or networks that included bisexual individuals or bisexuality issues. Additionally,
four validity questions asking participants to mark a particular response (e.g.,
Please mark “strongly agree”) were included within the survey to ensure that
participants were responding attentively.
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Data from 576 participants were analyzed in the current study. These data
were drawn from a larger data set (N = 699) on the life experiences of
bisexual individuals (Brewster & Moradi, 2010); participants were selected
for inclusion if they had data for most of the variables of interest. Participants
ranged in age from 18 to 65 (M = 32.13, SD = 11.24, Mdn = 29.00) and
were divided into three groups based on prior definitions of life stage ages
(Arnett, 2000; Levinson et al., 1979; Nelson & Barry, 2005): emerging adults
ranging from 18 to 25 (n = 207; M = 21.39, SD = 2.47, Mdn = 21.00),
young adults ranging from 26 to 40 (n = 240, M = 32.28, SD = 4.45,
Mdn = 32.00), and middle adults ranging from age 41 to 65 years (n =
129, M = 49.07, SD = 6.70, Mdn = 47.00). In terms of gender, about 59%
of participants i …
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