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The role of same-sex orientation in female development

Michelle Carley Jacobo, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In recent years, theorists in the fields of psychoanalysis and gay and lesbian studies have turned their attention to the study of the complex role of homosexuality in human development from a non-pathological perspective. Specifically, some psychoanalytic theorists have resumed studying the complex relationships among self-concept development, relationship quality and homosexuality. This study provided an in-depth examination of the formative experiences of a small sample of non-patient lesbian women. The study was guided by four general questions: (1) How do lesbian women conceptualize the nature and development of their sexual and gender identities? (2) What intrapsychic, familial, and societal variables shape these identities? (3) Throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood what are the processes through which lesbian women develop and negotiate their self-concepts and relationships with others? (4) What is the interplay between typical developmental processes and experiences unique to women coming of age with a same-sex identity? The sample consisted of eight lesbian women. Subjects participated in a specially designed semistructured interview, and the data were analyzed using a systematic qualitative approach. Women's stories revealed that gender and sexual identity are varied and dynamic constructs, paralleling identity development across the lifespan. For the most part, women enjoyed their childhoods and considered their relationships with parents to be positive. The women in this sample described multiple patterns of maternal and paternal influence on identity and relational style. During adolescence, young women moved away from parents as primary sources of identity and into the social world. Some women reported an awareness of homoerotic feelings during this period which threatened their vulnerable self-concepts; in most cases, these feelings were repressed in the service of maintaining a cohesive sense of self and connection to others. For the women in this sample, the tasks of young adulthood included coming out to self and parents, and negotiating intimacy with significant others. Overall, women with a same sex orientation face developmental milestones typical of all individuals, as well as milestones unique to the gay and lesbian population; the negotiation of these milestones is mediated by the individual's personality and family dynamics. The in-depth nature of this study revealed a complexity and richness of experience not considered in reductionistic psychoanalytic theories of lesbian development.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Personality|Womens studies|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Jacobo, Michelle Carley, "The role of same-sex orientation in female development" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9737544.