From the Human Growth and Development section of the ASWB exam outline, here's a good-to-be-familiar-with item: Theories of sexual development throughout the lifespan. For content areas like these, you don't need deep knowledge to pass the exam, but it's a good idea to know your way around the basics. We'll help!

The Theories

Various theories attempt to explain the psychological, social, and biological factors that influence sexual development from infancy through old age. Here are some key approaches:

  • Psychosexual Theory (Sigmund Freud): Freud's theory posits that sexual development occurs in a series of stages, each characterized by a focus on different erogenous zones: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages. According to Freud, conflicts and fixations at each stage can influence adult personality and behavior. For example, unresolved conflicts during the phallic stage, such as castration anxiety or penis envy, can lead to psychological issues later in life.

  • Psychosocial Theory (Erik Erikson): Erikson's theory of psychosocial development outlines eight stages of development, each associated with a particular psychosocial crisis or conflict. While not solely focused on sexuality, Erikson suggested that successful resolution of the identity versus role confusion stage during adolescence contributes to healthy sexual identity formation. Individuals who navigate this stage successfully are more likely to develop a strong sense of self and establish fulfilling intimate relationships.

  • Social Learning Theory (Albert Bandura): Social learning theory emphasizes the role of observation, imitation, and reinforcement in the acquisition of behaviors, including sexual behaviors. Individuals learn about sexuality through observing others (e.g., parents, peers, media) and through direct experiences. Bandura highlighted the importance of cognitive factors, such as expectations and beliefs, in shaping behavior. For example, children may learn about gender roles and sexual norms by observing how adults interact and behave.

  • Cognitive Development Theory (Jean Piaget): Piaget's theory of cognitive development focuses on how children construct understanding and knowledge about the world around them. While not explicitly a theory of sexual development, cognitive development influences how children perceive and understand sexuality as they grow older. Piaget suggested that children progress through stages of cognitive development, such as sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages, which influence their ability to understand complex concepts like sexuality.

  • Attachment Theory (John Bowlby): Attachment theory emphasizes the importance of early caregiver-child relationships in shaping later social and emotional development, including sexuality. Bowlby proposed that infants develop internal working models of relationships based on their interactions with caregivers. Secure attachment is associated with healthier sexual development, as individuals with secure attachments are more likely to develop trust, intimacy, and autonomy in their adult relationships.

  • Biopsychosocial Model: The biopsychosocial model considers biological, psychological, and social factors in understanding sexual development. It acknowledges the interplay between biological predispositions, psychological experiences, and social influences in shaping sexual attitudes, behaviors, and identities across the lifespan. This holistic approach recognizes that sexual development is influenced by a complex interplay of factors, including genetics, hormones, cognitive processes, interpersonal relationships, cultural norms, and societal expectations.

  • Life Course Theory: Life course theory considers how individual development is shaped by historical, social, and cultural contexts across the lifespan. It examines how transitions, trajectories, and turning points influence sexual development and behavior over time. Life course theorists emphasize the importance of considering individual experiences within broader social structures and historical contexts, such as changes in family dynamics, education, employment, and healthcare systems, in understanding sexual development.

  • Sexual Script Theory (John Gagnon and William Simon): Sexual script theory, introduced in 1973, proposes that individuals learn culturally and socially specific scripts or guidelines for sexual behavior through socialization processes. These scripts influence sexual attitudes, desires, and behaviors throughout the lifespan. Sexual scripts may include norms regarding initiation, consent, gender roles, sexual practices, and relationship dynamics. They shape individuals' expectations and interpretations of sexual encounters and influence their decisions and behaviors in intimate relationships.

On the Exam

These theories highlighting the interplay between biological, psychological, and social factors across the lifespan. How might this material look on the social work licensing exam? Picture this:

  • According to Sigmund Freud's psychosexual theory, what is the focus of the phallic stage of development?
  • Which theory of human development emphasizes the interplay between biological predispositions, psychological experiences, and social influences in shaping sexual attitudes, behaviors, and identities across the lifespan?
  • A social worker has a 17-year-old client who expresses feelings of confusion and uncertainty about their future, particularly regarding career choices and personal identity. Which stage of Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory is the client likely experiencing?

Get questions (and answers, and rationales, and suggested study links) when you sign up for SWTP's full-length practice tests.

Take Me There Now.

(P.S. Answers to the above questions: Sexual identity; The Biopsychosocial Model; Identity versus Role Confusion.)

April 29, 2024
Categories :