Is Play Behavior Sign of Sexual Orientation?

ByABC News
November 20, 2001, 2:37 PM

B O S T O N, Nov. 21 -- Not all little boys will have GI Joe and Tonka Trucks on their holiday wish lists. Some may have their eye on the Easy-Bake Oven and Barbie. So much for snips and snails and puppy dog tails.

But while parents of so-called gentle boys may be accepting of feminine behaviors in their child, the question of future sexual orientation is likely to be on their minds.

Yet experts say there's little reason to believe that feminine play is a precursor to homosexuality in boys. Moreover, they say, sexual orientation is not really what concerns them. What does concern them are issues of gender confusion that may surface due to deeper psychological problems in the child.

"There is no support for the idea that any behavior will 'cause' sexual preference to move one direction or another," says child development specialist Judith Myers-Walls, an associate professor at Purdue University in Indiana. "Sexual preference seems to be determined independently of actions or experiences."

Myers-Walls points out that behaviors such as playing with dolls or playing house do not cause a boy to become gay, just as those same activities do not cause a girl to become heterosexual. "In most cases, it is not possible to tell a child's sexual orientation until at least adolescence."

Gender Identity Disorder

While experts say that displaying some degree of gender atypical behavior is quite common in children, excessive cross-gender behaviors could indicate a child is experiencing gender identity disorder.

Gender identity disorder is a psychological disorder in which the child may express a repeated desire to "be" the other sex or to exclusively spend time with the opposite sex.

David Sandberg, an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Buffalo, explains that when a boy's interest in female items and activities is "persistent and pervasive" and, most importantly, when there is an aversion to male behaviors, a diagnosis of GID may be warranted.