Sexual identity and sexual orientation are independent components of a person's sexual identity. These dimensions are most often in harmony with each other and with an individual's genital sex, although not always. The present review discusses the relationship of sexual identity and sexual orientation to prenatal factors that act to shape the development of the brain and the expression of sexual behaviours in animals and humans. One major influence discussed relates to organisational effects that the early hormone environment exerts on both gender identity and sexual orientation. Evidence that gender identity and sexual orientation are masculinised by prenatal exposure to testosterone and feminised in it absence is drawn from basic research in animals, correlations of biometric indices of androgen exposure and studies of clinical conditions associated with disorders in sexual development. There are, however, important exceptions to this theory that have yet to be resolved. Family and twin studies indicate that genes play a role, although no specific candidate genes have been identified. Evidence that relates to the number of older brothers implicates maternal immune responses as a contributing factor for male sexual orientation. It remains speculative how these influences might relate to each other and interact with postnatal socialisation. Nonetheless, despite the many challenges to research in this area, existing empirical evidence makes it clear that there is a significant biological contribution to the development of an individual's sexual identity and sexual orientation.
Keywords: brain; foetal development; gender identity; homosexuality; hormones; sexual differentiation; sexual orientation; sexual partner preference; sexually dimorphic nucleus; transsexuality.
© 2017 British Society for Neuroendocrinology.