Key Factors in Sexual Identity and Behaviour: Taking An Integrative Middle Path


After reviewing new studies of 2016 I confirm three factors linked to sexual behavior and orientation.

  1. Genetic.
  2. Neurobiological developmental.
  3. Environmental social.

Not much has changed in the past decade except a clearer view of these complex factors. It cannot be said that one factor might override the others, as they are a “complex” which means more than the opposite of simple. A complex in science and psychology relates to interwoven factors that make up variable influences in some identified focus or issue.

For example, a clinical depression may be a complex of internalised anger, frustration, sadness, grief, loss, combined with a variable genetic and/or neurobiological precondition to depression that is ‘triggered’ by a combination of social, emotional, and spiritual factors. This is a complex.

Human sexuality and sexual identity are also a complex – and the variations between factors, how they interact, and the ways they act to manifest in behaviour and also in a person’s sense of identity over time is even more highly variable (by definition). Identity can feel and seem and appear as immutable. But as one of the recent studies suggests, the immutable argument for sexual identity is being critiqued on many fronts, regardless the political, ethical, or moral stance of the critique.

Given this site speaks to therapy approaches, we add here that having sustained specialist research and clinical work in the fields of human sexuality and identity, our approach is based in the current views of western psychology and science, and is counter-balanced by a holistic and integrative analysis of western Christian mysticism. At the base, we support people where they are at in their lives, and in their relationships. Our ethical framework is secular-professional and is guided by the Australian Counselling Association. In this light, we work with gay couples and straight couples. We work with people of all religions and backgrounds.

As practitioners who hold to the western Catholic and mystical tradition we tend to engage in the Catholic intellectual tradition by both affirmation and critique, using the tradition as a touch-point for a more in-depth analysis of social and therapeutic issues. For instance, we are strongly linked to the Franciscan tradition. Of late we are reading works on the approach of St Bonaventure in the 14th century.

As explicated by Ilia Delio who is an American scholar in Franciscan Studies, Bonaventure’s theology of the Crucified Christ is in fact a composite of factors. We might say that his theology is another “complex” of variables, using our definition above. From this analysis we suggest that every “theology” is indeed a complex in the same way – made up of various factors that come to play on the overall make-up or orientation of the theology. We are really talking here about how people make their sense of meaning. A theology is a more complex expression of meaning, often but not always placing emphasis on transcendent values such as love, justice, mercy, forgiveness, or even more elusive factors like energy, motivation, and cause.

Delio’s work suggests that Bonaventure, already in the 14th century, expressed a rather complex meta-theology, a large-system that defined the human being’s developmental path toward divine transcendence, that in part points to a need for developing a sub-field of this system focused on a complex theology of the body. Franciscan tradition tends to affirm body and embodiment to a great extent.

Delio aptly suggests that this affirmation of humanity and body, ecology and environment, are based in a transcendent and personally-felt deep-existential and experiential knowing of the Crucified Christ. The archetype of this model is of course St Francis of Assisi, to whom Bonaventure turned during his retreat at La Verna Hermitage, while he wrote his pivotal and explosive conversio “The Soul’s Journey into God.”

Thus Franciscan theology tends toward holistic, affirming, and person-centred experiential methods. This lends mendicant theology close affinity to modern movements in psychotherapy, disability behaviour support, and working among minority populations who are sensitive to the dictates of social and political winds.

As such, Bonaventure’s methods actively applies the use of personal and communal observation of human embodiment as the most central and key factor in our journey into God. Not only is environment, ecology, and body central to our development but also to our self-understanding as creatures, as beings.

Whether people attach theological meaning or not to their experience at this point is debatable. This depends on an individual’s experience, understanding, and exposure to worlds of meaning-making. In fact, Bonaventure says this in more ways than one! Even during his time, the debates between material verses spiritual ways of understanding the world were at the forefront of the academe. Certainly however, we tend to agree that one of these worlds of deep-meaning that can help us understand the dimensions and complexes of human experience is western mysticism. There are others, however, who believe that secular material psychology is sufficient to understand a humanistic definition apart from spirituality. Both views have merit and express a certain “space for reflection.”

At the base, Bonaventure suggests a quite “radical” method, that is, an approach to human growth and development that is “at the foundation of things.” As such we cannot stand idle while secular society continues to exclusively define people in terms of the material, social and political world.

We equally cannot stand silent while the current disposition of a very vocal subset of Catholic culture tends toward the denial of the scientific basis for human sexual identity and behaviour. If Catholics are true to the one key belief that governs Catholicism they will eventually concede to the truth. As De Lubac states in his seminal work “The Splendor of the Church,” Christ is indeed all truth. According to their self-same theology, the Body of Christ who is the Church will and must embrace the truth as the truth is revealed within the fullness of the deposit of truth.

Western mysticism then suggests that like the acorn, all wisdom is found in fullness in the seed already revealed. Quite a lovely and profound doctrine. Christ is fully revealed. Yet he says to his followers, his Spirit will lead them into all truth. Truth is revealed and emerging.

It is the role of the Elders of every culture to dialogue with the existing and new forms of truth. But most cultures have the old saying, there is nothing new under the sun. Of course, this is true. Yet newness is also emerging.

In the western mystical traditions this group of Elders tends to be voiced by the Elder men in the Magisterium. However as any good bishop will attest, they take into consideration the “sense of the faithful” as expressing, in part, the dominant worldviews and beliefs of the Church.

In psychotherapy this macro-social theory translates into the micro-psychology of individuals, couples and families. What is the dominant felt-sense of body, of identity, or relationship? How is this carried across time? How has it evolved and changed? What is life or God calling you to now? How do you listen to this emerging action, goal, or vision for the future? Being one’s own Elder in this sense requires a great deal of active-wisdom-making. This is why most of us need the help of another person to do this work. This is in part the reason for therapy, and for spiritual accompaniment.

Within this lifetime, and perhaps over the next two hundred years, people from all sides of this debate will come to terms with the reality at hand – that science and religion both suggest quite profoundly integrative and holistic methods. These approaches both help us to understand and work with who we are, who we think we might be, and who we are becoming. We tend to call this work a “human being.”


Further Reading Links (in no particular order):…/…/00000064/00000001/art00007…/article/pii/S007477421630068X…/article/pii/S0003347216300070

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