Same-Sex Sexual Orientation Development

Category: Culture
Date added
2020/12/16
Pages:  8
Words:  2484
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Abstract

The proposed study will investigate how the stability of same-sex sexual attraction, behavior, and identity (i.e., dimensions of same-sex sexual orientation) varies throughout emerging adulthood based on the developmental period (i.e., early adolescence, middle adolescence, late adolescence, or emerging adulthood) during which a particular dimension is first acknowledged. The relationship between each dimension of same-sex sexual orientation and gender will also be examined. Data collection will occur every two years until the age of 30 and will consist of questions related to each dimension of same-sex sexual orientation. Descriptive statistics will be stratified by developmental period and gender, and chi square analyses will be conducted to elucidate the relationship between the dimensions of same-sex sexual orientation, age, and gender.

Keywords: sexual orientation, same-sex attraction, emerging adulthood

Developmental Periods and the Stability of Same-Sex Sexual Orientation Through Emerging Adulthood

Since the late 1990s, increasing attention has been directed toward gaining a more complete understanding of the development of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) sexual orientation over the lifespan. Sexual orientation comprises three dimensions: sexual attraction, sexual behavior, and sexual identity (Priebe & Svedin, 2013). Research has demonstrated the variability in the timing of individuals same-sex experiences of sexual attraction, engaging romantically and/or sexually, and espousing a sexual identity label, such as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (Savin-Williams & Diamond, 2000). For example, an early study reported a disconnect between initial feelings of same-sex attraction in childhood and identifying as a member of the LGB community in late adolescence (Savin-Williams & Diamond, 2000). A majority of research suggests that identifying as LGB tends to emerge between the ages of 14 and 21 (Savin-Williams & Diamond, 2000). Therefore, the period of adolescence through early adulthood is important for understanding the development of sexual orientation.

Recent research has emphasized the fluidity of sexual orientation, contrasting the early conceptualization of sexual orientation as a stable characteristic (Diamond, 2005). Multiple studies have found changes in the self-reported sexual attractions, behavior, and labels of LGB youth over time (Diamond, 2005; Ott, Corliss, Wypij, Rosario, & Austin, 2011; Savin-Williams & Ream, 2007). It is important to note that some women who identify as lesbians have indicated an attraction to men at points throughout their lives and have endorsed variability in the gender/s to which they are sexually attracted over time (Diamond, 2007).

The current body of research has identified the typical initial recognition of same-sex attraction as occurring between late childhood and early adolescence (Herdt & McClintock, 2000). Same-sex attractions have been observed to be unstable between the ages of 21 and 26 (i.e., early adulthood), particularly in women (Dickson, Paul, & Herbison, 2003). Researchers interviewed LGB individuals between the ages of 14 and 21 and discovered that half of them still identified as LGB at six- and twelve-month follow-ups (Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, & Braun, 2006). Another study corroborated variation in sexual identity in late adolescence and early adulthood (Ott et al., 2011). However, neither study considered the stability of sexual orientation beyond emerging adulthood. Mock and Eibach (2012) noted higher self-reported stability of sexual orientation among middle-aged lesbian and gay participants compared to bisexual participants over ten years (Mock & Eibach, 2012).

Recent longitudinal studies have addressed the question of sexual orientation mobility, or the variation in self-reported sexual orientation over time, by considering at least one dimension of sexual orientation, in addition to the roles of age and gender (Ott et al., 2011; Rosario, Schrimshaw, & Hunter, 2008; Savin-Williams & Ream, 2007). The results suggested that the stability of same-sex sexual orientation was directly related to the passage of time, becoming more entrenched as an individual ages. Additionally, bisexual sexual orientation was found to be less stable than lesbian or gay sexual orientation, which introduced a question about the reliability of the bisexual label. Is it actually a distinct identity, or is it more appropriate to conceive of it as a transitional stage over the course of one’s sexual orientation development? The empirical support is limited and mixed, with one longitudinal study finding no support for women changing their identity from bisexual to lesbian over ten years (Diamond, 2007) and another reporting that bisexuals were more likely to identify as heterosexual or homosexual over time (Dickson, van Roode, Cameron, & Paul, 2013).

The effect of gender on the stability of sexual orientation is not well-understood. Females were more likely to endorse a lesbian or bisexual identity in a nationally representative sample of adolescents who were followed from the age of eleven through twenty-eight (Savin-Williams & Ream, 2007). These results were corroborated by subsequent studies, which also found that women are more likely to report same-sex attraction at any age (Dickson et al., 2013) and that women are more likely to admit to variance in sexual attraction than men (Dickson et al., 2013; Savin-Williams & Diamond, 2000). Other researchers have indicated the opposite (i.e., men are more likely to experience changes in sexual identity compared to women) or have not found an association between gender and the stability of sexual orientation (Ott et al., 2011; Rosario et al., 2006).

Sexual attraction is often not aligned with sexual behavior. A study that was designed to discern the prevalence of homosexuality in the United Kingdom, France, and the United States found higher reports of same-sex attraction compared with same-sex behavior since the age of 15 (Sell, Wells, & Wypij, 1995). Black and colleagues (2000) described similar results with regard to same-sex behavior and identifying as LGB: more people confirmed partaking in same-sex behavior than labeling themselves as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (Black, Gates, Sanders, & Taylor, 2000). Additionally, another study demonstrated that only experiencing same-sex attraction irrespective of same-sex behavior is sufficient to develop an LGB identity (Diamond, 2000). Since it is believed that incongruent feelings, beliefs, and behavior (i.e., cognitive dissonance) cause immense discomfort over time, individuals who experience cognitive dissonance are intrinsically motivated relieve this tension (Festinger, 1957); therefore, it is reasonable to expect an alignment of sexual attraction and sexual behavior with age. Based on this theory, the incongruence of sexual attraction and sexual behavior would also predict more instability of sexual attraction.

The current study seeks to examine the relationship between the developmental period during which an individual reports each of the three dimensions of same-sex sexual orientation (attraction, behavior, or identity) and the stability of sexual orientation through emerging adulthood (i.e., the age of 30). According to the current body of research, I hypothesize that: (1) individuals who first endorse at least two dimensions of same-sex sexual orientation at a younger age will exhibit greater stability of sexual orientation from adolescence through emerging adulthood than those who are older at the time of initial reporting; (2) sexual attraction, behavior, and identity will become more aligned with age irrespective of the age at the time of the initial report; and (3) women will report sexual attraction at younger ages and overall more often than men, but men will exhibit greater stability of sexual orientation through emerging adulthood.

Method

Participants

The sample will consist of four groups: early adolescence (i.e., ages 11-13), mid-adolescence (i.e., ages 14-16), late adolescence (i.e., ages 17-20), and emerging adulthood (i.e., ages 21-25). Each group will comprise 30 participants (15 females, 15 males) and will be recruited from LGB organizations, listservs, and youth groups. Only participants who have begun to experience at least one of the three dimensions of same-sex sexual orientation within the past month will be eligible. Data collection will occur every two years until each group of participants reaches the age of 30.

Measures

Sexual attraction will be operationalized by the following questions: (1) “Have you ever had a romantic attraction to a female?”; (2) “Have you ever had a romantic attraction to a male?” (Hu, Xu, & Tornello, 2016). Participants will be stratified according to their responses indicating attraction to the opposite, same, or both sexes. A sexual behavior assessment will consist of the following questions: (1) “List the first and last initials of all romantic partners or interests over the past two years.”; (2) “For each set of initials, is this person male or female?” (Hu et al., 2016). In each round of data collection, participants will be classified based on their indications of strictly same-sex relationships, relationships with both sexes, or strictly relationships with the opposite sex. A sexual identity inquiry will consist of the following question: “Of the following, please select the option that most accurately describes your sexual identity: straight, mostly straight, unsure, bisexual, gay/lesbian.”

Results

Descriptive statistics of responses to the sexual attraction, behavior, and identity questions will be calculated and organized by age group and gender. The initial descriptive analysis will also include the frequency of those who consistently indicated same-sex or bisexual attraction, behavior, and/or identity at each point of data collection. The frequency of responses that switch from same-sex to bisexual and vice versa or from same-sex or bisexual to opposite sex will also be noted (Hu et al., 2016). I anticipate a higher consistency of responses among those participants who initially endorsed two or more dimensions of same-sex sexual orientation at any period of development, but especially in early adolescence. Moreover, I expect to find that those participants who have adopted a same-sex sexual identity despite having no same-sex romantic partners will also respond consistently over the period of data collection. In line with the current body of research, I would also expect to find the greatest disconnect between responses for sexual attraction and behavior due to the stigma surrounding homosexuality.

In order to calculate the stability of each dimension of same-sex sexual orientation, I would utilize an approach informed by conditional probability to analyze same-sex and bisexual responses (Hu et al., 2016). For example, the stability of same-sex sexual attraction for the Early Adolescent group from the first point of data collection to the second would be calculated by dividing the number of participants who reported same-sex sexual attraction at both the first and second point by the number of participants who reported same-sex sexual attraction at the first point (Hu et al., 2016). I would repeat this approach to calculate stability at each point of data collection for each group of participants and for each dimension of same-sex sexual orientation. Chi square tests will be conducted to analyze the relationships between time and the stability of each dimension of same-sex sexual orientation, and gender and the stability of each dimension of same-sex sexual orientation for each group of participants (Hu et al., 2016).

Discussion

Given previous research findings, I expect to find a relationship between age, gender, and the stability of same-sex sexual orientation. As an individual enters emerging adulthood, I anticipate little to no variation in responses for each dimension of same-sex sexual orientation; however, I would also expect to find an exception for those who indicate an attraction to both sexes, as research has suggested that attraction to both sexes tends to be unstable even in emerging adulthood (Mock & Eibach, 2012). For those who report an LGB identity despite no history of same-sex romantic relationships, I expect results to show increasing consistency across all three dimensions of same-sex sexual orientation with age, since aligning oneself with a group that is still extremely vulnerable to prejudice is a major risk that suggests some strength of conviction, even in a confidential research study.

Since males come of age in a culture that favors masculinity, which is often incompatible with society’s conceptualization of non-heterosexual men, I anticipate that they will acknowledge any dimension of same-sex sexual orientation later than females. Moreover, given the risks inherent in disclosing same-sex attraction, behavior, and/or identity (e.g., victimization, physical violence, social and/or familial isolation) that are especially prevalent for men, I would expect careful consideration of any disclosure and, hence, greater stability in general. Although it is sensible to exercise caution when interpreting self-reported data, a study like this could illuminate some key questions regarding the stability of same-sex sexual orientation from adolescence through emerging adulthood.

References

  1. Black, D., Gates, G., Sanders, S., & Taylor, L. (2000). Demographics of the Gay and Lesbian Population in the United States: Evidence from Available Systematic Data Sources. Demography, 37(2), 139–154. https://doi.org/10.2307/2648117
  2. Diamond, L. M. (2000). Sexual identity, attractions, and behavior among young sexual-minority women over a 2-year period. Developmental Psychology, 36(2), 241–250. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1649.36.2.241
  3. Diamond, L. M. (2005). What We Got Wrong About Sexual Identity Development: Unexpected Findings From a Longitudinal Study of Young Women. In A. M. Omoto & H. S. Kurtzman (Eds.), Sexual orientation and mental health: Examining identity and development in lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. (pp. 73–94). Washington: American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/11261-004
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  6. Dickson, N., van Roode, T., Cameron, C., & Paul, C. (2013). Stability and Change in Same-Sex Attraction, Experience, and Identity by Sex and Age in a New Zealand Birth Cohort. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42(5), 753–763. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-0063-z
  7. Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Retrieved from http://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=3850
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  11. Ott, M. Q., Corliss, H. L., Wypij, D., Rosario, M., & Austin, S. B. (2011). Stability and Change in Self-Reported Sexual Orientation Identity in Young People: Application of Mobility Metrics. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(3), 519–532. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-010-9691-3
  12. Priebe, G., & Svedin, C. G. (2013). Operationalization of three dimensions of sexual orientation in a national survey of late adolescents. Journal of Sex Research, 50(8), 727–738. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2012.713147
  13. Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., & Hunter, J. (2008). Predicting Different Patterns of Sexual Identity Development Over Time Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youths: A Cluster Analytic Approach. American Journal of Community Psychology, 42(3–4), 266–282. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-008-9207-7
  14. Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., Hunter, J., & Braun, L. (2006). Sexual identity development among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: Consistency and change over time. Journal of Sex Research, 43(1), 46–58. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490609552298
  15. Savin-Williams, R. C., & Diamond, L. M. (2000). Sexual Identity Trajectories Among Sexual-Minority Youths: Gender Comparisons. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 29(6), 607–627. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1002058505138
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  17. Sell, R. L., Wells, J. A., & Wypij, D. (1995). The prevalence of homosexual behavior and attraction in the United States, the United Kingdom and France: Results of national population-based samples. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 24(3), 235–248. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01541598
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