A longitudinal report of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youths examined changes in sexual identity over time. Contrary to the hypothesis that females are more sexually fluid than males, female youths were less likely to change identities than male youths.
The development of a gay, lesbian, or bisexual GLB sexual identity is a complex and often difficult process. Unlike members of other minority groups e.
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Rather, GLB individuals are often raised in communities that are either ignorant of or openly hostile toward homosexuality.
However, psychological theory has long maintained that individuals seek to achieve congruence among affect, cognitions, and behaviors because incongruity generates psychological tension e.
Thus, same-sex oriented affect and behavior may lead individuals to adopt an identity consistent with such sentiments and behavior e. Similarly, identification as gay or lesbian may lead individuals to engage in sexual behaviors consistent with that identity. Indeed, the incongruence among gay identity and heterosexual behavior has been used to explain the eventual transition from heterosexual to homosexual behavior, so as to eliminate dissonance between identity and behavior Higgins, In this report, we examine consistency and change in GLB sexual identity, as well as the congruence between changes in identity and other aspects of sexuality e.
These theoretical models, taken together, describe a process of identity formation and integration as individuals strive for congruence among their sexual orientation i. Identity integration involves incorporating and consolidating a GLB identity. This is evident by the individual coming to accept a GLB identity, resolving internalized homophobia by transforming negative attitudes into positive attitudes, feeling comfortable with the idea that others may know about the unfolding identity, and disclosing that identity to others Morris, ; Rosario et al.
Identity formation and integration are involved in a reciprocal process. They share some common components, such as gay-related social activities, that serve as both a facilitator and outcome of identity development over time. Although the studies generally support an overall linear trend from sexual attractions to sexual activity to self-identification as GLB at the group level, they also highlight considerable variability at the individual level. Thus, the retrospective design may overestimate the linear nature or consistency of the data.
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Only two longitudinal and prospective studies have examined changes in sexual identity over time, both of which were conducted among young women Diamond, ; ; Sophie, Taken together, the studies have found considerable consistency, as well as change, in sexual self-identification and attractions over time.
Few youths transited from a lesbian, bisexual, or unlabeled identity to a straight identity. Clearly, the consistency and change documented by these various research studies must now be understood. Prospective changes in GLB sexual identity would be expected to be influenced by aspects of earlier sexual identity formation, such as time since the occurrence of sexual developmental milestones.
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Sexual identity formation takes time because many GLB youths may go through a period of sexual questioning, experimentation, and conflict before assuming and consistently self-identifying as GLB. Thus, we hypothesize that youths for whom more time has passed since reaching various sexual developmental milestones are more likely to report a sexual identity that is consistently GLB than youths who reached the milestones more recently.
The one study examining this hypothesis Diamond, may have had too little statistical power to detect differences in the age of sexual developmental milestones between female youths maintaining an identity as lesbian or bisexual and those youths who changed to a straight or unlabeled identity.
Changes in GLB sexual identity also would be expected to correlate with other aspects of sexuality more broadly, specifically, sexual orientation and sexual behavior. Indeed, Diamond found that female youths who were consistent in their lesbian or bisexual identity reported more same-sex sexual attractions than peers who transited from a lesbian or bisexual identity to a heterosexual or unlabeled identity.
Similarly, sexual behavior e. Unfortunately, no comparisons were made between the consistently lesbian and bisexual youths. Perhaps external constraints retard or impede congruence, such as living in potentially hostile communities e.
Finally, we hypothesize that changes in sexual identity would be expected to influence aspects of identity integration, given the need for congruence discussed above. Although research has not examined this hypothesis longitudinally, cross-sectional research has found that differences in sexual identity were associated with differences in aspects of identity integration.
However, this past report neither examined changes in sexual identity nor investigated the longitudinal relations between changes in sexual identity and aspects of identity integration. The individual variability in the age of sexual developmental milestones mentioned earlier has lead researchers to critique linear models of development particularly for women e.
The available evidence is mixed. Several studies have found that more female youths identified as bisexual than did male youths e. In addition, studies have found some gender differences in the average age and order of various sexual developmental milestones e.
Despite these findings, the potential role of gender on changes in sexual identity remains unexamined because the studies examining longitudinal changes in sexual identity development have been based on single-sex samples e.
In this report, we examine consistency and change in sexual identity over time among GLB youths. Further, we examine how GLB youths who remain consistent in their sexual identity differ from those youths who have changed their sexual identity with respect to sexual identity formation i. Differences also are hypothesized between consistently bisexual youths and those who have changed identities. In addition, we examine potential gender differences in consistency and change in sexual identity, given the hypothesis in the literature that female youths are more fluid in their sexual identity than male peers.
Male and female youths, ages 14 to 21 years, were recruited from organizations that serve GLB youths in New York City, including three gay-focused community-based organizations CBOs and two GLB college student organizations from public colleges.
Youths were recruited from October through June , with follow-up interviews conducted through August Of the participants interviewed at baseline, eight were excluded because five were ineligible, two provided duplicate data, and one provided invalid data. Age, gender, ethnicity, and SES were not significantly associated with one another.
Voluntary and signed informed consent was provided by all youths. An adult at each CBO served in loco parentis to safeguard the rights of each minor-aged research participant. Youths were administered a questionnaire by an interviewer at baseline and subsequent assessments 6 and 12 months later.
Interviewers were college-educated individuals of the same sex as the youth. Interviewers were trained and received weekly supervision. Only five youths were lost to both follow-up assessments.
The SERBAS-Y assessed the ages in years when youths experienced various milestones in the development of sexual attraction, identity, and behavior.
These milestones were selected based on much past theoretical and empirical research. Youths were asked the ages when they were first attracted to, fantasized about, and were aroused by erotica focusing on the same sex. The mean age of these three milestones was computed to obtain a mean age of awareness of same-sex sexual orientation because the ages were correlated.
Finally, youths were asked about the age when they first engaged in any one of a several specific sexual activities i. The minimum age reported across these various behaviors was used as the age when the youths first had any sex with the same sex and the age when they first had any sex with the other sex.
As part of an inventory to assess involvement in gay-related activities Rosario et al. We asked a similar series of questions with respect to ages when they first participated in various social or recreational gay-related activities e. The minimum age across each series was used to compute the age at which the youths first talked to someone about homosexuality and the age at which they first attended or participated in a gay-related activity.
Youths were asked the extent to which their recent sexual attractions, thoughts, and fantasies were focused on the same or the other sex 1 when in the presence of other individuals, 2 while masturbating, dreaming, or day dreaming, and 3 when viewing erotic material in films, magazines, or books.
A 7-point Likert response scale was used ranging from always focused on the other sex 0 to always focused on the same sex 6 , with a midpoint 3 indicating equally focused on both sexes. Youths were given the option of indicating they had none of the assessed experiences. For our analyses, we focused on whether youths reported any sexual activity i.
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At subsequent assessments, youths were asked about their involvement in the past 6 months i. A factor analysis of the baseline data identified 11 items e.
A item scale adapted from the Nungesser Homosexual Attitudes Inventory Nungesser, was modified for youths by simplifying the language, making it more informal, and generalizing the item content to include both males and females. Factor analysis of the baseline data identified two factors. The first factor contained 11 items [e.
As noted above, a factor analysis of the baseline data identified 2 factors. The second factor contained 12 items [e.
At subsequent assessments, youths were asked about the number of individuals to whom the youth had disclosed during the past six months i.
The number of individuals reported was used as the indicator of self-disclosure to others.
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Because the follow-up data were positively skewed i. Two items were removed because they were inappropriate for youths, resulting in a item scale, which was administered using the original true-false response format. Factor analysis identified 12 items that loaded on a single factor. To provide basic descriptive information on the sexual identities of youths in the sample, the percentages of youths who endorsed each sexual identity at each assessment period were computed.
However, these group or sample-level analyses only answer whether the sample as a whole changed. Specifically, we examined a matrix composed of the youths by their sexual identity over time. We developed mutually exclusive categories that described the individual patterns of consistency and change that we observed, and computed the percentage of youths in each group.
All subsequent analyses were based on comparisons of these categories or groups of identity change and consistency. To examine how the categories of identity change and consistency were related to other aspects of sexual identity development, the identity change groups were compared in a series of univariate and multivariate analyses. Univariate comparisons were conducted using analysis of variance ANOVA to examine the mean differences among groups for continuous variables e.
Comparisons of the identity groups on gender, ethnicity, SES, age, and social desirability were conducted in the same manner. For the univariate analyses, the value of the significance test is provided, as is the effect size or actual magnitude of the difference among the group means or categories on all other aspects of sexual identity development.
The univariate comparisons were followed by multivariate analyses to compare each identity change group on aspects of sexual identity development, while controlling for any potential covariates i.
Hierarchical linear regression analyses were conducted for each of the continuous outcome variables, and hierarchical logistic regression analyses were conducted for each of the categorical outcomes. In the linear and logistic regression analyses, the covariates were simultaneously entered in the first step of the regression.
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They were followed by a single dummy coded variable, entered in the second step of regression, that contrasted two of the identity change groups e. These analyses were repeated to contrast the other sexual identity groups e.
C followed by B vs. Examination of the potential interactions of gender by identity change groups was made in a similar manner, with the main effects for gender and the contrast of two sexual identity groups entered in the first step of the linear or logistic regression model, and the interaction term entered in the second step. Odds ratios OR from the logistic regressions provide a similarly standardized measure of the degree of difference between groups with respect to each categorical aspect of sexual identity development.
The distribution of sexual identities at each of four time periods is presented in Table 1. Baseline refers to the assessment interview at the time of study recruitment. The above examination of sexual identity over time ignores potential changes within youths of different sexual identities. Such changes are presented in Table 2. As valuable as the aforementioned data may be, they are limited because the level of analysis is the sample rather than the individual.