, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 287-296
Date: 28 Jun 2006

Coming-Out Across the Life Course: Implications of Age and Historical Context

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Effects of age and the calendar year when individuals first self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual on their sexual orientation identity development were examined in a large community sample (N=767, 47% female, 18–74-years-old). These 2 variables were used to examine the timing and sequencing of 7 coming-out experiences: first awareness of same-sex attraction; first sexual experiences with opposite-sex partners; first sexual experiences with same-sex partners; self-identification as gay, lesbian, or bisexual; disclosure to someone other than a parent; disclosure to mother; and disclosure to father. The significant effects of age revealed that self-identification in adolescence as opposed to adulthood was associated with an overall young coming-out trajectory for all milestone experiences, which occurred in both earlier and recent historical contexts. Adolescents as opposed to adult self-identifiers were also more likely to demonstrate identity-centered sequences in which self-identification preceded same-sex sexual experiences, and fewer of these individuals had any heterosexual experience. Significant historical context effects indicated recent trends toward younger disclosure of orientation to others and to parents, greater likelihood of an identity-centered sequence, and younger ages for first heterosexual but not same-sex, sexual experiences. Among women, there was a recent trend toward greater likelihood of having a bisexual identity milestone. In general, the maturational effects were independent of historical context, with the exception that only adolescent self-identifiers who came out recently disclosed to others and to parents at an average age younger than 18 years. These developmental and historical trends expand on the stage-sequential framework to show how the process of sexual orientation identity development is driven by maturational factors as well as social changes.