Invited Essay

Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 413-422

First online:

The Dubious Assessment of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents of Add Health

  • Ritch C. Savin-WilliamsAffiliated withDepartment of Human Development, Cornell University Email author 
  • , Kara JoynerAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Bowling Green State University

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In this essay, we argue that researchers who base their investigations of nonheterosexuality derived from reports of romantic attractions of adolescent participants from Wave 1 of Add Health must account for their disappearance in future waves of data collection. The high prevalence of Wave 1 youth with either both-sex or same-sex romantic attractions was initially striking and unexpected. Subsequent data from Add Health indicated that this prevalence sharply declined over time such that over 70 % of these Wave 1 adolescents identified as exclusively heterosexual as Wave 4 young adults. Three explanations are proposed to account for the high prevalence rate and the temporal inconsistency: (1) gay adolescents going into the closet during their young adult years; (2) confusion regarding the use and meaning of romantic attraction as a proxy for sexual orientation; and (3) the existence of mischievous adolescents who played a “jokester” role by reporting same-sex attraction when none was present. Relying on Add Health data, we dismissed the first explanation as highly unlikely and found support for the other two. Importantly, these “dubious” gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents may have led researchers to erroneously conclude from the data that sexual-minority youth are more problematic than heterosexual youth in terms of physical, mental, and social health.


Add Health Sexual orientation Gay Lesbian Bisexual Adolescents