Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 1085–1094 | Cite as

Religion and Sexual Identity Fluidity in a National Three-Wave Panel of U.S. Adults

  • Christopher P. ScheitleEmail author
  • Julia Kay Wolf
Original Paper


Research has shown that cross-sectional estimates of sexual identities overlook fluidity in those identities. Research has also shown that social factors, such as competing identities, can influence sexual identity fluidity. We contributed to this literature in two ways. First, we utilized a representative panel of US adults (N = 1034) surveyed in 2010, 2012, and 2014 by the General Social Survey. The addition of a third observation allowed us to examine more complexity in sexual identity fluidity. We found that 2.40% of US adults reported at least one change in sexual identity across the 4 years, with 1.59% reporting one change and 0.81% reporting two changes. Our second contribution came from examining the role of religion, as past research has suggested that religion can destabilize and prolong sexual identity development. We found that lesbian or gay individuals (N = 17), bisexuals (N = 15), and females (N = 585) showed more sexual identity fluidity compared to heterosexuals (N = 1003) and males (N = 450), respectively. Marital status, age, race, and education did not have significant associations with sexual identity fluidity. Regarding the role of religion, we found that participants identifying as more religious in Wave 1 showed more fluidity in sexual identity across later observations. Further analysis showed that higher levels of religiosity make it more likely that lesbian or gay individuals will be fluid in sexual identity, but this is not the case for heterosexual individuals. This finding reinforces past qualitative research that has suggested that religion can extend or complicate sexual minorities’ identity development.


Sexual identity Sexual orientation Sexual fluidity Religiosity 



The authors did not receive funding to conduct this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

The data used in this research come from the General Social Survey (GSS), which is publicly available at Informed consent is obtained from all GSS participants. This research is in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

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