Relationships Among Sexual Identity, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Behavior: Results from a Nationally Representative Probability Sample of Adults in the United States

  • Tsung-chieh FuEmail author
  • Debby Herbenick
  • Brian Dodge
  • Christopher Owens
  • Stephanie A. Sanders
  • Michael Reece
  • J. Dennis Fortenberry
Original Paper


Sexual orientation is a multi-dimensional concept, at a minimum comprised of sexual identity, sexual attraction, and sexual behavior. Our study aimed to assess relationships among self-identified sexual identity, sexual attraction, and sexual behaviors in a probability sample of adults in the U.S. and to identify associated factors with diverse patterns. We collected data from adults in the 2015 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, an Internet-based nationally representative probability survey of the general U.S. population. Concordance between sexual identity versus sexual attraction and sexual behaviors was assessed using percent agreement. We identified correlates of discordance using logistic regression. Concordance between sexual identity versus sexual attraction and past-year sexual behaviors was 94% and 96%, respectively, though our sample was predominately composed of heterosexual individuals. Women and sexual minority individuals reported greater discordance across sexuality-related measures than men and heterosexual individuals. Younger adults (aged 18–24 years) were more likely to report sexual behaviors discordant with sexual identity compared with older adults (including those ages 25–34 years). Higher levels of educational attainment were significantly associated with less discordance of reported recent sexual activity and sexual identity. Measures of sexual identity, attraction, and behaviors are not interchangeable. Future research should consider multiple sexuality-related measures in order to capture the complexity and variability of sexualities.


Sexual identity Sexual attraction Sexual behavior Probability sample Sexual orientation 



This study was funded by Church & Dwight Co., Inc.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

D. Herbenick received grant funding from Church & Dwight Co., Inc. M. Reece is a member of the Sexual Health Advisory Council for Church & Dwight Co., Inc. All other authors have declared no conflict of interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Human and Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

We obtained informed consent from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Sexual Health PromotionIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and ReproductionIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Gender StudiesIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  4. 4.Division of Adolescent MedicineIndiana University School of MedicineIndianapolisUSA

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