Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 44, Issue 8, pp 1508–1527 | Cite as

Sexual (Minority) Trajectories, Mental Health, and Alcohol Use: A Longitudinal Study of Youth as They Transition to Adulthood

  • Jessica N. FishEmail author
  • Kay Pasley
Empirical Research


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer/questioning youth health disparities are well documented; however, study limitations restrict our understanding of how the temporal interplay among domains of sexuality (attraction, behavior, and identity) situate individuals to be more or less at risk for poor mental health and alcohol use across the transition to adulthood. Four waves of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (n = 12,679; 51.29 % female) were used with repeated measures latent class analysis to estimate sexual trajectory groups designated by prospective reports of romantic attraction, sexual/romantic behavior, and sexual identity from adolescence to adulthood. Five unique trajectories emerged: two heterosexual groups (heterosexual early daters [58.37 %] and heterosexual later daters [29.83 %]) and three sexual minority groups (heteroflexible [6.44 %], later bisexually identified [3.32 %], and LG[B] identified [2.03 %]). These sexual trajectories differentiate risk for depressive symptomology, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and alcohol use during adolescence and early adulthood. Groups where individuals first reported same-sex attraction and sexual minority identities in adulthood (heteroflexible and later bisexually identified) had similar levels of depression, suicidality, and greater substance use than those who largely reported same-sex attraction and behavior during adolescence (the LG[B] identified group). These later recognition groups showed greater risk for poor outcomes in waves where they also first reported these changes in attraction, behaviors, and identities. The emergence of three sexual minority groups reveal within-group differences in sexuality and sexual trajectories and how these experiences relate to risk and timing of risk across the transition to adulthood.


LGB youth Sexual development Mental health Depression Suicide Alcohol use 



The authors would like to thank Drs. Ming Cui and John Taylor for their help in developing this project and to the reviewers for their insightful and helpful comments. This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SMA-1401836.

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Author contributions

The manuscript is based off the dissertation work of JF who drafted the manuscript and performed the statistical analyses. KP assisted JF in conceptualizing the project, research questions, and study design. KP also contributed revisions to the preliminary and final manuscripts. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families, Norton School of Family and Consumer SciencesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Norejane Hendrickson Professor Emerita and Former Chair Family and Child SciencesFlorida State UniversityGreen ValleyUSA

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