Prevalence and Stability of Sexual Orientation Components During Adolescence and Young Adulthood

Abstract

Analyses of three waves (6 years) of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health data explored the prevalence and stability of sexual orientation and whether these two parameters varied by biologic sex, sexual orientation component (romantic attraction, sexual behavior, sexual identity), and degree of component. Prevalence rates for nonheterosexuality varied between 1 and 15% and depended on biologic sex (higher among females), sexual orientation component (highest for romantic attraction), degree of component (highest if “mostly heterosexual” was included with identity), and the interaction of these (highest for nonheterosexual identity among females). Although kappa statistics testing for temporal stability across waves were significant, they failed to reach acceptable levels of agreement and could be largely attributable to the stability of opposite-sex rather than same-sex attraction and behavior. Migration over time among sexual orientation components was in both directions, from opposite-sex attraction and behavior to same-sex attraction and behavior and vice versa. To assess sexual orientation, investigators should measure multiple components over time or abandon the general notion of sexual orientation and measure only those components relevant for the research question.

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Acknowledgements

This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by a grant P01-HD31921 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. R. R. Rindfuss and B. Entwisle assisted in the original design. To obtain data files, please contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27516-2524 (www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth/contract.html).

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Correspondence to Ritch C. Savin-Williams.

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Savin-Williams, R.C., Ream, G.L. Prevalence and Stability of Sexual Orientation Components During Adolescence and Young Adulthood. Arch Sex Behav 36, 385–394 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-006-9088-5

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Keywords

  • Gay
  • Homosexuality
  • Romantic attraction
  • Sexual behavior
  • Sexual identity
  • Sexual orientation