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Prevalence and Stability of Self-Reported Sexual Orientation Identity During Young Adulthood


Based on date from Wave 3 and Wave 4 from National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (N = 12,287), known as Add Health, the majority of young adults identified their sexual orientation as 100% heterosexual. The second largest identity group, “mostly heterosexual,” was larger than all other nonheterosexual identities combined. Comparing distributions across waves, which were approximately 6 years apart, stability of sexual orientation identity was more common than change. Stability was greatest among men and those identifying as heterosexual. Individuals who identified as 100% homosexual reported nearly the same level of stability as 100% heterosexuals. The bisexual category was the most unstable, with one quarter maintaining that status at Wave 4. Bisexual men who changed their identity distributed themselves among all other categories; among bisexual women, the most common shift was toward mostly heterosexual. Reflecting changes in identity, the proportion of heterosexuals decreased between the two waves.

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This research used data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. For information regarding how to obtain the Add Health data files, visit No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. Note: Use of this acknowledgment requires no further permission from the persons named. This research was supported, in part, by the Center for Family and Demographic Research, Bowling Green State University, which has core funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R24HD050959-07); by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Federal Formula Funds given to Cornell University for Project NYC-321421 “Rural Youth: Gender Behavior, Bullying, Friends, and Psychological Health”; and the American Institute of Bisexuality for Project No.: 63660/A001 “Sexual Identity and Attraction: Understanding Understudied Groups.” A version of this article was presented at the University of Lethbridge Workshop, The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation: What Is It and How Does It Work?, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, June 2010.

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Correspondence to Ritch C. Savin-Williams.

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Savin-Williams, R.C., Joyner, K. & Rieger, G. Prevalence and Stability of Self-Reported Sexual Orientation Identity During Young Adulthood. Arch Sex Behav 41, 103–110 (2012).

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  • Sexual orientation
  • Sexual identity
  • Prevalence
  • Adulthood
  • Add Health