Mostly Heterosexual and Mostly Gay/Lesbian: Evidence for New Sexual Orientation Identities

Abstract

A sample of 1,784 individuals responded to an online survey advertised on the Facebook social networking website. We explored the sexual orientation continuum by focusing on three components: self-reported sexual orientation identity, sexual attraction, and sexual partners. Results supported a 5-category classification of identity (heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, bisexual, mostly gay/lesbian, gay/lesbian) in that two added identity labels (mostly heterosexual and mostly gay/lesbian) were frequently chosen by participants and/or showed unique patterns of attraction and partners, distinct from their adjacent identities (heterosexual and bisexual, and bisexual and gay/lesbian, respectively). Those who reported an exclusive label (heterosexual, gay/lesbian) were not necessarily exclusive in other components; a significant minority of heterosexuals and the majority of gays/lesbians reported some attraction and/or partners toward their nonpreferred sex. The five identity groups differed in attraction and partners in a manner consistent with a continuous, rather than a categorical, distribution of sexual orientation. Findings also supported a sexual orientation continuum as consisting of two, rather than one, distinct dimensions (same- and other-sex sexuality). Having more same-sex sexuality did not necessarily imply having less other-sex sexuality, and vice versa. More men than women were at the exclusive ends of the continuum; however, men were not bimodally distributed in that a significant minority reported nonexclusivity in their sexuality.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Given these sex differences in our sample, all analyses of sex differences were run both without controls (using t-tests and χ2 analyses) and controlling for age and conservatism (using linear and logistic regression analyses). Controlling for these two variables did not significantly change any analyses. Because 43 participants were missing data for either age or conservatism and in order to avoid adding unnecessary complexity, we present the simple analyses without controls. The regression analyses are available from the corresponding author upon request.

  2. 2.

    Analyses were initially run without substituting missing values, with listwise deletion of all cases with missing values, and with missing values for the 58 cases substituted as described above. Substitution did not significantly impact results of analyses reported below. To retain as many participants as possible, we report the results of analyses with substituted values. The results from the other two analyses are available on request from the corresponding author.

  3. 3.

    Although descriptive data changed slightly when outliers were excluded from analyses (i.e., using trimming of means), results of the inferential analyses were identical. The Winsorization approach was favored in order to increase statistical power of analyses.

  4. 4.

    Similar results were obtained when the number of partner variables was analyzed using a series of non-parametric, median-based, Mann–Whitney tests for each of the four comparisons of interest. We report the ANOVA results; non-parametric analyses are available from the corresponding author on request.

  5. 5.

    Tables available from the corresponding author on request.

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Acknowledgment

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. We thank Dr. David Pizarro for his financial support and contribution in designing the study, to Dr. Gerulf Rieger for his valuable feedback regarding this article, and to Jegath Athilingam for her help with data collection and preparation.

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Correspondence to Zhana Vrangalova.

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Vrangalova, Z., Savin-Williams, R.C. Mostly Heterosexual and Mostly Gay/Lesbian: Evidence for New Sexual Orientation Identities. Arch Sex Behav 41, 85–101 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-9921-y

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Keywords

  • Sexual orientation
  • Heterosexual
  • Gay/lesbian
  • Sexual identity
  • Sexual behavior