Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 45, Issue 6, pp 1375–1389 | Cite as

“I Liked Girls and I Thought They Were Pretty”: Initial Memories of Same-Sex Attraction in Young Lesbian and Bisexual Women

  • Sara I. McClelland
  • Jennifer D. Rubin
  • José A. Bauermeister
Original Paper


There is little research on what is meant by the concept of “feeling attracted” and even less about what same-sex attraction looks and feels like for individuals. Without insight into the phenomenon of same-sex attraction, researchers risk misunderstanding the role of sexual attraction in sexual identity development and risk mis-categorizing individuals in research designs that compare LGBTQ and heterosexual samples. The current study draws from semi-structured interviews (n = 30) with young lesbian-, bisexual-, and queer-identified women (ages 18–24) about their initial memories of same-sex attraction. Two questions were pursued using qualitative analytic strategies. We examined the age that participants remembered first experiencing same-sex attraction using content analysis. Two age groups emerged as distinct: those with experiences of same-sex attraction in childhood and those with initial attractions in later adolescence. We also examined key elements in participants’ descriptions of early same-sex attraction using thematic analysis. The role of embodied feelings, relationships with other young women, and social environments including media images emerged as central to initial experiences of attraction. Findings highlight how early experiences of same-sex attraction produced different types of interpretations within individuals and, in turn, these interpretations informed how participants did or did not take up LGBTQ identity labels. These findings may help guide the development of more refined measurement tools for researchers hoping to sample sexual minorities and can contribute to developing more effective supports for individuals who experience same-sex attraction but may not adopt LGBTQ identity labels and, as a result, are routinely missed in outreach efforts.


Queer Youth Sexuality development Sexual identity 



This work was supported by a grant from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center to Dr. Bauermeister. The authors would also like to thank the interviewers on this project, Emily Pingel, Michelle Johns, Emily Youatt, and Harley Dutcher for their support with manuscript preparation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara I. McClelland
    • 1
  • Jennifer D. Rubin
    • 1
  • José A. Bauermeister
    • 2
  1. 1.Departments of Psychology and Women’s StudiesUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.School of Public Health, Health Behavior & Health EducationUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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