Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 5, pp 1383–1392 | Cite as

Sex, Sexual Orientation, Gender Atypicality, and Indicators of Depression and Anxiety in Childhood and Adulthood

  • Lanna J. Petterson
  • Doug P. VanderLaan
  • Paul L. Vasey
Original Paper


The current study evaluated the possibility that greater negative mental health outcomes reported among gay, lesbian, and gender-atypical individuals, compared to gender-typical individuals, are present in childhood and persist into adulthood. Sex and sexual orientation differences in self-reported adulthood and recalled childhood indicators of depression and anxiety and their association with current and retrospectively reported gender (a)typicality were examined in a non-clinically recruited community sample of Canadian heterosexual men (n = 98), heterosexual women (n = 142), gay men (n = 289), and lesbian women (n = 69). Indicators of depression and anxiety were constructed based on diagnostic criteria for generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and specific phobias. Factor reduction analyses yielded three factors: (1) indicators of childhood separation anxiety, (2) indicators of childhood depression and anxiety, and (3) indicators of adulthood depression and anxiety. Lesbian women scored higher on childhood separation anxiety than all other groups. Heterosexual men scored lower on indicators of childhood separation anxiety than gay men and lower on indicators of childhood and adulthood depression and anxiety than all other groups. No other significant group differences were observed. Correlational analysis suggested that for men, but not for women, gender-atypical behavior was associated with negative mental health. The current study indicated that childhood should be considered a critical time period during which the noted sexual orientation-related mental health discrepancies manifest and that childhood gender atypicality is a key factor for understanding the emergence of such discrepancies.


Sex differences Sexual orientation Depression and anxiety Separation anxiety Gender atypicality Mental health 



We thank all of the individuals who agreed to participate in our study. Various stages of this research were supported by the University of Lethbridge; by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Masters Scholarship and a Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group Research Grant to LJP; by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Postdoctoral Fellowship to DPV; and by a CIHR Catalyst Grant (Methods and Measures for Gender, Sex, and Health; Grant Number: 45546), a SSHRC Insight Grant (Grant Number: 41140), and an Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Sustainability Fund Grant (Grant Number: 43528) to PLV. LJP declares that she has no conflict of interest. DPV declares that he has no conflict of interest. PLV declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethics Statement

The University of Lethbridge Human Subjects Research Committee approved this research. Participants were required to provide informed consent prior to taking part in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lanna J. Petterson
    • 1
  • Doug P. VanderLaan
    • 2
    • 3
  • Paul L. Vasey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of LethbridgeLethbridgeCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Toronto MississaugaMississaugaCanada
  3. 3.Underserved Populations Research Program, Child, Youth and Family DivisionCentre for Addiction and Mental HealthTorontoCanada

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