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First Postpubertal Male Same-Sex Sexual Experience in the National Health and Social Life Survey: Current Functioning in Relation to Age at Time of Experience and Partner Age

Abstract

This study used an important data set to examine long-term adjustment and functioning in men, who as adolescents had sexual experiences with men. The data came from the National Health and Social Life Survey, which used a national probability sample (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994). Three perspectives were considered, which offered different predictions. From the “child sexual abuse” (CSA) paradigm, which dominates clinical, legal, and lay views, expected was robust evidence for poorer adjustment, given that intense harm is assumed to be intrinsic. From the “mainstream psychological” perspective, derived from the CSA paradigm but more scientifically based, poorer adjustment was also expected, but with less magnitude, given that minor–adult sex is seen as posing a serious risk of harm, which may not universally apply. From the “relevant-empirical” perspective, which infers response to male adolescent–adult same-sex sex from relevant prior empirical research (as opposed to clinical cases or the female experience), expected was little or no evidence for poorer adjustment. Results supported the relevant-empirical perspective. Compared to several control groups (i.e., men whose first postpubertal same-sex sex was as men with other men; men with no postpubertal same-sex sexual experience or child–adult sex), men whose first postpubertal same-sex sex was as adolescents with men were just as well adjusted in terms of health, happiness, sexual functioning, and educational and career achievement. Results are discussed in relation to cultural influences, other cultures, and comparative data from primates.

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Notes

  1. The Kinsey data make clear that puberty in boys matters sizably in libido and reaction potential. First, in the Kinsey sample, males aged 15 and under who had reached puberty early constituted the most sexually active group of all males (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948). Second, Gebhard, Gagnon, Pomeroy, & Christianson (1965), in their analysis of Kinsey forensic data, found that pubescent boys were often encouraging in their sexual contacts with men (70% of cases, compared to 50% when the boys were prepubertal), which the researchers attributed to their strong libido at that stage of development.

  2. These effect sizes are “unbiased estimates,” meaning that they were computed as the weighted (by sample size) mean of the study-level effect sizes (see Rind et al., 1998). Small, medium, and large effect sizes correspond to rs = .10, .30, and .50, respectively.

  3. Several other sexual surveys of Americans using national probability samples with in-person interviews have been conducted. These include iterations of the National Survey of Family Growth (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nsfg), the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes), and the General Social Survey (http://www.norc.org/Research/Projects/Pages/general-social-survey.aspx), as well as a few one-time surveys (see Chandra, Mosher, Copen, & Sionean, 2011). Unlike the NHSLS, however, none of these surveys could serve the goals of the present study because they lacked vital information (specifically, partner age for first same-sex sexual experience) and mostly restricted cases of same-sex sexual experiences to those having had oral or anal sex, while excluding other types such as masturbation.

  4. To be sure, CSA researchers have generally held than a wide variety of behaviors are adversely affected by minor–adult sex. This literature often repeats long lists in their introductory remarks. Because effects are held to be so widely dispersed, it is legitimate to focus on just some behaviors to test the general view of harm (Rind et al., 1998).

  5. Male–male sample was used here instead of same-sex sample, as used for Kinsey’s subsample (Rind & Welter, 2016), because the latter term represents participants with a clear same-sex orientation, in behavior (generally extensive postpubertal same-sex sexual experience) if not also in attractions. In Laumann et al., a more sizable proportion of participants were heterosexual with infrequent same-sex contacts, making this subsample different from Kinsey’s.

  6. Consistent with Rind and Welter (2016), the first category was termed “minors with peers” instead of “minors with minors” because cases could technically be minor–adult (e.g., age 16 with age 18), and yet were still between peer-aged partners. In the present study, minors’ partners were legal adults in 14% of cases (i.e., aged 18–20, while the participant was 15–17). In the minor–adult group, all partners were legal adults aged 18 or above. Notably, some adult partners were closer in age (e.g., 5 years older), whereas others were much older (e.g., 30 years). All cases were grouped into a single minor–adult group, as is the convention in CSA research (Rind et al., 1998).

  7. All cases of prepubertal contacts with older persons were removed, and cases of first postpubertal same-sex sexual contacts were removed. Thus, some cases of conventionally defined CSA will have remained (e.g., secondary postpubertal minor–adult contacts in the minor–peer group; postpubertal boy–woman contacts).

  8. The section and question numbers are from Appendix C in Laumann et al. (1994), where the questionnaire is reproduced. For other key measures discussed in this article, section and question numbers are also provided.

  9. The complete NHSLS data set is available at: http://popcenter.uchicago.edu/data/nhsls.shtml.

  10. Though not stated in the tables to follow, exact tests and Bonferroni-adjusted z tests apply to all summarizing analyses of proportions.

  11. For example, the minor–peer group had only 63% “severe” sexual contacts, compared to the minor–adult group’s 95%, and yet the latter did not have poorer adjustment than the former.

  12. Participants who answered “other” as their reason were excluded from analysis, because the valence of other is indeterminable.

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Correspondence to Bruce Rind.

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There were no conflicts of interest, and the research is secondary research on the NHSLS data, so informed consent is not an issue.

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Rind, B. First Postpubertal Male Same-Sex Sexual Experience in the National Health and Social Life Survey: Current Functioning in Relation to Age at Time of Experience and Partner Age. Arch Sex Behav 47, 1755–1768 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-017-1025-2

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Keywords

  • National Health and Social Life Survey
  • Same-sex sexual experiences
  • First postpubertal sex
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Sexual orientation