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Stability versus Fluidity of Adolescent Romantic and Sexual Attraction and the Role of Religiosity: A Longitudinal Assessment in Two Independent Samples of Croatian Adolescents

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The manner in which individuals report their sexual attraction, self-label their sexual identity, or behave in sexual situations can vary over time, and particularly, adolescents may change their reported sexual attraction or sexual orientation identity over the course of their development. It is important to better understand the social factors that may influence these changes, such as one’s religiosity. The present study thus aimed to assess the fluidity of adolescent romantic and sexual attraction over time and to explore the role of religiosity in this dynamic using two independent panel samples of Croatian high school students (N = 849 and N = 995). Response items for sexual and romantic attraction were categorized based on the Kinsey scale, and religiosity was assessed with a standard one-item indicator. Results demonstrated that changes in attraction were substantially more prevalent among non-exclusively heterosexual participants compared to exclusively heterosexual participants in both panels. Although more female than male adolescents reported non-heterosexual attraction, gender differences in attraction fluidity were inconsistent. Religiosity was associated with initial sexual attraction (more religious individuals were more likely to report exclusively heterosexual attraction), but not with changes in romantic and sexual attraction over time. Given that the understanding of adolescent sexual development can play an important role in reducing their vulnerability to sexual risk taking, stigmatization, and abuse, this study’s findings have relevance for teachers, parents, and counselors working with adolescents, and in particular for sexual minority youth.

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  1. For precision, the linear curve was specified in months. (In Rijeka, the period between data collection waves ranged from 4.5 to 6 months.)

  2. More detailed information about attraction fluidity is available from the corresponding author.

  3. Initially, the interaction of gender and religiosity was also included in the models (the two indicator were mean-centered before multiplication), but was omitted after failing to reach statistical significance in either panel. The models with the interaction term did not fit the data significantly better from the (more parsimonious) models presented in Figs. 2 and 3.


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The study has been funded by the Croatian Science foundation (Grant #9221). Additional funding was provided by Atlantic Grupa, d.d., Zagreb.

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Correspondence to Nicole Cohen.

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Cohen, N., Becker, I. & Štulhofer, A. Stability versus Fluidity of Adolescent Romantic and Sexual Attraction and the Role of Religiosity: A Longitudinal Assessment in Two Independent Samples of Croatian Adolescents. Arch Sex Behav 49, 1477–1488 (2020).

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