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A Prospective Study of Predictors and Consequences of Hooking Up for Sexual Minority Women

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Hooking up, which refers to a sexual encounter (ranging from kissing to penetrative sex) between individuals who are not in a committed relationship, is an increasingly normative form of sexual exploration among emerging adults. Past research has focused on hookups within a heteronormative context, and some of this work has examined hookups as a way to cope with distress. Building on this work, we examined the role of hookups as a means for lesbian and bisexual women to cope with minority stress through increasing connection and engagement with the LGBTQ (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer or questioning) community. A nationally recruited sample of 520 lesbian and bisexual women ages 18 to 25 years completed questionnaires regarding their hookup behaviors as part of a longitudinal study. Childhood sexual abuse, posttraumatic stress symptoms, alcohol use, minority stress, and involvement and connectedness with the LGBTQ community were also assessed. First, regression analyses were used to examine baseline predictors of hookup behaviors reported at a 12-month follow-up. Findings revealed that alcohol use was associated with a greater likelihood of any subsequent hookups, and individuals reporting more minority stress subsequently hooked up with more partners. Second, hookup behaviors at 12 months were examined as predictors of outcomes at a 24-month follow-up, after controlling for baseline variables. Findings revealed that hookup behaviors were associated with reduced minority stress as well as increased involvement with and connectedness to the LGBTQ community, suggesting hookups may serve a protective function. Overall, findings support the notion that, for sexual minority women, hookups may operate as a means of coping and connection.

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  1. Of the 520 participants in the analytic sample, 84 (16.2%) initially chose a sexual identity other than lesbian or bisexual. Four initially identified as gay (all subsequently identified as lesbian), 42 as queer (of which 25 identified as bisexual and 17 as lesbian), 3 as two-spirit (all of which identified as bisexual), 14 as questioning (of which 13 identified as bisexual and 1 as lesbian), and 21 as other (of which 18 identified as bisexual and 3 as lesbian). Text responses for those who initially identified as “other” included identities of pansexual, asexual, fluid, gender-blind, and detailed descriptions of sexual preferences. Comparing the women who did (n = 436) and did not (n = 84) initially identify as lesbian or bisexual, there were no significant differences in demographics (age, race/ethnicity, relationship status), hookup behaviors, or any other study variables—with one exception; women who first selected an identity other than lesbian or bisexual reported more involvement in the LGBTQ community at Wave 1.

  2. We also considered a model in which the association between Wave 2 hookup behaviors and Wave 3 outcomes were allowed to differ by sexual identity. However, there were no significant interactions between hookup behaviors and lesbian vs. bisexual identity on any Wave 3 outcome, after controlling for Wave 1 variables. Thus, the simpler model without interactions is presented.


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This research was funded in part by grants from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism R01AA018292 (PI: Kaysen), R01AA01379 (PI: Lewis), and T32AA007455 (PI: Larimer). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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Correspondence to Anna E. Jaffe.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Jaffe, A.E., Duckworth, J., Blayney, J.A. et al. A Prospective Study of Predictors and Consequences of Hooking Up for Sexual Minority Women. Arch Sex Behav 50, 1599–1612 (2021).

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