Skip to main content


Log in

Timing of First Sexual Experience with a Same-Sex Partner: A Life Course Approach

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Archives of Sexual Behavior Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Theories of sexual identity development recognize the initiation of sexual experience with same-sex partners (SESSP) to be a significant event in the coming-out process, yet the research literature lacks a population-based description of its timing and variation across population subgroups. Using data from the 2011–2017 National Survey of Family Growth and guided by the life course paradigm, we explored the timing and correlates of first SESSP among individuals (1425 women; 545 men) who identified as lesbian (n = 307), gay (n = 285), or bisexual (n = 1378) (LGB). Descriptive findings revealed that the median age at first SESSP was about 19 years for lesbian women and gay men and one to two years later for bisexual women and men. Notably, initiation of SESSP occurred over a wide age range, particularly among bisexual men. Multivariable results indicated that the probability of first SESSP did not vary by demographic characteristics or family background among men. Among women, nativity status, family stability, and independent living were associated with probability of first SESSP. Coital experience predicted timing among both women and men. Tests for statistical interactions suggested that age at first SESSP was contingent on mother’s education (women), sexual identity (men), family stability (men), and birth cohort (women and men). Our findings highlight the complicated nature of LGB sexual experiences, and we end with a call for greater effort to ensure that LGB individuals are represented in national surveys designed to provide data on sexual and reproductive health.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Similar content being viewed by others

Data Availability

Data and all documentation are available at

Code Availability

The first author will provide Stata code upon request.


Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Analysis was performed by KLB and GVH. The first draft of the manuscript was written by KLB, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Karin L. Brewster.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors. Data used are public access and fully anonymized.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Brewster, K.L., Tillman, K.H. & Holway, G.V. Timing of First Sexual Experience with a Same-Sex Partner: A Life Course Approach. Arch Sex Behav 50, 3587–3599 (2021).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: