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Sexual Orientation Change among Adolescents and Young Adults: A Systematic Review

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Abstract

This article reviews research on changes in self-reported sexual orientation labels and associated health outcomes among adolescents and young adults. Using seven electronic databases and supplementary methods, we identified 30 studies for inclusion in the review, published between 2000 and 2020. This review aimed to summarize the approaches to measuring sexual orientation change; the prevalence, patterns, and directionality of changes in sexual identity; and how changes in sexual orientation relate to health outcomes among adolescents and youth adults. The reviewed studies lacked agreement in operationalization and assessment of sexual orientation changes. Prevalence of change in self-reported sexual orientation differed by birth sex, whereby cisgender female participants were more likely to report a change than male participants. In addition, adolescents and youth identifying with a nonheterosexual orientation or sexual minority at baseline were more likely to report a change in sexual orientation. Few studies reported on the impact of changes in sexual orientation on behavioral health outcomes. Adolescents who reported either nonheterosexual orientation at baseline or a shift toward nonheterosexual orientation had a greater likelihood of reporting depressive symptomology, suicidality, and substance use compared to those who did not report a change or reported consistent heterosexuality. Recommendations for future research and implications for practice are discussed.

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Notes

  1. Mobility scores were created by constructing sexual orientation identity transition matrixes to characterize mobility in self-reported sexual orientation identity, using a six-level orientation identity measure. The mobility score denotes changes occurring in sexual orientation assessed from one time to the next time point. Scores range from 0 (no changes in reported sexual orientation identity across waves) to 1 (reported sexual orientation identity changed at every wave; Ott et al., 2011, 2013).

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Srivastava, A., Winn, J., Senese, J. et al. Sexual Orientation Change among Adolescents and Young Adults: A Systematic Review. Arch Sex Behav 51, 3361–3376 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-022-02394-5

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