Correlates of Same-Sex Sexuality in Heterosexually Identified Young Adults

By Vrangalova, Zhana; Savin-Williams, Ritch C. | The Journal of Sex Research, January-February 2010 | Go to article overview
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Correlates of Same-Sex Sexuality in Heterosexually Identified Young Adults


Vrangalova, Zhana, Savin-Williams, Ritch C., The Journal of Sex Research


Based on the conceptualizations of early sexologists, sexual orientation has been traditionally conceived as a multitude of components expressed through a range of overt sexual behaviors and internal states such as feelings, cognitions, and desires (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; De Cecco & Shively, 1977). To address this complexity, a number of researchers concluded that sexual orientation is not categorical but dimensional--a "multivariable dynamic process" (Klein, 1990, p. 277). The multivariable aspect has been supported by both theorists and methodologists (Chung & Katayama, 1996; Coleman, 1987; Klein, Sepekoff, & Wolf, 1985; Sell, 1996, 1997; Weinrich, Snyder, Pillard, & Grant, 1993), and the "dynamic" aspect, especially over time, has been documented during adolescence and young adulthood for both sexes (Diamond, 2008; Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, & Braun, 2006; Savin-Williams, 2005). In these studies, the most consistently proposed indicators of sexual orientation have been identity, attractions, fantasies, and behaviors.

Despite these understandings, contemporary sexual orientation research often ignores this construct complexity by defining sexuality with reference to only one component and by disregarding the dimensional and dynamic aspects. For example, the sexual orientation of research participants is sometimes categorized based on their self-reported sexual identity, with the typical choices being "heterosexual," "bisexual," or "homosexual" (e.g., McBee-Strayer & Rogers, 2002; Tiggemann, Martins, & Kirkbride, 2007). The unstated assumption is that sexual identity is the uniting and stable aspect of one's self-concept that organizes and directs in meaningful ways one's inner desires and expressed behaviors, and that reflects something essential about oneself (Savin-Williams, 2001, 2006).

However, the extent to which sexual identity is an accurate reflection of true erotic fantasies and attractions and is manifested in actual sexual behaviors remains unclear. Although research on nonheterosexually identified populations has shown that the correlation among different dimensions of sexual orientation is generally high (Diamond, 1993), many discrepancies exist, particularly among women (Diamond, 2008) and bisexuals (Weinberg, Williams, & Pryor, 1994). In addition, Rosario et al. (2006) showed that, over time, non-heterosexual youth change various components of their sexuality, especially during adolescence and young adulthood.

In contrast to research conducted on gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, the discrepancies between identity and other sexual orientation components among heterosexual individuals have rarely been investigated. In fact, little is known about those who border but do not inhabit the exclusively other-sex oriented pole. In most cases, individuals who express a small degree of same-sex sexuality in their identities, behaviors, or attractions are combined with heterosexuals (Bos, Sandfort, de Bruyn, & Hakvoort, 2008; Cardoso, 2008; Iemmola & Ciani, 2009; Rahman & Hull, 2005; Tiggemann et al., 2007). To increase the sample size of non-heterosexuals, they might also be included with research subjects who have on any singular component an indication of same-sex sexuality (Boyce et al., 2006; Ploderl & Fartacek, 2008). This data reduction is usually justified for empirical (small sample sizes of same-sex oriented subjects) rather than theoretical reasons. Occasionally, investigators drop these individuals altogether from consideration, or at least in some analyses (D'Augelli, Hershberger, & Pilkington, 2001; Ellis, Robb, & Burke, 2005), or it is not clear what happened to these individuals (Fitzpatrick, Euton, Jones, & Schmidt, 2005).

Although in the past these strategies might have been necessary or justified because few individuals claimed a sexual orientation other than the tripartite heterosexual-bisexual-homosexual, or they were invisible because only one sexual orientation component was assessed, this is no longer the case for both males and females (Austin et al.

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