Differences between Sexual Orientation Behavior Groups and Social Background, Quality of Life, and Health Behaviors
Horowitz, Stephen M., Weis, David L., Laflin, Molly T., The Journal of Sex Research
There has been a tremendous explosion of research on sexual orientation and homosexual lifestyles in recent decades (Allgeier & Allgeier, 2000; Hawkins & Stackhouse, 1998). This has included examination of the development of a homosexual or bisexual identity, dimensions of sexual orientation, relationship dynamics, the historical emergence of a gay culture, possible etiologic factors, and a variety of related social issues, as well as basic descriptive research on the incidence or prevalence of sexual behavior. It has been difficult to form strong generalizations from this research literature for a number of reasons. There has been no widely shared agreement about how sexual orientation should be conceptualized or operationalized. Research methods and designs have varied widely, such as surveys, telephone contact, and face-to-face interviews. There has been little effort to examine the demographic characteristics of samples, and possible distinctions between clinical and nonclinical samples have not always been examined.
One area receiving increased attention by professionals in recent years has been the quality of life (QOL) associated with different sexual orientations (Gonsiorek, 1991; Ross, 1990). The concept of QOL may be seen as including direct measures that ask respondents to rate the quality of some aspect of their life, such as job satisfaction, perceived health, or general life happiness, as well as a variety of lifestyle and health patterns (i.e., smoking, drinking and/or other drug behavior, physical activity, mental health, and health background) (Horowitz, Blackburn, Edington, & Klos, 1988). Several perspectives about the association between sexual orientation and QOL have appeared in the literature. One view has been that bisexuality and homosexuality are pathological conditions, leading to reduced and disrupted QOL This may be regarded as the traditional Western position (summarized by Allgeier & Allgeier, 2000). Another view has been that homosexuals and bisexuals tend to face discrimination in a homophobic society, and, thus, face unique challenges to their QOL (Allgeier & Allgeier, 2000; Hawkins & Stackhouse, 1998). Another has been that there is no general or systematic difference between sexual orientation groups except their sexual object choice (Symons, 1979). Yet another view has been that there are differences among homosexuals or bisexuals, such as being closeted, that may make them more or less susceptible to disruptions in QOL (Harry, 1986).
The present study tested the association between sexual orientation groups and a set of demographic and QOL variables in a series of nonclinical, national probability samples. In addition, we examined the conceptualization of both sexual orientation and quality of life.
THE CONSTRUCT OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION
A major problem in sexual orientation research has been that findings from a particular study depend heavily on the conceptualization and operationalization of the orientation groups studied and on the way the sample has been assembled (Sandfort, 1997). Homosexuality and bisexuality are complex concepts, which have been defined in terms of feelings of physical or emotional attraction, fantasies (Bell, Weinberg, & Hammersmith, 1981; Storms, 1981), actual behavior, and self-definition encompassing a variety of labels (Klein, Sepekoff, & Wolf, 1985; Shiveley & DeCecco, 1977). Such dimensions do not necessarily overlap and may change throughout one's personal identity development (Coleman, 1987; Klein et al., 1985). Moreover, these dimensions may not exclude the concurrent or subsequent existence of heterosexual feelings and behaviors.
There appears to be little consistency in the literature regarding how sexual orientation is assessed. Some researchers use a 7-point Kinsey scale (Davis & Smith, 1996; Fay, Turner, Klassen, & Gagnon, 1989), whereas others use a modified 5-point scale (Michael, Laumann, Gagnon, & Smith, 1988: van Zessen & Sandfort, 1991). …