Many young people are revealing their minority sexual identities in their teens rather than waiting until early and middle adulthood like the generation before them. “Both trends, if true, have important social, psychological, and health implications,” said Jerel P. Calzo of the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study examining the age at which young, middle and older American gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) adults reveal their sexual identity. “With greater perceived acceptance, sexual minority youth may be less likely to question or experience internal conflict regarding same-sex-oriented feelings and attractions.” There is evidence that having a secure sexual identity decreases risky sexual behavior and homophobic fears. But research also indicates that revealing a minority sexual identity in childhood can set an individual up for a lifetime of harassment, victimization and ridicule. “Such experiences may lead to suboptimal developmental outcomes, including decrements in school performance, self-esteem, and physical and mental health,” said Calzo.
In order to identify what ages were most common for gay, lesbian and bisexual adults to reveal their sexual orientation, Calzo and a team of researchers conducted a latent profile analysis (LPA) of 1,260 GLB California adults who were part of a larger survey. The participants were between the ages of 18 and 84 and were categorized into three coming out age groups: early age 12-20, middle 18-31, and late 32-43.They found that the lesbian women tended to reveal their sexual orientation earlier in life than did the bisexual or gay men. However, the women engaged in their first same-sex experience later than the other participants. “Overall, the results provide partial support for the hypothesis that women experience milestones later than men,” said the team of the results. “However, there is also evidence that among participants who come out later in life, women may come out earlier than men.” They added, “Such diversity indicates that GLB individuals may vary in levels of maturity, coping capacity, and availability of social support while traversing milestones. Given the elevated prevalence of physical and mental health problems among some sexual minorities, it is imperative that health providers, researchers, parents, and policy makers work together to ensure that resources are available to encourage positive identity development at all stages of the life span.”
Calzo, J. P., Antonucci, T. C., Mays, V. M., & Cochran, S. D. (2011, September 26). Retrospective Recall of Sexual Orientation Identity Development Among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adults. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025508
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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